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To recap, my grandfather felt the war would be ending soon and promotions were only handed out on the battlefield. He joined the West Nova Scotia Regiment in March, without telling Annalea.


I think often of what that last day must have been like. In September, I am going to Italy to visit his gravesite at the Montecchio war cemetery.


The Battle of Foglia is described by the chaplain who was there. I found his memoir in the Toronto reference library. Arnold Taylor was 31 when he died.






Through the Hitler Line

Memoirs of an Infantry Chaplain by Laurence E. Wilmot, MC


Chapter 7,

Tragedy at Foglia River, August 30-31, 1944 Foglia River/Gothic Line


Another battle was in the offing when I arrived at battalion HQ late in the afternoon of Wednesday, August 30. I located the regimental aid post, deposited my pack and kit, and made my way over to the tiny stone barn that was serving as tactical HQ to learn what our next move might be. Capt. Harvey Jones, the officer commanding B Company, was reporting over the field radio the results of his company's reconnaissance across the Foglia River. He and his men had crossed the river without incident and made their way up to an anti-tank ditch without encountering enemy action. As they approached the lateral road several hundred yards in front of the ditch, they came under heavy fire, which disclosed enemy forces in depth with strong firepower from machine guns located on the flanking hills, backed up by artillery and mortar fire. The enemy had demolished the little village and had constructed strongpoints across the front. They suffered a number of casualties, including one officer killed, and withdrew to the anti-tank ditch.


On hearing the report, all present, except apparently the CO, considered the situation called for support from artillery, tanks, and supporting infantry. The artillery forward observation officer indicated that his men could blast the strongpoints ahead of the advancing infantry. The tank liaison officer pointed out on the map the excellent opportunity for tank support up the road that led directly from the river to the battalion objective. Since the attack was not going in until first light there would be ample time for the engineers to clear the anti-tank mines from the road, and as Captain Jones had secured the bridge over the anti-tank ditch, there would be nothing to prevent them from accompanying the infantry as they went in.

The CO, however, rejected all offers of assistance, declaring that the infantry did not need them. "This is the infantry's day," he blustered. "We will show you how wars should be fought and won. We don't need the artillery and we don't need the tanks. This is our day!" To this day I have difficulty interpreting these words. Was Ronnie being facetious, putting on an act? Was he maintaining a bold front in the face of an impossible assignment? He was a born actor and was quite capable of doing so. And I had not been present earlier in the afternoon to hear him expostulating on the telephone. But, surely this was a new situation that called for a reconsideration of whatever orders had been given previously. We will never know why he did not make a new decision in light of the report.


In any event, I was shocked, and I could not believe what my ears were hearing. I wondered where the brigadier was, and why someone else did not contravene this decision. On other such occasions, during the approach to the Hitler Line and throughout that battle, Brigadier Bernatchez had always been present when crucial decisions had to be made. But he was nowhere to be seen, and there did not appear to be anyone else present with the authority to question the CO's decision. I had difficulty believing that Ronnie meant what he said. But I knew him well enough to be aware that once he had committed himself to a plan of action he would not alter it unless ordered to do so. That he was in earnest became clear without delay, for he immediately gave orders for the rifle companies to prepare to descend the valley, cross the river, and dig in. D and C Companies were to attack at first light under Maj. Alan Nicholson and Capt. Stanley Smith.


After all the infantry/tank exercises of the past summer, it seemed, absurdly, that the men were to be sent in to break into the main Gothic Line defences without any artillery preparation or supporting armour. I feared disaster and felt helpless to do anything to prevent it. As a chaplain I could not attempt in any way to interfere with the conduct of a battle. So what could I do? I pondered the situation as I made my way back to the regimental aid post. By the time I arrived, it was clear what I must do. I informed Corporal Thwaites at the regimental aid post that I was going along with the two companies and asked him to prepare a small pack with shell dressings and all necessary first-aid equipment. He filled my canteen with fresh water and I set out to join C and D Companies in descending the Foglia valley.


If anyone had asked me why I was going, or what I thought I could do, I could not have given an answer. I had no idea what I might be able to accomplish by going, except to be with the men. I went because I could do nothing else. My resolution to remain at the regimental aid post dissolved in the face of what I felt was to be a disaster. I went because the presence of him who had called me into the ministry in 1925, and had urged me to offer my services as a chaplain in 1940, was directing me to this route. Like Abraham of old, I went out not knowing whither I was going or what I could do in the situation, but convinced that the presence of Christ was with me.


