Sunday, 3 November 2019

A Sapper’s War - 12 Fld Coy RCE History, Part 2 Nov 1943



A Sapper’s War - 12 Fld Coy RCE History, Part 2 Nov 1943

A Sapper's War: 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 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.

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A Sapper’s War
12th Field Company Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) Nov 1943 to Feb 1945
Part 2 - November 1943

Copyright Dale Olausen and Dodecahedron Books, October 2019

What follows is a review of the history of the 12th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, during the time that my father served with them during World War 2.  His army records give Oct 19, 1943 as the date that he joined this unit.  And, indeed, the unit’s war diaries confirm that, showing that he was assigned to the 3rd platoon of that company in October 1943.

The primary source of this document is the 12th Field Company War Diaries, with some material from The History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, Volume 2 as well as various official histories by the Department of National Defence.  Personal accounts of my father’s or mother’s stories are also included, where appropriate. 

I have given summaries of what is in the War Diary from the various months, which are themselves rather terse, as they are a summation of the activities of some 250 or so men.  Family stories and personal historical accounts rarely have much of a counterpart in the War Diaries, though they sometimes touch on events that seem similar to what one might have heard in veterans’ personal accounts.

I will add other items from the material associated with the War Diaries (e.g. orders and other communications) where I find them of interest.  Those can be for personal/family reasons, or to give a general understanding of the times.  Some matters become recurring cultural themes, which don’t usually get a lot of play in official histories, but these seem all the more interesting to me, for that very reason.


November 1943

Introduction

During November, the 12th Fld Coy sailed south to the Strait of Gibraltar, then into the Mediterranean to disembark in Sicily.  Some of the ships in the convoy were hit by enemy action, but most made it through unscathed.

 They then moved to Syracuse, settled into billets, performed various training exercises and construction jobs, and awaited developments, such as going to the mainland of Italy, to reinforce troops (and sappers) that were already there.

However, there was still work to be done in Sicily, as it had not been under allied possession for long and it was an important location for administration, hospitals, supplies and other logistics needed to prosecute the war in Italy.  It also had important airfields that the Allies wanted to use to further prosecute the air war against the Axis.

Besides that, there was a lot of confusion as to what motor transport and other equipment the Canadians would use, as the operation plan assumed that they would use British equipment already in the middle east and that the Canadian equipment in the U.K. would stay there, to be used in the invasion of France in due course.

The matter of having inferior equipment would plague the Canadians for some time.  The British equipment had literally been through the wars in North Africa, so much of it was not in very good shape.  On the other hand, the Canadian equipment that they had left behind was in excellent condition, so it was sorely missed.

 

12 Field Company War Diary, November 1943

Following is a condensation of the War Diary notes for November 1943. 

Nov 1 to 4 – Convoy to Sicily

The day was “lovely and calm and it almost seemed warm enough to jump in for a swim”.  But at about 2:00 a.m. there was an alert, and not a practice run.  Apparently, there was a reading on an Asdic (a sonar device named after the Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee) that was interpreted as a U-boat, though later it was determined to be a false alarm.  Nonetheless, the men on the ship donned their full equipment, in preparation to abandon ship if necessary.  Even after determining that it was probably a false alarm, the men slept in their clothes, to be ready in case a further signal was picked up by Asdic.

The next day there was some small arms practice, as well as gunnery practice for the ship’s guns.  The weather was warming up as they sailed south, so the men were allowed to go to shirt sleeves.

The following day, the weather continued to be pleasant, but the day ended with an alarm at about 8:00 p.m., along with the sound of depth charges exploding.  However, no U-boat attacks were recorded.  The men were also inoculated against typhus.

On November 4th, land was seen at about 1:00 p.m., which was a welcome sight.  The ship went through the Strait of Gibraltar during sunset, which presented “a beautiful picture” according to the writer of the war diary. 

Nov 5 to 7 – Convoy to Sicily

On the 5th, the North African coast was in view all day.  At about 2:00 p.m., there was an alert, though it only lasted a short time, with no enemy action reported.  The same day, the men were told that their destination was Sicily.

During the night, the convoy was joined by 3 other ships, 2 of which included landing barges.  Barrage balloons were raised and there was a practice alert at about 11:00 p.m..

