Saturday, 10 October 2020

Canada’s Long Stanley Cup Drought, 2020 Edition


Canada’s Long Stanley Cup Drought, 2020 Edition

Oct 2020 Update:

Well, here it is, the unusual Covid-19 hockey season is now over and Canadian teams were once more shut out of the Stanley Cup Finals, and of course did not win the cup for another years.  So, that brings the losing streak to 26 years.

This was a particularly strange year, as nobody could be said to have had home advantage during the playoffs, as they were played within the “Covid bubble”.  However, since all the games were played in Canada (Edmonton or Toronto), this could be thought to have been advantageous to the Canadian teams.  But it didn’t seem to help, as both the Oilers and the Leafs got knocked out pretty quickly.

There are a number of ways to calculate the likelihood of this event:

·       The binomial theorem now shows odds of 0.20% for this event to occur.  Basically, the binomial theorem gives the answer to the question, if the probability of an event occurring is p, and you repeat the experiment N times, what is the probability of the event occurring exactly X times.  In this case that would be: if the probability of an event occurring in any given experiment is .212 (the percentage of Canadian teams in the NHL over this period) and the experiment is repeated 26 times (the 26 year streak), what is the probability of there being exactly 0 Canadian teams in that span of time.

You can plug this into Excel’s BINOM.DIST function, with the following syntax (BINOM.DIST (0, 26, .212, FALSE)) and the answer is .00204.  That’s two-tenths of one percent.

·       Another way to calculate this is to raise .788 (the proportion of non-Canadian teams) to the 26th power, giving .00204 or 0.20%.  That’s just the probability of the event Non-Canadian team Wins multiplied by itself 26 times

(.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788)  X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) X (.788) = .00204

The advantage of using the binomial function is its versatility; you can calculate the probability of 1 win in 26 years, 2 wins, etc..  This method is only good for the “0 wins” case, but that’s what we are primarily interested in, so that’s ok.

·       The third way is to create a computer simulation, that plays a hockey schedule thousands (or even millions) of times, with the probability of a Canadian team winning the cup in any given year as .212..  I set up this simulation, as a 20000 year NHL history (unlikely but that’s the fun thing about computer simulations) and ran the simulation 100 times.  That gave a value of .00199, which is pretty close to the analytic solution of 0.00204 obtained by the other two methods.

The histogram below shows that the experiment was fairly normally distributed, with the peak at or near the .002 (or 0.20%) level.  There is one outlier to the far right, which is interesting, but not necessarily unexpected.

So, we have awfully long stretch of Canadian team losses occurring.  It strains credulity to consider this to be merely bad luck.  Some other theories have been propounded:


·       It’s related to the Canadian dollar.  But that doesn’t work, as the Canadian dollar has varied considerably during this time period, sometimes being lower and sometimes higher than the U.S. dollar.

·       Another theory states that hockey players can’t stand the pressure of playing in the Canadian cities, where the sport is taken very seriously by the fans. Therefore, the players choke, basically.  The Globe and Mail’s main sports columnist likes that one, but I am skeptical.  That theory seems unlikely – after all, professional athletes have come through a grueling system of training and preparation to make it to the big leagues.  They know how to handle stress.


So, the only theories remaining (that I can think of), are:


·       It’s a conspiracy - the league helps the U.S. teams win (say, via referee decisions or Board of Governor actions), to help out teams in the more financially uncertain U.S. marketplaces.  But, that seems like a difficult to conspiracy to actually make work, as the league simply doesn’t have that sort of control over the referees or the owners.  

·       Economics  - Canadian teams can make as much money losing as they can winning, so they don’t manage their business affairs with winning as a significant priority.  Indeed, playing rope-a-dope with Canadian fans might be an optimum strategy, keeping player payrolls relatively low, while holding out “wait until next year” hopes for the hockey-mad fans, who will show up, come what may.

Plus, this supports American teams, some of which don’t have the sort of “stick with the team through thick and thin” fans that Canadian teams have.  Canadian teams need American teams to survive, in order for the NHL to reach a continental market, which of course includes that money-generating TV market.  Such a strategy also increases the value of a team enormously on the theoretical hockey team market and therefore increases the wealth of the owner or owners of the Canadian team.  After all, if weak market American teams fold, that devalues the franchise of every owner in the league, including the strong Canadian markets.

This is the theory that makes the most sense to me.


