History

Operation Husky: Joining the march

  • Jul 27, 2013
  • 651 words
  • 3 minutes
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Connie Wyatt Anderson, chair of Canadian Geographic Education, is taking part in the final days of a march to commemorate the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. Read her first blog post and learn more about Operation Husky.

Midway into my flight to Sicily, Italy, I opened my eyes after another unsuccessful attempt at sleep. I blearily peered at the pixelated plane on the in-flight map on the screen in front of me. I had travelled 5,018 kilometres from Toronto thus far and had 2,135 more to go before reaching Rome. The wash of blue and green indicated that I was somewhere over the Bay of Biscay; several cities appeared on the map as I watched: Plymouth, Brest, Porto, Casablanca.

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The Allied invasion of Sicily, 1943

We are coming in from the north, I thought to myself. The plane ride had been turbulence-free, nary a bump or rattled glass. I thought of the Canadians who had landed on the beaches of Sicily 70 years earlier. The route to Nazi-held Italy had not been so seamless. As the troops moved through Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, they faced seasickness, made worse by sirocco, the baleful winds born in the Sahara and pulled violently cross the Mediterranean Sea.

After deplaning in Rome and making a hurried dash through Leonardo da Vinci Airport, I boarded my fourth plane, landing in Catania, Sicily, an hour and a half later. The plane was not surprisingly half full of Canadians. Disembarking alongside me in Catania were men with Canadian Legion insignias emblazoned on their polo shirts, many members of The Hastings and Prince Edward regiment, as well as families; fathers and mothers with children, an older mother with her four grown daughters. Their familiar Canadian accents made me incongruously feel at home in the heat and humidity of Sicily.

I was picked up at the Catania—Fontanarossa Airport by Steven MacKinnon, head of communications for Operation Husky 2013. Joined by Corporal Charles Cockerell of the Royal Canadian Regiment based in Petawawa, Ont., we made our way up the narrow, winding Sicilian roads past towns named Bianco, Gerbini and Catenanuova, with Mount Etna shrouded in haze to the north. Steven told me how the Operation Husky 2013 marchers had implanted memorial crosses at Radussa and Dittaino the day before. The team had been making their way inland from the Sicilian coast, marching in the footsteps of the First Canadian Division in the oppressive mid-summer heat since July 10th.

After being shuttled into the tail end of a commemoration ceremony and meeting a number of the marchers and others involved, we moved forward to our destination at Enna, the hilltop city located in the centre of the island. The final event of the day was a commemorative march consisting of the Operation Husky marchers, local political leaders and 60 members of the First Canadian Division, comprised of soldiers from all over Canada. The cadence of their march and the harmonics of the bagpipes lent a reverence to the trek as we winded through the town to the cathedral for a final wreath laying ceremony.

As I marched at the back of the lot, with the hot Mediterranean sun setting behind me, I noticed the long shadows that were cast before the marchers, troops, and pipers. I couldn’t help but think of what someone once told me: you can’t go forward into the future without looking back to the past. I turned my head to see the reddish hues of dusk casting their glow on the ancient Sicilian town and turned forward to see the marchers, remembering clearly why I was here.

Canadian Geographic Education has created classroom activities on Operation Husky. Please go to www.cangeoeducation.ca.

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