The convoy was now receiving aircraft protection, as planes could sometimes be seen circling the ships.  It was noted that this was “a rather comforting thought”.  However, planes weren’t always comforting; they could be deadly too, as an actual air raid occurred at about 6:00 p.m. that lasted half an hour, in which hit three ships, though not the troopship E.B. Alexander. 

Three planes were also shot down during this action.  At this time, nobody knew just how badly the ships were hit.  The ship remained in the ready state, expecting another air raid during the night, but none came.

On the 7th, a number of ships were seen leaving the convoy.  There was another air raid alert, but it was a false alarm.

Nov 8 to 11 – Syracuse, Sicily

On the 8th, Sicily was finally sighted and the ship made it into the harbour at Augusta at about noon.  Since Sicily had been liberated some months earlier, the landing was unopposed.  It took most of the day for the company to disembark, though an advance party of officers (Capt.  Tremouth and Lieut. Lukes) and 15 Other Ranks went ashore before the remainder of the company to head for Syracuse, and billets there.  This was to be there base of operations for some weeks

But first, on the nights of the 8th and 9th,  they were billeted at a place called STAR CAMP, then later at a hotel (Hotel Miramare) at a town called Brucoli.  The War Diary notes that “a real dump it is with dirt everywhere and very poor plumbing facilities”.  They would see much worse before too long.

Finally, on the 10th they were billeted in Syracuse, Sicily, arriving there via train. They were met by the advance group of officers, located their billets, and explored the town until curfew, before retiring for the night.  The next day was occupied by settling into the new area, cleaning and improving their billets (e.g. setting up latrines and ablution tables), to the extent possible.

Nov 12 to 15 – Syracuse, Sicily

On the 12th, the men’s baggage arrived at their billet, so they had a chance to inspect their kit.  With no orders yet, they occupied themselves in further cleaning and improving the billets for the rest of the day.

On the 13th, the Paymaster handed out some currency that could be spent locally, in exchange for British currency that had been collected on the ship.  The unit also received some limited truck transport, namely a couple of 3-ton trucks (referred to as 60 cwt), 3 1.5 ton trucks (15 cwt) and 2 M.C.s. (it’s not clear what this stood for).  They vehicles were pretty clapped out though (“seven very old and dilapidated vehicles”).  In the evening, the boys “made whoopee on the local vino or goof”, with their newfound money.

The 14th was a day off, so the men explored the town.  The men that hadn’t blown all of their money on wine the previous night purchased boxes of oranges, lemons and nuts that were then in season, and sent them on to Canada or England.

The 15th saw some small arms training for those not engaged in cleaning the billets.  Some of the officers were sent for additional training with 8th Army, while others were sent to recee (reconnoiter) jobs that the company was likely  to be assigned to, over the coming weeks.  

Nov 16 to 19 – Syracuse, Sicily

The company was now getting into the swing of things, though the scope of their tasks was still limited due to the shortage of equipment.

Activities over the next few days included route marches, some general road work, repair of damaged retaining walls, and collecting of Somerfelt track (generally used for landing strips). There were classes in the Italian language and a dental officer and two technicians came for a visit, to work on the men’s dental health, which was sorely needed by now.

Some of the officers and sergeants received training in R/T (radio telephony) from a Sgt of the R.C.D. (Royal Canadian Dragoons), which was well received (a little radio humour there).  As a side note, it would turn out that the company would eventually provide assault engineering support for the R.C.D., though that was about a year in the future.
Regular training continued as per the training syllabus.

Nov 20 to 22 – Syracuse, Sicily

On the 20th, Lieut. Philpot and 3 Platoon returned from the Somerfelt track job (material for an airfield runway).   Lieut. Pierce and 2 Platoon reported that this platoon had a lot of trouble with mud, mosquitos and other bugs, but the retaining wall repair and road job was well in progress.  1 Platoon went on a road resurfacing job, near the town station.

On the 22nd, Lieut. Philpot was put on a Board of Inquiry for an accident, which had killed 2 officers and several other ranks of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, at a gun site in Italy.  More were in hospital and might yet die.  That kept him busy until the 25th.

Nov 23 to 25 – Syracuse, Sicily

3 Platoon left on the 23rd for a hospital job, where they were needed to build several additional Nissen huts (a sort of half cylinder corrugated sheet metal hut, similar to the American Quonset hut, though somewhat smaller).

