Just Another D-Day Dodger

Stanley F. Farrow


Rank: Lieut.
Job: GPO (Gun Position Officer)
Dog Troop, 71st Battery
8th field Regiment- SP
5th Canadian Armoured Division
8th British Army
Mediterranean Theatre

I fought in the Mediterranean Theatre. We usually were short of equipment, and we supplemented our food the best we could. You see, most of the attention was centred on Europe, and we in Italy seemed to get a bit lost in the shuffle. I must say that it was kind of a shock to hear what some nasty English Lady had called us guys in Italy... but I guess we kind of got back at her when someone composed a great song called the D-Day Dodgers!!

Naples, Italy, December 1943

We embarked at Algiers on December 23rd on some small East Indian ships to cross the Mediterranean. The trip took one day and one night. We landed in Naples on Christmas Eve.

Naples harbour was in shambles from Allied air attacks. The Allies had opened a bridge head at Salerno just south of Naples during September of this year. The British Army had also moved north from Messina, Sicily, up the boot of Italy towards Naples. The present front line was about one hundred miles north of Naples and ran from just south of Cassino across Italy to Ortono on the Adriatic coast.

At Naples we were loaded into American transport trucks and taken to Avellino about fifty miles inland. All the trucks were driven by Black American Transport Division personnel. Boy, those fellows could surely drive and Lord help any Italians who got in the way on the road!


Our arrival at the very large reinforcement depot at Avellino was unexpected by the Quarter Master. When our men, about a thousand in number, lined up to get a meal on Christmas Eve, they were informed that there were no rations available. Wet snow on the ground, an old Italian barracks with windows and doors broken, plus no food made the men very miserable. We did the best we could by hanging blankets over the openings. There was no heat. The latrine was a large hole dug in the centre of the parade square. It was about twelve feet by twelve feet with a low two by four wooden railing around it on which to sit. Fall in and you would be a goner for sure.

Atripolda, Italy, January 1944

105 mm SP's In Action in Northern Italy, winter 1944

Within about a week all the Artillery personnel were segregated and moved to Atripolda, a small town a few miles from Avellino. Here we had better billets for both men and officers. While we were in Atripolda, Mount Vesuvius erupted. It was a wintry day and light snow was falling at mid-day. The sky turned black as night, and ash and soot were coming down with the snow. It surely made everything dirty.

In Atripolda I had my first real contact with ordinary Italian people. Many were very poor by our standards. They were friendly and kind and for the most part seemed to hate Mussolini and Hitler. Some young boys, ten to fifteen years old, hung around our barracks and our kitchen hoping to get some food scraps. I was very amazed at how quickly some of these boys learned English.

We could buy lots of wine, spumanti (Italian champagne) and strega (liqueur). We could also purchase some oranges, olives and roasted chestnuts from street vendors. There were no food stores. In general, food for the civilians was very scarce, especially in the winter months.

I was awaiting posting to an Artillery Regiment in the line. While waiting I went on an Officers' physical training course at a place called Dente Canne (teeth of the dog). This was a close combat commando type course which lasted three weeks and was operated by the British Army. This was possibly the toughest and most strenuous course of my time in the army. When we finished the course we were hard as nails. There were forced route marches at ten miles per hour. We went over high barricades with ropes plus close combat training including methods of silent killing of enemy one on one.

Anyways, way up on the mountainside near Atripolda there was an enormous monastery. One day we walked up the winding mule path for several miles to visit and sight see. We were very welcome as were all people. The amazing thing was that all building materials which was mostly marble and granite was packed up the mountain path by men and donkeys.

Upon our return to Atripolda we learned that very soon we would be posted out. Note; we had just been issued tropical dress i.e., khaki shorts and short sleeve shirts.

From time to time we were invited to Italian family’s houses for a delicious meal of homemade spaghetti and chicken cooked in olive oil. There was lots of wine to drink. All the farmers made their own wine and stored it in large casks. Good water was very scarce and therefore most of the adults and children drank wine with their meals.