I arrived at the brow of the hill just as C and D Companies started down the face of the cliff to descend into the valley. We made our way down a winding path and crossed the river without incident. The river was a mere trickle. I did not even get my feet wet, crossing on rocks in the riverbed. We moved forward to the left to an opening in a stand of trees, where we dug in for the night. There was sporadic shelling, but no one was injured. It was a sleepless night. I remember enjoying the tot of rum that each of us received to keep us warm in our slit trenches. I wrapped myself in my gas cape and pondered the situation, praying that I might be up to the challenge of whatever lay before me. Although I could not envisage the ordeal ahead I was sure this was where I was intended to be.


At approximately 0200 hours on Thursday, August 31, Maj. Alan Nicholson called an orders group at which he informed us that he and Capt. Stan Smith had just returned from an orders group of the company commanders with the CO, held at tactical HQ, at which they had received the battle plan. It was a grim picture. The attack was to go in at first light from the anti-tank ditch occupied by B Company, without any prior artillery preparation and without supporting armour. D Company was to lead off, followed by C Company two minutes later, in an attempt to dislodge the enemy from their defensive positions. Major Nicholson stated that he personally disagreed with the manner in which the attack was laid on. To make matters worse, Capt. Harvey Jones reported at the orders group that the enemy had been out all evening laying mines across the forward area. The CO did not appear to listen to what Jones said, gave no indication that he even heard him, and took no steps to cope with this new aspect of the situation. Major Nicholson feared the attack would be a disaster and personally did not wish to undertake it as presently planned. But, if he were to refuse, it would mean that some other officer, without the benefit of such information as he had, would be required to lead the men. Under the circumstances, he felt he must accept the responsibility of command, and asked all present for their support.


I went back to my slit trench and spent the remaining hours of the darkness pondering the immediate future and trying to think how I might be of some assistance. My worst fears had now been confirmed. The attack was to go ahead as announced, in broad daylight, without any supporting fire, and with the added hazard of a minefield. Awakened before daylight and ready to move off at 0530 hours, I marched in with Major Nicholson. As we approached the anti-tank ditch, he suggested that the stretcher-bearers and myself remain in the ditch with B Company, and be ready to come forward when called.


Before the attack, the two companies lined up along the lip of the ditch, C Company behind D Company, and each man fired a clip of ammunition in the direction of the enemy strongpoints, thereby destroying any element of surprise that might have been possible. The men reloaded, and D Company went over the top of the ditch and moved forward towards their objective, which was point 133 on the Gothic Line. They were followed one minute later by C Company. There was no reaction from the enemy until the advancing troops reached the minefield. As soon as the mines started going off, the enemy opened up with machine-gun fire from the adjoining hills on both flanks, accompanied by a barrage of shells and mortars. Immediately there were urgent cries for help, for stretcher-bearers, and the padre, from every section of the front.


It was agonizing to hear the cries of the wounded. Some of them had lost their feet from Schu mines, others had been wounded by machine gun fire, or by the shells and mortars that were coming thick and fast. I have never felt so helpless in all my life as on that occasion, and I wondered what I could possibly do to help in the face of such a tragedy. Suddenly three young men approached me, stretcher-bearers for C and D Companies, with Alvin Hastings, stretcher-bearer for B Company, as their spokesman. Hastings asked me to come and speak with his company commander, Capt. Harvey Jones, and try to persuade him to let them to go out with stretchers to attend to the wounded men and bring them in. Captain Jones had already refused their request, saying it would be suicidal to go out. I voiced some concern, but Hastings assured me that he had carrying parties ready to go, so I agreed to see what I could do, relieved at the possibility of finding a way to respond to the cries for help.