Perhaps the Canadian sports media will give another go at this.  In recent years they have nodded towards the strange phenomenon each spring, almost as a ritual now.  Their explanations are usually pretty lame, and they also reveal their weakness with statistical reasoning during these efforts.  Not that I expect much from a journalist, when it comes to math.


At any rate, the Great Canadian Stanley Cup Drought continues.




 On the Road with Bronco Billy

If you have some spare time, possibly due to lack of interest in the NHL playoffs, you might want to consider a nice road trip, exploring the non-hockey contrasts between Canada and the U.S..  If so, then “On the Road with Bronco Billy” is definitely your book. 


Sit back and go on a ten day trucking trip in a big rig, through western North America, from Alberta to Texas, and back again.  Explore the countryside, learn some trucking lingo, and observe the shifting cultural norms across this great continent.  There's even some hockey playoff talk (Oilers-Denver and Oilers-Dallas), for those nostalgic for Canadian playoff representation.


It’s on Amazon (ebook), for a mere 99 cents (U.S.).


Amazon U.S.:

Amazon U.K.:

Amazon Germany:

Amazon Canada:



 A Dark Horse


Or, if you want to continue contemplating mysterious runs of luck, you could try “A Dark Horse”, which concerns the troubling run of good luck that a (fictional) horse player experiences.

Also on Amazon (ebook), for 99 cents (U.S.).


Amazon U.S.:

Amazon U.K.:

Amazon Germany:

Amazon Canada:


Thursday, 1 October 2020

A Sapper’s War - 12 Fld Coy RCE History, Part 12 October 1944 (October 1944 – After Breaking the Gothic Line, More Rivers, Dams and Canals to Cross)

 A Sapper’s War - 12 Fld Coy RCE History, Part 12 October 1944 (October 1944 – After Breaking the Gothic Line, More Rivers, Dams and Canals to Cross)

A Note on Blog and Book 

This series of blogs, entitled "A Sapper's War" follows some units of the Royal Canadian Engineers in World War 2, primarily the 12th Field Company, which was my father's unit. The main sources are the unit War Diary, Daily Orders, official military histories, and The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers Volume 2.  I will also include some personal accounts of his, when this is appropriate to the history.


The blogs will mostly relate to their time in Italy, from Oct 1943 to Jan 1945, though it will ultimately be extended to the later events in Northwestern Europe and the earlier events in the U.K..  They will be put together in book form eventually, but until that time the blogs will be available for interested readers on this "Dodecahedron Books" blog site. I encourage anyone who in interested to read the blogs, and buy the book when it comes available. 

Naturally, I am claiming copyright, though you can make "fair use" of content, of course, if you are writing about similar times and events. 


Though the overall history of the war will be noted, as context, the text mainly relates to the experiences of the 12th Field Company, as indicated in their War Diary and related orders, and other documents.  If you want a more general history of the war, there are many other sources to more completely fill in those details.


There will be a fair bit of focus on what might be called "social history", in addition to the sometimes routine, sometimes harrowing military activities of a group of Allied sappers in the Italian Theatre of WW2.  The daily orders and company War Diary often provide an interesting window into this day-to-day world that the strictly military lacks.  


Though this account is based is a Canadian engineer company, it is likely that British, other Commonwealth and American sappers would have lived through similar experiences at this time, so families and interested parties from those nations might also find it interesting. 


I will fill in links to the blog series below, as they are posted.


Oct 1943:

Nov 1943:

Dec 1943:

Jan 1944: 

Feb 1944: 

Mar 1944: 

Apr 1944: 

May 1944:

Jun 1944: 

Jul 1944:

Aug 1944:

Sep 1944:

Oct 1944: TBA

Nov 1944: TBA

Dec 1944: TBA

Jan 1945: TBA  


October 1944 – After Breaking the Gothic Line, More Rivers, Dams and Canals to Cross

Though the Gothic Line had been broken in September, the enemy always had another defensive line to which it could retreat.  And, by October the rains had come in earnest, so attempting to “debouch into the Valley of the Po” now meant fighting through soggy ground and over swollen streams, rivers, dykes and canals.  So, that made the entire plan more doubtful, though the allies still hoped to make a breakthrough before the winter rains and snow set in, resulting in another frustrating winter pause with static patrolling along fixed lines.  

During the first part of October major attacks were not possible, due to the wet conditions, though vigorous patrolling was maintained.  By mid-month, the Allies moved forward over the Scola Rigossa Canal, as the Germans had evidently retreated to another defensive line.

