- Feb 8, 2007
- Land of Swine and Maple Syrup
This story is a great reminder of the major involvement and success of the Canadian Military during WWII.
Delegation returns to scene of battle victory
Posted 8 hours ago
The town that holds a legendary place with local war veterans is about to get a history lesson.
Soldiers of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, known as the Hasty Ps, had their first taste of real battle, at Assoro, in Sicily, between July 20 and 22, 1943.
Despite daunting odds they captured the hilltop town.
"This was our first major, successful battle," Assoro veteran Bob Wigmore of Belleville said. "The fact we did something that was almost impossible makes it more memorable."
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, a key Allied commander, later said the Hasty Ps' action shortened the war in Sicily by five days.
This weekend a small delegation is returning to Assoro, this time armed only with information.
Maj. David Evans, the unit's deputy commander, and Chris Radway, a retired regimental sergeant-major, are flying to Italy today. They'll present Assoro's mayor with a booklet detailing an account of the battle written by Lt.-Col. John Buchan, also known as Lord Tweedsmuir, who commanded the Hasty Ps at Assoro. It has been translated into Italian.
The voyage was spearheaded Wigmore, who had planned to make the trip as well but will be unable to attend.
Until the regimental pilgrimage to Assoro in 2005, those residents who knew of the battle thought the town was liberated by American forces.
Wigmore said the translation of Buchan's account will help Sicilian children and other residents understand the real story.
Buchan took command after Lt.-Col. Bruce Sutcliffe, and intelligence officer Capt. Battle Cockin were killed by German fire outside Assoro, where enemy sentries had a nearly 360-degree view of their surroundings.
"As soon as we knew our CO had been killed we were determined we were going to take it and hold it," Wigmore said. "He was an excellent CO, very highly respected."
The Hasty Ps, who'd been marching through extreme heat and over rough terrain, got underway at about 10 p.m., knowing they had to capture the rocky peak above the town by dawn or be spotted.
"The side was so steep that we'd push the man ahead of us up and he'd turn around with his rifle and pull you up," Wigmore said.
At the peak sat the ruins of a Norman castle. Below it were three German sentries.
Wigmore said more than 300 Nazi soldiers were stationed just below the peak with another 150 or 200 farther down the hill in the surrounding town itself.
An assault company of 80 men, commanded by Maj. Alex Campbell of Perth, was ordered to take the summit.
"As they crested the hill they ran into the three sentries," said Evans.
"The two privates surrendered right away and the sergeant tried to run," Wigmore said.
Lance Cpl. Alfred Long of the Hasty Ps fired his Thompson submachine gun, cutting down the fleeing man before he could alert the enemy forces.
The summit fell silent and the regiment's four companies dug in on the high ground.
"By dawn we had almost 500 men up on top," Wigmore said.
Wigmore said about an hour after the sentry position was taken a two-man Nazi patrol arrived and escaped the Hasty Ps' fire.
For two days the Canadians fought off Nazi attacks, with the assault company repelling up to about a dozen advances by the enemy. "There was no way they could climb back down that hill and beat a strategic withdrawal," said Evans. "It was win or die."
Yet the attacks seemed halfhearted.
"They never really made too much of an effort to try to push us off," Wigmore said.
"Then, on the night of the 22nd, they just disappeared."
The Hasty Ps had lost 12 men. A further 23 were wounded during the two days.
Vets, their families and about 100 reservists visited Sicily, Rome, and the Adriatic coastal town of Ortona in 2005, Canada's Year of the Veteran.
While in Sicily, Evans and Radway will photograph the gravestones of all 33 Hasty Ps buried in the Canadian war cemetery in Agira, near Assoro. They'll also check on maintenance of a plaque at the landing site at Pachino, on the island's southeast tip, and distribute five copies of a video of the 2005 trip.
The group will return July 22. Evans said about 50 other
booklets will be distributed to various organizations in Canada.
He noted the translation and printing of the booklet, along with the regiment's pilgrimages to Assoro, were funded privately.
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