Friday, 7 August 2020

What is a red flag for bad statistical data?


What is a red flag for bad statistical data?

There are a few ways to think about the question “What is a red flag on bad statistical data?”. One way to restate it is:

“How do I locate bad data points in a dataset that is generally reliable”? In other words, we want to know what the “red flags” are to spot incorrect data. Here are a few steps that I use (note that they aren’t necessarily definitive because life (and data) is complicated):

  • Look for data that is out of range, or extremely unlikely, in a real-world sense. Suppose you are doing an analysis on university undergraduate students. You would expect most students to be in the standard age range of roughly 17 to 30. You may find people that are significantly out of that range (e.g. a 16 year old or a 60 year old), but you wouldn’t expect very many. These cases might have to be checked. If you find a student who is 3 years old or 103 years old, you know something is wrong. It could be a data entry error, or it could be that your data (say from a big administrative database) is defaulting to some odd value, which has created an impossible age. So, you want to find and correct those, or at least flag them in some way.
  • Look for data that is logically impossible. For example, you might find cases who are listed as male, yet are included in a study on survival rates for cervical cancer. Now, this may be an interpretation issue (e.g. the variable is not clear about whether it is meant to refer “gender identity” vs “sex assigned at birth”), but it might just be incorrect data. So, those should be looked into, if possible. That said, you have to be careful about making assumptions - for example men can get breast cancer.
  • Look for data that is contradictory. In a survey that allows multiple responses, you might have someone claim that they are both “atheist” and “Christian”. That might a reasonable response (e.g. they were raised as a Christian but are now consider themselves to be an atheist), but it might indicate a problem in your dataset if it shows up a lot. Similarly, some people might tick every religion on a long list (or every race or nationality). Are the spoofing the survey, or is that how they really feel? (i.e. is it bad data or valid data?).
  • Look for outliers that seem unreasonable. For example, if a histogram shows a single point that is some large number of standard deviations out, it might well be bad data.
  • Once you have done your analysis (let’s say a regression analysis), you should explore the analysis for points that have high influence on the data. There are diagnostics for this (dfits or dfbetas). If you find a point that is hugely influential, it might be indicate error in the data, or it could be valid but be throwing out your analysis, as a very atypical real-world case. You might exclude that data (depends on the purpose of the analysis and other things, it’s a judgement call).
  • You might also want to look for fraudulent data. Benford’s law is a good example of a way to look for that.

This list isn’t exhaustive. Your problem might be greater than just some bad points in an otherwise good dataset. The dataset itself might be questionable. For example:

  • You should check with subject matter experts, to see how they feel about the validity of your data (e.g. they might inform you that the source of your data is politically biased or untrustworthy for some other reason in their opinion).
  • You should check data processing steps (maybe with an IT expert) to ensure that a programming bug (e.g. a bad SQL statement, like a join that misfired) hasn’t created bad/weird data.
  • Then, of course, there is face validity. If your analysis comes up with a truly counter-intuitive result, you might have discovered something really outstanding. Or, you might have discovered a bad dataset. You would want to double-check and triple-check your data and your analysis in these cases.



And, here’s a travel story or two.

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

Summer is here now, and that brings on thoughts of ROAD TRIP, “On the Road with Bronco Billy”.  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.  Then, some time later, try it out for yourself.

 Amazon U.S.:

Amazon U.K.:

Amazon Germany:

Amazon Canada:









Thursday, 30 July 2020

A Sapper’s War - 12 Fld Coy RCE History, Part 11 August 1944 (Moving North and the Beginning of the Assault on the Gothic Line)

A Sapper’s War - 12 Fld Coy RCE History, Part 11 August 1944 (Moving North and the Beginning of the Assault on the Gothic Line)

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: TBA

Sep 1944: TBA

Oct 1944: TBA

Nov 1944: TBA

Dec 1944: TBA

Jan 1945: TBA  


August 1944 – Moving North and the Beginning of the Assault on the Gothic Line

During the early part of August 1944, the focus of the Allied armies in Italy was on planning for their next offensive, further north, as well as the training required for that objective.  However, initial plans had to be revised, as the needs of the army in northern France were a significant consideration, as was the possibility of a landing in southern France. That landing would take vital resources of men and equipment away from the Italian theatre.

Thus, mid-August was the time for these plans and counter-plans to be put into motion.  That meant positioning troops into the required areas, with an extensive effort to fool the enemy as to where that would be.  An entire army had to be moved across the mountainous country, since Eighth Army would once again try to break through on the Adriatic front, while Fifth Army advanced on its left. The deception plan meant that much of the travel would be done at night, in pitch dark, over mountainous terrain.