On the 24th word came that the company was to work on an improvised bridge, near the town of Enna.  A recee party composed mainly of officers left on the 25th to check out the job.

One of the other officers (Lieut. Place) had the opportunity to visit a different bridge that the Royal Engineers were working on at Ragusa, to observe charges being removed from the structure. As well as returning with important knowledge, he also returned with a bag of oranges and tangerines.

Nov 26 to 29 – Syracuse, Sicily

1 Platoon continuing on road work and the other two platoons kept on with their construction jobs.  The lack of proper tools, equipment and transport was an ongoing problem, though.
There was a small fire in the camp on the night of the 25-26th, that destroyed some tents and equipment; fortunately no men were hurt.

Italian lessons were offered on the 26th, which were very popular, though they had to compete with other activities, as the company was paid that morning and the War Diarist writes “vino and blood will probably run freely tonight”.

The 27th saw Major Wade return with information on the upcoming Adrano bridge job.  It was expected to require at least 2 platoons (1 and 2), as well as some help from H.Q. platoon.  3 Platoon would stay behind to finish up the hospital job and some road work.

Nov 30 – Syracuse, Sicily

1 and 2 platoons left for Adrano bridge job, under Lieut. Pierce. They travelled mostly by train to the site, which was some distance away.  Some abandoned farm buildings near the Simeto River crossing were used as an H.Q..

 

Department of Defence Historical Documents and Miscellaneous Sources

Following are some selected quotes from the report on Operation Timberwolf (Report 170), written by the military, along with some additional information sourced from Wikipedia:

1 - Convoy Losses

The convoy had some losses, but it seems like it was pretty lucky, overall.  The loss of the two merchant ships did exacerbate the army’s problems with limited equipment and supplies, though.

“Even before the convoy passed through the Straits of Gibraltar on 4 Nov there were submarine alerts, but no effective enemy action took place until l830  hours on 6 Nov 43,when a group of enemy torpedo bombers estimated to  be twelve in number attacked the convoy off the North African coast. Although the convoy’s gunners sent up effective fire and claimed three enemy planes down, the torpedo bombers got a direct hit on S.S. Santa Elena, which carried among  other units, Nursing Sisters of 14 Canadian General Hospital and elements of Cdn Sec G.H.Q. 2 Ech. Reports on other vessels damaged ranged from one to four in the war diaries, consulted, but the final score appears to be three: Santo Elena hit and abandoned, the S.S. Marnik van St. Aldegonde damaged, subsequently sunk, with no Canadian personnel on board and U.S.  Destroyer "Beatty" sunk.” (Report 170, page 17)

2 – Sisters Manning the Lifeboats

The story of the Santa Elena has an interesting aspect, one that seems quite modern. 

“Santa Elena" was abandoned within two hours and most of the Canadian personnel were picked up by U.S.S Monterey, which stood by for survivors until shortly after midnight, when a submarine alarm sent it off to Philippeville. The remainder of the Canadians were rescued by destroyers which circled the ship and at one time attempted to run alongside it only to be prevented by the high-running seas. Discipline among the troops aboard the "Santa Elena"  was reported to be excellent and officers checked the ship before leaving; but the ship’s crew seems to have played only a minor part in the operation, even requiring assistance from the Nursing Sisters in rowing the lifeboats. (Report 170, page 18)

3 – The Destroyer U.S.S. Beatty’s Fate

Canadian personnel were lucky, but some members of the destroyer U.S.S. Beatty weren’t so lucky.

“While Beatty strove to fight her assailants, one German plane managed to close to about 500 yards and dropped a torpedo which struck the ship near frame 124 at about 1813, only ten minutes after the start of action. The blast jammed mounts 51 and 54 in train, hurled a K-gun and a depth charge stowage rack overboard, bent the starboard propeller shaft, flooded the after engine room, cut off all electrical power, flooded a magazine and put the ship in a 12-degree list to port. A quick muster showed 11 men missing, one officer and six men injured, and a man at the battle searchlight platform fatally burned by steam. One sailor at the starboard K-gun was blown overboard, and was picked up the next morning by Boyle.” “After breaking in two, Beatty sank at 2305 on 6 November 1943.”  (from the wiki article on the U.S.S. Beatty)

4 - Vehicles and Equipment

“The complaints made against the vehicles taken over from 7 Armd Div fell into two categories: (a) type - there were two ~many 4 x 2 vehicles – i.e. not 4-whcel drive; (b) condition - they were considered not battle worthy.  The condition 'of the vehicles left much to be desired. The Ir R.C. diary for 17 Nov 43 declares that "none of them are new and some of those have seen long service in the African campaign.” (Report 1700, page 22)

REPORT NO, 170 HISTORICAL SECTION CANADIAN MILITARY HEADQUARTERS: Operation Timberwolf: The Movement of 1 Cdn Corps to the Mediterranean, 1943.

