They weren’t dumb because they’d been fighting for years and years, and here we were just a bunch of green horned kids.
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My wife and I, we never had any time to get married in a church, so we had to get married in the registry office. And it’s such a funny thing that sticks in my mind. When I said, “Darling,” I said, “Well, I don’t know if I’m ever going to see you again because I think this is the real thing, the way we’re packing things up.” And she said, “But you have to come back to me now, you’re mine.” And you know, 19 months later on, her wish come true. Until we come to the town of Leonforte [Italy], the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, which were in the same brigade as we were with the Princess Patricia’s [Canadian] Light Infantry and the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, we were all in the 2nd Brigade. They got an awful beating from the Germans by trying to give the engineer’s time to build the bridge across that deep ravine. They bombed and shelled that town for a whole hour and we got across the valley and we get up to the edge of the town and the engineers followed us in and they started building the bridge as soon as we engaged the enemy. But then we got across the bridge and we had some casualties right off the bat because the Germans were kind of figuring that when the barrage lifted that there was something happening. They weren’t dumb because they’d been fighting for years and years, and here we were just a bunch of green horned kids.
The Germans sitting with a tank and a couple machine guns and they opened up on us and we had a whole bunch of casualties right off the bat. I never was so scared in my whole life for so long. We went into that town at 7:00 at night and we never come out of there again until 5:00 in the morning. It was one great big scare. You never eased up one little minute. We were so played out that night that when we got onto this new hill, going back to our old position, all our NCOs [Non-Commissioned Officers] and officers says, four men to a position, so we had to sit back to back so we wouldn’t drop off to sleep because we were completely beat right out.
We went into the Hitler Line on the 23rd of May of 1944. Well, I never shirked my duties when I was given an order. And Horatio Clayton and I, he was the new green horn scout. And then all of a sudden, my ears started to ring, bullets flying past my head and everything, and I just ducked down on the ground and here everybody was flat on their bellies already. I was so concentrating on where the colonel was and everything like, and I wasn’t even scared this time because I had a job to do and I was trying to do it properly. Just a little bird whispered in my ear, I bet you’re going to get it.
I have no idea how time passed or how long we were there because you haven’t got your watch on and you’re not wasting time looking at your watch. So anyway, I started telling them stories and that kept my mind off of me being scared. I was more used to being in action than he was and I just told him, I says, “If you turn your gun to 1:00 from the position you are sitting at right now,” I said, “there’s a machine gun,” and I says, “he’s just raising hell with everybody up there.”
The people that were getting hammered by that machine gun, they, they thought, well, now we’re safe for a little while. We moved away from that position because we couldn’t do anything because our own guys were in front of us.
I got six shrapnel wounds all over my body from the shell that exploded and blew me up the hill. And I was standing up and I was grabbing my throat for fresh air and I was just knocked out temporarily and blacked out, but I was still standing on my feet for some strange reason. And I could feel the pain in my right leg and in my right shoulder at the back, and in my right hip as well. When we were going up the hill to get to the first aid station, we seen the line of stretcher bearers and everybody, walking wounded, going to the first aid station. And we were so very unlucky that a shell landed right in the line-up of all those poor people and it cleared the place about 20 foot, you know, it cleaned them right out, wounded a whole bunch and killed some more guys that were going to the aid station. And we were so used to [it] now that we just were thinking about getting to the aid station ourselves.
And then we got in there and I don’t know where Clayton went, but the guys just grabbed a hold of me right away and took my clothes off because they could see that I was bleeding in quite a few different places. And I can still remember the guys saying, “Are you alright?” And I says, “Yes, I’m okay.” But then the next thing I knew, I was laying on the stretcher outside. I just passed right out.
We had to find a crossing for the tanks to go across the Pisciatello River. So we got picked to go with the engineers to find a solid bottom across the Pisciatello River. And during the night and the early hours of 18th of October, further downstream, they sent a bunch of our guys to make a headline and what they did actually do eventually, our guys got across the river, they pushed a worn out tank into the river bottom to use it as a brace to put a bridge across for the Bailey Bridge.
Our outfit got a bunch of prisoners and they called the headquarters for somebody to go and get these prisoners. I could see that he was trying to get these two scouts to go and get these prisoners and they never had a clue where to go, they should have known how to read a map and a compass. When I was up there with the engineers the night before, we got back at 5:00 in the morning of that same day and I still couldn’t sleep all day long because we were getting shelled as well. So I walked up to the officer and I saluted him and I said, “Sir,” I says, “I don’t mind going to get those prisoners,” I says, “I was with the engineers there the night before,” and I says, “I know where the bridge is, just tell me where the prisoners are from the bridge.”
The Germans were trying to knock the bridge out with mortars and shells and everything and I thought, gee, it’s plain suicide to walk across there. I told him to stay about 30 feet away from me all the time, so if the shell got one of us, there was still one of us left alive to complete our mission.
Here down comes another barrage and we were right in the middle of it. And of course, they got me through my right arm, which put me right out of action. We could have taken cover under those buildings, but we didn’t, we were set on a job to do. So we never thought about taking cover.
Showing your buddies that you weren’t scared, although I was scared, but I put on a bravado face. I got to know them, they were like brothers and I lost so many of them. That last wound, the third wound, took me 18 months to get over before I got out of hospital and got discharged. I done 51 months service. So many months overseas and so many months in Italy, and my wife and I, we were separated for 19 months and then when I got out of the army, I had a little bit of a hard job, my nerves and my whole mind was kind of mixed up. I just couldn’t hack it anymore. The people didn’t understand me or maybe probably it was me as well, couldn’t understand them, because I was not the same farmer’s boy as I was when I left this country here. And the people couldn’t understand it because they really didn’t understand the war and there’s still a lot of people in Canada today that do not understand what us Second World War veterans done for them.