Late August saw the beginning of the next great Italian offensive, against the Gothic line, a strongly defended German position farther up the Italian boot.  The strategic purpose of this was to eventually break through into the Po valley, and then threaten Germany from the south, via the Ljubljana Gap, between Italy and Yugoslavia.

Short of the long-hoped for breakthrough, it was at least hoped that the Italian offensives would draw off German troops from the French and Russian campaigns.  Those taking a longer view of the post-war world also saw value in western forces being in southern Europe, as a counter-weight to the Russians, should the shaky alliance break down.

12 Fld Coy took on a number of tasks, from some railroad work in the early part of the month, to a move across to the Adriatic front in mid-month, and finally participation in the crossing of the Metauro River, late in August, which began Operation Olive, the breaking of the Gothic line.

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

August 1 to 5 – Orvieto, Italy (Foligno area)

The company received orders to be prepared to move, by either the 1st or 2nd of the month.  Their first assignment was to take over some jobs from the 1st Division RCE, in particular tasks related to railroad maintenance in and around the Ficulle Station.  After setting up their camp, they proceeded with the railroad job, which included mine sweeping the tunnels and track (3 Platoon).  A severe electrical storm added to the psychological drama inherent in a mine sweeping job.

August 6 to 11 – Orvieto, Italy

2 Platoon then worked on a water tower and related pipelines.  3 Platoon worked on a weir at the station, as well as clearing culverts, constructing retaining walls and improving the rail bed for some tracks.  Some men from that platoon also went on special mine clearing and demolitions training at company headquarters. 

Towards the end of this period (August 11) there was a move to a new area, near Foligno, about half way across the spine of Italy, back towards the Adriatic coast.

August 12 to 15 – San Severino, Italy

The company H.Q. actually established itself around San Severino, even closer to the Adriatic.   After the move, the company worked on several route diversions in the area, and also removed a blown railway bridge from a route.  The arrival of a D-6 bulldozer helped the work along.  3 Platoon improved some bridge decking.  A few parties had been left back at  Ficulle Station and they continued work on the water tower.

At this time, the company had some visits from high ranking officers, such as the Commander Royal Engineers (CRE) and the CRE 1 Canadian Division.  The company was warned that another move was nigh. 

Further training and lectures were given on the subjects of general security and Bailey Pontoon Bridging.

August 16 to 20 – Jesi, Italy

The next move was to a new area, with H.Q. going to Jesi.  The company was drawing steadily nearer to the Adriatic with each move.  Some sections did mine sweeping for malaria control units, and 3 Platoon did some improvised bridge construction.  Route gravelling was undertaken, to improve some routes.  Diversions were built and improved.  There were more bridging lectures and related training.

The company command, Major Wade, returned from “O” group (Operations group meeting) at the CRE’s headquarters.  That meant another move was in the works.  The next few locations would be known only by map coordinates.

August 21 to 22 – M.R.S. 2119436 Italy

Time for the next move.  The company was now doing work on some major routes (Bottle Route, Boat route, etc.) required for the upcoming assault on Gothic Line.  The work was quite secretive, so lights couldn’t be used at night, which slowed things down.  Also, the company was now rather close to the front, so lights at night could bring down artillery fire.

There was continuing work done on diversions, fords, and lateral routes. During these operations, a popular non-com, Sgt Berlin, stepped on a Schumine, a small but effective anti-personnel mine.  Although he was evacuated by ambulance, he died later that night.  He was buried by a party from 3 Platoon on the following day.

An anti-tank battery arrived, that was to take on some sapper training.  A section of the Provost Corps also joined the company, to pitch in on needed engineer tasks and to put up signs and direct traffic once the bridging was done.  This became a common occurrence – troops who weren’t engaged in their usual duties were often assigned to help out the sappers, as so much of the Italian campaign depended on maintaining mobility in extremely difficult country.

August 23 to 24 – M.R.S. 2119436 Italy

There was another move, to maintain important supply routes (named “Hat” and “Boat”), which quickly followed up advances by 1st Canadian Division.

3 Platoon did some mine sweeping and blockade clearing on a lateral route, with the help of the anti-tank troop (referred to now as “gunsaps”, a portmanteau of gunner and sapper).  In general, there was a heavy schedule of bridging, mine sweeping, diversion construction, blockade clearing, rubble removal and other tasks necessary to keep an army on the move.

