Remembrance: Operation Husky 2013®
On July 10th 1943 newspaper headlines across the country announced that over 25,000 men of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division had stormed the beaches at Pachino, marking the beginning of the Sicilian Campaign. Little has been heard about the Canadian contribution to that crucial invasion since, despite that fact that "Operation Husky" represented the first strategic independent role for Canadian soldiers in the Second World War. The Royal Canadian Regiment led the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, flanked by the 48th Highlanders and the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment (the "Hasty Ps"), with 2 RCA and the Three Rivers Regiment lending artillery and tank support.
In 2006, Steve Gregory, a civilian businessman from Montreal launched a campaign to honour those who fought and those who fell, on the operation's 70th anniversary in July and August of 2013. "Our objective is to bring back 562 Canadians to Sicily, representing the number of men lost" says Gregory who has been recruiting participants for years. Now over 200 citizens from all over the country have made the commitment to join him. Explorica Canada, the tour operator who brought over 1,600 young students to Ortona in 2006 is organizing student groups for the event.
The project began with an innocent little Grade 6 history project Gregory's son Erik undertook following an inspiring meeting with Charles Hunter, an original 39er, who as a Bombardier with the 7th Battery of the 2 RCA had pounded his way through Sicily in 1943. Hunter, still alive at 92, is thrilled at the momentum the project has developed. "He can't believe that this trip is really going to happen after so many years of obscurity," says Gregory. "Listen to his story on YouTube and you just know that we have to honour these men."
Retired members of units of the 1st Canadian Corps are his target recruits for the trip and he recently submitted Briefing Notes to the Artillery Senate and the Commander of the Army, Lieutenant-General Peter J. Devlin. To date he has received huge support from many infantry regiments including the 48th Highlanders and Seaforth Highlanders of Canada who each plan to have more than 40 members of their Associations make the trip. Recently the Commander of the Army asked for a Briefing Note, so the project is on the radar. Gregory is not asking the Army for much. "If we could get Pipers at each of the events it would be great," says Gregory. "I have students lined up to re-enact if we have to, but if we can't get serving soldiers, retired members of the original Regiments would be a heck of a lot better."
Gregory will help any regiment interested in participating with fundraising and has already committed to the Seaforths and the 48th Highlanders. Attracting young soldiers who may pay their own way seems possible says Gregory. "A young Van Doo officer pulled me aside at a meeting and said he and his buddies would love to go. They could easily take holidays in the middle of the summer." To make this cost effective, Gregory is scouting for camp-grounds that will enable him to further reduce the costs.
Two formal events are planned in Sicily:
July 10th at Pachino: A ceremony on "Bark West" beach, the site of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division landing; and
July 30th at Agira: A memorial service will be held at 9:00 AM at the Canadian War Cemetery on the outskirts of town including a roll-call, in which Canadians in attendance will be asked to represent each fallen soldier. In the evening, organizers will re-create the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada pipe concert, originally broadcast by Peter Stursberg of the CBC on that date in 1943, in the central piazza of Agira. The Canadian broadcaster, TLN (Tele-Latino Network) will be filming a documentary about the event.
Gregory and a small group of marchers including LGen Michel Maisonneuve (Ret'd) of the 12e Regimente Blindé (Three Rivers Regiment), will be retracing the steps of the 1st Div and 5th Tank Brigade between the 10th of July and the 8th of August. Units of the 1st Canadian Corps are being invited to participate in ceremonies at the sites of significant battles such as Leonforte, Assoro, Nissoria, Regalbuto and Catenanuova, where Battle Honours were won.
Canada Company, a charitable non-partisan organization that supports veterans and serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces, has recently offered $25,000 in support of the project and several fundraising events are planned to help subsidize the travel of Cadets, veterans, relatives of the fallen and on-site logistics.
In recent research of German and Italian archives, the Gregg Centre at UNB revealed important findings about Canada's central role in the final outcome of the Sicily campaign in1943 that helped turn the tide of the Second World War and open the road to final victory. Only when the fractured parts of our national story in Sicily are integrated together and within the larger Allied campaign narrative does the full impact of Canada's achievement there become clear. This initiative promises to become a major national commemorative event. The 562 fallen Canadians of Sicily will finally get some recognition.
Discount travel packages are available. Call or write Steve Gregory at firstname.lastname@example.org or 514-919-5858.