Sunday, August 11, 2013

Op HUSKY 2013 Jul 14 - 16

The Royal Canadian Regiment (The RCR) climbing hills in Sicily

 Here are another two days of entries following Sherry Atkinson's through Sicily for the 70th Anniversary of Operation HUSKY the Allied invasion.  Sherry was the Anti-Tank platoon commander for The Royal Canadian Regiment (The RCR) which was part of the 1st Canadian Brigade and in turn the 1st Canadian Division.  The journal entries are written by Sherry's wife Susan Atkinson.

By Susan Atkinson

Operation Husky 2013
July 14, 2013
Our day began with a leisurely breakfast about 8 am.  We departed the Villa at about 9:30, and drove to Vizzini for the ceremonies there.  Upon arrival, we descended a steep one-way road, and found a Piazza at the bottom with a large Italian band and a group of Italian veterans.  They were most interested in meeting Sherry, and I was able to interpret that two of the older vets, one 94 and the other about Sherry's age, had been taken POW during WWII and were interned in a POW camp in Greece for three years.  There was much mutual admiration and hugging! They did not need words to understand each other.

We waited there for some time, and eventually Steve MacKinnon, the media consultant on the trip arrived with his assistant Brittany Blow.  We six all waited quite a lengthy time, and Steve finally decided that the main group was going to arrive at a different Piazza.  So, we all moved up the hill, only to wait again.  Eventually, we heard the pipes and the group of marchers, Italian vets, the mayor and others all came in to view.  Unfortunately, they marched right past us and kept going!  We jumped in the cars and followed them to their final destination, where they held a lovely service including a speech by the mayor of Vizzini.

Once again, Sherry was the star of the show, and had many people want to have their photos taken with him.  There was mass confusion as to where our luncheon was to be held, but finally we found the right place and went in to enjoy a very large beer with our pasta and bread, followed by chicken and French fries!!!

We departed for home again about 3:15, and along the way made two stops trying to find olive oil for Patty and Mary Lou to purchase as souvenirs and gifts.  We found one place, but they only sold it in 5 litre jugs just a little too large to pack in a suitcase.  It being Sunday, not too many places were open, so tomorrow we will go to the grocery and see if we can get some.

We've decided to stay in for salad, bread, wine and dessert here at the Villa tonight as we are all tired of being in the car.
Tomorrow it is Grammichele for another ceremony!

July 15, 2013
Today's ceremonies were held in Grammichele, where The RCR, and other Canadian units met no resistance on their march north.  We departed the B&B at 9:30 am, and arrived in the Piazza Dante about 10:45.  We were the first ones there and had time to use the washroom and have a bit of a cold drink.

The marchers arrived about 11:15, and the town conducted a very nice ceremony commemorating 70 years of freedom.  Speeches were made in all three languages, and the band played both anthems.  There was a large crowd in attendance, including a whole group of children.  The Mayor of Grammichele presented the Operation Husky organization with a lovely plaque, and he was presented with an Operation Husky memento.  The outpouring of genuine affection for the Canadians was almost overwhelming, and many people both young and old came up to us to say molte grazie!

Following the services, the marchers moved on to the Piazza Carlo Maria where the Operation Husky mobile museum had been set up.  Historically, this group eats together in a large restaurant, and the lunches last for a minimum of two hours.  Since this is the last day here for Patty and Mary Lou, we all decided we would like to break away from the others, find our own lunch, and return to Piazza Armerina to do a little shopping.  And so we did!

After shopping, we returned to Villa Trigona and some of us enjoyed a swim, while others did laundry, and just generally relaxed.  Tomorrow morning we have to leave here at 4:00 am to get Mary Lou to Fontanarosa Airport in time to clear security and make her 7:30 am flight.  Patty's flight is a bit later in the morning, but she will go at the same time as it is about 3 ½ to 4 hours round trip from here to there and there is no other way to accomplish getting them there.