The Half Track Crew with the Italian families

Left to right: Lieut. Stan Farrow, Signalers Clark and Thorlekson, ?, ACK John Fearnley, DM Pat Hilker

While in Atripolda many of us developed desert sores on our legs or arms. These would not heal. They started small and then spread into a circle about the size of a quarter crusted over. The Medical Officer put on a blue ointment to control it but this was not very effective. Just before leaving for the front I went to the M.O. again and this time he gave me some of the new 'sulfa powder', a wonder drug to take with me. It was against regulations to give this out but it proved a wonderful medication. After several applications my sores dried up. I treasured and saved the remaining powder in an envelope. My friend Mac MacLaughlin, a motor mechanic had such sore hands with large abrasions that would not heal. We used the sulfa powder and presto the hands were healed!

Cassino, May 1944

In early May I was posted to the 8th Canadian Field Regiment SP (self propelled) Royal Canadian Artillery, 5th Canadian Armoured Division, 8th Army, Queen Battery (71st battery), D Troop as a leader. D Troop commander was Captain G.A.F. Riley and Q Battery commander was Major E.M. Hodson. Note: The 5th Canadian Armoured Division had landed at Naples during November 1943.

On January 31, 1944 the Division moved into the line at Ortono sector on the Adriatic coast for five weeks. It was a holding situation because of the terrible terrain, the rain, the snow, the mud and very strong German position.

On March 7, 1944 the 5th Division moved back to a Reserve area. Then we prepared to move to the area west of the Apennines (the mountainous spine of Italy) south of the Cassino area, and prepared for that epic battle. It was here that I joined the Division.

The 5th Division shoulder patch was maroon coloured. We were located in a reserve area some distance south of Cassino. I was happily surprised on my arrival to find that Mac McLaughlin, who used to be in the same troop as myself in the 13th Regiment was in my troop again

Mac ( Keith) McLaughlin in 1944 (hailed from Gleichen, near Calgary)

During this period we received last minute lectures on what to do if we were wounded or what to do if one of our men was wounded or killed. The real meaning of war was coming closer and closer. However, our spirits were high, our moral good and we wanted to get at the Germans and show them what Canadians could do.

The guns initially issued to the Regiment on arrival in Italy were from the North African Campaign (General Montgomery's 8th Army), and were 105 mm howitzers mounted on tank chassis without a turret. The top was open. There was thick armour plate for protection of the gun crew. These guns were very worn from firing thousands of rounds, therefore, in late April 20 new 105 mm Priests S.P. were issued to the Regiment, thus leaving 4 old S.P.'s(there were 24 S.P.'s in a regiment). The new guns arrived at the 8th Field just before my posting to the Regiment. They weighed 22 tons each. These were new to me so I set about at once to study them and make myself familiar with their performance. This was also my first experience with a self -propelled regiment of artillery including all armoured support vehicles such as half tracks and scout cars. I had a great deal to learn and not much time to do it. However, my training at 123 O.C.T.U. proved very valuable.

Our Half-Track

John Fearnley, as the Senior ACK was the key person in our half-track. If anything happened to me, John was completely capable of taking over the troops at a moment's notice. Along with John in our half-track were Pat Hilker, two signallers- Signalers Clark and Thorlekson, and an assistant ACK, Noble. John was from Rapid cit , Manitoba. Pat had joined up at Red Deer with me and turned up in Italy in the 8th. Luck of the draw, so to speak. Keith "Mac" MacLaughlin, our motor mechanic, was from near Calgary, the town of Gleichen.

On May 19, 1944 after a few days in the holding area and under camouflage, the 1st and 5th Canadian Divisions which were part of the 1st Canadian Corps started to move. The Commanding Officer of the 5th Canadian Division was Major General Hoffmeister of Vancouver.

Once again dysentery struck the Regiment and a great many of the men were very sick, myself included. All you could take for it were pills that gave little relief and it was a very painful week.

I will never forget moving up into the line on a moonlit night through the town of Cassino which was located at the foot of Monte Cassino, the eastern hinge of the German Line in the Liri Valley. The town was a pile of rubble after the severe fighting that had taken place during the capture of the town several days earlier. The Abbey was on top of the mountain on our right. It was still in German hands. We were now nearing the front line and could hear the sounds of guns and tanks in battle.

