Bruce Coulson at a rest camp in Italy, Christmas, 1944.Bruce Coulson
Bruce Coulson at his Vickers machine gun, Liri River, Italy, 1944.Bruce Coulson
"They had dug in heavy armament and they had actually mines in front of the fortifications as well. So they were just sitting there, waiting for us. This is what made it so difficult fighting."
We left Liverpool [England] on a troopship, the regiment left Liverpool on a troopship, together with three other regiments: the Cape Breton Highlanders, the Perth Regiment and the Irish Regiment. We were onboard this troopship. And we sailed from Liverpool towards the end of October and we were at sea approximately 10 days before we got to Italy. But as we sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar [on November 6, 1943], we, towards evening - it was a very nice evening and the waters weren’t that rough - we were attacked by German light bombers.
Just as it happened, I was with, I was on the Monterey; the ship was what they called the [SS] Monterey. I was on the stern deck with two other people of my regiment. We actually saw one of the German bombers approaching our ship. It actually, it was so close, I could really see the markings on the German bomber. And it actually, it had dropped a bomb or was just about ready to drop a torpedo and all of a sudden, I felt a blast and I was knocked off my feet, backwards.
And I thought, well, you know, what’s happening? I thought I was harmed by the blast but I put my hand up to my face and I pulled it back and there was no blood there. But then I realized what had happened. On the deck of this rear ship, there was an aircraft gun and while I was looking towards the airplane approaching, they had removed the tarp on the gun and they had fired a shot at this aircraft that was approaching. And actually, it was almost like a point blank, they hit the aircraft and the aircraft went in the water, quite near the ship. But it really didn’t sink our confidence. I mean, I think it just sort of gradually sank in that well, this is what war is all about, this is what to expect and there was, when you’re at sea, you were constantly concerned about, are we going to be hit by a torpedo.
And they [the enemy] were in Italy roughly about almost two years before we landed in Sicily. And they had opportunities to fortify all these mountain ranges. They had dug in heavy armament and they had actually mines in front of the fortifications as well. So they were just sitting there, waiting for us. This is what made it so difficult fighting.
Actually, the fighting in Italy, in my consideration, was more difficult than the fighting in Europe. Because of the mountains and rivers that we had to cross and valleys that were, that were flooded by the Germans too, which made it more awkward to cross. Plus the mosquitoes. We had to contend with the mosquitoes as well.
A lot of our troops contracted malaria. Because of the terrain, the very wet terrain and the rivers, the mosquitoes, well, they, they just were, they multiplied so fast during the summer months. Our protection against that, we had to take a certain pill each every day and we had to sleep at night with our mosquito net over us. But a lot of us didn’t, weren’t too careful about that. Especially if you’re out having a few beers or wine, you know, come back and just lie down and go to sleep, you wouldn’t take it. So a lot of the troops contracted malaria. Fortunately I didn’t.
But they were saying that, you know, World War II would be the last war to end all wars. It didn’t do that. But it, it never will. There’s no such a thing as a last war. There’s war, there’s been wars continually ever since that.