Return to Italy 60 Years Later

[Recently found in some files of my Dad’s, he wrote this based on their trip to Italy in 2004 for the 60th anniversary of the Italian Campaign. This was just a few days before his 80th birthday. — sandy]

Oct. 23rd 2004.

We were up and around by 7.00am and was picked up by Cronkie’s Taxi at 8.30am and were transported to the train station in Belleville. We boarded Via and traveled to Ottawa 1st. Class, arriving at approx. 12.30pm. We were met at the station by representatives of the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs and directed to the Lord Elgin Hotel by taxi accompanied by two men from Belleville, Cyril Yarnell, delegate representing The Royal Canadian Air Force and Robert Blake his caregiver. A reception had been set up in the lobby where we surrendered our passports and were given information on the upcoming trip plus a Tilley hat, umbrella, bathmat and other numerous things including pins etc, things sure were set up well and we were most warmly welcomed by all concerned. We were directed to room 403 for the night and went back to the lobby and filled out papers for travel insurance and had lunch in the hotel dining room. I was given $114. cash to cover the cost of our medical certificates and taxi fare both ways to and from the cottage to the train. We went for a walk most of the way up to Parliament Hill and walked down Spark St. Mall and back to the hotel for a rest as neither of us had slept well last night. We watched a football game on television and went for a further walk before dinner. We purchased a few things in a grocery store and decided to have dinner in our room while we watched a ballgame on the television and headed to bed early. This ended the 1st day of what appears to be a memorable experience.

Oct 24th.

We were up at 7.30, had breakfast at the hotel and left by bus for DND Headquarters for the Canada Post unveiling of a new stamp commemorating the first Victoria Cross being bestowed during the Crimean War. “Smokey” Smith took part in the ceremony as he is the only living recipient of the Victoria Cross in Canada. There was a reception afterwards and we were all given 1st Day Covers of the event before returning to the hotel by 11.30am for lunch and to get ready to travel. We left at 3pm. by bus and traveled to the National Defence Terminal at Uplands Airport where we sat around and had coffee until 5.30pm. And then boarded the National Defence Airbus and left at 6.08 pm. for Italy. It was a very quiet but tiresome trip but the Governor General was traveling with us and she had a visit with all the Veterans on the way over. We arrived at the Military section of Rome Airport at 2.40am. Ottawa time and there was no problems with customs or immigration and they returned our passports. We moved our clocks ahead 6 hrs.

Oct. 25th.

We left the airport for Cassino at 10.30 am. Italian time with 3 busloads and a Police escort, the only way to travel.

We had lunch at the Al Bocchetto Hotel, compliments of the Dept. and went to bed about 1.45pm, dead tired. We got up around 4pm., cleaned up and went for a walk before a 7 course dinner supplied by the Dept. There was way too much to eat but we enjoyed it as we sat with some very comical people that kept us amused but we were back in our room approx. 9.15pm and to bed early to prepare for a busy day tomorrow.

Oct. 26th.

Wake up call at 6.30am, suitcases out by 7am had a full breakfast in dining room and boarded the buses for Cassino War Cemetery at 8.30 am. We had a very impressive ceremony at the cemetery attended by many dignitaries including the Governor General of Canada and the Minister and Deputy Minister of Vetrans’ Affairs. I laid a wreath for the Royal Canadian Navy along with many others. We walked around after the service and our buses picked us up at approx. 12.30pm and took us to the Grand Hotel Pavonne for lunch where we enjoyed the company of the Deputy Minister and his wife at our table. We finally boarded the buses at 2.45 pm and left for Ortona, at our second pit stop an ambulance picked up one of our party and transported him to the hospital to be checked out at the request of the doctor that was traveling with us. We arrived at the Hotel Mara at 8.45pm and had a late dinner and made it to bed sometime after 11pm- the end of a long day.

Oct. 27th.

