"They took a look and sent me down to Foggia by ambulance; and they determined that I had malaria."
On the third of September, [I] sailed from Halifax to England, to Liverpool. I stayed with the 1st Field Squadron [British Royal Engineers] until Christmas when they moved down to Aldershot in England; and at Aldershot [Canadian Army headquarters], the [No. 1 Tunnel Company, Royal Canadian Engineers] tunneling company had a lead from the company to General [Andrew] McNaughton [General Officer Commanding, First Canadian Corps], who had arranged that any ex-drillers that arrived in England could be transferred from one company to another, to the tunneling company. And so at Aldershot, I received notice that I could be, if I wished, transferred to the tunneling company and I agreed to this.
I found that we had been attached to a very small group of men that had been picked to do a special job. That’s the way they put it. And so we gathered up and got new equipment, and new uniforms, got everything up to date; and I found that are our equipment had been stamped, ‘new kits.’ And it had all been stamped with a code word, ‘casket.’ Nice name for a group of people, ‘casket.’
Anyway, we went to northern England and into Scotland, where we had some military training for a change; and it was hard work, and I think I went from… I lost a few pounds. Very rigourous work and battle training, and all that sort of stuff. We weren’t used to this. And over to Glasgow, and we headed for somewhere east. We had no idea where we were going; and I sailed on a little ship called [HMS] Dunnottar Castle. It turned out to be to Sicily.
I was a tradesman. I was called a miner and driller. I used to get trades pay for that; and my job in Italy and England was to drill holes, no matter what size or shape they were. I had bridge training; I had demolition training; I had combat training. We were pretty well-trained people. Up towards Termoli, we did some bridge work and at that time, we had our first heavy rainstorm. I remember having, just south of Termoli, a bridge to repair that had washed out. After doing that, we went just north of Termoli and the rain was pouring; and it felt icy cold to us.
I woke up one morning there, north of Termoli, and after a night’s sleep under the truck, I woke up the next morning and I thought my head was full of hot glass and my neck was sore; and I was really ill. So I told our officer, I think his name was Cormier, that I just couldn’t do it today and so jumped in a truck, and went to a dressing station. They took a look and sent me down to Foggia by ambulance; and they determined that I had malaria. They had hauled me off to the airport and they were going to fly me to Catania in Sicily, but I spent the rest of the night in the airport and traveling to a hospital on the side of Mount Etna. And there, I spent the next… right up until Christmas.
I remember a period and pictures come to mind of a day in that hospital at Catania, on the side of Mount Etna. This particular day, everybody was told to try, if they could, to go out on the balconies and the front of that hospital, down to the harbour, and it was covered with big wide balconies. Gorgeous hospital. We were told, get out on the balconies. So most of us that could walk or limp, or get out there, went out on the front of this balcony. And those that couldn’t walk were helped out.
And there, marching up to the circular drive was a pipe band from the 51st (Highland) [Infantry] Division, who had been in North Africa from the beginning of the war. They were going to back to Blighty [Britain], they were going to back to England. They formed up at the beginning of this drive and with a slow march, they began playing “The Road to the Isles;” and they gradually increased their pace until they were swinging at full pace down towards the docks. The sound just faded away in the distance. And you know, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was magnificent.