The Italian Campaign was an important Second World War effort that saw 93,000 Canadians engaged in battle as they pushed from the south of Italy to the north until the Germans finally surrendered in the spring of 1945.
Almost 6,000 Canadians lost their lives in the 20-month campaign, tens of thousands more were injured. This week, a group of Canadian veterans, who were there in Italy all those years ago, will remember them.
On Saturday, Maxine Bredt of Hudson, Gordon Fennell of Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Clifford Halman of Pointe-Claire boarded a plane in Ottawa bound for Italy. This week, they along with 19 other Second World War veterans will take part in a number of commemorative events as part of an official Canadian government delegation led by Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino and marking the 7oth anniversary of the Italian campaign.
The Montreal Gazette caught up with the three of them just before they left Montreal late last week. “I am looking forward to it, but we will be visiting a lot of cemeteries,” said 95-year-old Maxine (Mary) Bredt.
Bredt was only 25 years old when she served as a Nursing Sister with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp. She worked on a surgical floor and was assigned the night shift because of her young age.
It is not her first trip back to Italy. She first returned in 1959, when she was honoured by Pope John XXIII for her service. She also made another trip to Belgium and France in 2006, that one with her daughter.
But she said this trip is special. One of five grandchildren, 30-year-old Alison Bredt, will be travelling with her. Ninety-one-year-old Clifford Halman of Pointe-Claire and now a resident at Ste-Anne Hospital in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue said the trip is his first back to Italy since the war.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “I went there in 1943. It will be quite demanding for an old geyser like me.” The daily itinerary is filled with tours of battle sites in Ortona, Cassino and Rimini and the various wreath-laying ceremonies in Canadian War Cemeteries. But he said he still wants to go.
He was only 20 years old when he served on the front line in Italy, including in Ortona, the Adriatic Sea town where some of the Canadians’ bloodiest battles were fought. A total of 1,375 Canadians were killed in Ortona in an eight-day period in December 1943, one-quarter of all Canadians killed in the Italian Campaign.
Ninety-two-year-old Gordon Fennell of Dollard-des-Ormeaux is the third local veteran who will tour Italy with the Canadian delegation. Fennel was a tank driver with the Calgary Tanks, 14 Armoured Regiment, First Armoured Brigade during the Second World War. He enlisted when he was 18 years old along with his brother George. His brother was killed in Italy.
“It’s not exactly a happy undertaking,” he said of the trip. “We will be visiting all the cemeteries, including the cemetery in Cassino where George is buried.” But he said the bright spot of the trip is that he will be travelling with Joyce, his wife of 59 years, the woman he met and fell in love with in London, England, at the end of the war.