Thursday, October 28, 2004

Remembrance of Those Passed

Today at lunch I sat down on a bench in an outside garden and opened the Globe and Mail though I only managed to read one article. Doug Sanders was reporting on the return of the Canadian liberators to Ortona, Italy, 61 years after the brutal battle of that seaside town. In Ortona, 1,375 Canadian soldiers fell in the seven days it took to drive the Germans from the town. I often wonder how on earth I will ever become a military historian when I seem to spend all my time crying my way through battles for those who have fallen or were maimed in the cause of freedom and liberty.

"It was just terrible to see. There were just hundreds of heavy guns firing throughout the day and night, people lying dead and injured all around you, snipers everywhere and mountains of rubble," said William (Skull) Worton, 85. Mr. Worton was a sergeant who fought his way from building to building with the Vancouver-based Seaforth Highlanders regiment.

In Ortona today, the destruction and death are still overshadowed by the deep sense of relief provided by the arrival of the Canadians."Our lives were ugly," said Silvana San Vitale, who was a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Ortona at the time. "Before the Canadians came, it was horrible -- no work, no food, no life. We lost our nona [grandmother]. We were moving out of town to get away from the bombs, and since she was old, the Nazis made her get off the truck and they shot her in the road. Right in front of us." "Then the Canadians came," said her brother Giannetto, who was 13 at the time. "We were starving and they fed us. We are in eternal gratitude for that."

"On Dec. 13, the battle came to our little house," said Tomaso Dimascio, 75. “We were surrounded by Germans and everything was destroyed -- our house and everything around us. The explosions were everywhere. So we ran out of our house, to the Canadians -- our whole family. I hadn't had any food for days, so I asked for bread." Mr. Dimascio wept as he recalled his encounter with the Edmontonians who fed him. "My face was very skinny from not having eaten. They told me I was very brave, and they let me stay there, giving food to people. I am so grateful."
Hundreds of Ortona residents flocked to the town's Canadian military graveyard, a peaceful spot in an olive grove that contains more dead Canadian soldiers than any other spot in the world, to give thanks to the men whom they had last seen when they were young.

For the Canadians, it was a rare moment of recognition for an event that is often compared to the Battle of Stalingrad for its carnage and ferocity.
The Canadians often are credited with having developed some key techniques of urban warfare, including "mouseholing," in which holes are blown through upper-floor walls so soldiers can move from one building to the next.


But the far more difficult and bloody campaign to liberate Italy was a larger event for Canadians, and is considered important in having drawn Hitler's forces away from the West. "People talk about it as if it was a sideshow, but this was bloody tough fighting. It was Hitler's best regiments and tanks, and it was terrible mud and hilly terrain, and we had a terrible time just moving around, but we did it," said Ivan Gunter, 84, a private who was an intelligence scout with the Ontario-based Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

To the:

Royal 22e Regiment & Ontario Regiment - Je me Souviens,
To the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada - Cuidich’N Righ
Hasting & Prince Edward Regiment -Paratus
48th Highlanders -Dileas Gu Brath.

I am grateful, and hope, that I will remain, Fior Go Bas.

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