Saturday, March 3, 2018

Articles: Italy, September 22-23, 1943 - Pt 8.

Hard Work Continues on Italian Mainland... and Beaches
(And the Navy Boys Find Time to Go Waterskiing!)

[Photo: NA6220. Personalities: The Commander of the Eighth Army, Lieutenant
General Sir Bernard Montgomery, watches troops as they pass through the streets
of Reggio. Photo Credit - Major Geoffrey Keating, No. 2 Army Film and
Photographic Unit, Imperial War Museum (IWM)]


The Allied landings during the invasion of Italy began on September 3, 1943 (Operation Baytown) at Reggio Di Calabria and records show troops and their supplies reached the mainland (from Messina, a trip of about seven miles) without much incident.

The work of transporting materials of war to Reggio - involving Canadians in Combined Operations (members of the 80th Flotilla of Landing Craft) - continued into October. A schedule was instituted that allowed time off and sailors said good-bye to loading and unloading LCMs for a few hours per day and visited parts of Italy, near the toe of the boot.

What follows is a rare story about the Canadian Navy boys and one trip they made by handmade water skis during a day off in the Mediterranean, September 1943. The story comes to me by way of Gladys Grycan (during a recent phone conversation), the wife of Bill Grycan, a Canadian in Combined Ops who returned to Canada from Europe (after the invasions of Sicily and Italy) in December 1943. He next served at Givenchy III at Comox BC from Jan. 1944 to war's end, got married to Gladys shortly thereafter and eventually settled down in Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

Bill Grycan (RCNVR, Comb. Ops.) appears in the next three photos, circa 1944 - 1945:

Bill sits in the passenger seat with a girl on his lap. D. Harrison (i.e., Dad), far right.
Others: D. Arney, first left; Joe Malone, 4th left; Chuck Rose, centre back row;
Jim Ivison, front bumper. On end of The Spit, Givenchy III, Comox, BC

Bill Grycan (w ball cap) in back row, second from right. Campbell River.
D. Harrison, back row centre (w ball cap too). 1944 - 45.

Bill and Gladys, centre, w Gladys' sister (left) and Mr. Unknown.
Wedding Photo as found at Courtenay Museum/Archives.

Gladys' Story: Waterskiing in The Med.

During their time off, some of the Canadian sailors learned and enjoyed to water ski in the Mediterranean Sea near Messina, Sicily.

[Editor suspects they made the water skis themselves from scrap lumber, e.g., from empty vino barrels.]

Their landing craft were not fast enough to pull the boys on water skis so they asked for assistance, and found an American on a Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB) who was willing to pull them around.

[Editor: The Canadians undoubtedly became proficient at making many things with few materials because they were poorly equipped as far as several amenities were concerned, e.g., proper accommodation, cooking stoves, and clothing. Because they were low on clothes and had no bathing suits, they water skied naked. So I was told!]

The American in the MTB thought it would be fun to haul a few naked Canadians out and about, and deliberately carried them passed a hospital ship filled with nurses. The nurses appeared to be delighted and several waved handkerchiefs as the Navy boys sailed by.

"So, the Navy boys waved back," said Gladys.


"With everything else just flapping in the breeze."

[Editor: I have read another sailor's recollection of the same or a similar incident - in the last few years (perhaps in St. Nazaire to Singapore: The Canadian Amphibious War, Volume 1), and when I find it again I will add it to the above entry, which has provided me with my best laugh of the year.]

*  *  *  *  *

About one week after the initial landings in Italy (Sept. 3, 1943 - Operation Baytown) another Allied landing took place at Salerno (Operation Avalanche), farther north along the Italian coast. It was fiercely opposed by German forces. Success was eventually achieved in establishing a solid beachhead but only after great cost to Allied forces.

Some details concerning the second landings have already been provided in earlier posts, and more information is listed below as found in articles presented in The Winnipeg Tribune and other sources.

As well, several other news clippings and ads are displayed from The Tribune that provide "a sense of the times" in 1943:

*  *  *  *  *

General Marshall was initially considered to lead D-Day Normandy

The Salerno bridgehead (as mentioned above) was not built easily

Wartime photo from Associated Press, found in The Tribune

The 'hour for storming Europe' may feel imminent to some but was really 9 months away:

Some readers may find the Rudolf Hess story very interesting or unusual. Please Google more information at your leisure:

Going to the movies became quite the habit during the war years and 10 - 15 minute news clips also became part of the 'movie-going' experience. "Italy Surrenders" from Canadian Paramount News appears below, less than 3 weeks after the invasion:

Let the games begin -

Baseball games became a regular part of the routine for many Navy boys once they returned to Canada - as some members of RCNVR and Comb. Ops. did in December 1943 - and re-volunteered for more wartime duties, e.g., General Service, which included duties at Givenchy III on Vancouver Island:

 Navy No. 1 Baseball Team at Lewis Park, Courtenay B.C. 1944.
Note Doug Harrison and Bill Grycan, front and centre.

"Harrison and Rose" sit side by side in photo of Navy No. 1 Team.
News clipping from Courtenay newspaper.

A map of Salerno and a few details about the Allied slow advance in that region follows: 

News in The Trib also concerns action on other war fronts:

The actions in the Pacific Ocean are 'combined operations' as well:

This is the first news I have spotted related to the return of Canadian servicemen - or their new wives. I know several Canadians in Combined Ops, including my father, returned in early December aboard the Aquitania (photo to follow). I have also learned that Mary Adlington, the Scottish bride of Al Adlington of London (RCNVR and Combined Ops.; see their wedding photo below), came to Canada aboard the Ile de France, quite possibly at or near this time:  

Chuck 'Rosie' Rose, Don 'Westy' Westbrook, Al Kirby and other
servicemen aboard the Aquitania, bound for Halifax, Dec. 1943.

'Rosie' stands up for Al and Mary Adlington (w Mary's sister), Glasgow.
Photo from the collection of the Adlingtons, London Ontario.

A homecoming of another sort:

Commando training in Canada did take place. However, the service the Canadian commandos performed may have differed in several ways from what we have learned about British commando units.

When Canadians in Combined Operations returned to Canada in December 1943, they reported seeing commandos in Halifax, perhaps at HMCS Stadacona, the Navy base from which they originally departed for the UK in January 1942.

My father writes the following about his arrival back in Canada in 1943:

It would be fitting here to say, to wherever camp or ship we went - and we were at many - we were called ‘new entries.’ Even after two years overseas, when we arrived back at Halifax and fell in, the first words we heard were “for the benefit of you new entries.” How humiliating can they get? Then you got the rules.

We met a lot of sailors, who were shortly to go through what we went through already, and they called themselves commandos. They sure were in for a rude awakening. We were never called commandos, only combined operations ratings, and we were the first from Canada to go overseas.
(Page 6, "DAD, WELL DONE")

The new commandos may have formed groups of Beach Commandos that were active during D-Day Normandy, 7 months later in France.

More information about Beach Commandos can be found in 'memoirs re combined operations' (see Peter Newman) and 'books re combined operations' (see Beach Commandos) as found in the 'click on Headings' in right margin.

Many troops still are being sent to the U.K., now under safer conditions as U-Boats have been partially driven from the seas:

More articles from The Winnipeg Tribune to follow.

Please link to Articles: Italy, September 18 - 21, 1943 - Pt 7.

Unattributed Photos GH.

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