Cattolica, Italy. February 1945. It looked like our days in Italy were coming to a close. A special advance party was headed by Captain Charlie Brown, with Wo2 Claire Kelley, Wo2 Gordie Bannerman, along with another officer and drivers.
We were told we were the advance party for Exercise Goldflake. All unit markings were painted out. Canada badges were taken down. We were on our way across the Apennines from one side of Italy to the other and ending up at Livernou [ LEGHORN] and given a spot in a giant staging camp called Harrods.
Now we knew we were leaving Italy, not another exercise to join up with the Fifth American army, but a different area altogether which we still did not know.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa was quite near but we were on strict orders that we had to be ready at any moment to get on board LCT’s [Landing Craft Tank]. I did not get to see the leaning tower of Pisa, but by chance I did see Windy the sergeant major that through his drunken stupidity killed Floyd Burton and Cowan by crashing into them near Mezzzano. I did not rise up and accost this man but he met all my expectations. He was a huge fellow and you could see the old time motorcycle cop in his walk and attitude. He was wearing breeches and bike rider's high boots.
Windy, yes well named, he was coming down the tent lines with a group of others and all appeared that they had been drinking though this was a dry camp. This chap seemed not to obey the rules. As I say I did not speak to him or ever saw him again. Neither did any of our fellows that carried such a hate for this man.
It was the 16th February that we boarded the LCT to sail where? As we were under way the destination was to be Marseilles France. We would join up with the rest of the First Canadian Army in northwest Europe. As we sailed away from the shore of Italy it was with a sense of joy to leave on one hand a feeling of sorrow on the other hand as we were leaving old friends that would forever remain buried in Italy.
We were to miss out on completing the job of driving he Germans from Italy. Italy was home to us and had been since 1943. The Italian peasant had our respect and admiration. We were that ill equipped band of brothers that had beaten the best the enemy had put up against us. We thought of those we were leaving behind. Would we ever visit these shores again? So with mixed feelings we sailed into the sunset as they say in travel brochures.
The LCT's were American crewed, white bread like cake, ice-cream, steaks and more goodies. Oh ye,s and Coca Cola, mashed real potatoes, We wished the voyage would last forever.
It took about two days and we entered the harbor of Marseilles, threading our way through sunken ships and finally we were ordered pick up our gear, get in our trucks and start the drive up the Rhone valley, destination still not known.
Out of the advance party Claire Kelley has passed awa. Charlie Brown we had heard had passed on but a call from Alex Ross proved Charlie was alive and well. I phoned him and he will be 88 in September 2003. We had a great chat over our trip up the Rhone so many years ago.
There were a lot of things and battles still to be fought and here we were on French soil back to where my Dad had been in WW. Quite a circle of life! Here on French soil my oldest brother George and I were here only some 26 years after Dad had seen the end of WW1. Unreal when you look back on it, But I regress.