The road to Messina
"Sicily is an island of extremes and in July, when the sun shines for 11 hours a day, temperatures often reach 40°C. The men who fought for the hill towns of central Sicily in 1943 remember the heat, the dust and the stony landscape with its conical hills and steep ravines. To overcome an enemy holding the high ground required the kind of physical strength and mental agility shown by the men of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment during their climb to the heights of Assoro, northwest of the city of Catania."
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.
A Canadian marker, marking the spot a soldier lost their life 70 years ago
By Susan Atkinson
Operation Husky 2013
July 21, 2013
Today was a very special and emotional day for Sherry. Today the Operation Husky 2013 team marched into Nissoria the site of the battle which ended the war for him. We have with us a photo which shows the entrance to the town in 1943, and I have included in in PDF format in today's photos. Sherry was critically injured just across the road from where the photo was taken, in an olive grove just off the road, while taking cover from shell fire behind an abandoned German tank.
The ceremony was held beside St. Joseph Catholic Church. The Mayor, Carabinieri, a marching band, and a multitude of citizens were in attendance. As usual the two national anthems were played, a wreath laid, last post and the pipers lament played, and the local priest gave a blessing. The mayor spoke, as well as the Operation Husky 2013 organizer. Sherry was asked to speak, and he told those gathered. "My blood has been shed upon your earth, and I consider myself one of you". The crowd loved him. Immediately following the service, everyone paraded to a spot where the community was renaming and dedicating a street to a Nissorian who had died during the second war. Once that service was over, Sherry was mobbed and kidnapped by a lady about my age. She just grabbed him and dragged him along after her, saying Come! Come! She took him down the street to where the local merchants had set up a large table of refreshments, and men and women were circulating with huge trays of food for us. He was placed on a chair in the middle of everything the place of honour! I had a devil of a time getting him away from them as everyone wanted to speak, touch or get a photo. He is their own hero! He was interviewed by the Operation Husky film crew at some length.
Eventually we retired to the restaurant which had been booked for lunch, and it was a beautiful spot. Sherry was interviewed by a lovely young woman from Sicilia TV, and I will check the website to see when they show the program. We were served a huge lunch, including pasta, salad, garlic bread, three different kinds of meat, fruit, granita AND cake! After lunch, we took a few photos off the patio at the rear of the restaurant then headed for home.
Along the way, we stopped and took a number of photos some of the town of Leonforte, some just spectacular views, some of a very lengthy aquaduct, etc. When we got to Valguarnera, we stopped along the side of the road to inspect some of the Soldier Markers planted there. I managed to find three which were of significance to us. There are two sponsored by The RCR Association for two fallen RCR, and one which was sponsored by Branch 243, Royal Canadian Ridgetown!
We stopped in Piazza Armerina for a cup of Gelato which will be our dinner. We had so much lunch we didn't want anything else. On our way home, I finally found the perfect mode of Sicilian transportation check out my last photo for today.
Tomorrow is Raddusa which should not be too tiring a day we hope!
July 22, 2013
We departed our Villa this morning at about 9:30, for a cross-country drive to Radussa. It was a beautiful, if at times terrifying, drive through a mountain and a national forest, up and over several small mountains, and around more switchbacks than I could count all on extremely narrow and rough roads. We arrived in Radussa to find it was market day, and every street that our GPS told me to take was blocked. I finally just headed up into town, and eventually found a policewoman and both Canadian and Italian flags. I knew we were in the right place entirely by accident. After some negotiations, we were allowed to drive into the square and park illegally on a side street.
Since it was only about 10:15, we headed for the café, and had a cold drink. Steve MacKinnon and Brittany soon joined us, and we all waited for the "troops" to arrive. The man in charge of the sound system kept playing the two national anthems, and we kept standing up, sitting down, singing, etc. Eventually we just gave up, and he started playing extremely loud music. We were sitting right in front of the "Associazione Nazionalle Combattenti E Reduci of Radussa". Roughly translated, this is the National Association of Combatants and Veterans. Sherry spent some time visiting with them, and exchanging stories, even though they did not understand one another. He now has one of their neck scarves! As it was market day, I wandered a little and took a few photos of the vendors and their wares, and of some of the local children.
Late, as usual, the pipes and drums and the marchers made their entrance to the square, following a local marching band and a group of men in funny helmets with huge feather plumes who run in time to a very spirited tune. A large group of local children marched into the square carrying the Canadian and Italian flags they were all smiling and waving small flags. Sherry was seated front and center near the stage, and a Sicilian veteran who had been a POW, along with an older lady we presume was his wife, joined him.
Following the usual ceremony, Sherry joked with the local girl band members and had one who plays the flute serenade him. Lots of locals and children came to have their photos taken with him. We then moved over by the Church of the Immaculate Conception, where the war memorial is located. A large wreath was laid, and the local priest gave a not so short speech, and blessing.
Then it was time for more photos, and off to the local police station for "refreshments", which turned out to be all anyone wanted for lunch. As a result, we were back in the car and on our way back to Piazza Armerina by just after one pm. Along the way, we took our time, driving much slower than the locals, and stopping frequently to take photos of some fabulous sights. The first stop was down a small side road to get close to Lago di Ogliastro, a beautiful sea green oasis in central Sicily. Then on up and through the town of Aidone, back through the national forest, and finally we made our way into Piazza Armerina once more.