Towards the end of the month, the Savio River was the next big obstacle.  It was at near-flood conditions, and bridging was nearly impossible, other than some floating bridges.  Eventually that was breached, however, as the Germans once more retreated and the Ronco River became the next obstacle, near the end of the month.

That brought them just short of the major center of Ravenna.  Having started the month somewhat north of the major center of Rimini, this amounts to a gain of about 40 miles during the month.

1 Canadian Corps then went into reserve, though that did not include 12 Field Company, who were assigned to a composite force, known as PORTERFORCE, as it was under the command of a Lt-Colonel Porter of 27 Lancers (British).  The closing days of October then saw 12 Fld Coy involved in a number of river crossings, acting as assault engineers for this force.  This led to some of the more intense actions of the war for 12 Fld Coy, including a number of casualties as well as medals and citations for courage under fire.

Of course that wasn’t all that 12 Fld Coy did during the month.  The usual duties of maintaining routes, building Bailey Bridges, sweeping for mines, doing demolitions and helping the artillery to move their guns also kept them very busy.  In addition, during a short period in reserve, they did maintenance work on a Casualty Clearing Station.

Following is a condensation of the 12 Fld Coy War Diary notes for October 1944. 

October 1 to 4 – Rimini, Italy

1 Platoon worked on laterals between SUN and DIAMOND routes, near the Uso River. 2 Platoon was kept busy with route maintenance of DIAMOND route, also cribbing for a large bomb crater.  3 Platoon worked on mine sweeping tank tracks and building new tank tracks.

Heavy rain delayed the work, as did motor transport and tank traffic which chewed up routes as quickly as they could be repaired.  This included getting a D-8 cat mired in the mud for half a day.  As the War Diary put it, “Mud and rain are proving as tough as the Hun”.


October 5 to 8 – Rimini, Italy

All platoons continued with road and tank track maintenance.  Among other things, this included hauling gravel for the roads, draining water from tank tracks, then filling those with rubble.

A sapper from Platoon 1, Spr. Wilson,  received head and back wounds from shrapnel, while working.  It is not clear if that was due to an exploding mine, a stray shell launched from far off, or if they were relatively close to the front at this time.

After that, the company went into reserve for a while, where 1 Platoon did repairs and maintenance on a casualty clearing centre.  3 Platoon swept a cemetery for mines, a somewhat macabre job, while 2 Platoon swept mines for a railway construction company.

While in reserve, the company helped produce THE REMINI FOLLIES, an amateur show that included personnel from 12th Fld Coy. It was reported to have been well done and congratulations were given by the C.R.E. (Commander Royal Engineers).

October 9 to 11 – Rimini, Italy

The company continued with building maintenance and mine sweeping work in the reserve areas at the start of this period, as well as ditching and revetting (shoring up the ditches) of lateral routes.

Word came down that the company were to bridge the Marecchia River with a 80 foot Bailey Bridge, but the water was too high and fast to attempt it for the time being.

Near the end of the period 1 Canadian Corps (who had been in reserve) was ordered to move forward again, and one of the main priorities planned for 12th Field Company was to maintain Highway 9 from Rimini to Bologna and beyond, depending on how the advance went.

October 12 to 15 – Rimini, Italy

The company was put back to route and track maintenance for the advance, though 1 Platoon was held back to continue working on the casualty clearing station. The route work included mine sweeping of tank tracks, especially by 2 and 3 Platoon.

Major Wade and some other officers were given a 7 day leave in Florence.  Some 17 other ranks also got a break in Florence.

Not everyone was so lucky.  3 Platoon constructed a Class 40 70 foot Bailey Bridge on a railway line, with some help from an anti-tank battery and elements of 1 Platoon.  This involved considerable demolition work, such as blowing up rails and signal pylons.  The War Diary notes that it proved to be an awkward job.

October 16 to 19 – Rimini, Italy

Most of 1 Platoon kept working on the casualty clearing station, while 2 and 3 Platoon carried on with road and tank track maintenance.  Some artillery troops, who had been enlisted as temporary sapper help, assisted with these tasks.  2 Platoon assisted some Polish Artillery to pull their guns out from an emplacement, via the building of some new trails into the area.

3 Platoon also constructed a tank turntable, as well as mine sweeping.  This would be something like a railroad turntable, though obviously for tanks on a rough track, rather than locomotives on a railway track.

October 20 to 23 – Rimini, Italy

The company continued working on routes, tracks and laterals, as well as mine sweeping. 2 Platoon built a 50 foot Bailey Bridge for use by the Polish Artillery.  Some sections of 1 Platoon kept working on the casualty clearing station.

