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
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
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
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
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