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, Volume 2”:

4 - The Timberwolf Convoy

My dad mentioned seeing torpedoes pass near a troop ship, at least once.  However, he never mentioned which ship that was, so it is hard to say whether this incident happened during this convoy to Sicily.  I believe people reported seeing a lot more torpedoes than the War Diaries have recorded, though it seems likely that a lot of misidentifications would have occurred under the strain of events.

“The convoy with the “Timberwolf” troops sailed from the Clyde on the 27th October.  After circling well out into the Atlantic it entered the Mediterranean on 4th November.  On the 6th it was attacked by German planes.  Three ships were hit; one, carrying Canadians, sank before it could be gotten into harbour, but there was no loss of life.  Two days later the convoy split up.  Most army and corps troops landed in Sicily while the 5th Canadian Armoured Division went to Naples, on the mainland.” (Page 171)

5 – Works During November 1943 and Lack of Equipment

Interestingly, I don’t recall my father ever complaining about being stuck with broken down equipment, though it comes up often in the official accounts. 
 
“The entire engineer formation was at once assigned to employment with the static R.E. (Royal Engineers) works organization.  Since, however, all vehicles and tools had been left in England, for the moment little could be done in proper style.  Meanwhile, advance parties were sent to the Eighth Army…” (Page 172)

6 – The Road from Adrano to Enna

12th Field Company was assigned to this job later in November, there first bridge building assignment outside of the U.K..  As noted, this was quite a notable road for the Canadian army, as some of the major Canadian action during the Sicily operation of June 1943 was in this area.  Leonforte is a particularly important battle.  The German sappers were very good at their jobs, especially with tactical retreats, which meant a lot of demolitions and obstacles.  The allied engineers then had to undo the work of the German engineers, as the opposing armies vied for control of territory, especially water crossings and transportation corridors.

“… as quickly as possible, the road from Adrano to Enna was to brought to a standard to carry class 12 traffic or better…A preliminary reconnaissance report may be of interest, since the 1st Division had fought along the road...the previous August:
The rd is in fair condition apart from very effective enemy demolitions at pts where it crosses rivers and aqueducts.  The major demolitions were carried out on the masonry arch brs across the rivers SALSO and SIMENTO.  All existing diversions are in a state of disrepair and there are three or four of these from the R SALSO to REGALBUTO.  The road is good from REGALBUTO to LEONFORTE.  To the west the br over the R SPERONI is partly demolished.  From here to ENNA the rd is passable.
…On 30th November the 12th Field Company moved to the Simento near Adrano, with the river crossing as a primary task.”

Orders and Documents Archived with the 12 Fld Coy War Diary

1 – Burial Returns and The Dead

12 Fld Coy was still new to the theatre, so this hadn’t yet become much of an issue for them.  But, it would certainly become pertinent in the near future.  My dad mentioned that one of the worst features of a combat zone was the smell of death, which lingered after a big action and the sight of corpses.  Though anyone might be tasked for burial parties, there were a few engineering units that were called “Cemetery Construction Companies”, which set up cemeteries for the fallen.

I also note that my dad’s discharge papers included information on complexion, eye and hair colour, as well as height and marks or scars (“fracture left big toe. Scar left thigh.”), similar to what was required of chaplains and burial officers in the order below.  So, it looks like this was standard procedure, even after the hostilities were over.

Nov 26, 1943
BURIAL RETURNS
Chaplains or burial officers, when rendering burial returns where identification is not positive (or possible), will include the fullest obtainable evidential particulars which may contribute to subsequent identification.
Particular attention will be given to the following points:
(a) Height, approximate weight, general build, colour of hair, apparent age, colour of eyes (if possible).
(b) Any distinguishable marks, moles, scars, tattoo marks, and stretch of teeth showing fillings, bridge-work, missing teeth, etc..
          (c) Locality (exact map if possible) where the body was found.
(d) Distinctive clothing such as Canada badges, battle patches, search of clothing for marking of name or initials.
(e) Units of identified dead found in the same locality.
(f) Proximity to destroyed tanks or vehicles with registered numbers of the vehicles unit markings and/or serial numbers of engine or chassis (if possible).
These particulars will be written on the reverse of the burial return.

