Portrait of Mr. Wright in uniform.Richard Wright
Portrait of Mr. Wright early in his enlistment.Richard Wright
"“Corporal, you’re bleeding. You’ve got to be the luckiest guy in the world.” He said, “If all our people were as lucky as you were, I wouldn’t have a job, nor would any of the others.”"
When I was two months after my 17th birthday, I joined the army. And we’d been hearing about it and then we heard when the war broke out and etc., and I joined, hoping that maybe I could be of some help. But things were sounding pretty bad at that time.
First off, I went to 102nd Trainee Centre in Fort William, that’s Thunder Bay [Ontario]. And then from there, I came back to Fort Osborne Barracks [Winnipeg] and I come home for Christmas. Now, I joined in September 26th, 1941 and I took basic training at 102nd Training Centre in Fort William. Then I come back to Fort Osborne barracks and took a junior NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer] course, put into the Saskatchewan Light Infantry, to go to Sicily, invasion of Sicily. And of course, I didn’t know that’s where I was going at that time.
Just one small memory about the invasion. We were in the landing craft going ashore, as a matter of fact, we were in a ‘Duck’, a DUKW. That is an amphibious vehicle. And we had our mortar mounted on the front end of it and there was four mortars in our company, in our platoon, and so we had mounted on the front and the others weren’t in action at that time. And so we went ashore and as we were going ashore, the company cook was sitting in with us and as we were going ashore he said, “It can’t be much of an invasion because look at all the fireflies.” Somebody said to him, “Those aren’t fireflies, those are tracer bullets.” So needless to say, he got down below the gunnel of the boat.
And we landed there in Sicily and then we fired, did quite a bit of work there. At Leonforte [Italy], we backed up the, usually, we were backing the, we were, we, my, the platoon I was in, and I was a corporal by this time, the platoon I was in was supporting the 2nd Brigade, that’s PPCLI [Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry], Royal Edmonton Regiment and Seaforth Highlanders. And so we got to shore and then we were supposed to go into action, so we were left that number one mortar on the vehicle and three of the mortars were put on either side of it. And the 4.2 inch mortar has a 20 ton recoil. So when you fired your imbedding in-round, you drove the plate down quite a ways in the dirt. And three of us fired and the one on the DUKW, they fired, but they never hit anything, they were taken out of operation very shortly afterward. Took them mortar off their stick because every time you fired it, you lifted the back end of the vehicle and of course, you never reached the point you were supposed to be firing on.
So there was three of us there for a while until they got the mortar off the deck and embedded in. And then we went on to Leonforte and Agira and we backed the Royal Edmonton Regiment. Or at that time, it was known as the 49th Edmonton. And we supported them in Agira. And they went up behind the Germans, up a valley behind the Germans and they attacked them from the rear and they drove them out. And there was two or three other places that were pretty good too and that was, it was, we, our casualty rate wasn’t too bad in, in Sicily. And as a matter of fact, our regimental casualty rate was much lower than the infantry because we were always firing from behind a hill. And one time, after we had gone through the mountains in Reggio di Calabria, and on up to, oh, probably within 100 miles of Campobasso, and though we had fired several times, I really had no fear.
But then about 50 miles from Campobasso, we were in a position and our infantry was going in and we were supporting the PPCLI at this time, and we had to keep firing quite steady, but keeping ahead of the infantry units that were going in. And the Germans had three railway guns in a tunnel and I was told later that the shells that they were firing were seven inches in diameter, big stuff. That’s probably rated as heavy artillery. And they would pull these, push these railway cars guns out of the, onto that open, the tunnel end, and they were firing right on our position. And that, at that time, we couldn’t reach them, the air force couldn’t bomb the track and we couldn’t get anywhere. And they kept firing at us, firing at us, almost all day long, they would fire three shells, pull them back and the train would pull them back in the tunnel. They’d do it up again and they’d come out and they’d fire, one, two, three and back in again. Finally, a group of combat engineers, which, by the way, was in the charge of a fellow from Winnipegosis [Manitoba], who was a good friend of mine after the war, I didn’t know him before the war, but he took a group of combat engineers in and blew the tracks up, just at the mouth of the tunnel. And when the, the next time they come out, the guns went off the track.
There were times there when I was scared because I felt something hit my right leg as I was running across a couple of poplars. So across the riverbed. And it was just a trickle of water then. And I kept on going. I thought maybe I pulled a muscle or something. And when I got over, we had five rounds rapid fire and we fired them. And after we finished, my number two said, “Corporal, you’re bleeding. You’ve got to be the luckiest guy in the world.” He said, “If all our people were as lucky as you were, I wouldn’t have a job, nor would any of the others.” He said, “That’s a 50 calibre slug went through your leg between the muscle and the calf muscle and the tibia and didn’t damage a thing.”