Cassino, Italy, May 1944

The 8th Army was made up of troops from all parts of the free world. There were Sikh and other Indian troops, Free French, French Moroccans, Free Polish, British, New Zealanders and Canadians. Many of the men were seasoned veterans from other campaigns; particularly the North African desert (8th Army Desert Rats).

Battery and Troop Liaison with Tanks and 'Fire Orders'

Before moving into the line our senior officers reported to the Tank Regiments up front. Our Battery Major reported as Battery R.E.P. to the Regimental Headquarters of the N.B.H. armoured Tank Regiment (New Brunswick Hussars), and our Troop Captain Riley referred to as F.O.O.(Forward Observation Officer) reported to the N.B.H. with which he travelled in his O.P.I.P. (observation post) tank. His job was to call back to the Troop Command Post by radio net and give orders as to where the N.B.H. tanks wanted artillery fire laid down. My job as gun position officer of Dog Troop was to receive the fire orders, interpret them and pass the order to the four guns. The gun crews prepared the guns to fire. As soon as the guns were ready I reported back to the Captain 'Troop ready'. He would then order so many rounds per gun, 'Fire' and I would relay that order to the gun Sergeants. The Captain observed where the shells landed and exploded. He would then make corrections plus or minus so many yards and so many degrees right or left until we hit the target.

While waiting at night to go into action, we were constantly shelled by German Artillery. Having dysentery meant that about every hour or less, we had to jump out of the armoured car and rush to the nearest field latrine, which was a box over a hole. All the while we were hoping we would not get some shell fragments in out bare butts. However, the dysentery was so painful that we really did not care much.

At dawn the following morning the Canadian Divisions moved into the Front line and joined the battle. It was a shocking experience to see the first Red Cross jeeps coming back with wounded men. We also saw dead Germans lying near the road. This was a sobering sight.

This was the first major operation by a Canadian Corps in the Second World War. The Corps attacked led by the 1st Division behind a protective barrage of 800 guns across a 2000 yard front against the 'Hitler line'.

As soon as the 1st Infantry Division broke the German line, the 5th Armoured Division was immediately ordered to thrust through the gap and continue the pressure on the retreating German Divisions of Panzar Grenadiers. We overran German positions, gun bunkers, etc. and saw food left on the tables as well as personal possessions scattered around. They had been forced to retreat in great haste.

Ed. Note: The 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade consisted of three armoured regiments - the Calgarys, Ontarios and Three Rivers who had fought in Sicily and were fighting with the 8th Army but were always under the command of the British Corps and were an addition to the 1st and 5th Canadian Divisions.

Our advance party went forward on the 24th of May to select new gun positions as we were forcing the Germans back. They were shelled by the German guns high on the Cassino Mountains to our right flank and seventeen of our men were killed. It was a real tragedy for our Regiment. Up to this point I was a spare (reserve) officer but now I became Troop leader of 'Dog Troop' because our Captain had been killed in the advance party. All Troop officers moved up one notch.

Cassino Mountain and Cassino Abbey had not been captured from the Germans. Therefore, they could overlook our position and our movements which made a lot of dust. They subjected us to heavy artillery fire. However, on our left flank was a lower range of mountains, the 'Aurance' where French Moroccan Mountain Troops were deployed. They did most of their fighting at night on foot. They carried small arms and knives, and had mules and donkeys for supply-line transportation. They scared the living day lights out of the German troops along the mountain front!!

We had a standing joke about those wonderful fierce Moroccans. A German soldier said, "Hah, you missed me." At which the Moroccan replied, "Just shake your head." And sure enough it fell off. Ha! We loved those Moroccan troops so much, and we were glad they were on our side. They were such vicious night knife fighters.

Within a days time the incredibly brave Polish Legion Troops managed to take the Abbey and mountain area. Then our right flank was protected.

