Interview with Mr. Maurice White
As part of their study, student researchers Irene,
Veronica, Debbie and Sarah spoke with Mr. Maurice White. Mr. White was an
infantryman with the 49th Loyal Edmonton Regiment, engaged at Ortona.
The interviewers raised the following questions with Mr.
How old were you when you enlisted? Did your father try to deter you from
going to war?
What was your most vivid memory of Ortona?
What was the most difficult part of the battle?
Do you regret going to war?
Q: How old were you when you enlisted?
Did your father try to deter you from going to war?
No, my father, my older brother and I, all came into
Edmonton to join up and we went to the air force and they got into the air
force but they wouldn't take me because I was too young… So, my dad
brought me over to the army, he didn't lie and tell them I was eighteen,
he just told them that I was old enough. So they took me
… I grew up on a farm in Grassland, we were
hillbillies - real hillbillies. We didn't know anything about life really,
so you learned a lot when you joined the army. Go out and see the world…
…I joined up on January the 3rd,… I just turned 17 and joined up right
here in Edmonton…
...In basic training, you learned how to march, take
orders and use of small weapons. Advanced training is where you get
serious, they get you physically fit and really get you in shape. There
were 30-mile hikes, you learned to assemble and disassemble, how to use
machine guns, military tactics and going through gas chambers that had
chlorine, mustard and hydrogen sulfide gas.
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Q: What was your most vivid memory of
All of it was very vivid. Advancing into Ortona, we
started early in the morning, … as you moved forward our artillery
support was firing 100 yards in front of us and you keep [moving up] with
them… As you keep advancing they keep raising their sights and that is
to keep the enemy's head down, keep them from hiding. There would always
be one gun that would fire short and would land right behind you and that
would keep you going ahead
… We first reached the southern edge of town, I
believe it was a soap factory and we made that our headquarters, so we
could get organized to start going ahead and before taking other
buildings… All the doors and windows were closed and covered but we
could hear noises. We knocked down the door and everything went silent. We
figured the German soldiers had been in there, we shot the lock off and
busted the door down... instead there were 21 civilians in there-- they
had been in there for three weeks.... They were delighted we were
Canadians and not Germans. It was one of our first involvements with the
civilians in Ortona-- you feel sad for them and you would give them
groceries, food, water whatever you could to help them out…
There were 3 or 4 main streets, you would fight from
house to house, room to room and this was the only way you could have the
whole street covered. You had to get inside the buildings and we blew
holes right through the walls, upstairs, downstairs.
The second night we were in Ortona, three of our guys
were in a 2 storey house… they asked me to go back to the square to get
our dinners, I got the food and came back and all hell broke loose… The
Germans had come from the bottom ground floor and our guys were at the
top, upstairs. They started throwing grenades back and forth. I don't
remember what happened-- I may have dropped the dinners, I think I may
have fired at them. They escaped through a back window and ran up an
alley… Nobody got hurt, it was like that for the whole 7 or 8 nights
from one building to another.
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Q: What was the most difficult part of
It was all very difficult, it was just continual hell.
One minute was just as hard as the next minute… …As the days grew
longer you just got more tired, you don't think straight, you're sleepy
and you're scared to death.
There is no easier or harder… Christmas Day they
brought us up some warm food. I was on look-out duty-- I went upstairs [in
a] two-storey house but there was an attic in this building. My job was to
knock some bricks out of the point of the roof where I would look over
some squares, a piazza. I sat up on a perch looking through the bricks and
some Germans had strung out.
I get a little emotional because I shot a guy on
Christmas Day. That's just not nice, it bothers me, I feel it now even…
That was the saddest part of the battle.
There was another occasion, a block away from where we
were situated, 27 men were in this house and the Germans had dug a tunnel
underneath and blew it up. We lost 26 of those guys, one guy was still
alive and got out three days later. He sat under the fireplace where the
chimney was and that's what saved him…
No easier, no good times with war. …The Battle of
Ortona lasted eight days, it lasted one long day, eight days that seemed
like only one .
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Q: Do you regret going to war?
The war part yes, but the experience? No, because I had
spent 23 months on the front-line and didn't have a scratch, I was lucky.
It was a great experience and I would have been really sad if I didn't
experience it… I was one of the very few who went all the way through
without getting wounded, and it kinda looks like your number is up…
I feel pretty lucky, I complain about not winning any
lotteries but when I stop and think, you go through two years of war and
not get hurt - you're pretty lucky. I don't know anybody else from the
Regiment that went all the way through, didn't miss any fighting and never
got a scratch. I was probably more scared than everybody else…
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