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The Loyal Edmonton Regiment at Ortona, December 1943



The Loyal Edmonton Regiment entered the battle well below strength and did not receive replacement drafts until after the battle was nearly over. 

The 60 soldiers per company were divided into groups of four or six men, armed with rifles or Bren guns and bombs. They would inch their way forward, their backs covered by little cannons known as six-pounders which could punch holes into stone walls with their armor-piercing shells.  They were often used for knocking enemy snipers off the rooftops. 

The so-called "pioneers" were next, sniffing out mines, and behind them the tanks, guns ready to smash at buildings or barricades. 

Still further back were the mortar and medium machine-gun teams, ever-ready to come forward and deal with the indicated targets. Almost a mile back were the seventeen-pounders, ready to blast buildings along the seafront or to engage any enemies who attacked the Loyal Edmonton's open right flank…. 

On Christmas Eve a draft of reinforcements arrived from Cape Breton. Along with them was an Edmonton reporter by the name of Lieut. J. Harper Prowse. The battle, he said, 

...was an intimate affair:  you tried a little game-- if it succeeded your opposite number was dead.  If it failed, you were dead... 

Prowse was wounded on the 26th [of December], but during his stay he became known for his quick wit and back-chat. For the men who knew him it was no surprise that he eventually became leader of the Liberal Opposition in the Alberta Legislative Assembly. 

By the night of December 27th, the German defenders were getting very desperate. They had been harried into their last hideouts around the heights of Ortona - the Castle. 

That night the Loyal Eddie's War Diary read: 

Colonel Jefferson laid on an area shoot for the three-inch mortars which proved to be a field day, eleven hundred bombs being expended. Since we now control by fire the third city square ... the end of the battle is in sight... 

Indeed, the end was the very next day. The next morning, when the Patricias (the Princess Patricia Light Calvary Infantry, the PPCLIs, another battalion) came to relieve the Loyal Eddies, the paratroopers were gone. They had left in such haste that they did not do the most elementary of military duties: burying their dead. 

More than one hundred German bodies were picked up on the streets, and many more were hidden under the rubble that used to be the town of Ortona. 

CBC Correspondents on location at Ortona
CBC Correspondents on location at Ortona

Christmas at Ortona. 1943: Dinner in Cathedrale Maria di Constantinopoli
Christmas at Ortona. 1943: Dinner in Cathedrale Maria di Constantinopoli

Many Loyal Edmonton soldiers related personal stories of the battle to CBC reporter Matthew Halton:

Capt. Vic Soley told me that at dusk yesterday a young Italian woman found buried alive was delivered of her baby by a sergeant from Vancouver. Both are doing well ...

... Sergt. Sam Hateley had left his Bren carrier to snipe. He broke his rifle over a German's head and now carried a German one. Sergt. Ned Botley of Bonnyville had killed six Germans single-handedly and Pte. Norman Latender of Lac. Ste. Anne had killed fourteen. He said 'I used to like hunting but when I get home I never want to see a rifle again'. They had nothing ill to say of their enemies.... 

One German, blinded and burned, with one eye knocked out, was still throwing grenades when he was killed. A German sergeant came out under fire to dress the wounds of a Canadian and to give him a shot of morphia.

Digging out a survivor
Digging out a survivor

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