The Melfa River Crossing and Capture of Frosinone, May 24 and 25, 1944

During the battle of the Melfa river our 8th Field Regiment S.P.'s were the leading Artillery Regiment and were in close support of the Armoured Regiments of Tanks up front. We were firing at a range of 2500 to 3000 yards. This was a short range as we usually fired at ranges of from 5000 to 10000 yards.

Being so close to the front we received several warnings to be prepared to retreat in face of a German counter-attack. However, we did not retreat because the troops and tanks held firm. At this position we were bombed by several low flying Jerry planes. This was our first experience with bombs and believe me it scared the dickens out of us! It was at night and we could hear the planes coming low over our positions and then there would be a great blast nearby. Several of us were lying in a shallow ditch and a young Gunner about eighteen years old was in front of me. The toes of his boots were beating a tattoo on my helmet from his fright and nerves. I tried my best to reassure him that we would come out all right. From then on we dug slit trenches faster and deeper than ever, between firing of the S.P.'s.

Because of the very flat valley bottom most of our fire was controlled by small observation planes flying low over the battlefield. One of the planes came too low in his endeavour to spot German tanks and sadly was shot down during a salvo from our regiment.

The Canadian Corps established bridge heads over the Melfa River which flows straight across the Liri Valley. In this engagement the 5th Armoured Division encountered some the fiercest fighting at any time during the war. It was such hot weather - and very dusty because of all the armour pushing forward across the plain of the Valley floor. As our Artillery Regiment moved forward in support of our Tank Regiments, we saw many burned out German Self-Propelled guns, giant Panther tanks and vehicles. Unfortunately we sadly also saw a good many of our own burned out tanks.

At the crossing of the Melfa River, Major J.K. Mahoney who was commanding 'A' Company of the Westminster Regiment was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for holding a small bridge- head which was vital to getting our armour over the river.

At one spot very near our gun position there was a small stream of very cold water flowing out of the mountainside and forming a pool deep enough to swim in. This was a great boon to us except that it was so cold that we could only stay in the water for a few minutes at a time, even though it was very hot weather.

Because of the extreme heat and dust as well as a shortage of fresh water, most of us decided to have a brush cut which left our hair about one half inch long. It made much easier to keep our heads clean. A few of the Gunners decided to shave their heads and this proved a painful mistake because they ended up with sun burned heads.

With our 5th Canadian Armoured Division over the Melfa River on the 25th of May, the crucial battle of the Liri Valley was over and the operation was one of pursuit. Opposition was now very spotty and the Batteries made daily moves forward to 71st Battery's gun position in a vineyard on a steep hillside near the town of Ciprano.

By the 29th of May, General Hoffmeister's 5th Division was within five miles of Frosinone and at this point, the level floor of the valley ended and became a series of razor backed hills. Because of these hills, tank deployment was impossible and so the Corps Commander ordered the 1st Canadian Infantry Division to take the lead.

The 5th Armoured Division, with our part in the Canadian Corps victory completed, withdrew to a rest area May 30. We had advanced 64 kilometres in a straight line and had inflicted heavy losses on the enemy.Our division casualties were 63 officers and 631 other ranks. This reflected the bitterness of the past week's fighting. During the month of May, the total Canadian casualties of our troops in Italy were reported as 3, 742 in all categories of which 717 were fatal.

Until the order to go into a rest and recuperation area, we had been looking forward with great excitement to advancing into Rome which was approximately one hundred miles further north on the Great Apian Way. This was not to be! The American 5th Army was advancing on our left flank along the west coast and they joined up with the Anzie bridge head south of Rome. But it became a political decision that the Americans would be the liberators of Rome….what can I say. There was no resistance by the Germans as they evacuated Rome.

So the Canadian Corps went into a rest and recuperation area in the Volturno Valley. There was no place for us to go. Lt. Mel Donnely,one of my best friends, and I went on leave together to Naples after the battle of Cassino. Mel was tragically one of the unfortunate ones killed in April,1945, only a few days before the war ended.

