Veteran Stories:
Robert Gondek

Army

  • General Wladyslaw Sikorski inspects a composite guard of honour of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division. England, 19 June 1941.

    Laurie A. Audrain / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-132201 Restrictions on use: Nil Copyright: Expired
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"Unfortunately, going back and forth to my company, you were in artillery fire from Germans and from our own."

Transcript

I was at Christmas, we had in 1943, I was in Italy. Must have been end of February, no – November, I remember, I remember it, Christmas was in Italy. That we were in the positions on the River Sangro, I remember Sangro, because we had mostly patrols back and forth in no man's land.

Well, it wasn't badly, because the artillery fire we were getting maybe twice, three times a week - so we were in the winter, we were there maybe two weeks, maybe three weeks. I don't remember how long we were there. It was pretty good. Germans were going on the north side and we were on the north side, because we got the little, you know, shelling. (Oh my goodness, my word is gone.) Somewhere in-between Germans was a little bit of fighting. Not much to speak of. But from there, we went from there to Cassino at that time. I remember that, too.

Everybody else was there, Germans were there, the Germans, Americans were there, British were there, you Americans [Canadians] were there, Australians, they were there, French were there, you know, they were fighting with over seven months at the Cassino. So, they, apparently, what’s happened, being a soldier, I know how that they – but the chief of the British Eighth Army, which I was [in]. That's Eighth Army, that was formerly Marshal Montgomery,* so they said, General Anders** said, “Ok, could you give it a try? See what you can do.” So we went there.

I caught a lot of patrols in-between, you know, we were there. It was dark, nighttime, I think it was three o'clock, five o'clock in the morning, two o'clock in the morning, I don’t know. Now you're going with mules, we had mules to take the […] up. The fire we got, we are still down in the valley. First, our guys got or killed or shot or wounded, I don't remember. But it was the first one, that one. You know, because them [Germans] being on a mountain is like, to Cassino, Piedmont, Monte Carlo, [Hill] 593, they had us all down, they had months and months to prepare it, to prepare for real, anybody that had exactly where they wanted to shoot, mortars and artillery.

In those years, I didn't speak English, I was what, 19 years old? So English they were talking, American, British, or whoever it was, we didn't know. It was nighttime, so everybody's trying to find a spot to lie down, there were, you know, up on the ground on the hill. But in the morning, we found out, I was lying on a dead body. A little bit, not that much. I was wondering why it was so soft, you know. We found in the morning it was somebody dead.

What we had was going on patrols in no man's land. And we always went to the nighttime, to go there. You took your boots off, you got everything that could make the noise, put the runners on. And stayed, you know, night, day, another night, and you could hear them talk. I don't know, 12, 20 feet, 50 feet, I don't know, but we heard them talking there to us. Unfortunately, going back and forth to my company, you were in artillery fire from Germans and from our own, because nobody's, so it, that was – bodies were lying all over the place, you know, because no way you could pick it up.

You could smell it, smell of the, two weeks, three weeks, whatever ,the dead, then the smell of the powder from the artillery or the – we did that a couple times, I had to go to pick up water to get some, we had to be very careful. Slightest noise you got, you fired [on] right away.

*Field Marshal General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commander, British Eighth Army

**Lieutenant-General Władysław Anders, commander, II Polish Corps

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