57. San Leonardo, Italy
We are directed into a gun position recently vacated by a British artillery regiment. Here on this clear January day we could see for miles. The mountains to our left front held by Tedesco or the Germans. These mountains had a fair amount of snow on their upper levels, but the view must have been spectacular as they were able to watch every movement we made. To our right was Ortona where the First Cdn Division fought and won over Christmas just past. Now as I took our gun into position and set it in the so called gunpit ready to receive orders to be put on line by our gun position officer Lt. Alec McIntyre, I, along with the crew, thought this scrape called a gun pit would never do. So each gun in our troop went out of action in rotation so we could dig a better gun pit. Oh we were well trained in digging. First we dug good fox holes or we called them slit trenches, good deep ones, and broadside to the enemy putting up the earth around the edges. Next came the task of digging the gunpit. We needed no urging probably this was a way of settling us in for what was yet to come. We along with the other guns in our troop completed our pits and works of toil. They were fine high breast works with the muzzle clearing the earth piled high. Then camouflage netting put up. Why, because Tedesco knew where we were but we put them up anyway again, something to do. We had not fired a shot in anger this our first day in action. But 60 Battery #1 gun under Mel Ross fired the first ranging round on the 14th of January . On the 13th January we piled around the guns some six or seven hundreds shell and cartridges. We dug some below ground but it looked like we were to use them soon. The remainder remained above ground.
Back to what occurred on the 14th Jan.
If I remember correctly about ten in the morning I was awakened by a sound that I had never heard before. That was an incoming shell. I should mention we manned the guns 24 hours a day and I had come off shift with two others of the six man crew . This first incoming shell was followed by round after round crashing and exploding all around. Oh the adrenaline pumped, the heart pounded and the mouth was dry. You thought of the crew in the gun pit, were they going to be okay? Or was there going to be a direct hit into the ammunition stacked all around? At that thought the next shell burst quite close sending dozens of shell splinters pinging and clanging into the stacked ammunition steel boxes. Were they going to explode, who knows? I sure did not know how many shells rained down on us but there was a lot.
As it started the shelling stopped.
My thought was am I the only survivor? Getting out of my slit trench all the crew were safe. All with their story to tell. Everything above the ground was riddled with holes but miraculously we, in both 76th Battery troops, escaped unhurt. Bob Wade, a signaller in Battery HQ said a shell hit in front of the command post dugout. He was wearing earphones and a shell splinter had cut the line from his ear phone to the radio set.
All had similar stories. We had one wounded in this first action by the enemy. A gunner Bouchard .