Lest We Forget
Our Veterans Bought Our Freedom
With Their Blood
Lest we forget what so many fought for and that there was a reason that tyranny was opposed during the European Theater.
My grandfather, Roland Harrison, had no idea how his little brother, Richard, had died in World War II. For 63 years the facts remained elusive. No one in the family had any clue as to the events that surrounded his demise. There were rumors that a bridge had been involved and from the letters he had sent back it was often joked that it had been his turn to steel a chicken for the boys to eat one night and upon returning he crossed a bridge that had been mined. None of us knew the full scope of the actual story until 2007 when my wife, Amy, assisted me in my online research to see if any new information could be divulged.
All we knew was that Uncle Richard had been a Private in the Westminster Regiment (Motor), R.C.I.C., Division R, out of Canada.
Amy located online Uncle Richard’s burial information which none of us had any previous knowledge of. He had been buried in Ravenna war Cemetery in Italy. I contacted the cemetery personally and paid a small fee for the pics of his headstone.
We finally had something concrete!
Not long after that I stumbled upon a book in pdf format called The Westminsters’ war diary : an unofficial history of the Westminster Regiment (Motor) in World War II by J. E. Oldfield. There does not appear to be any copies available from any of the links I have found but I did find this on Google books.
I was shocked to disover in complete detail the story of Uncle Richard’s death on page 160 and 161. Details that no one in the family knew until that moment. I will paraphrase the following right from the book itself concerning the Adriatic Conflict they were participated in.
Ironically there was a bridge involved but it had nothing to do with stealing chickens for food!
Lest we forget that the 11th Canadian Infantry Brigade had fought their way to the banks of the Lamone River where they were to cross at Villanova. Simultaneously the 1st canadian Division planned to cross near the vicinity of Russi.
Lest we forget that on December 7th and 8th, (B) and (C) Companies were in position against the Lamone ready to advance across once a bridgehead had been established. (A) Company paused briefly at Borghetto, ready to move out while Battalion transports under Captain H.E.Smith worked to bring as many personal over the rickety bridge at the Montone.
Lest we forget the 9th of December marked a continuous month of conflict from the moment the Westminsters first joined the line with Porter Force.
10th of December the Westminster Regiment came under the command of the 11th Canadian Infantry Brigade. The attack across the Lamone started that very night with success.
At 0600 hours December 11th, (A) and (C) Companies moved across the river in a number of trips in a leaky assault boat. The Cape Breton Highlanders would take over and complete this task at 0900 hours.
Once the takeover had finished (C) Company under Major Hoskin made their way straight forward but away from the river for about 3/4 of a mile, while (A) Company under Major Neil, pushed along the river bank on the right side through the small town of Villanova.
Lest We Forget … Let Us Remember!
Trouble began almost immediately.
German Mark IV tanks approached both columns along either route. This made a grim situation worse since the Bridge over the Lamone was under construction and was no where near completion. None of the battalion’s anti-tank guns were able to be positioned forward to bring them into play against the assault.
Lest we forget, previously routed German infantry en-heartened at the sight of their armored reinforcements joined the battle with vigor.
(C) Company was hit first taking a pounding from both tank artillary and small arms fire. CSM S. L. Salsbury, a (C) Company Stalwart, who had a key role in the companies prior actions was killed by a sniper bullet. Sgt. Paddy Clark stepped in to fill his place and the company weathered and endured the counter attacks all of that day.
Lest we forget….
At the same time (A) Company dug in among the buildings of Villanova faring no better. Enemy tanks from all sides of Mezzano rolled down the streets into the midst of their position. With that kind of firepower in the heart of the community they proceeded to take the company apart house by house. The situation was desperate but the Canadian boys of (A) Company proved equal to the task.
Lest we forget; Number 2 platoon, flanked a Mark IV right outside the door of the residence they occupied for cover. As the tank was firing up the street in the direction of HQ, LT. Eddie Hoult shot the tank commander who had made the foolish gesture of opening his turret for a look around. In that same instant Cpl. Pewtress quickly fired 3 PIAT bombs into the side of the iron beast shattering the track in several places. The only thing that saved the tank crew was the arrival of German infantrymen who were advancing parallel on either side of the road.
Lest we forget that it was fire from these latter that killed Pte. Richard Harrison, and forced the remainder of the platoon to seek further cover.
No. 3 platoon in position between No. 2 and the HQ found themselves coming under a murderous assault from both tanks and infantry.
The remainder of the day was hell for both companies (A) and (C) but the Germain tanks pulled back out of the range of the PIAT bombs which had proven effective. Stubborn persistence won out as the Jerry infantry finally withdrew.
The diary goes on but the part about Uncle Richard’s death in Villanova December 11th, 1944, was there for us to read in black and white.
When I presented these facts along with the pictures of the headstone at the Ravenna War Cemetery my grandfather had tears in his eyes. He could not remember how many years had passed without knowing the truth of what happened. I was relieved that he appreciated the work that Amy and I had put into the research.
Let us not forget those veterans who are still with us today. Honor the memories of those who did not return from the war or who have passed on. They fought to maintain our freedom so that we would not have to live under tyranny. Lest we forget do not let present “powers that be” disgrace all that was done to preserve the hope that evil would not infringe upon our liberties.