Officers met with a Lt-Col  of Royal Engineers to discuss the future campaigns in the area.  The need for a new 50 foot Bailey Bridge was part of that discussion, which was put up the next day. 

August 25 – M.R.S. 2119436 Italy

2 Platoon constructed the 50 foot Bailey Bridge, with troops of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment providing some construction assistance (i.e. general labour and manpower for launching the bridge).  They also provided infantry covering parties during the work, since this bridging site was near the front and could easily come under attack by enemy infiltrating parties. Though sapper companies did have weapons and infantry training, it was always more efficient to have regular infantry troops cover the work, allowing the full complement of sappers to get on with the job.  The bridge was built between 1;00 and 6:15 a.m., though it still needed some work on the base plates. 

Meanwhile, 3 Platoon swept for mines, on approaches to the Metauro River along Bottle route. The opening barrage for the crossing of the Metauro River commenced at midnight of the 25th.  It was a big show, similar to the scale of the barrage for the El Alamein battle back in Egypt.

August 26 to 28 – Metauro River, Italy

All platoons were now occupied with jobs on BOAT, BOTTLE and HAT routes and associated laterals.  The advance across the Metauro had gone quite smoothly, so work on routes, bridges and diversions was intense, in order to keep up with the advance.

Much bridging work was done, including an 80 foot Bailey.  The gunsaps helped out with route work.  A 110 foot Bailey was built by 3 Platoon, and the gunsaps helped out there as well.  The assistance of the Provost troops was also highly appreciated.  More diversions were cut, craters were filled in and a tank route was constructed.

August 29 to 31 – Metauro River, Italy

The pace of work and events remained intense.  More tank routes were constructed.  Work continued on maintaining bridges, cutting diversions, filling craters and similar activities.  Platoons carried out road patrols on BOAT route and laterals.  A D-8 dozer was supplied, to help the work along.  An officer, Lt. Anderson, came down with a bad case of jaundice and went to hospital.  Mines, of course, were a constant threat.

Other Notes and Observations from August 1944

Following are some selected quotes from the report on Operations during August 1944 in Italy, written by the military (Report Number 143, Canadian Operations in Italy, June 1944 to Feb 1945):

1 - Evolving Plans and Strategies

“On 22 Aug Lt-Gen Leese addressed the senior officers of 1 Cdn Corps and outlined the general situation and future operations. He explained that after the breaking of the Hitler Line and the capture of Rome, the expected thrust through Florence to bisect the German forces in Italy had received certain set-backs. Heavy ground resistance and bad weather had delayed the advance through the Lake Trasimeno area, and when the attack had continued through Arezzo with parallel successes in Leghorn and Ancona on the flanks, the high-level decision to invade the south of France had seriously weakened the striking power of the Allied Armies in Italy. Seven division and 70 per cent of the air support had gone to this new venture and the Eighth Army had been required to take over the front formerly held by the French troops of the Fifth Army. Even with such depleted forces the attack had gone on and the key ground south-west of Florence had been captured by 4 Brit Inf Div and 2 N.Z. Div, supported by tanks of 1 Cdn Armd Bde (See para 52). But the delay and the fatigue of Eighth Army had made it impossible to follow through and break the Gothic Line in that area. The Adriatic sector had then been chosen for the breakthrough because of the need for a good port on the east coast. Ancona had not the port facilities to handle the  supplies needed for operations to break into the German Reich and take the Eight Army target - Vienna. Only Venice could provide them. The logical method was a seaborne right hook; but the French invasion had withdrawn both the equipment and personnel needed for such operations.” (Page 5)

2 - Work for Engineers during moves

“Here it was explained that 1 Cdn Corps was to participate in a very considerable movement of troops to the Adriatic front to take part in operations to break the Gothic Line. It was of utmost importance that this move be both rapid and secret, and since only one state Highway, No. 76, was available, the difficulties were great. Effective German demolitions had to be bridged or bulldozed and the resultant fills maintained under tremendous traffic - 1 Cdn Corps alone moved 280 carriers, 650 tanks and 10,700 wheeled vehicles. To relieve the highway from tank traffic, 1 Cdn Corps Engineers produced an alternate track paralleling the highway, a remarkable engineering feat in view of the rugged nature and the height of the ridge that had to be crossed. (Page 5)

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” as well as a related passage from Mark Zuehlke’s book “The Gothic Line: Canada's Month of Hell in World War II Italy”

1 - Moving to the Adriatic:

