In many ways it was the forgotten front in the Second World War. But for a pair of Calgary veterans who served in the Italian Campaign, a special delegation set to honour their wartime efforts is recognition that has long been due.
Father Bob Greene and Stu Egglestone will fly out Friday with 26 fellow Canadian vets to mark the 70th anniversary of the Italian campaign, in a delegation led by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, who was a child in Italy during the war.
“We were the forgotten front — all the best equipment and reinforcements went to the Normandy campaign,” said Green, a 91-year-old of Lord Strathcona’s Horse armoured regiment. “We tied up 25 German divisions those guys would have been fighting in Germany.”
Serving as an intelligence corporal in Italy, Greene said the Italian front was a difficult one, with its impoverished people showing little will to fight alongside the Germans. “These people were struggling — I think they didn’t have their heart in it,” he said.
The occupying Germans made it difficult over the 20-month push from the south to the north part of Italy. Some 93,000 Canadians along with their allies participated, with almost 6,000 Canadians paying the ultimate price.
Egglestone joined the Canadian air force in July 1942, eager to take to the skies to battle the Axis powers. “I was 18 years old and I was going to go win the war and become a pilot,” he said.
But the now-90-year-old said poor night vision led to him becoming an aircraft technician instead, and he spent 11 months in Italy keeping a Squadron of RCAF Spitfires in the air.
This will be Egglestone’s fourth return trip to Italy and he said some of the lingering hard feelings from the time are slowing starting to erode. “I’ve been over there before and we were not very well received,” he said. “To drive the Germans out of those towns we had to break those towns down.”
The delegation will be in Italy from Nov. 22-30.
- Second World War veteran Stu Egglestone holds a self-portrait from 1945 inside his home in Calgary, Alta., on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. The now-90-year-old was a ground technician in the air force, stationed in Italy at the end of the Second World War; he and 26 fellow Canadian vets will return there later this month to mark the 70th anniversary of the war's Italian effort. Lyle Aspinall/Calgary Sun/QMI Agency