2 – Italian Classes and Mama Mia

A lot of Canadian (and American and British) soldiers retuned from the war with at least a smattering of Italian or French.  I recall that my dad often slipped a bit of “Mamma Mia, por que dia!” into his conversation.

Nov 26, 1943
ITALIAN CLASSES
Tonight is the first night for the Italian classes and a good attendance is hoped for.  As previously stated on Part 1 Orders, they will be held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, at 1830 hours in the Mens’ Mess.

3 – Carrying of Arms (or not as the case may be)

Generally speaking, the army didn’t want soldiers carrying arms in areas behind the front.  Confrontations with civilians were always a possibility, as were accidents and other forms of “misadventure”.  That said, in later months this order was sometimes relaxed or even reversed. 

Nov 12, 1943
CARRYING OF ARMS
1.  Officers and O.R.s (other ranks) NOT on duty will NOT carry arms in towns or billeting areas.  The terms “arms” includes sheathe knives and daggers.
2.  On duty and in areas other than towns and billeting areas the carrying of arms will be at the discretion of formation and unit commanders.

4 – Enemy Captured Stores and Abandoned Equipment

When the Germans left Sicily, they had to leave in a hurry.  It was a well done operation (though many thought the allies didn’t do a very good job to impede their progress, for various reasons), but it still meant that they had to leave a lot of material behind.  That material was both useful and dangerous, so it had to be found and recovered – engineers would often be expected to take on this task.

Nov 12, 1943
ENEMY CAPTURED STORES
Units within this area, finding dumps of enemy captured stores and/or ammunition, will notify ADCS (Assistant Director of Ordnance Services) this HQ, giving location, map reference and a general idea of the contents of each dump.

The possibility of booby-traps came up in an order a few days later, in the next order.

Nov 14, 1943
ABANDONED EQPT.
Guns, amn, dumps etc found in unit areas will reported to HQ 1 Cdn Corps immediately stating nature of equipment, approximate numbers, location.  Units will not attempt to touch or move eqpt because of the danger of booby-traps.  Instructions will be issued for collection under No. 1 Dist HQ. 

Here is an example of enemy mines being found and then used by Canadian sappers during the Battle of Sicily, from p 138 of “The History of the RCE, Volume 2”:
“On the 11th, a 1st Field Company party near the Pachino airfield used enemy Box Mines from a local dump to destroy roadblocks on the forward edge of the field and on the 14th, 3rd Field Company sections turned up a stock of 2000 Tellermines and 8000 S. Mines”

The order below shows how abandoned enemy materials could be lethal, either as a result of accident or as a result of them being booby-trapped.  These are pretty small devices, not much bigger than a small jar of jam, but it sounds like they packed a punch.

Nov 29, 1943
ITALIAN RED DEVIL HAND GRENADES
1.  It has been reported that Cdn soldiers have found an indiscriminately exploded Italian “RED DEVILS” hand grenades near British gun posns to the danger of tps in the area.
2.  These grenades have a particular lethal quality and many casualties have occurred on the Island through careless soldiers or civilians tampering with them.
3. The grenade weighs 7 ounces, is 3.8 inches in length, diameter 2.1 inches. It is coloured red with an aluminum top.  On the side is a rubber which holds the safety bar in place.  It this rubber tab is pulled off, the mechanism is released and the grenade explodes; a hard knock may also explode the grenade. All these grenades are primed and the red colour denotes a live H.E. grenade.  Some may be found without the rubber tab on and MUST NOT be touched, but reported at once.
4.  All ranks will immediately be warned of the danger of handling or tampering with these grenades or any other amn or explosives.
5.  Discovery of any such items or suspicious objects will be reported at once as per 1 Cdn Corps Routine Order No 835.
6.  Red Devils are usually booby-trapped and by picking them up they will explode.


5 – Training

When not on works, such as bridge construction or road maintenance, the men would train or go on route marches to keep in shape (also to maintain discipline).  Here is a training schedule from about this time.  A Bren gun was the medium machine gun used by British and Commonwealth troops.