“Field Marshall Alexander’s original plan had been to direct his main drive through the central mountains from Florence to Bologna and then through to the Po River. … At this stage plans were changed.  For many reasons a principal drive through the mountains had become less and less feasible.  Not the least of these reasons had been the loss of a quarter of Alexander’s troops to “Anvil”, including the trained mountain troops of the French.  Operation “Olive” was the new plan – a “two-handed” punch with the greatest pressure up the longer route of the Adriatic coast. … On the evening of the 10th the red, oblong divisional patches had come down once more and the Division was back near Perugia.”  (Page 224)

2 - Objectives for Operation Olive:

“General Burns’ orders for the forthcoming operation stressed three main tasks:

a.     To attack and destroy the enemy holding the Metauro River Line.

b.     To advance to and to breach the Gothic Line.

c.     To exploit to Rimini.”

(Page 225)

3 - Difficulties with Mines:

“While the Corps was concentrating, there was work to be done south of the Metauro.  … On the 24th, the 1st Field Company had its first officer casualty in Italy…while on a river-crossing reconnaissance, was killed by the explosion of an S. Mine on the near bank.  His body was brought back by the C.R.E. ‘through a hail of enemy fire.’

The situation was so fluid that German patrols were able to infiltrate.  More than once they laid new mines in cleared areas and altered markers.  During this period, also, a new German trick came to light. Mines had been placed around demolitions before they were blown and some of these, not set off by sympathetic detonation, became so deeply buried as to escape immediate detection. Such mines not only could and did cause damage later but had the added effect of casting doubt on the efficiency of removal parties.”  (page 226)

4 - Crossing the Metauro River and 12th Field Company:

“Because of thorough preparation the Metauro crossings were easily established and the advance from the engineer standpoint went smoothly. .. During the afternoon one of these crossings carried Mr. Winston Churchill’s car, which had joined the stream of vehicles negotiating the fords and tracks. … The 12th Field Company built an 80-foot double-single Bailey, and British engineers another upstream.”  (page 227)

5 – Overnight Travel to Jesi

“On the night of August 16, Corps headquarters and the Royal Canadian Engineer Corps troops moved to the area of Jesi. Like all the other convoys rolling over the Apennines, they travelled without using headlights in order to avoid German detection. Hour after hour, the road ahead worsened. At dawn, the road abruptly petered out and the convoy found itself stranded atop a mountain summit. The track was too narrow to turn the vehicles around. With no option but to go onward, the engineers unloaded a couple of bulldozers and proceeded to cut a rugged cross-country trail overland to where it could link into another road.”  Zuehlke, Mark. The Gothic Line: Canada's Month of Hell in World War II Italy (pp. 87-88). D & M Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

1 - New Mines:

The Germans continued to develop new mines and improve the older model mines.  It was a constantly evolving contest between the opposing armies, with each side developing new mines that were difficult to detect and/or render harmless, then needing to devise ways of overcoming the challenges of the enemy’s new technology.

The mine noted in the order below sounds like an anti-tank mine, but the ever-present Schumine (or S-mine) also accounted for many casualties, killed or wounded.  Among those was my father (obviously not killed), but that was still several months in the future.  As noted in the War Diary above, one of the popular sergeants of the company was killed by a Schumine – my dad may well have been in the burial party, as it was 3 Platoon who was given the task.

Mines could either be neutralized (detonator removed or otherwise deactivated) or pulled (exploded in place, for example by hooking it to a rope and pulling on that rope, with a vehicle at a safe distance.)

Aug 25, 1944


1 Enemy is now using T Mine Igniter T MIZ 43 in T Mines 35 (STAHL) 42 and 43 (P112/ as opposed to IGNITER T MIZ 42.

2 It is impossible to determine which igniter is being used by inspecting the mine.

3 This igniter works by either pressure (approx. 200 lbs) on the pressure plate of by unscrewing the pressure plate.

4 In future all T Mines will be pulled but NOT neutralized.

2 - New Allies:

The fortunes of war can shift quickly, as can alliances.  The Italian Armed Forces were now fighting with the Allies (as co-belligerents) against the German army.  But it seems as if the Allied soldiers on the ground were somewhat skeptical, as they felt free to commandeer property of the Italian forces.  Perhaps this was not so surprising, as that property had quite recently been used against Allied troops.  The term frenemy hadn’t been invented yet, though it seems like it would have been quite useful back then.

Aug 4, 1944


1 The Italian Armed Forces are fighting and working as co-belligerents with the Allies in Italy.  Their help can only be effective if they have the means to administer and maintain themselves.