Captain Jones was an officer with extensive experience in battle, and he was adamant in his conviction that it would be suicidal to go out. He further protested that he would have to send an officer with the stretcher bearers, and he was not prepared to do that. I said that, as an officer, I was prepared to lead the carrying parties. He replied that he would not take the responsibility of allowing the men to go out into that kind of flak. He simply could not permit them to go. I suggested that the decision needn't be his, and said, "You have a telephone, phone the CO and let him decide. It was he who sent the men into the hell they are in; perhaps he will now accept responsibility for allowing the stretcher-bearers to go out to help the wounded and bring them back." Jones called the CO, who said he thought the padre was a fool to even consider such a rash act, but had no control over him. He would permit anyone who wished to accompany me to do so, but the decision was up to each man. No one was being ordered into that situation.


Each stretcher-bearer had his carrying party present, so I turned and asked them, "Are we all here?" They responded as with one voice, "We're all here, ready to go." "All right," I said, "follow me. We will go in single file to make a smaller target." I climbed over the lip of the ditch, followed by the carrying parties, and set out for the forward area. As soon as we got out of the ditch we were mortared heavily, and the men in the forward area shouted at us to get down, as we were drawing fire. We were already down and waited while the mortars exploded harmlessly all around us.

While the mortars were whining their way in our direction, I had looked around and found a small willow switch, which I cut off with my army knife and trimmed to a good length. When the shelling was over, I pulled the red-cross flag from my thigh pocket, pinned it to the willow stick, raised it high, then stood up, and waved to the men to follow. The stretcher-bearers, each of whom had a similar flag in his pocket, followed suit, and we moved forward with no direct fire from the enemy. Our flags had been recognized and the enemy observed the rules of the Geneva Convention. We soon arrived at the minefield. I had no difficulty detecting where the mines were. I stopped at the first one and showed the men how to recognize them by the disturbance of the grass and dust on the leaves. I urged each man to forget the enemy and keep his eyes fixed on the ground while crossing the field to avoid becoming a casualty himself.


We soon reached the area of desolation. It was a strip plotted out by the enemy as a prepared killing ground across the line of attack. Our men were lying in every direction on the ground, some dead, others in agony and calling for help. All the officers in both companies had been either killed or wounded, including the two company commanders, each of whom had lost a leg in the minefield. The three stretcher-bearers went to work on the most serious cases. We began the arduous task of carrying the wounded out of the minefield, at first using our route into the area, but later we decided to move forward a few yards to the lateral road, proceed to the crossroads, and turn south down the paved road leading to battalion HQ. The usual carrying party consisted of four persons, the stretcher-bearer and three carriers. But here, with a long distance to cover and so many wounded needing immediate attention, it was imperative that the stretcher bearers continue working with the wounded.

I became the fourth person on one stretcher. We recruited two others from those who had not been wounded and started the long haul, a kilometre or more, under the intense heat of an Italian August sun, back to a clump of willows north of the river, where the regimental aid post jeep ambulance met us. As soon as I could be relieved from carrying for a spell, I walked about, seeking to bring as much comfort as possible to the wounded, assisting in dressing and binding up wounds. Those who had lost a lot of blood urgently needed water to wet their parched lips and relieve their terrible thirst. I had to insist upon only a sip of water for each, but, despite rationing, my bottle was soon empty.

Some forty men had lost feet from Schu mines, while others had received wounds from machine-gun, shell, or mortar fire, or by shrapnel from S mines. Some were entangled in barbed wire and surrounded by mines. One young man, whom I shall never forget, lay tangled in wire and wounded by both mines and shrapnel. He called out to me as I approached, "Padre, for God's sake, don't come near me, the place is loaded with mines. Someone has to stay alive to return and tell the people at home what hell they sent us into." I replied that I hoped, by God's grace, to live through this, but that now we needed to get him out of there and carry him back to safety. It was a sticky situation, to cut the wire and bind up his wounds, all the while stepping around Schu mines. We did manage to get him out and carry him back, but I doubt that he survived.


It was a painfully slow process, with only three stretchers and a long, hot carry, to bring out between sixty and seventy badly wounded men to where the carrier ambulance could pick them up and bring them back to the regimental aid post. Throughout the morning we were the only people allowed to move about with relative freedom. Anyone else, including an officer who came up to investigate the situation, had to crawl on his stomach under cover of the low shrubs. Around mid-morning those remaining from the decimated companies were withdrawn under cover of smoke, and the Royal 22nd Regiment was moved up to within five hundred yards behind the anti-tank ditch to safeguard against the possibility of a surprise counter attack.