At the 'R and R' there was no wine, women or song. We spent our time working hard replacing lost vehicles, making repairs to other vehicles and cleaning our guns. Replacement men arrived to bring the Regiment up to full strength. The weather was hot and dry. Our main enemies were diarrhoea, the malaria mosquito and the pesky mosquito net that we had to get under every night.

Officers of the 71st Battery in the rest area summer, 1944, after Cassino, Liri Valley

From far left: Capt. Gilmour, Capt. Pringle, Major Hodson, Capt. Riley, Unknown, Lt. Cronk, Lt. Bru, Lt. Farrow, Lt. Pulkinhorn

Ed. Note: Towards the end of July, the 107th Battery, or as it was generally referred to as 'R' or 'Rat' Battery, had the honour of being inspected by General Collingwood who was in fact King George VI under disguise and very great security.

The Adriatic Front on the East Coast of Italy

During the first week of August 1944 the Canadian Corps started the 350 mile top secret move towards Florence and the Adriatic coast. On the 5th of August the 1st Canadian Infantry Division joined the 13th British Corps at Florence. But within three days they were pulled back again to confuse the enemy.

Ed. Note: All divisional patches, unit and formation signs were removed.

The Canadian Corps continued our move back over the spine (Apennines) of Italy. It was 120 miles of narrow, poorly maintained roads always at night without lights. 'P' Battery Troop Commander's Sherman tank was always deployed with the tanks so that he could receive fire requests from the Tank Regiments and could radio back the fire orders to our supporting Artillery Regiment. His tank had a wooden gun instead of a real one because it was not a combat tank and we were still terribly short of tanks and guns. While moving to the Adriatic through small mountain villages some of the local people spotted this wooden gun and nearly had hysterics, laughing, pointing and joking about it in Italian. Canadians were called 'Canadesi' in Italian.

The Corps arrived on the Adriatic Front and in front of us was the German Gothic Line which ended in Pisaro on the Sea about 25 miles south of Rimini.

On August 28, the 5th Canadian Division was involved in 'Operation Olive' and was ready to assault across the Metauro River in order to penetrate the Gothic Line, and finally capture Rimini on the coast. The weather remained very hot and the terrain was broken up with deep gulleys, hills and rivers running from the mountains across our front to the Adriatic Sea.

Operation Olive - The Gothic Line

One particular battle in which the Canadian Corps - the 1st and 5th Divisions, was attacking the German Gothic Line which was the product of German ingenuity in preparing a defensive position. Giant Panther and Tiger tank turrets were hunkered down in cement emplacements and concrete reinforced dugouts and slit trenches. On the northern edge of the river flats was an anti-tank ditch and a nest of wire. The whole area was thickly sown with mines.

In a very secretive night move the 8th Field Regiment of S.P.'s moved forward and took up positions on the back side of a steep grassy hill which overlooked the river. During the 24 hour period the roads were clogged with armour and mechanized infantry moving up and taking positions in the attack line.

For some hours we were heavily shelled by German artillery and mortars, but most of the shells landed beyond us by a couple of hundred yards because of the steep terrain. However, a heavy mortar shell with a high arc came down on our position right beside our kitchen truck and blew the whole thing up. Pots, pans and tinned food was scattered everywhere. The truck burned up but the cook who was standing further away was not killed. We were not firing back because of security reasons.
As darkness set in all ranks were aware that zero hour was just before midnight. We were anxiously waiting and were keyed up to start the battle.

At zero hour all our Artillery Regiments opened fire. It was an awesome sight. Our guns were firing and behind us the medium and heavy Artillery Regiments were firing. The entire area was lit up by the flashes from the guns.

In the morning we moved to a village overlooking the river far below us and awaited our turn to cross over on the Army Engineers Bailey bridges. Bailey bridges were steel and constructed in sections that could be easily put together and pushed out across rivers by the Engineer Corps. They built these bridges under very adverse conditions of shell fire and darkness resulting in many casualties. The German artillery always hammered our bridge heads. From the village we could see both the Canadian and German guns and tanks burning on the far side of the river. Within a few hours we crossed over under heavy fire and took up gun positions in a narrow grassy valley.