2 Cases have occurred (particularly in ROME and other newly occupied localities), where property, transport and materials belonging to the Italian Forces have been removed from them without proper authority and when the operational need for such action no longer existed.

3 In future, no buildings, real estate, transport or other materials belonging to the Italian Armed Forces, or in the possession of effective units of the Italian Navy, Army or Air Force, will be occupied, requisitioned, seized or made use of without prior reference to this H.Q.. This does not, however, preclude the rights of operational commands to make such use of the items mentioned as may be necessary for operational reasons.

4 The Italian Commanders concerned have been authorized to place notices on their property indicating its ownership. These notices will be respected.

3 - San Marino - Enemy or Neutral?:

The case of The Republic of San Marino is another strange situation.  This tiny independent republic is entirely surrounded by Italy, though not too far from the Adriatic coast.  As the order below states, it was technically at war with Britain at this time (it had declared war in 1940 and never capitulated).  However, the troops were instructed to respect its “neutrality”, at least for the time being.  How it could be both neutral and in a state of war with Britain is not explained.  However, the troops were still some distance from San Marino, so the issue was not yet pressing.

My dad was quite impressed with San Marino, or at least with the idea of San Marino.  He often spoke of his short stay in the world’s smallest country.

Aug 12, 1944


1 The Commander-in-chief directs that the neutrality of the small Republic of SAN MARINO ref map 1/100,000 sheets 108-109 R 7585, be respected, and that allied troops are not to violate the territory of this Republic except under the conditions given below.

2 Troops may only enter the confines of the Republic of SAN MARINO if it can be definitely established that either:

·       The enemy have first violated the neutrality of this state either by withdrawing through it or by fighting from within its boundaries or

·       The Government and people of SAN MARINO have adopted a hostile attitude.

If it is necessary to enter the territory of SAN MARINO under the provisions of this paragraph, the greatest possible respect will be paid to the inhabitants and property within the state. The decision to enter this territory will not be taken by an Officer junior to a Divisional Commander.

3 All troops that are likely to operate in the vicinity of SAN MARINO will be fully acquainted with this order.  The boundaries of this republic are clearly delineated on all GSGS maps.



All of the information hereunder is not confirmed and is only hearsay.

1 SAN MARINO is the smallest independent republic in the world.

2 It declared war on Germany during period 1914-18 but never declared peace.

3 It declared war on Gt Britain in Jul 1940 but did not capitulate along with Italy.

4 - More about POWs:

Becoming a prisoner of war was always a possibility.  In fact, as noted earlier, some members of the 12th Field Company had been captured during the June battles in the Liri Valley.  As we all know from countless war movies, the Geneva Convention stated that Name, Rank and Serial Number were all that a soldier had to divulge to the enemy.  Apparently, though, according to German reports on British prisoners that had fallen into Allied hands, some POWs had been rather free with information.  So, soldiers were reminded of their duties in this regard (including the destruction of documents), and cautioned against falling for any enemy trickery during captivity.

Having said all that, it is good to remember that Allied intelligence officers also tried to get information out of German POWs, and no doubt they had their own bag of tricks.  One advantage that the Allies had in this regard, was that a significant number of the German troops were not German nationals, and had been pressed into service by Germany.  So, they tended to have little loyalty to the Axis cause.

Aug 17, 1944


1  During recent operations, interrogation reports on British POWs have been captured from the Germans.

2 They give the names of POW and reveal that much information has been given by them under interrogation which was of great value to the enemy.  The information included details of their Unit organization, its previous moves, often with ports of embarkation and shipping used, reliefs planned and locations of other units.

3 Such indiscretions lead directly to loss of Allied soldiers’ lives and endangers the success of Allied operations.

4 Immediate steps will be taken to ensure that the above information which a POW will give to the enemy is his RANK, NAME AND NUMBER.

5 The attention of all ranks will be again drawn to the following points:

a) Papers and Documents – All personal papers and documents will be removed from the person before going into action.  Any papers or documents (except the AB 64 or officers identity card) which must remain on the person will be destroyed at the first opportunity after capture.   Steps will be taken to ensure than the only information contained in AB 64 and officer’s identity cards is owner’s RANK, NAME AND NUMBER.

b) Misleading Information – No attempts will be made to mislead the enemy by giving false information at interrogations.  Such attempts will inevitably be detected.

c) Red Cross questionnaire – No Red Cross questionnaire or questionnaire forms will be filled in.  It is not legitimate to force POWs to answer such questionnaires and in no way serves its ostensible purpose of assisting prisoners’ welfare.

d) Stool Pigeons – The German organization is adept at planting convincing stool pigeons among POWs.  Prisoners will not converse among themselves on recent actions, units or other military matters.

e) Microphones – The Germans are experts at organizing listening-in systems, with microphones planted in the most unlikely places.  POWs will NOT converse on military matters, even with the most trusted friend.

