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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. White:

Q: How old were you when you enlisted? Did your father try to deter you from going to war?

Q: What was your most vivid memory of Ortona?

Q: What was the most difficult part of the battle?

Q: 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 Ortona?

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 the battle?

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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