Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Articles: Italy, Oct. 7-11, 1943 - Pt 12.

Allies Gain Ground in Italy, But...

[Photo: NA6560. Reggio, 3 September 1943 (Operation Baytown): A Sherman tank and infantry advance north from Reggio. Although the Eighth Army encountered little active resistance during their advance, the natural obstructions of the terrain, combined with German demolition's resulted in very slow progress and prevented the Army from intervening in the fighting at Salerno until after the Germans had started to withdraw. Photo Credit - Lt. Whicker, No. 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Imperial War Museum (IWM)]


Allies will continue to gain ground in Italy, but it will be slowly, from October 1943 until June, 1944 (for the control of Rome), and even later (for the control of Italy).

As the above photograph from IWM reveals, the slow gains were initially caused by geographical obstructions and enemy demolitions, and not much changed for almost 9 months.

Allied troops will continue their offensive measures while Canadians in Combined Operations travel slowly toward North Africa, then Gibraltar, then back to the United Kingdom. Then, for many (because two years of service in Europe nears its end) there will be a trip back to Canada for 'decision time'*.

[*What to do next? Volunteer again for more assignments related to Combined Operations? (For many the answer was 'yes'.]

My father, Doug Harrison (RCNVR and Combined Ops) recalls a few details about those final days in Europe:

After our work from Sicily to Italy was done and our armies were advancing we returned to Malta. We stayed but a few days, then took MT boats to Bougie in Algiers, and were soon after loaded onto a Dutch ship, the Queen Emma. The ship had been bombed and strafed, her propellor shaft was bent and we could only make eight knots an hour under very rough conditions. Her super structure was easily half inch steel, and in various places where shrapnel had struck I could see holes that looked like a hole punched in butter with a hot poker, like it had just melted.

We arrived at Niobe barracks in Scotland and in true navy style were put on a train and sent to Lowestoft in England, not too far from Norwich, England (my hometown’s namesake or visa versa) on or near the east coast.

Backing up a bit. While on the Queen Emma we had an attack of boils break out and we were taking exams to become Acting Leading Seamen. It was my fortune to not get boils at first, and I teased everyone aboard. But my turn came. I got three beauts close together on my neck. I went to sick bay, and what did they put me on? You guessed it - mercurochrome. I said, I won’t be back, same as when I broke my toe, and I didn’t. I passed my exam, got my book and carried the boils clear to Lowestoft.

I heard mess deck buzz. We were getting a lot of money and going on leave. The stipulated time for ratings is twenty-four months overseas and we were closing in. No more raids. Thanks God, for pulling me through. The mess deck buzz proved to be correct, they gave us all a pile of money (pound notes), and I thought it was too many for me because I made a big allotment to my mother. How they ever kept track of the pay I’ll never know, and to my dying day I will believe they gypped me right up to here.

Editor's Notes: The COPRA staff "kept track of the pay" at a camp in Largs, Scotland.

A29950. Wrens hutted camp at HMS COPRA, Largs.
Photo - Lt. E.A. Zimmerman, Imperial War Museum 

A29953. Pay Wrens at work at HMS COPRA, Largs.
Photo Credit - Lt. E.A. Zimmerman, IWM.


My father's memoirs continue:

Before going on leave I went to Stoker Katanna and I said, pinch out these boils. “I’ll lean on the top bunk and no matter how it hurts, pinch them out.” I never felt a thing because they were as ripe as cherries. I slopped on a big bandaid and away I went on leave, never bothering to answer a ton of mail. I also received eight hundred cigarettes.

We were due for a do and we did it up brown. You couldn’t possibly lose me in London, England even when I was three sheets to the wind. No way.

About leave. When I was in southern England I put in for Glasgow and received two extra days for travelling time. But I never really saw Glasgow. I went, paid off a grudge, and immediately put in for the return trip to London.

Do I have a reason for such odd behaviour? Yes.

One day at Rosneath Camp in Scotland, we ratings were all fallen in ranks, when out comes black garters and he says, “Any one of you guys a fast runner?” I stepped one pace forward. “Okay, run over there,” says black garters, “get a wheel barrow, shovel, fork, hoe, and go with this man and clean up that big estate garden.” What a hell of a shock and what a hell of a job. It had been left for years. I made up my mind then that I would get back at black garters, and I connived to do it while on a leave, and I damn well did.

About Rosneath Camp. It was where many chaps came down with impetigo and they were put on Gentian violet, the colour of an elderberry stain. O/S Art Bradfield, of Bradfield Monuments in Simcoe, went to Dieppe in pajamas - under his uniform - the only man to go to Dieppe in pajamas, and he got out of bed in Rosneath to do it.

After my leave I went back to Lowestoft, then to Greenock, then was loaded on a ship back to Canada and 52 days leave. Mum waited at Brantford Station for every train for days and I never came. And when I did arrive she wasn’t there. But she sure made a big fuss when she saw me and we cried an ocean full of tears. It was nice to be home again, Mum. 
It was coming up to Christmas and quite a few times I thought we would never see another one. I thank God for his protection. (Page 37-38, "DAD, WELL DONE")

*   *   *   *   *

The following news clippings, cartoons, editorial notes, etc., are from The Winnipeg Tribune (digitized issues from Oct. 6 - 11, 1943).

People doing research about World War II will find significant news articles and photographs, some with a Canadian perspective, of course. Visit the University of Manitoba digital collection at this link - The Tribune.

Canadians who manned landing crafts and shunted troops, supplies and the occasional writer from Messina (Sicily) to Reggio on the toe of Italy's boot (a seven-mile journey) also had to locate their own accommodation, since their landing craft were not built to serve as a home away from home.

Sailors ended up in vacated, broken-down houses on the southern edge of Messina. My father recalls staying in the shell of a house with a lovely tiled floor - but no roof.

Besides looking for suitable living quarters, scrambling for food was also an occasional pastime. My father recalls how he helped a few officers acquire a filling chicken supper:

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 (Andy) 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. (Page 36, "DAD, WELL DONE")

A photo of one of the Canadians who manned landing crafts at that time appears below. Please note the caption says Jack Trevor is "at present on loan to the British Navy", i.e., Combined Operations.

The next photo is also of Jack Trevor while in Sicily. It is part of a collection taken by Joe Spencer (RCNVR and Combined Operations) during WW2. Jack's pistols are very likely a recent purchase, made at an AMGOT depot in Italy.

Photo used with permission of Gary Spencer.

About AMGOT depots, my father writes the following in memoirs:

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. (Page 36, "DAD, WELL DONE")

W. A. Fisher, the survivor mentioned above, was later sent to a Combined Operations training facility on Vancouver Island. After surviving two sinkings he was asked to help promote the purchase of Victory Bonds, like the sailor below.

More to follow from The Winnipeg Tribune.

Please link to Articles: Italy, Oct.2 - 6, 1943 - Pt 11.

Unattributed Photos GH

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