There was sporadic enemy shelling throughout this manoeuvre, and as the withdrawing troops reached a crossroads by the river used as a staging area for the vehicles evacuating the wounded, the enemy laid on a deadly barrage of artillery fire. It was designed to catch the troops as they moved through a cutting in the bank, and it was timed exactly. By good luck the regimental aid post ambulance had just left with its load of wounded, and fortunately for all of us, the barrage fell about twenty feet short. As we lay in the shallow ditches on either side of the road shrapnel sliced across to the south bank a few inches above us. It then lifted and came down again about twenty feet beyond the cutting. The young bamboo forest was completely shredded, but there were no casualties.


I returned again to the forward area and became frightfully concerned at the slow pace of the evacuation. As I passed through the lines of the Royal 22nd Regiment I noticed a soldier with a large red cross painted on his steel helmet. Walking over to within hailing distance, I asked him if he could bring a stretcher and carrying party and assist us. He shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands in a gesture that suggested he did not understand. I repeated my request and noticed this time that two other young men with him were interpreting my message. To my great relief, he responded, "Ouai, the Padre of the West Novas! Ouai." In no time he and his two companions were following us up to the minefield, and they continued carrying out the wounded until the job was completed. He was a young French Canadian who was afterwards awarded the Military Medal for his actions on behalf of his fellow Canadians of a sister regiment.


I couldn't help but reflect that had the CO accepted the offer of the tank liaison officer, the road would have been cleared of anti-tank mines, allowing the regimental aid post ambulance jeep to come within a few yards of where the majority of the casualties lay, and reducing by at least two thirds the time required to get the wounded out.


Finally, after what seemed an endless effort, all the wounded we had located were evacuated, except one young man who had been shot through the sternum. He was determined to walk out, but I persuaded him, with great difficulty, against doing so, lest he cause himself more damage. I waited with him in the forward area until a stretcher could be brought back. During the wait, I walked about and obtained the names of eleven or twelve of the dead. Some had in their wallets the pink card they received in July for attendance at the Church Membership School, indicating they had become communicant members of a denomination.


During this lull in activity, while I awaited the stretcher and carrying party, I took some time out for my daily reading of a chapter from the New Testament. My reading on that day was chapter 6 of the Book of Revelation, which tells of the Seer's vision of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the death and destruction that resulted from their release on the earth. The account seemed such an apt description of what we were experiencing that I read it aloud to the wounded man, and we briefly discussed the theme and its application to a world then at war.


Finally the stretcher party arrived. It had been intercepted by a German scouting party on its way in, but on seeing that they were going in for a casualty, the Germans allowed them to proceed. We walked directly past the spot on our way back, but met no interference. Some hundred yards before we reached the anti-tank ditch, a couple of men from B Company, seeing us walking the road unmolested by enemy fire, climbed onto the bridge to look around. They were immediately shelled and one was slightly wounded before he could scurry into the ditch. The enemy was holding their fire while we evacuated our wounded, but they were alert.


At the river, we were picked up by the jeep ambulance and transported to the aid post. So ended the most remarkable day of my life! I had difficulty believing that I was actually alive at the end of it. It had been too much to hope that our carrying parties could come through the kind of flak they encountered from hours until mid-morning, when the remaining troops were withdrawn. Afterwards, an eerie silence fell over the area as I walked about, always with my flag flying, caring for the wounded and examining the dead to make sure there was no life remaining in them.

We left the dead to be brought out on the following day when the enemy had withdrawn. At least they were suffering no pain.


I was exhausted when I arrived at the regimental aid post and the doctor gave me a pill to enable me to get some sleep. I lay down and reflected upon the events of the past twenty-four hours. I thanked God for helping us to get the wounded out without becoming casualties ourselves. I finally slept and awoke refreshed quite early on the following morning, Friday, September 1. The CO requested an interview so I went over to tactical HQ. Ronnie was very subdued, as well he should have been after such a debacle, especially as the authorities had laid the responsibility squarely upon his shoulders. He told me there were two men missing, and he wondered if perhaps we had missed them in our search of the battlefield. Would I mind going out into the forward area, accompanied by a stretcher-bearer, and search to see if someone had been overlooked? I said I did not wish to go into the minefield, let alone take someone else with me, until the whole area had been swept for mines. After all the disturbance and milling about the day before it would be difficult to detect the mines by sight. He promised to have the whole area swept that morning. I agreed to go out at noon with some Pioneers who were going out to pick up weapons and equipment from the battlefield. The rest of the morning I spent plotting out a cemetery for men killed in the battle. Their bodies were brought out during the morning and early afternoon and we prepared them for burial.