We will be sorry to see them go they have been a great help, and it has been a wonderful experience to share the beginning of this pilgrimage with them.  While Patty has seen and heard a lot of this history before when she has accompanied us on other trips, for Mary Lou this is a first.  To hear the stories, and be able to view where things happened and the kind of terrain where it took place, to experience the heartfelt love and gratitude of the Sicilian people these are things you can never understand unless you are really here.  We're glad to have shared this with them.

After we leave the airport, Sherry and I will head to Caltagirone for tomorrow's ceremonies and lunch.  Hopefully it will be a short day and we can get back here and have a decent rest.  We will have two of our group moving in tomorrow.  I think they will only stay one night, but it will be nice to have them here.
That's it for today!  The saga continues tomorrow.

July 16, 2013
This morning was another very early one.  We rose just after 3 am, and departed Villa Trigona at 4 am.  An uneventful drive brought us to the Fontanarosa Airport in Catania by 5:30, giving Mary Lou her allotted two hours prior to flight time.  Patty's flight was about two hours later.  We dropped them at the airport, and after heartfelt hugs and goodbyes, we were on our way again.  We programmed in Caltagirone which was the scene of today's ceremonies.  It was only about an hour's drive away, and we arrived well before seven o'clock.  We couldn't find anything open, so we parked in a large lot for a half hour and Sherry had a short sleep.  Then I managed to figure out how to ask for breakfast, and we drove to a café where we enjoyed pastries, tea and capuchino.  We decided to drive back along the route the marchers were supposed to follow to meet up with them and attend a marker ceremony.  Unfortunately, we never did find them, so we returned to Caltagirone, and found the monument where the main ceremony would take place.  We sweet-talked the owner of a local motor bike shop into letting Sherry use the facilities, and then we sat in the car and waited.  Eventually we moved his chair out to the park in which the monument is situated.  There was a lovely breeze, and we waited and waited for the Operation Husky team to arrive.  They were quite late arriving, and we had all the locals and dignitaries questioning where they were!

While we were waiting for them, I could see an absolutely beautiful building across the street.  I went over to investigate, and found that it is the Museo della Ceramica. Housed within the Teatrino, a 1700's building decorated with majolica, the Ceramics Museum traces the history of the local ceramic industry from the Prehistory to the early 1900's. The 17th century is notably represented, with albarello drug jars painted in shades of yellow, blue and green, amphorae and vases with medallions depicting religious or profane subjects.  I took a few photos of the building itself, and of some of the ceramic decorations on the wall outside.  A truly stunning building.

The team finally arrived and we found that they were not able to walk their expected route this morning due to the road conditions extremely narrow switchback roads with no shoulders.  They took an alternate route which is why we did not find them when we were driving that way.

The ceremony began about 11:45, with remarks from the Operation Husky chair, Steve Gregory, Mayor Francesco Pignataro, a local clergyman and Robert ?, the son of a WWII soldier who is doing this walk in memory of his dad.    Sherry didn't have to make a speech today likely because they were so late in arriving.  The RCR did not encounter any opposition here, so basically moved right through in 1943, but he still got lots of hugs and appreciation from young and old alike.
Then it was off to a lovely restaurant on the edge of town to enjoy lunch with the others before heading back to the Villa.  Since Steve MacKinnon and Brittany Blow are staying tonight at the Villa, we brought Brittany home with us while Steve went off with the pipers and the Hasty P's to find the goat trail on which was taken that famous photograph of the line of soldiers marching in single formation through the hills.

Along the way, we were pulled over by the Carabinieri.  They were waiting alongside the highway, and I wasn't speeding.  Of course, they spoke no English, and my Italian is limited to how much does it cost and "where's the bathroom."  When they started to speak, I explained that I did not understand, but that we were Canadians and Sherry a veteran.  They immediately said "Operation Husky?"  To which, I, of course replied "Si"!  They waved us on with no questions asked which is a good thing as I drank most of a large beer with lunch.
We are safely back here, and Sherry is enjoying a much deserved sleep while I get caught up on computer work.
Tomorrow is a much needed day off no alarm clock, no driving in the absolute dark, no deadlines  and NO speeches!  Can't wait.  I imagine I'll sleep like the dead.

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