While waiting for orders to commence firing we walked to the crest of a hill and looked away across a rising, grassy, rolling plain. From here with our field glasses, we could see our tank formations engaged in battle with German positions.

Tanks in action

Our tanks could not rout the German Panthers and Tigers encased in concrete. Their 88 mm guns shot further than anything our tanks had, and they had a higher velocity (above the speed of sound). A shell travelling above the speed of sound arrived and exploded before it was heard. Therefore, one could not take any evasive action such as diving into a slit trench.

The German tanks: the 45 ton Panther mounting a 75 mm gun appeared in action in 1943, and the 56 ton Tiger mounting an 88 mm gun had very thick armour between five and eight inches and the 67 ton Royal Tiger mounted a longer and more powerful 88 mm gun. The Tiger tanks were slower than the Panthers or the Mark IV medium tanks. The Churchill was the heaviest British tank at 40 tons. The Sherman American medium tank at 40 tons was the work horse of the Allied Armies and with which the Canadian Armoured Brigade was equipped.

The result was that our attacking regiment lost most of its tanks, and the tank crews got out of the burning tanks and fought on foot. The Panther tanks were attacked and dive- bombed by our fierce RCAF fighter planes and finally were put out of action.

While we were on the crest of the hill in front and above our own guns we found large German dugouts with the thick dirt roofs still intact. They were big enough to hold twenty to thirty men.

Our Captain radioed back to call down our Battery fire of 8 guns on a large concentration of German infantry who were moving in the open. Our 105 mm Howitzers were very accurate, and it was reported back to us that the enemy infantry was severely decimated with many dead.

It was in this area that I first saw and spoke to German prisoners. They were just ordinary guys like us, and I think they were glad to be captured and out of the war. I guess they got to Canada as P.O.W.'s long before we got there!

We were told by our Intelligence that the Germans had very little transport to move ammunition to their guns. During periods of heavy artillery fire we would jokingly say that they (Germans) must really be 'flogging their donkeys tonight'.

While moving up to attack the Coriano Ridge, I believe that I had the narrowest escape of my war years. I was in an armoured half-track command post vehicle which was about 11 tons, and had to advance down a road that was being heavily shelled. There was no choice but to drive into the bursting shells and dust and hope to heaven they would all miss us - which they did. My driver Pat Hilker and I were scared to death until we got through.

By mere chance on this same day I saw Bill Perlick, from Red Deer, moving up with his tank. We were going through into the line at Coriano ridge, a very difficult battle. I was going along with my guns and half track when I we passed a bunch of tanks to our right. I heard someone yell my name, and I turned to see Bill waving madly at me from his tank. I grinned and waved back. We were like ships passing in the night. He sadly was killed within a few hours after I saw him. Another good friend of mine from Red Deer, Alan Groom, was also killed on the Gothic Line Campaign. He was with the Loyal Edmonton Eddies, 1st Canadian Division.

Bill Perlick

Allan Groom

We were supported on our right flank by the 2nd Polish Corps and on our left flank by the 5th and 10th British Corps. There was also the 2nd New Zealand Division and a Greek Brigade. The Gothic Line was breached after heavy fighting and we advanced on Coriano Ridge which was held by the German 1st Parachute Division. They were crack troops, and were nearly always placed in front of Canadian Divisions as they considered us dangerous and highly skilled fighters.

The 5th Canadian Armoured Division attacked Coriano Ridge early in September along with a British Division. There was very fierce fighting , and we were continually shelled by German artillery and 'screaming meanies'. The screaming meanies were large calibre mortars. They had revolving barrels and fired about ten projectiles in succession. The projectiles were drilled in such a way that they screamed and howled as them came through the air. These were very demoralizing.

This was a very difficult campaign because we were continually crossing rivers and other obstacles. As the Germans slowly retreated, they had the advantage of having all targets accurately surveyed in because they had recently occupied those positions. This made their artillery fire very accurate.