I set out at noon with Victor Newell, a stretcher-bearer who had done a magnificent job the day before, and together we thoroughly searched the area, but to no avail. As we were about to return to the regimental aid post, Newell noticed a rifle up-ended in the midst of some shrubs, an area that had not been searched, and suggested we examine the spot. I agreed, but insisted he walk in my steps to make doubly sure of not stepping on a mine. As we moved towards the spot, Newell noticed a Tommy gun lying to our left. He asked if it would be all right for him to take just one step aside to retrieve it. Before I could reply there was an explosion that knocked me head over heels, covering the back of my head and neck with dirt. Newell had stepped on a Schu mine. His foot was blown off at the ankle.


The blast of these mines is such a shock to the system that there is little or no immediate bleeding. I had no difficulty in binding up the stump of his leg. With the help of the Pioneers, we laid him on a stretcher, loaded him onto the jeep ambulance, and sent him back, while I completed the search. I found no one. Newell was taken immediately to the field hospital, where the doctors operated on his leg for what seemed to be a straightforward wound. However, shortly after being wheeled back to his ward Newell died. An autopsy revealed that a small piece of metal from the toe of his army boot had entered his chest under the rib cage and penetrated his heart. Learning of this tragedy was a tremendous blow to me. Newell had been one of the heroes of the evacuation of the day before and had through the whole ordeal unscathed. Now he was dead from a Schu mine in the very area where one day earlier he had walked about freely attending to the wounded.


As for the two missing men, a few days later I remembered my encounter with the young French-Canadian stretcher-bearer. It turned out that his two interpreters were West Novas who apparently found the flak too much and accepted their friend's invitation to share his dugout as the remnants of the two companies were being withdrawn. I have always hoped that the two West Novas returned to their own lines, but reflecting on this experience then and through the since, I wondered if they were the two who were missing that morning.


After more than fifty years I still find myself asking how this disaster at the Foglia crossing could have occurred. This was a major tragedy, with all the officers and senior NCOs and 50 percent of the men of two companies either killed or wounded. It also signaled the end of the career of a soldier who, as commanding officer of the West Nova Scotia Regiment, had given outstanding leadership throughout the spring offensive. The West Novas had distinguished themselves by being the first regiment to break through the Hitler Line. For his outstanding leadership in that action, the CO, Lt. Col. R.S.E. Waterman, had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order. What went wrong on August 30-31, 1944? It is evident that the CO had received orders to try to break through the main Gothic Line defences without any preparatory artillery fire supporting armour. But that order had been given in the absence of information about the enemy forces and, to test the wisdom of that plan, he had been requested to carry out a reconnaissance in depth to determine the strength and disposition of the enemy. The whole picture was completely changed by the report of Capt. Harvey Jones.


Captain Jones's report showed the enemy to be present in strength, and in strongly fortified positions, with plenty of firepower from machine guns, mortars, and artillery. The CO received this report, so why did he not tell Brigade or Division or whoever had laid on the attack and ask for supporting firepower? Indeed, was it even necessary for him to seek the permission of his superiors? Apparently there is a notation in the brigade for that day indicating the CO had discretionary powers to utilize such supporting firepower as he deemed necessary to the success of the attack. Why, then, didn't the CO accept the offers of both the artillery forward observation officer and the tank liaison officer? And why did he not heed Jones's warning at the orders group early in the morning of August 31 that the enemy had mined the area where the men would make their attack?


At that hour there was still ample time for the Pioneers or the Engineers to clear paths through the minefield. We will never know the answers to these questions.


