Brothers in arms: the old and the new, 1940.Bill Teleske
Soldiers playing Dice.Bill Teleske
German bomber (Heinkel 111) shot down.Bill Teleske
Bill Teleske in December 2009.Historica Canada
Troops in Training.Bill Teleske
"Well, what the hell am I doing here, 4,000 miles away from home, trying to kill somebody I don’t even know and he’s trying to kill me.” And I thought, “Gosh, this is a terrible world.”"
When we got to Ortona [Italy], we could see we were in for a struggle there because the buildings facing the main streets were blowing up and the streets were all full of rubble. We couldn’t use tanks in Ortona and the side streets were too narrow for the tanks to negotiate, so we had to fight from street by street, from house to house, street by street until we took Ortona Christmas eve. It was one of the bad nights for me because on our particular little front, the German had a record player and he kept playing Lili Marlene [a German love song], over and over and over and over again. And about midnight, the Lili Marlene stopped and they had a German record of Silent Night. And there was a German girl singing, couldn’t understand the word, but we knew what she was singing and she had the most beautiful voice. And I thought to myself, well, here I’m sitting in a trench there and, Christmas eve, I was wondering what my family was doing at home back in Canada and what they were doing Christmas eve, what my girlfriend was doing in England back in Christmas eve. And I thought to myself, “Well, what the hell am I doing here, 4,000 miles away from home, trying to kill somebody I don’t even know and he’s trying to kill me.” And I thought, “Gosh, this is a terrible world.” And finally I guess a shell must have landed near me and brought me back to reality that there was a war on and I was in it.
So, that was Christmas eve and Christmas day was no different than any other day. Twenty-eighth of December, all was quiet, but the night of the 27th, we could hear a lot of noise going on, on the German front, like heavy equipment being moved, tanks being moved around and trucks and whatnot. So we thought that they were getting ready for a counterattack, and we could ill afford a counterattack because there were so few of us left. And the officers and whatnot were going around from man to man to see if we had enough ammunition because they was really expecting a counterattack. But the night wore on, and morning come and everything was all quiet, there was nothing but the smell of mud and blood and rubble. But there was no noise. There was no machine guns, no mortars or anything like that, and we couldn’t figure out what was going on, what they were up to. And so we sent out patrols and they went up to the end of town, the outskirts of the Ortona and the Germans were all gone, they had left. The only Germans that were left were the dead ones. So Ortona was ours on December the 28th, we had captured Ortona.
Another bad battle that I lost a good many friends was the Hitler Line. It was just a one-day battle, but we lost as many men that one day as we did the whole week in Ortona. It was bad. And then [Monte] Cassino, was another battle. We, it took us a few days to take Cassino, but Cassino kind of reminded me of what Flander Fields would look like because the fields were all red with poppies at the time we took Cassino.
It was battle after battle. I mean, it’s a, when you’re at war like that, it’s 24 hours, seven days. The only time you get a respite from the fighting is when they, once in a while, they’ll pull your regiment out of the lines and give you a couple days rest. And then you go back into action again.