Nov 14, 1943
TRAINING
The following training is tentative and may be altered to suit other demands.  All ranks except those on works or fatigues will be present.  Training will be notified daily in Part 1 orders.
Mon Nov 15
0900-1200    H.Q.             Weapons training.
                    1 Platoon      Bren gun
                    2 Platoon      Bren gun
                    3 Platoon      Bren gun
To be done by sections with Teams as instructors.  L/Sgt Bucholz and Spr. Mitchel to draw up points to be covered and generally supervise.

                    1 Platoon      Route March
                    2 Platoon      Route March
                    3 Platoon      Route March
Route march under platoon Sgts.  Route optional but must be total of 4 miles.  Dress battle order.
1530-1600    R.T. (Radio Telephony) under CSM Brown and Corporal Kowalsky on street.

Another order a few days later (Nov 17) also includes references to:
- precautions to be take in event of capture by the enemy.
- first aid training.
- use of respirator in case of gas attack.
- enemy mines.
- compass reading.
- sanitation and water purification techniques.
- training in basic Italian (5 words to learn).

6 – Lavatories and Latrines

This is perhaps not everyone’s favorite subject, but there is no getting around its importance, for purposes of health and morale. 

Nov 12, 1943
LAVATORIES
Lavatories within buildings will be placed out of bounds to all ranks.  Outside latrines will be used.  At night bucket latrines will be placed inside the building and removed again each morning.

A few days later, the situation had become even more desperate.  The reference to “couches will not be used” makes one wonder just what was going on.

Nov 14, 1943
USE OF LAVATORIES
W.C.s will only be used for urinating at night and will be used for no other purpose.  Couches will not be used for W.C.s.  Infraction of this rule endangers the health of all troops in the building.  Anyone caught disobeying this order will get the maximum penalty.

7 – Minefields

There were still minefields and booby traps to be dealt with.  Presumably engineers would ultimately deal with these, though first they had to identified, isolated and signed accordingly. 
 
Nov 19, 1943
MINEFIELDS
All ranks will be warned of the danger of mines and booby-traps still unlocated in numerous quantities throughout the Island.  Locations of known minefields will be notified to units as soon as received.  Any mines located will be reported to 1 Cdn Corps immediately and warning signs posted by the unit in the area.

8 – Morale and Discipline

With the company being far from the front and initially poorly supplied with tools and equipment, the boys obviously had a little too much time on their hands, and discipline seems to have slipped a bit.  The issue seemed to grow as the month went on, though presumably getting the bridge job at the end of the month helped to stop this progression.

Nov 14, 1943
MISUSE OF PASS PRIVILEGES
On the night of 13 Nov 43 a large number of men were out later than the 2100 hours limit.  Any future infraction of this rule will result in maximum individual punishment, as well as causing the privilege to be withdrawn by the town authorities and having the entire coy C.B. (confined to base).  If you want to keep this privilege, obey the order.

Stealing from comrades was very much beyond the pale, in the army (famously so in the navy as well), as this order points out.

Nov 19, 1943
THIEVING
There have been several instances of men from this unit stealing the property of other men in the unit.  This is the lowest form of army crime and any person caught stealing even the smallest item will immediately be court-martialed.
It is not clear just what is meant by “dealt with accordingly” in the next order, but obviously vino in the barracks was a clear breach of the rules, and the kind of thing that young men with time on their hands are prone to do.
Nov 19, 1943
INTOXICATING BEVERAGES IN BARRACKS
The practice of bringing the a/m into barracks will cease as of this order.  Anyone found with intoxicating beverages in their possession in barracks will be dealt with accordingly.
This next order reads a bit like Dr. Strangelove’s “There will be no fighting in the War Room!” line.  Surely, soldiers must have smiled at the idea that they could bomb a building one day, then be punished for writing on the walls a few days later, like errant toddlers.  But, the Allies were now an occupying force in Sicily, and the combat action was over, so different standards now applied.
Nov 29, 1943
DISCIPLINE – PRESERVATION OF ACCOMMODATION
1.  It has come to notice that Cdn Tps in certain cases have defaced or scribbled on walls, pictures and statuary in accn occupied by them.  War is not an excuse for wantonness.
2. All accn is on charge to British or Cdn Tps from Areas and Districts, both in SICILY and ITALY, and is paid for use and damage, by British funds.  It is pointed out that when a building is vacated by present Cdn occupants such accn will subsequently be re-occupied by other Allied Tps.
3. Disfiguration or mutilation of quarters or any building, edifice or civil property is a breach of discipline, and a reflection on the Cdn Forces in general and the unit in particular, and cannot be tolerated.  Where such instances have occurred steps will be taken at once to correct the situation: units will assure that all ranks are instructed that unit signs and personal details are NOT to be inscribed in unsupervised and indiscriminate manner.
4.  Unit signs and notices will, wherever possible, be improvised on detached boards or placards, and those hung or fixed in such a way as NOT to damage or deface buildings, etc..

