Sunday, September 22, 2013

Op HUSKY 2013 Jul 23 - 24 Regalbuto

Mt Etna simmering in the distance

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 23, 2013
Today’s ceremony was to be held at a place to which we could find no reference on either the map, GPS or Google Maps.  This made it somewhat of a challenge, but after eventually determining the general area where it must be, we took off and drove along SS 192 toward Catania.  After many kilometers and some muttering from the passenger seat that we must have missed it, we finally spotted a “red hat” in the middle of the road.  One of the smartest things the organizers of this trip did was have red hats for everyone, with a large white maple leaf on the front.  It makes us easily identifiable. 

We arrived at a private road just on the right side of the road.  The actual battle which was being commemorated took place on a mountain ridge named Monte Scalpello.  The Royal 22nd Regiment was heavily involved in this action, including mounting a bayonet charge.  The battle cost the Regiment seventy-four casulaties, including one Officer and seventeen other ranks killed.

There is apparently a sanctuary on this site now and it is private and out of bounds to us.  The property owner on the other side of the hill gave Operation Husky permission to plant our Soldier Markers under a tree, on the side of a hill in a plowed field, overlooking the valley towards Regalbuto.  The field has recently been occupied by either horses or mules, and their “calling cards” are everywhere.

The actual marker planting site was on an upward slope about 200 meters into this field.  A certain stubborn Irishman was determined that he was going to go there!  With a few stops along the way, and some strong hands to help him, he eventually topped the rise and sat down gratefully into the chair I was carrying.  The service was lovely, with each marcher and volunteer reading out the name and regiment of the fallen being remembered that day.  The padre did a reading in French, the piper played and we had a moment of silence.  Then it was time to plod our way back across the field to the car – climbing over a fairly high guardrail in the process.

Monte Scalpello the ridge where the Royal 22eme Regiment conducted a bayonet charge

After a rest in the chair under the shade of an umbrella, and a good drink, it was off to lunch near Regalbuto with the gang.  We followed the lead van into town, and made a stop at the school where the marchers will spend the next few nights.  They made use of our time there to get their cots set up and belongings sorted before we all took off again to the Hotel Castel Miralago for a fabulous, but much too large lunch.  When you sit down to lunch and have four forks, you know you are in for too much food!

The view from this hotel looks down on the beautiful lake which can be seen from the top of the Agira Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. It is called Lago Pozzillo, and is a man-made lake which did not exist here in 1943.

Following lunch, we made our way – slowly due to the road conditions and goats – back to our B&B and an air conditioned room.  The heat today was not as intense as some days, but was certainly hot enough.  And a certain someone is extremely tired from his field stomping adventure.  It looks like it will just be salad again tonight, and perhaps early to bed as tomorrow we have to return to Regalbuto in time to help plant a marker for one of Sherry’s friends.

July 24, 2013
Today is a very special day.  This is the day, seventy years ago, that Sheridan Edward Atkinson was critically injured while serving his country in the battle to liberate Sicily!

We began the day with an early start, and a quick breakfast before heading off to meet the Soldier Markers crew who were planting the markers on the approach to Regalbuto.  We particularly wanted to attend today, as Regalbuto is the place where another Royal Canadian was killed.  Twenty-one year old Kenneth John >“Squeak” Earnshaw, one of the men in Sherry’s Anti-tank platoon, lost his life close to where his marker is now planted firmly in the Sicilian soil.  It is a beautiful setting, with Mt. Etna smoldering quietly in the distance.

The team who are responsible for performing this duty each day are a wonderful bunch.  They include a number of young men Dave McLeod, Erik Gregory, and Chris Matte.  With them today are a family – mother, father and daughter – who just joined us yesterday.  They are making this pilgrimage in honour of her uncle who was killed near Monte Scalpello where his marker was placed yesterday.

Then it was on into the town of Regalbuto for the service at the Monumento Ai Caduti in Piazza Vittorio Veneto.   There was a very large crowd awaiting our arrival, and as soon as Sherry stepped out of the car, he was surrounded.  The young Operation Husky volunteer who took “Sherry” duty today, had a hard time keeping him in the shade.  Just to make us remember how hot and terrible the conditions were for our boys in 1943, the temperature today topped 37⁰ Celsius!

A cenotaph for the soldiers who died during the fighting in Sicily

The pipes and drums lead our marchers into the square, and the ceremony followed the usual format of national anthems, speeches, prayers, wreath laying, the piper’s lament and a moment of silence.  Immediately after the ceremony ended there was the usual stream of people shaking his hand, saying Grazie, and taking photos with this special Canadian.

Following the service, Sherry had the opportunity to meet and speak with two serving members of The RCR who have just arrived to participate in the next week of ceremonies.  Then it was into the City Hall square for some presentations.  Sherry was given a beautiful plaque commemorating the liberation of Regalbuto.  This was followed by a lovely buffet lunch. 

We finally made our way back to Villa Trigona, stopping along the way to take a photo of another RCR marker, and to say hello to a few long eared friends.

Tomorrow is a much needed day off, and a sad day as we have to pack to leave this beautiful place.  We have only eight more days until we return to Canada.  It does not seem possible.

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