October 24 to 27 – Rimini, Italy

Road and track maintenance continued, including mine sweeping and the repair of bomb craters in the road. Bailey Bridge maintenance also occupied the troops.

Near the end of the period, word came down that the  company was to be put under the command of Porterforce, an assault force that included "Popski's Private Army", a celebrated desert commando unit that was now operating in Italy.  It was to commanded by a British officer, Lt. Colonel Porter of the 27 Lancers, an armoured assault group.

October 28 to 30 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

The company was now under command of Porterforce. For this purpose, a number of other R.E. engineer units were put under 12 Fld Coy command. 

Mine sweeping activities were increased, though few were found at first - that was to change as many HAWKINS Grenades were later found in a culvert.  This was an anti-tank weapon of British make, that could also be used as a demolition charge.  It wasn't clear how they had gotten there.  Were they ordinance captured by the Germans to be used against the Allied advance, laid as a string of anti-tank mines by the British against German tanks, or were they abandoned by a Commonwealth unit during some hasty departure.  At any rate, they were quite deadly, though they looked like something thrown together in haste.

2 and 3 Platoon also found and lifted many other mines during the following days.  3 Platoon also constructed a Class 30 50 foot Bailey Bridge to be used for the assault.

Number 1 Platoon was designated as an assault platoon, and were put under the command of 27 Lancers, a British unit.  That was to embroil them in some significant actions over the following week, when Sgt Crowley would win a medal for bravery under intense fire.

October 31 – M.R.S.567157, Italy

The company was involved in bridging, mine sweeping and mine clearing, often under fire, while helping the Porterforce.  Some sections of 2 Platoon were put under the Royal Canadian Dragoons. 3 Platoon was very active in mine sweeping and clearing, also in aid of the Porterforce.  More details are given in the November War Diary, including details of several medals earned and citations for bravery under fire.

Other Notes and Observations from October 1944

Following are some selected quotes from the report on Operations during October 1944 in Italy, written by the military (Report Number 143, Canadian Operations in Italy, June 1944 to Feb 1945) and Mark Zuehlke’s “The River Battles”:

1 – Soggy Conditions in October

“Unfortunately the weather remained unsettled during late September and almost all October, and ground conditions were such that four or five days of sunshine would hardly overcome the effects of a day of rain. The flat alluvial plains between the Apennines and the Po were little better than reclaimed marshes, and the many transverse streams flowed between dykes which had raised the stream beds above the level of the surrounding vineyards, whose drainage consisted of perimeter ditches, where the water-table seldom showed more than a foot below the ground. Slit trenches were easily dug, but were almost immediately filled with seepage from the intensively cultivated and well fertilized fields.”

(Page 13)

2 - The Enemy’s Strategic Retreats

“The enemy based his defences on the river banks. Here were natural anti-tank ditches, and in the dykes dry slit trenches and dug-outs could easily be prepared by forced or complacent Italian labour. "The enemy withdrew... from one river to the next, counter-attacking and fighting grimly to prevent dislocation and frustration of his plans."

 (Page 14)

3 – 12th RCE Field Company Joins PORTERFORCE

At this point it was decided that 1 Cdn Corps should retire into Army Reserve, 5 Corps and Polcorps maintain positions astride Highway No. 9 and in the foothills, while the flooded plains were to be held by a composite group known as "PORTERFORCE" (27 Lancers, 3 Cdn Armd Recce Regt, 145 R.A.C., 24 Fd Regt (S.P.) R.A., 2 Fd Regt R.C.A., 5 Med Regt R.C.A. and 12 Fd Coy R.C.E.) under command of Lt-Col Horsbrugh Porter of  27 Lancers (General Burns' personal diary, 19 Oct 44). This group relieved 5 Cdn Armd Div while 12 Lancers under command of 5 Corps, relieved 1 Cdn Inf Div.

(Page 17)

4 - With Porterforce and the Dragoons

Once this reorganization was completed on November 1, the squadron advanced about three miles, until fired on by Germans dug in at a crossroads. Quickly pulling out of gunfire range, the Dragoons smothered the crossroads with artillery fire. “Much confusion was caused to the enemy,” the regiment’s war diarist recorded, “and one shell-shocked German appeared madly waving his Safe Conduct Pass [a leaflet dropped on German troops either by air or fired inside special shells into their lines]. The remainder . . . scattered in all directions, some of whom were blown up on their own minefields.” Joined by 12th Field Company, the Dragoons and engineers cleared a path through the minefields. The advance then continued to about three miles short of the Ghiaia, where the road was completely blocked by a massive crater.

