56. You will feel the earth a-trembling
Our regiment, the 17th Fld RCA, was still in Gravina and spent the New Year there, as they say in Italian, II Capodanno- New years day 1944.
But there was a lot going on in rumours of when we would be going into action. Word from the front was that Ortona had fallen with the First Cdn Division taking the town but at a terrible cost in lives.
Here we were after almost four years in the forces waiting to get our battle experience. We did not have long to wait, as about the 8th of January 44 advance parties left for the Ortona area, and on the next day or so the complete regiment left Gravina.
WE WERE ON THE MOVE!
What a relief we were moving up. Now the thought was how would we perform? What casualties we might take? Would I survive? All these thought raced through your mind and I suspect my crew seated in the gun tractor had thoughts much like mine although we did not share them. Strange when you think back on it.
As we drove towards the active front we were reminded by the burnt out vehicles, tanks and lorries along the roadside. Then in the ditches we noted the crosses. Some with German helmets hanging on them and some with our type of helmet. Now we knew that men lost their lives when they went through here not so many days ago.The mines that had been dug up out of the road were piled and left, houses blown up, shell and bomb craters every where. Oh yes, we were getting a look first hand as we drove to the front that things get pretty serious. The closer we came to the front the more we could hear in the near distance some shelling and, looking closer, could see the odd air burst. This was just before we crossed the Moro River.
I digress for a moment and quote a few lines from a poem written by Jm Colling who was a Canadian service man.
Turning northward by the sea.
You will soon hear the crescendo,
Of our field artillery.
You will feel the earth a-trembling,
With shell and bomb and mine
The poem goes on and I will likely write out the complete poem another time, but it was fitting as we drove through ST Vito down the long hill across the Moro river where so many Canadians had lost their lives not so many weeks before. Up the hill we went seeing more war torn area than any previously. We drove along this winding road and passed under the muzzles of the super heavy artillery, a British unit of 9.2 inch guns. A couple of these guns fired as we approached. What a blast! Boy we were getting close to where shots are traded. After the 9.2s we noted the medium guns in muddy torn up cratered fields. Now we saw a couple of Sherman tanks that had been knocked out and smoke blackened. Oh yes we were getting closer with every turn of our tractors' wheels.
Along the road were some Bechanualand blacks doing roadwork. We waved and called to them. I still see their great smiles with a lot of white teeth in contrast to their jet black faces. I imagine as we handed them a Canadian Cigarette these fellows thought, here is a lot of new chaps that will get rude awakening soon and the exuberance they are showing will vanish soon. If that is what they thought, yes the shine went off the apple soon. Soon we were met by the sgt major from each troop to take us to our specific gun positions.
Ortona not far away and we were near SanLeonardo