When the hot Italian summer broke, we were deluged by heavy rains which turned all roads into quagmires of mud. The cultivated land and vineyards were quickly water-logged, and tank movement became virtually impossible. The wider tracks of the German Panthers and Tigers gave them an advantage over our Churchills and Shermans. The entire Army literally came to a stand still with all vehicles bogged down in the mud. The streams and rivers crossing the Front had become raging torrents. We sought shelter in Italian houses or barns. Some fellows dug holes in small haystacks which were often set on fire by German tracer bullets. Some tank troopers took shelter from shell fire and rain by sleeping under their tanks only to have the tank slowly sink into the mud at night and pin them underneath.

We tried digging shallow fox holes about 18 inches deep to escape the shrapnel only to have the hole fill with water during the night. The rains lasted about a week and it was a hellish time. We never had dry clothes or feet. Every day we hoped that we would come down with jaundice which meant we would be shipped back to a hospital for several weeks. The outbreak of jaundice was severe and upwards of 100 O.R.'s and officers were evacuated. Some of our men 'cracked up' and had to be taken out of the line. Still others thought that shooting themselves in the foot would be a way of getting into the hospital. When the rains finally quit and the hot dry weather returned, the 8th Army (including our 5th Armoured Division) reopened the offensive. Our objective was Coriano Ridge.

Coriano Ridge

During the period of heavy German shelling at Coriano occasionally a Jeep or other vehicle from another Regiment would be coming out of the line and come under shell fire. The occupants might be killed or wounded but the vehicle not badly damaged, just temporarily abandoned. In one instance this happened near our gun position. Our motor mechanic Mac McLaughlin and a couple of other men rushed out to the road and brought the Jeep to our Battery where we immediately attempted to change its appearance so that we could keep it as an extra vehicle for our own Battery use. At that time Jeeps were scarce and if one was lost you had to go without. We had the Jeep for some time before it was tracked down by Ordinance and reclaimed, much to our dismay. The Jeep was the most versatile vehicle we had; 4 wheel drive and powerful.

While we were attacking Coriano Ridge our Troop had another severe blow. Our Troop Captain along with his crew of driver and signalman were up front with the tanks directing our supporting fire. It was the habit of the Troop Commander Captain Riley to have the hatch of his Sherman Tank open. He would have his head and shoulders out so that he could visually observe the zone our shells were falling in. A German mortar shell by sheer chance went into the open hatch and exploded instantly killing Captain Riley and the crew. It was a sad and bitter blow to our Troop.

Another incident at that time took place at 'Dog Troop' gun position. I was in command as Gun position officer. German Artillery shelling was very heavy all night. We were well dug in, but in spite of that we suffered casualties. Our gun position was in a vineyard. My troop leader had been wounded so I was short an officer. In a circumstance like this everyone moved up to the next senior position to fill the gap. My troop Sergeant Major temporarily took the place of the wounded officer.

A reinforcement French Canadian officer was posted to our troop as Troop Leader to assist me. At the time our gun position was under heavy German counter battery artillery fire. We were watching as the young officer walked between rows of grape vines toward my command post. He was hit by shrapnel from a German shell that exploded within a few feet of him. It blew him to pieces before he ever got a chance to see action with our battery. This was a dangerous and traumatic few days for us at Coriano Ridge. 'D' Troop had lost our troop Captain, his crew and this replacement officer. All we could do was carry on with our jobs and pray that we were not next on the casualty list.

At this point I think I should explain how some of us adopted a philosophy of fatalism. We had to be smart and take whatever precautions we could while under shellfire, but beyond that we just figured that if our number wasn’t up we would be alright - no problem today - carry on - nothing to worry about!

British and Canadian officers were issued with long barrel 38 calibre Smith and Wesson revolvers. Upon being issued with these we were told that 38 calibre ammunition was very scarce. I was issued eight rounds and never dared to even practice firing, in case I ended up with a revolver and no shells. I never did fire my revolver at an enemy. Therefore, the eight rounds I had lasted until we went into action in Holland at Arnheim.

Throughout the Italian campaign one of our Captains, Paddy Morrison (an American in the Canadian Army) had an American issue 45 Colt revolver which was much heavier than ours. The main difference was that us Canadians had the 38 calibre bullets that would not always stop a man or knock him down - dead or otherwise!!! All the lucky American officers carried Colt 45's and had lots of ammunition.

