Monday, December 18, 2017

Articles: Italy, September 4 and 6, 1943 - Pt 3.

Canadians on Landing Crafts Get Top Billing!!

Canadians run troops and tanks, etc. from Messina to Reggio Calabria


Stop the presses!

Seldom do I give that order, but today I share an news article (from the Sept. 6 1943 issue of The Winnipeg Tribune, digitized) that mentions the names of several Canadian members of Combined Operations, part of the 80th Flotilla of Landing Crafts, stationed in Messina, Sicily for the invasion of Italy and the supply of troops thereafter. 

The writer, Dick Sanburn, a Tribune War Correspondent, likely travelled to Italy aboard the landing crafts at some point during the early days of the invasion and got to know several of the Canadians who were in charge of the transporting of troops and supplies. He made note of the names of several men and many were familiar to my father, mentioned in his Navy memoirs, and familiar to this editor as well. 

For example, Lloyd Evans is mentioned, and I have referred to Lloyd's memoirs in the last two entries related to these WW2 articles, and again today. 

A terrific find, I say. And though the Canadian Navy boys in Combined Ops will soon receive little notice from the press as troops move inland, they receive top billing from me today.

The complete article follows:

Lieut. Jack Koyl (aka Uncle Jake according to my father) is the first officer mentioned and he has been mentioned and highlighted in previous posts.

LS Jim Searle, J. Malone of Edmonton, Norm Boren of Ottawa (sic. I'm certain Sanford is referring to N. Bowen) and Donald Westbrook of Hamilton (aka "Westy") were familiar mates to my father.

 Doug Harrison, back row, centre. Jim Malone, next right. At Givenchy III, Comox, BC

Back row, L-R: Don Westbrook, Chuck Rose, Joe Spencer.
Front Row, L-R: Joe Watson, Doug Harrison, Art Warrick.
Givenchy III.

Lloyd Evans, formerly of Ottawa, now in Markham, Ontario and mentioned above, recalls the following about the early days after the invasion of Italy:

Three of us decided to do a little sightseeing when the other crew were on duty on our craft. We visited Reggia di Calabria and called in on a police station with a letter requisitioning any guns we wanted. Under the occupation rules and regulations locals had to turn in any weapons they held. To make the letter look authentic we stamped it with an official looking mark...the stamp having been made out of a potato. As we suspected the local police couldn’t read English and they fell for it. Most of the weapons looked like antiques from the Boer war but I managed to get a lovely little Baretta ladies gun that I later sold to an American sailor in Gibraltar.

Charlie Sellick, Jim Ivison, with weapons "like antiques" in Italy, 1943.
Photo from the collection of Joe Spencer, RCNVR, Combined Ops.

I didn’t think my leg was too bad other than very sore but it got worse a few days later. After a visit to the first aid post I was sent down the coast by ambulance with a few others. We spent one night in a church and next day arrived at a British hospital in Catania near Mt Etna. When they noticed my Canada badge I was offered a move to a Canadian base a short distance away - the 5th Canadian Casualty Clearing Station that was situated in a modern Sicilian hospital. The next day they operated on my leg to remove a blood clot.

One of the soldiers in the ward had been caught in machine gun crossfire. About 70 bullets had hit him but amazingly only one drew blood, the others just left burn marks as they grazed him. I only accepted the truth of his story when I saw his shirt cut to ribbons. The one that did the damage went right through his rear end. I was deeply impressed with the skill and dedication of all the medical staff and the hours they put in. This was especially the case when a large numbers of casualties arrived from the front lines.
(Page 33 - 34, My Naval Chronicles) 

Clayton Marks of London, Ontario writes the following about the days after the invasion in COMBINED OPERATIONS:

For a month after the lightly-opposed Italian landing the 80th Flotilla carried out its familiar routine of ferry work. The end came with the Italian armistice and a great celebration in which the population of the countryside joined, and after that the word "England" was on every man's lip. The men of the 55th and 61st assault Flotillas had long been in the United Kingdom. The 81st was also there. Last of the Combined Operations units to return to Britain, the men of the 80th Flotilla, arrived on October 27th. (Page 86)

My father, a member of Combined Operations and the aforementioned 80th Flotilla, and who celebrated his 23rd birthday on September 6, 1943 - the same date as the opening newspaper story above) mentions the following about some of the adopted routines the men experienced after the invasion:

How long we worked across the straits I cannot really recall, but perhaps into October. One of our stokers set up a medical tent for the civilians at Messina and treated them for sores and rashes. We fed them too but when pregnant women came we had to close up shop. 

After a time we were sleeping in casas or houses and I had a helper, a little Sicilian boy named Pietro. First of all I scrubbed him, gave him toothpaste, soap and food. He was cute, about 13 or 14 years of age, but very small because of malnutrition.  His mother did  my washing and  mending for a can of peas or whatever I could scrounge. I was all set up. When Italy caved in there was a big celebration on the beach, but I had changed my abode and was sleeping with my hammock, covered with mosquito netting, slung between two orange trees. I didn’t join in the celebration because I’d had enough vino, and you not only fought Germans and Italians under its influence, you fought your best friend.

We weren’t too busy and the officers (who ate separately but had the same food as us) were growing tired of the diet, the same as we were, even though they had a Sicilian cook and we didn’t. An officer by the name of (Andrew) Wedd asked me if I knew where there were some chickens or something. I said, “Chickens, yes.” 

When he said, “How be we put on some sneakers and gaffle them,” I said right then, “Okay by me. Tonight at dark we’ll go, but I get a portion for my part of the deal.” He agreed and later we got every chicken in the coop, rung their necks, and then took them to the house and had the Sicilian cook prepare them. I got a couple of drum sticks out the window. Next morning, the Sicilian cook came in as mad as hell. Someone had stolen his chickens. Little did he know at the time he cooked them that they were his own because his wife looked after them.

We had some days off and we travelled, did some sight seeing, e.g., visiting German graves. We met Sicilian prisoners walking home disconsolately, stopped them, and took sidearms from any officer. We saw oxen still being used as draft animals when we were there.

Sometimes we went to Italy and to Allied Military Government of Occupied Territory depot (AMGOT). (They later changed that name because in Italian it meant shi-!) While a couple of ratings kept the man in charge of all the revolvers busy, we picked out a lot of dandies. If he caught us we were ready. We had chits made out, i.e., “Please supply this rating with sidearms,” signed Captain P.T. Gear or Captain B.M. Lever, after the Breech Mechanism Lever on a large gun.

I learned quite a bit of the Sicilian language under Pietro’s tutelage. He did all my errands and I would have sure liked to have brought him home. It broke my heart to leave him. (Page 35-36, "DAD, WELL DONE")

* * * * * *

Below are more news articles, cartoons, maps and photographs from The Winnipeg Tribune (issues dated Sept. 4 and 6, 1943). Hopefully they provide more content and context related to the activites of Canadians in Combined Operations while in Italy:

Please link to Articles: Italy, September 3, 1943 - Pt 2.

Unattributed Photos GH

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