Another question looms large: why was Brigadier Bernatchez not present at that fateful moment of decision on the afternoon of August 30, 1944? The brigade diary indicates that he was on duty at that time, although one would have expected him to be in contact with his CO in order to receive the report of the reconnaissance in depth that he had personally ordered. Brigadier Bernatchez made a point of speaking to me a few days after this disaster. He explained that, in an effort to investigate the eerie silence hanging over the Foglia valley on August 30, he had flown over the area in a small reconnaissance plane, which ran into trouble and was forced to make a crash landing. The pilot was successful in gliding back into friendly territory, but in the crash Bernatchez suffered a broken jaw, and at the time the decisions were being made at the West Novas' tactical HQ that afternoon, he was in a field hospital having his jaw wired together. According to the brigade diary, the plane crash took place one week after the Foglia River crossing, but it is evident that this notation is wrongly placed; the date given is probably that on which the brigadier's wires and stitches were removed. I distinctly recall the difficulty with which he spoke, the movement of his jaw being severely restricted by wires. He apologized for his absence on that occasion, assuring me that had he been present things would have been ordered differently.


General Allard, who was then the CO of the Royal 22nd Regiment, states in his memoirs that Bernatchez asked him to go over and investigate the situation immediately after the tragedy. On arrival at Waterman's command post, he found that the CO was "severely rattled," as anyone might well be after such a tragedy. Such a request from Bernatchez makes sense in the light of the above explanation of his absence on that occasion. Otherwise, being the efficient officer that he was, he would surely have gone over to discover for himself what had gone wrong, and personally assessed the condition of the CO of the West Novas. And that is the nearest we will come to an explanation for the tragedy. It was one of those situations in which fate intervened, so that Bernatchez, brilliant tactician that he had proven himself to be in previous battles, was not present to guide the planning of a successful attack.


No fault can be found with the officers and men who carried out this ill-fated attempt. Their behaviour was exemplary. The attack leaders, Maj. Alan Nicholson and Capt. Stanley Smith, both of whom had been wounded in previous battles, had spent the summer absorbing reinforcements and training them for battle. Aware there were fatal flaws in the battle plan, they nonetheless obeyed orders, each probably realizing that it would be his last action. They moved steadily forward until they and their men were cut down by mines, machine-gun fire, shells, and mortars. "Theirs is not to make reply, /Theirs is not to reason why,/Theirs is but to do and die, as Tennyson described the response of the trained soldier to a blunder in leadership during the Crimean War.


The stretcher-bearers and carrying parties displayed and exemplified the spirit of the true soldier in the face of disaster. As stretcher-bearer Alvin Hastings explained to me when he came to seek my assistance, "We do not carry arms and take no part in the fighting, which the others have to undertake. We are trained to render aid on the battlefield as and when needed, and they are calling for us now." There was no concern about what would happen to them as they went out to attempt the task-the men needed them now and they must respond. I went with them without delay. There is a passage in the New Testament in which Jesus says, "There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). These young men were prepared to do just that without hesitation, like young Victor Newell, who lost his life as he searched for two missing comrades on the day after the battle.


Under normal circumstances this was no place for a chaplain, a fact that was pressed upon me a few days later in separate conversations with the CO and the brigadier. They pointed out that there was but one chaplain for each unit, and if I became a casualty there would be no one left to provide counselling, conduct burial services, write to next-of-kin, and strengthen the morale of the troops, among many other functions. Each impressed upon me his hope that I would, in future, remain with the regimental aid post during battle. I fully understood the logic of their counsel and I concurred with their request. It was not the first time I had had this pointed out to me. Why, then, had I gone out with the troops on what I knew was a most hazardous undertaking?


I had been apprehensive about a forthcoming action that I was convinced was going to devastate the lives of the young men with whom I had developed meaningful relationships. In my calling as chaplain I was committed to them as a counsellor and a friend. These men had attended the services I conducted on Sundays whenever possible, and many of them had also attended Wednesday-evening Bible discussion groups at which I helped them to understand the documents that are at the foundation of the Christian tradition. What was I to do under these very special circumstances?


One dimension of a chaplain's task with men engaged in war is to be a presence, to be visibly with them and concerned for them as they face life threatening situations. Knowing the manner in which this particular assignment was laid on, it would have been impossible for me to have rested, let alone sleep, realizing the tragedy awaiting them. The least I could was accompany them and go as far as possible, and to be of assistance as opportunity offered.


We held a burial service at 1700 hours on Friday, September 1, and laid to rest the bodies of thirteen of our comrades killed on the battlefield on August 31. I spent the evening sorting and forwarding their personal effects to brigade. Many years later, when I was privileged to visit the cemeteries in the area, I learned that eleven of the wounded we had carried out had died a few days later in field hospitals. They at least knew that their comrades had done everything possible to save them.



