Charles Hunter says it “hurts a little” when his Second World War service is ignored.
Hunter, a bombardier with the 39 Regiment Royal Artillery, was one of 25,000 Canadian soldiers who invaded Sicily in 1943 as part of the Allied Operation Husky. It was the first independent role for Canadian soldiers in WWII, and Canada’s strategic contribution helped open Italy to the Allies and turn the tide of the war.
Seventy years later, a non-profit group called Operation Husky 2013 is commemorating the Battle of Sicily, which they say has been overlooked by history. The group says a poll of Canadians found 91 per cent didn’t know Canadian troops were even in Sicily during WWII.
“I don’t know why it’s ignored,” Hunter said. “And it kind of hurts a little bit, to feel you get ignored when you’ve done a good job — because we did, we did do a good job.”
Operation Husky — the original one — commenced before the early hours of July 10, 1943.
In order to avoid the German’s defences at the town of Assoro, Allied forces, beginning with Ontario’s Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment “the Hasty P’s,” stormed the beaches at Pachino and climbed a 900-metre cliff the German’s had left almost undefended, believing it impossible to scale.
After getting a jump on the Germans, the Allies drove them off the island by fighting throughout scorching temperatures. Of the 25,000 Canadians who fought in the campaign approximately 562 had died by the end of the month.
Compared to the movies, news stories and documentaries about D-Day, little is said about Canada’s role in the Italian campaign.
To right that wrong, the organizers behind Operation Husky 2013 will be celebrating the Battle of Sicily anniversary this month, beginning July 10. More than 200 Canadians are heading to Sicily to take part in remembrance ceremonies, including retracing the soldier’s march across the island, leaving markers in the places Canadians fell, doing a roll call where more than 500 Canadian soldiers are buried and recreating a concert the Seaforth Highlanders pipe band played in Agira when the Canadians achieved their mission 70 years ago.
Interviews: Operation Husky vets
Metro interviewed three Operation Husky vets about their time in Sicily and their thoughts on how the service was remembered. Click on the links to hear more of the interviews.
Lieutenant Sheridan (Sherry) Atkinson, Royal Canadian Regiment, was badly wounded at Nissoria.
Meanwhile, Hunter was the inspiration behind Operation Husky 2013. Years ago he told stories of his service to Steve Gregory, the founder of Operation Husky 2013, and his son.
The most vivid recollection of Sicily he has is of a plane crash he witnessed. He hopes the remembrance ceremony will remind the public about the good deeds committed by Canadian soldiers. Being in the artillery, Hunter got a ride across Sicily, but unlike him infantrymen had a long, hot, dirty walk in the Italian summer because ships carrying most of their transport sank.
Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel Bob Wigmore, Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment, was among the first men to invade Sicily and then fought and marched until he was stabbed by a bayonet, but later lived to tell his story.