Zuehlke, Mark. The River Battles (Canadian Battle Series) (Kindle Locations 3271-3272). Douglas and McIntyre (2013) Ltd.. Kindle Edition.

And here are some of the events noted above, from the Engineers’ perspective, as found in “The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers”:

1 - Bad Luck at the Scola Rigossa Canal

 “The 1st Field Company, carrying the ball for the engineers had had bad luck that night.  After earlier clearing a roadblock of stone-filled “vino” barrels from Villa Emilia and ascertaining that a small stream beyond (the Baldona) could probably be bridged by an Ark, Lieutenant J.A. MacDonald returned to this stream shortly after midnight with Lieutenant W.A. Reid and an officer of the attached R.A.C./R.E. Assault Squadron, to make a detailed recognizance.  During this, Reid was wounded in the abdomen.  On the way to the dressing station their armoured reconnaissance vehicle took a wrong turn in the dark and pitched into a gap left by a blown bridge.  All three officers were instantly killed.  The driver survived to bring in the required information.  In due course, the necessary Ark was dispatched to the Baldona and the crossing completed.”

(Page 241)


2 – The Savio River Takes a Toll

“The weather was atrocious.  The infantry got across but the engineers could not even deliver bridging equipment to the proposed crossing sites, let alone make the crossing.  In general, the approach roads did not go down to the banks and the ground, for 200 to 300 yards back from the stream, was too soft even for tracked vehicles…Lieutenant S.C. Kenyon M.C. was killed and Lance-Sergeant K.K. Lloyd was wounded during the night when they ran their jeep into a minefield while trying to locate a suitable bridging site behind the infantry.  Lieutenant A.R. Fraser, just recovering from one wound, was seriously injured by a Schu mine while on a similar task.  Early in the morning of the 22nd, the acting commanding officer, Captain D.H. Gibson also searching for a possible site, was wounded by shell fire and later that day Sergeant A.D. Jensen was hit.” (Page 231)

3  – Ferries and a Floating Bridge to Cross the Savio

“The problem of the unbridged Savio had already become acute; infantry companies were maintaining their positions without close support and without means of evacuating causalities other than by assault boat…The 3rd Field Company put two light ferries into operation on 23 October, using assault boats both singly and coupled in Class 2 rafts.  Supplies, anti-tank guns, jeeps and carriers were deposited on the far bank and 70 wounded were evacuated along with 200 prisoners…There was an F.B.E. bridge in place by 0300 hours the following morning; loaded vehicles then poured into the bridgehead.”

(page 243)

4 – The Savio Takes its Revenge

“The next day, the Savio “as if angry that she had been at last vanquished”, went into sudden spate, becoming “a raging torrent” and “rising 30 feet in less than 12 hours”…All the bridges went out- from the Ark Causeway at Cesena down – except one.  That was the famous stone Ponte Vecchio in the city itself.  It had been spared in the bombings and the Germans had dropped only its central arch…As soon as the water dropped the job of salvaging bridging from the river-bed and re-building the bridges began; heartbreakingly, stage one was to re-establish the ferries.”

(page 244)

5 – Establishment of Porterforce, with 12 Field Company

“On 28th October the Canadian front was taken over by “Porterforce”, another ad hoc formation whose role was to “lean on the enemy”…R.C.E. 1st Canadian Corps troops moved to the Cesenatico area on 31 October, becoming responsible for engineering support to Porterforce, each company in turn working forward – starting with the 12th Field Company on 28th October.” (page 244)

6 – With 18th Field Company in Northwest Europe

Here’s another passage from the 18th Fld Coy’s book, based on an interesting experience in the Netherlands, showing how fluid the situation of captive vs captor could be (my dad experienced this in Italy, as well):

“Lt Evans and L/Sgt Cooper were alternately captives and captures that evening.  They were investigative reports of mines on the main road west of HOOFDPLATT.  They were to meet a guide from the S.D.&G. Highlanders.  Instead of the guide, they met 2 German soldiers who saw them first.  They tried to persuade the Germans that they were in our lines and that they might as well give themselves up.  After bargaining for some time it was agreed that they would walk west along the main road and would settle the argument when they ran into positions, be they enemy or own.  Fortunately they ran into positions of the S.D.&G. Highlanders and Lt Evens and Cooper became the captors and the Germans the captives.”