CHAPTER EIGHT


Fierce Fighting and Close Calls


September 1944


Foglia River/Cattolica/San Fortunato


ON THE NIGHT OF AUGUST 31-September 1, three lanes were cleared through the minefields to the left of the West Novas' attack area, and the Royal 22nd Regiment went through and captured Point 133, clearing the way for the armour to pour through and chase the retreating enemy to their prepared positions along the coastal road.


Those officers and senior NCOs who had been left out of battle came forward and commenced the process of re-organizing the two companies for battles ahead. On Saturday, September 2, after a night of poor sleep followed by a light breakfast, we were on our way again across the Foglia River and up through the enemy's strongpoints to enter the Gothic Line defences. We passed a number of reinforced concrete pillboxes of the type we had first seen at the Hitler Line, featuring Tiger tank turrets with a 360 degree traverse. One of those I personally examined had been placed in the ditch dug for it, and was well stocked with ammunition, but the ditch had not been filled in with earth and the gun had never been fired, indicating that we had arrived sooner than the enemy expected us.


We paused at noon and remained at the Gothic Line for the rest of the day. I spent the afternoon sorting, listing, packaging, and sending off to brigade the personal effects of those we had buried, and the evening reporting to War Graves Registration and attending to correspondence. Although I was physically exhausted at night I was unable to sleep. I lay awake most of the night reflecting upon the events of August 31. I was torn apart by the unnecessary waste of lives at the Foglia River disaster. I felt I was finished and had no more to give to the war effort, and I inwardly wished that the powers that be would pull me out before I fell apart entirely. But nothing happened. I do not suppose my superiors even realized what we had gone through, and I was left with the West Novas to sink or swim.


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Aug 29, 1944

My Sweetheart:

Here’s a line, a very quick line to let you know that hubby is O.K. & a going concern. Heat intense, but nights are cooler & so sleep is possible. So Ray got married & still expects to be a minister. He’s going to take some Razzing when Stan & I get back & I don’t mean maybe. Glad you got a short trip in, Darling, & going back to Kentville must have made you very lonesome. Never mind, Love, this damn war can’t keep on forever & just as soon as possible we’ll be together again & have no doubt in the world what kind of a meeting it will be. A big kiss & a hug, a bright smile & life will travel along in Heaven again. My Love is all Yours & Barbara’s, & so are my prayers. Be good & Cheerful & patient.

Devoted Love,

Arnold

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Crapaud, August 16


Arnold darling,

This is the second big day of Old Home Week, and tonight I’m keeping Jackie so Buddie & Ralph can attend. Tomorrow there are doing the same for me- if it’s as hot as it has been this past few days I’m going to wish I had stayed home, it was over ninety again today, if you please. I don’t know how you even stand it in Italy, it must be terribly depressing.

Since the new landings in Southern France, and having no mail from you recently, am I too presumptuous in putting two and two together? I hope so, but one must have something to worry about in the middle of the night. One thing I’m going to stop worrying about tho’, is our future- after Mackenzie King’s speech tonight it really seems as if you men are going to be treated fairly this time as far as rehabilitation is concerned. If the speech is published tomorrow I’ll be sure to send it on to you, and you will understand how it lifted some of the weight off my mind.

The way the war is going now it certainly looks as if your Oct 1st Deadline is alright, and I’ve anticipated our first minutes so many times there is just a possibility it may be stale before the real show is ready. Suppose?

Now a bit later- pen went dry so it had to be kept over. Went to town yesterday and had a fall coat put away, its dark (ripephery?), fitted, with a velvet collar, very plain, but looks better than it cost, thirty dollars. I may not take it- wish you were here to pass judgment, I really do. Saw Pat Allen flipping about last night with an air officer. She looked cute as tricks, any misgivings? Must mail this before supper. Darn it Arnold, I’ve had just enough of being a grass widow, if we are just half as happy when you come home as I think we are going to be, we are going to have an ideal marriage. Barbara is such a dear good kid when she feels well. She’ll be a great asset.

Wherever you are Darling, my love goes with you always.

Truly,

Annalea

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