5 - Clean Water:

Clean water was extremely important, to prevent disease.  In fact, establishing water points and ensuring that the water was sterilized was one of the unsung but vital functions of Engineers.  When good water wasn’t available (at the front, for instance),  soldiers were expected to sterilize the water with their own portable outfits.  I assume that meant something like iodine pills, similar to what hikers sometimes use (I have used them and the taste is not great, but better that than a parasite infection).  Note that this issue was an ongoing concern, so an order with this exact wording showed up in succeeding months as well.

Aug 25, 1944


1 All sources of water in this theatre will be regarded as contaminated and must be chlorinated whether intended for human consumption or for washing purposes.  Dual water sups, e.g. pure for drinking and impure for washing, will not be allowed.  Thirsty men are liable to drink any water.

2 When units are drawing water from other than supervised water points established by the RCE or RE, unit water duty personnel will carry out filtration, chlorination, and de-chlorination in the manner laid down.

3 Forward troops who cannot be served by unit water vehicles will chlorinate and de-chlorinate all water by means of their individual sterilizing outfits.  Full instructions as to their use are contained in the outfits.

6 - Clean Chickens:

Bad water meant that any animal drinking from these sources might be contaminated.  Apparently that was an issue with local chickens.  There is no mention of the particular disease in question, but some sort of food poisoning might be a possibility, as might be a parasite.  Also, flu has been known to spread from fowl to humans, so that could also have been a concern.

Aug 17, 1944


Chickens in this area are diseased.  They will NOT be eaten by personnel.

Some Family Stories Related to August 1944 Events

Working on the Railway

Working on an Italian railway in August 1944 would have been like old times for my dad.  One of the reasons that he was put into the Engineer Corps was because of his railroad experience in Canada (and a high score on the M-test, a sort of IQ test given to recruits to place them where their talents could best help the army).

He had worked for some years with the Canadian National Railway (CN) in Alberta and a smaller company, the Northern Alberta Railway (NAR), which eventually was absorbed by the larger CN.  Railway construction was a big endeavour in the 1920s, though it slowed to a crawl during the 1930s.

Even during peacetime, railway work could be extremely dangerous.  I know that from experience, as I spent a summer working for the railroad, while I went to university.  Even at that time, there were a lot of accidents – at least one fellow lost a leg during the weeks that I was on a track laying crew in northern British Columbia.  Plus, safety practices were pretty lax, when we crossed the high trestle bridges, laying new tracks (e.g. no hand railings, just a long drop into the abyss if you lost your balance near the edge).

My dad sometimes related a story from his bridge building days before the war that illustrated the dangers of the railroad life and bridge building in particular.

He was apprenticing on the railroad, building trestle bridges in Northern Alberta. As I understand it, there was a kind of cable used for transporting materials across a bridge, in a manner similar to a conveyor belt, powered by a motor.  Normally, it was slack, unless it was in use.  His journeyman, a fellow that he got on well with, was stepping over this cable, when someone carelessly put it into operation. It snapped into life, drew taught and caught him between the legs, tossing him off the bridge.  Martin quickly shimmied down the tall trestle bridge, just in time to hold this man in his arms as he died.  His dying words were "find another line of work - this is too dangerous."

I suppose it was ironic that Martin stayed in bridge building game, which became orders of magnitude more dangerous once the war started.

Here's a nice little poem about railroading in those days:

The Section Man

by Edna Jacques

We passed him there, knee-deep in snow,

Standing to watch the train go by,

A lonely man in overalls,

Outlined against the snowy sky.

Along by Field, where peak and height

Make ghostly shadows in the night.

His face was bitten by the cold,

His mittened hands were stiff and hard

Yet there he stood as staunch and true

As any soldier standing guard,

Keeping his trackage swept and bare

That we might pass in safety there.

Oh, unsung heroes of the land,

The lowly knight of mawl and spade,

His home a lonely section-house,

His trust a curving mile of grade.

Seen through the dusk, a tired wraith

Knee-deep in snow...he still keeps faith.

Source: Canadian Pacific Railway, Factors in Railway and Steamship Operation.


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.