Following are some selected quotes from the documents associated with the 12th Fld Coy War Diaries during October 1944:

1 - Lighting Restrictions

This order shows how important it was to maintain lighting restrictions, whether in the field or at the base, particularly in forward areas.  Unfortunately, the need to maintain lighting discipline could also result in disasters, such as that suffered by 1st Fld Coy, noted above, when their vehicle plunged through a gap on the bridge that they were crossing in the dead of night.

Oct 13, 1944


1 Lighting  restrictions 1 Cdn Corps.  Headlights up to including F. MARECCHIA.  Sidelights and tail or differential lights from excl. F. RARECCHIA to incl. STAR from juno STAR & SUN ot incl. X-rds R.85891.  No lights on STAR Fwd of x-rds R. 758981 and all routes NORTH of STAR.


Oct 21, 1944


Blackout regulations will be STRICTLY ADHERED TO AT ALL TIMES while we are I fwd areas.  H.Q. Platoon especially will see that all windows and doors are blacked out. Rooms that have chinks in the wall through bomb blast or shrapnel will NOT use a light unless all the holes are thoroughly plugged. REMEMBER, rays of light draw SHELL FIRE.

2 - Frost Warnings

One would expect that Canadian soldiers should be able to handle some frost.  But, it would still make for slippery conditions, uncomfortable accommodations (including wet, cold slit trenches, when necessary) and vehicles that wouldn’t start.

Oct 6, 1944


1) Figures of minimum temperature show that in most areas of the PO and ADRIATIC sector after the month of Oct occasional frosts occur and normal anti-freeze precautions become necessary.

2) Glazed Frost on road surfaces may occur during late autumn and winter in the PO valley.  Warnings will be issued by 1 Cdn Corps for all expected glazed frost conditions in Corps areas.

3 – Rat-Borne Diseases and Other Watery Illnesses

There are a lot of ways to get killed in a war zone, and Weil’s Disease is just one more.  This is a bacterial infection which Wiki tells us “is characterized by liver damage (causing jaundice), kidney failure, and bleeding. Severe leptospirosis can cause liver, kidney, lungs, and brain damage.”  It can be carried by rats, and a number of other hosts, and is especially found in “muddy riverbanks, ditches, gullies, and muddy livestock rearing areas where there is a regular passage of wild or farm mammals.”  So, this part of Italy during wartime would be an ideal habitat.

Oct 6, 1944


1 Four fatal cases of Weil’s Disease have occurred in ITALY as a result of bathing in rivers contaminated by rats.  Such contaminations are more likely to occur in the vicinity of towns.

a) Bathing and washing in the river ARNO and tributaries are prohibited.  Water from these sources will be chlorinated or boiled before use for ablutions or baths.

b) Personnel requiring to work in river water will wear gum-boots if available and will take care to prevent faces and eyes being wetted.  Hands will be washed before meals.

2 Adequate arrangements will be made to protect food stuffs from contamination by rats.  Cookhouses cleanliness is essential.  Food refuse containers will be kept covered.

Where possible camps will not be situated in rat infested areas or near banks of rivers or streams.

Water will be only drawn from regular water points.

Since engineers were tasked with finding water points, and ensuring that the water was safe, one would expect they would be the troops least likely to use contaminated water.  But, as a previous order (Aug 25) stated, and was  repeated here: “Thirsty men are liable to drink any water”, and that includes sappers.

An outbreak of typhoid fever can be added to the list of health concerns, so San Marino was pit off limits.  Typhoid is also a bacterial disease, that was often fatal before the advent of antibiotics.  Obviously it would be a problem for an army, as it could take soldiers out of action for sustained periods.  Wiki describes it thusly:

“Symptoms may vary from mild to severe and usually begin six to thirty days after exposure.  Often there is a gradual onset of a high fever over several days; weakness, abdominal pain, constipation, headaches, and mild vomiting also commonly occur.  Some people develop a skin rash with rose colored spots. In severe cases there may be confusion.  Without treatment, symptoms may last weeks or months.”

Oct 29, 1944


1 Owing to an outbreak of typhoid fever it has become necessary to prohibit the entry of troops to SAN MARINO except on duty.

2 No visiting parties will be sent until further notice.

4 - Absent Without Leave

Reading between the lines, below, one is inclined to think that AWL was becoming a problem, but the army didn’t want to crack down too hard. The order seems to imply that a soldier must have been missing for a considerable period (three weeks) before he was necessarily court-martialed.  That seems pretty forgiving, so perhaps the army was recognizing the strain that troops would be under, as they had now been in a war zone for well over a year, many having landed in Sicily in June 1943.  12 Fld Coy, who had landed in Sicily in October 1943, had at least one court-martial for AWL by this time, in late September.

