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Operation Husky: Reflections on a forgotten story

  • Aug 03, 2013
  • 653 words
  • 3 minutes
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Photo: Operation Husky 2013 concluded with a ceremony at the Agira Canadian War Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of L’Arma dei Carabinieri Catania, via the Canadian Defence Attaché Office Rome)

Canadian Geographic Education‘s chair, Connie Wyatt Anderson, joined hundreds of Canadians as they trekked across the island of Sicily, Italy, to commemorate the Allied invasion 70 years ago. Read Wyatt Anderson’s other posts here.

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Agira, an ancient Sicilian city perched on Mount Teja, was taken by the First Canadian Division on July 28, 1943 after five days of intense. (Photo courtesy of L’Arma dei Carabinieri Catania, via the Canadian Defence Attaché Office Rome)

The word remembrance implies action; it suggests effort, forethought and continued attention. Remembrance is more than a poppy on one’s lapel in November. It is the act of remembrance, brought to life by commemoration, that Operation Husky 2013 sought to achieve.

The 25,000 Canadian soldiers who fought in the Sicilian Campaign during the Second World War were derisively known as D-Day Dodgers, memorialized by the acerbic lyrics of the song by the same name:

We landed at Salerno, a holiday with pay,
Jerry brought the band down to cheer us on our way,
Showed us the sights and gave us tea,
We all sang songs, the beer was free,
We are the D-Day Dodgers, way out in Italy.

For some reason or another, Canadians have effectively forgotten the role that the First Canadian Division played in the liberation of Sicily. There has been scant mention of the campaign in public media; it does not appear in school history textbooks and curricula. While versed in the names of iconic nation-building events like Vimy and Juno, Canadian students are not familiar with names like Pachino and Assoro. For reasons unexplained, history and remembrance have dodged the role of the Canadians in Sicily.

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Corporal Shawn Banville of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, First Field Ambulance, kneels in front of the 70 commemorative markers placed at Adrano. In his pocket he carries the dog tags of his grandfather who fought in Sicily 70 years earlier. (Photo: Connie Wyatt Anderson)

Operation Husky 2013 sought to amend this glaring oversight. Over the past six days in Sicily, I have been a witness to the act of remembrance by regular Canadians from all across the nation. Using their own time and finances, they have travelled a minimum of 6,000 kilometres to walk in the footsteps of the Canadians who fought in the overbearing heat and rugged, volcanic topography of Sicily.

On the plane returning from Sicily, with a sunburnt neck and tired legs, I’m unable again to sleep. Before I know it, I am drawn into conversation with a couple sitting directly behind me. Wally and Florence Hanishewski have travelled from Calgary to Sicily to participate in the commemorative events. Wally tells me that a few months earlier he had been sitting in the waiting room at his doctor’s office when he picked up a Canadian Geographic magazine. In it he read an article about Operation Husky. “I made the decision right there to go to Sicily,” he tells me.

Under the dim reading lights and gentle snores of the sleeping passengers around us, Wally shares with me the story of his 21-year-old brother, a member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who was killed at Leonforte. I listen quietly as he tells me that his brother’s body was never found and that there is no gravestone for him at the Agira Canadian War Cemetery.

I feel the plane veer a bit to some unknown direction, and I settle back into my seat thinking to myself how very blessed I am to have been a part of Operation Husky 2013. The story of the Canadians who fought and fell in Sicily has always been there, it just needed telling.


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