9 – What they Watched (and listened to and played)

The Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) was set up to provide entertainment for British armed forces and Commonwealth troop during WW2.  Wiki says:
“Despite many extremely talented entertainers and movie stars working for ENSA, the organisation was necessarily spread thin over the vast area it had to cover. Thus many entertainments were substandard, and the popular translation of the acronym ENSA was "Every Night Something Awful".

It is not clear whether “The IDEAL” is the name of a theatre or of a movie.  In either case, it seems to be lost to the mists of time, as an internet search finds nothing on it.
Swimming and Bingo were also popular, though the troops were warned to avoid swimming in the harbour in front of the hotel, as sewage from the town emptied straight into the harbour.

Oct 13, 1943
ENTERTAINMENT – FOR WEEK OF NOV 15 43
State Theatre – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, at 1500 hrs and 1830 hrs.  Royal Marine Concert Party
Thursday, Friday and Saturday, at 1500 hrs and 1830 hrs.  E.N.S.A. will entertain.
CINEMA – The “IDEAL”
Mondays to Thursdays inclusive only from 1400 hrs. troops admitted free.  Troops NOT welcome other days.
Soccer 1400 hours at the Sports Stadium.

Swimming and Bingo were also popular, though the troops were warned to avoid swimming in the harbour in front of the hotel, as sewage from the town emptied straight into the harbour.  The health dangers were obvious.  Diphtheria and malaria were also possibilities, so caution was the watchword.

Some Family Stories Related to November 1943 Events

Here are a few family war stories and anecdotes, some from my father and some from my mother.  She was a war bride who met my father in the U.K., so she had some good war stories, too.

Re: Convoys and Troopships:

Martin talked about the U-boats and torpedoing of ships.  He said that some torpedoes missed his ship, but not by much.  Of course, what the men on a ship saw, and what was recorded in an official history won’t necessarily correspond exactly.  Torpedoes were a constant and real fear whenever troop transport was involved.

Seasickness was also an issue, whether for the troops or the war brides.  My mom was a war bride, so she came to Canada by ship in early 1946.  She said that there were a lot of war brides, many with children, on that ship. There was a lot of puking, by both women and children. Part of the reason for that was that the food supplied by the Canadian government was of very good quality and rich – women in the U.K. were used to wartime rations, so the combination of shipboard life and rich food took its toll on digestive systems. 
 
My mother's father was in the merchant marine during the Second World War, so talk of convoys and torpedoes came from that direction too.  He had been in the Royal Navy from the ages of fourteen to twenty-one, a time that included the First World War, so he was an experienced sailor.  Martin stated on several occasions that my grandfather had been on the 'Murmansk Run' at times during the Second World War, the series of convoys that sailed through the high reaches of the North Atlantic to the Russian city of Murmansk.  If so, that would have been quite a brutal experience, as these convoys were very badly mauled by the German U-boats.  Of course, any convoy duty would be dangerous, regardless of where it was located.

Between the wars, my grandfather sailed on merchant ships, some of which went to Russia.  Before the revolution was consolidated, he said that the Russians in the port cities were in a very bad way indeed, wearing burlap sacks over their feet to stave off the cold.  After the revolution, their lot improved - at any rate, they had decent shoes and boots, and were better fed.  Whatever one's opinions about communism, historically based anecdotes like this help to explain the people's willingness to overthrow the Czar and embrace communism in that nation.

He must have been a very good sailor, as my mother recalls a big write-up about him in the local paper (Dundee, Scotland).  It was during the thirties, when his ship was sent to New Zealand to assist in a major dredging operation there.  He was a good navigator by this time, so I think the write-up was about that.



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