Oct 10, 1944


The following points are of special importance:

1 Twenty One clear days must elapse between the date of the commencement of the absence and the date of the assembly of the Court.

2 In addition to stating that the soldier absented himself at a certain hour and date, the declaration must state that he was still so absent on the date the Court assembled.

And, in fact, this was a widespread problem in all armies, by this stage of the war, as outlined in Jonathan Fennell’s book:

“Figures were comparable for Canadian troops. There were 463 field general courts martial in North Africa, Sicily and Italy in 1943, 2,088 in Italy in 1944, with another 936 in Italy ‘in the first months of 1945’, a grand total of 3,487. Although details of the offences for which courts martial were issued are not available, it seems reasonable to assume that the proportion of these courts martial that were for desertion and AWOL was similar to that for Eighth Army as a whole; if that was the case, then there were about 2,400 cases of desertion and AWOL in the Canadian Army in the Mediterranean during this period (a British and Commonwealth total for the theatre of nearly 8,100).”

Fennell, Jonathan. Fighting the People's War (Armies of the Second World War) (p. 569). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

5 - Enemy Agents and Civilians

Obviously, the concern with the enemy employing civilian agents was becoming severe.  Even children were now becoming suspect.  Italian Civil Police and Auxiliaries were not considered appropriate for controlling civilian movements near the front lines, as it would be considered “an embarrassment”.  One suspects that the level of trust was probably not very high, as well, between Allied troops and Italian authorities.

Oct 14, 1944


1 It is evident that the enemy is obtaining tactical information on the locations of FDLs, fwd tps, guns, etc, through the medium of civs circulating in the areas of active ops.

2 The enemy employs both adults and children for these tasks.

3 Troops will be warned that movement of civs is NOT permitted between the enemy lines and our own.  All persons, incl women and children over the age of 5, PROCEEDING FROM enemy territory into our lines will be handed over to FS for evac through PW channels to the Refugee Interrogation Post at Army PW cage.

Civs who are RESIDENT in the area of active ops will be ordered to remain within the immediate precincts of their homes.  No civ mov of any description will be permitted from our lines into “No-man’s land” or towards the enemy lines for any purpose.

Control of civ mov is enforced as far fwd as is feasible by Italian Mil and Aux Civil Police supervised by FS Secs.  Measures outlined in this order are designed to control mov in foremost areas where “auxiliaries” or any kind would be an embarrassment to our own troops.

6 - Bren Guns

As usual, soldiers were reminded to treat their weapons with respect.  From my reading, the Bren gun was an extraordinarily rugged weapon, reliable and not very prone to jamming.  Soldiers liked the weapon for that.  An engineer field company would be supplied with a number of these weapons, though sappers generally had to endure enemy fire more often than they had the opportunity to fire back.  Still, they were trained soldiers, and had to know how to use and maintain their weapons.  12 Field Company had their periods of offensive action, especially in this latter part of 1944.

Oct 13, 1944


In order to prevent the breakage of breech blocks every effort should be taken to avoid allowing them to go forward from the rear position under the full weight of the return spring where there is no round being fed into the chamber. Whenever possible under these conditions, the breech block should be eased to the forward positions by means of the cocking handle.


7 - Cigarette Quota

The troops needed their cigarettes, but to the modern mind, 900 per month seems like a lot.  Yet, that’s only a bit more than a pack a day, which wasn’t necessarily considered heavy smoking, back in the day, especially in a high stress environment.  Still, one wonders whether the black market barter value of cigarettes wasn’t part of the reason that the army was trying to control the monthly quota.

Oct 29, 1944


1 - No. 1 Cdn Tobacco Depot, CMP is receiving numerous orders from personnel already in excess of the authorized quota of 900 cigarettes per man per month.  In some instances individual quotas are filled several months in advance yet individual orders are still being received.

2 – It is again pointed out that individual purchases and gift packages are applied against the monthly quota, so that if a man receives 900 cigarettes as a gift during the month any individual purchase will be held until his monthly quota of gift cigarettes is less than 900.

3 – Unit postal orders will ensure that postal orders purchased in respect of cigarettes are left blank .  No 1 Cdn Tobacco Depot will complete details in favour of Tobacco Coy concerned.