Capt. Paddy Morrison

The Half Track

During this campaign as a gun position officer, my vehicle was an American made half-track. This was about an 11 ton vehicle with two big rubber tired wheels on the front and the balance of motivation was tracks similar to a tank. The sides were 4 feet high with 1/2 inch armour. The top half of the vehicle was covered by heavy canvas. The driver's and officers' cab at the front was completely covered in armour and a steel plate could be pulled over the windshield leaving just a slit for the driver to see out. There was a roof hatch so I could stand up and observe to direct the driver. On the front was mounted a very heavy winch. With this vehicle we could go across country, cross ditches, etc. And if we got stuck we could use the winch to help us get out.

We had to be able to follow the tanks and our S.P. guns over very rough ground. In the half-track we carried radio, artillery boards and 'C' class survey instruments as well as all our gear and other equipment for setting up the troop command post. Lines of communication were actual wire on the ground and/or R/T (radio) netted up. Communications were between the troop and the troop commander, also the battery command post. The three batteries of the Regiment were netted together. Also Regiment to Regiment to Battalion and so on up. In this way an entire Division of Artillery could be directed on one target if necessary.

Captain Peter Leacock, a later friend of mine, from Gleichen near Calgary, was attached to our 8th Field Regimental Headquarters but I didn't get to know him well until our time in Holland after VE Day. He went home on the same ship as me, the Queen Elizabeth.

'C' troop S.P.'s were stationed just in front of our troop position. A shell landed in one of the S.P.'s which are open on top, and there was an explosion which ignited the S.P.'s ammo and our own shells were bursting around us. The explosion somehow activated the motor in the S.P. which started moving ahead by itself!! Fortunately there were few wounded.

Another unusual casualty occurred on Coriano Ridge. A gunner had dug a slit trench about 4 feet deep which kept him safe from exploding enemy shells. That night the Germans had some planes over our position and one of them dropped an anti-personnel bomb which splits open in the air well above the ground and releases dozens of smaller anti personnel bombs. One of these killed the gunner. It was such a terrible tragedy because the odds of this happening were so great.

Ed. Note: On September 19, 1944 the 1st Canadian Corps captured the town of San Fortunato and thus opened the way for the Army to advance along the coast. San Fortunato had been battered by the 8th Army artillery fire and air bombardment of an intensity comparable to that which fell on Caen, France after 'D' Day. Five thousand dazed German prisoners were taken from deep dug-outs among the rubble.

The Canadian Corps prison of war cages passed through with 48 German officers and 3035 other ranks. The cages were barbed wire enclosures.

The 8th Army commander signalled General Burns, Commander of the Canadian Corps, on September 21, "By the bitterest fighting since El Alamien and Cassino you have beaten 11 German Divisions and broken through into the Po Valley. The greater part of the German Armies in Italy have been terribly mauled. I congratulate and thank you all."

September 1944 was the deadliest month for Canadians during the entire Italian war. For my part this month was certainly the worst of my entire Army career.

I got separated from my troop when they moved me out for a promotion to the 107 th Battery as Battery Command Post Officer but I wasn’t in Dog Troop anymore. I was rather sad about this. Lt. Macsymic took my place as troop commander. He had come in as a reinforcement officer to Dog Troop. “Maxi” was a great guy with a big sense of humour.


After the war ended I married my sweetheart, Peggy Fairbairn, the girl who had waited for me through all the war years.

Stan Farrow and Peggy Fairbairn

Over the past 12 years or so, I have been lucky to have stayed in touch with Pat, John and Peter. Us "Dodgers" have so many memories of Italy. I wonder where Paddy Morrison is... or his family, I would so like to get in touch with him. He left us at New York, on our way home, as he was an American fighting with us, and I never saw him again. I would also like to find Mac Mcsymic or his family.

Old friends John Fearnley and Stan Farrow

We Will Remember

animated maple leaf

Thank you, Veterans,

With sincere gratitude from all Canadians

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