Some Family Stories Related to October 1944 Events

Slit Trenches

These were also referred to as foxholes, though that may have been more of an American army expression than a British/Canadian term.  In either case, the idea was to dig in as deeply as you could, for protection from bullets and especially shells (shock wave and shrapnel).  Generally they were intended for only one man, though in an emergency you might get a visitor.

My dad sometimes talked about how, no matter how tired you were, you had to dig as deep as you could, when you got to a new area, even if you weren’t expected to stay there for long.  Even a few more inches might save your life once the shells started to fall.  After the war, he sort of used this as a general rule of life, whenever it looked like someone was cutting corners on a construction job, or if his kids were slacking off, while digging in the potato patch in the back yard.


Book Call Out

If you are interested in history, you may also be interested in adventure travel, whether by foot, bike, truck or car.  So, why not consider reading a travel, for only 99 cents on Amazon:

A Ride on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail


The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is one of the longest and most scenic biking and hiking trails in Canada. It covers a good stretch of the south-central interior of British Columbia, about 600 kilometers of scenic countryside. British Columbia is one of the most beautiful areas of Canada, which is itself a beautiful country, ideal for those who appreciate natural splendour and achievable adventure in the great outdoors.

The trail passes through a great variety of geographical and geological regions, from mountains to valleys, along scenic lakes and rivers, to dry near-desert condition grasslands. It often features towering canyons, spanned by a combination of high trestle bridges and long tunnels, as it passes through wild, unpopulated country. At other times, it remains quite low, in populated valleys, alongside spectacular water features such as beautiful Lake Okanagan, an area that is home to hundreds of vineyards, as well as other civilized comforts.

The trail is a nice test of one’s physical fitness, as well as one’s wits and adaptability, as much of it does travel through true wilderness. The views are spectacular, the wildlife is plentiful and the people are friendly. What more could one ask for?
What follows is a journal of two summers of adventure, biking most of the trail in the late 1990s. It is about 33,000 words in length (2 to 3 hours reading), and contains numerous photographs of the trail. There are also sections containing a brief history of the trail, geology, flora and fauna, and associated information.

After reading this account, you should have a good sense of whether the trail is right for you. If you do decide to ride the trail, it will be an experience you will never forget.  

A Drive Across Newfoundland









Newfoundland, Canada’s most easterly province, is a region that is both fascinating in its unique culture and amazing in its vistas of stark beauty. The weather is often wild, with coastal regions known for steep cliffs and crashing waves (though tranquil beaches exist too). The inland areas are primarily Precambrian shield, dominated by forests, rivers, rock formations, and abundant wildlife. The province also features some of the Earth’s most remarkable geology, notably The Tablelands, where the mantle rocks of the Earth’s interior have been exposed at the surface, permitting one to explore an almost alien landscape, an opportunity available on only a few scattered regions of the planet.

The city of St. John’s is one of Canada’s most unique urban areas, with a population that maintains many old traditions and cultural aspects of the British Isles. That’s true of the rest of the province, as well, where the people are friendly and inclined to chat amiably with visitors. Plus, they talk with amusing accents and party hard, so what’s not to like?

This account focusses on a two-week road trip in October 2007, from St. John’s in the southeast, to L’Anse aux Meadows in the far northwest, the only known Viking settlement in North America. It also features a day hike visit to The Tablelands, a remarkable and majestic geological feature. Even those who don’t normally consider themselves very interested in geology will find themselves awe-struck by these other-worldly landscapes.

On the Road with Bronco Billy, A Trucking Journal

What follows is an account of a ten day journey through western North America during a working trip, delivering lumber from Edmonton Alberta to Dallas Texas, and returning with oilfield equipment. The writer had the opportunity to accompany a friend who is a professional truck driver, which he eagerly accepted. He works as a statistician for the University of Alberta, and is therefore is generally confined to desk, chair, and computer. The chance to see the world from the cab of a truck, and be immersed in the truck driving culture was intriguing. In early May 1997 they hit the road.

Some time has passed since this journal was written and many things have changed since the late 1990’s. That renders the journey as not just a geographical one, but also a historical account, which I think only increasesits interest.

We were fortunate to have an eventful trip - a mechanical breakdown, a near miss from a tornado, and a large-scale flood were among these events. But even without these turns of fate, the drama of the landscape, the close-up view of the trucking lifestyle, and the opportunity to observe the cultural habits of a wide swath of western North America would have been sufficient to fill up an interesting journal.

The travelogue is about 20,000 words, about 60 to 90 minutes of reading, at typical reading speeds.

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