Up at 7am and had breakfast to be ready to board the buses at 8.30am for Moro River War Cemetery for a ceremony attended by the Governor General and Minister and Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs. It was a very impressive ceremony attended by a very large crowd where I laid a wreath for the Royal Canadian Navy along with the other veterans who laid wreaths in remembrance of members of their units. It is a very large cemetery and very well kept and there are approx 1400 Canadian soldiers resting there. It was a very warm day and we had to wait until 12.30pm for our buses and then were transported to downtown Ortona to the Canadese for lunch with the Governor General. We went by bus to the Town Square and were given VIP treatment to reserved seats etc. at an unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the Battle of Ortona in 1943. We were back on the buses and arrived at the Museum for a presentation of Artifacts to the museum by the Youth of Canada followed by a reception. We arrived back at the Hotel Mara by approx. 7.00pm where we changed to our casuals and had a great dinner with many dignitaries present including the Governor General. We returned to our room shortly after 10.00pm and were soon ready for bed as we are starting to run down.

Oct.28th

We were wakened at 7.00am. shaved, showered and put our bags out in the hall ready for pickup and then had a leisurely breakfast.

We walked on the beach which, is on the shore of the Adriatic, and then enjoyed a stroll through their tropical garden and sat on the verandah and visited with our fellow travelers and enjoyed a box lunch in lovely sunny weather  with a temperature well up in the 70’s F. We boarded the buses at 12.30pm and started for Ancona but had a few stops and didn’t arrive at Ancona War Cemetery until near 5.00pm. We walked through the cemetery which was much smaller than others and placed small Canadian flags on Canadian graves that numbered about thirty. We reboarded the buses and arrived at the La Meridien Hotel in Rimini at approx 7.00pm. Everything was in our room when we arrived and the rooms are beautiful with all the whistles. We had dinner in their restaurant which was very expensive but good and were back in our room by 9.15pm and in bed early. We have had a police escort on every trip in the buses since we started.

Oct.29th.

Wakeup call was at 6.00am. And we boarded buses at 8.00am. For the trip to Cesena. There was a ceremony attended by the Governor General of the unveiling of a plaque to honor “Smokey” Smith which is to be suitably mounted on the cite where his bravery earned him the Victoria Cross in 1943. The ceremony was held in the Town Square and we were royally treated with front row reserved seats and our companions were treated the same. There was a reception with lots to eat and plenty of  champagne in a large covered area bordering the Square. We boarded the buses again at 12.30pm and had a box lunch and some of us visited Villa Nova War Cemetery but it was too wet to visit Ravenna War Cemetery in the same area. The buses had to make a pit stop at a police station due to lack of facilities on the road. We were back to the hotel by 4.00pm and left shortly after for Uncle Monti’s Country Restaurant which was a long trip up in the mountains but well worth it. We had a great dinner with lots of wine and about 5 courses followed by entertainment supplied by a group of young dancers. We were back at the hotel about 11.20pm.

Oct. 30th.

We were up at 6.30am, had breakfast and caught the bus at 8.15am.to visit Grave cites.We went to Coriano Ridge Cemetery and found one section mostly Canadian where there were about 14 or 15 “Hasty P’s” We stopped for a rest stop on the way and arrived at Gradara War Cemetery, the graves are in tiered rows rising well up a slope and we located  some Canadian graves including a few “Hasty P’s” and also located the grave of Ron Cable’s cousin who was buried in 1 F 23. We put Canadian flags on most of the Canadian graves and had box lunches delivered to the buses before we left the cemetery and visited Montecchio War Cemetery which contained 289 Canadian graves including numerous “Hasty P’s”. We were back to the hotel by 2.15pm, changed to our dress clothes and left at 3.15pm for Rimini Town Square for a Plaque Unveiling Ceremony commemorating the Breaching of the Gothic Line which was a very impressive ceremony with the Minister of Veterans Affairs speaking.

We had a group picture taken on the steps of the Town Hall with all the Veterans and Officials and had a reception across the Square after and left at 6.15pm. by bus to go back to the hotel, they sure move you through town in a hurry with a police escort. We walked about ½ km. for dinner and were back to the hotel by 8.45pm. The list was up for morning and we have to leave at 7.00am. tomorrow by bus to catch the plane for Catania Sicily there should be a much quieter day tomorrow after we arrive. We packed our suitcases and to bed early as our wakeup in the morning is 5.30am. It has been a beautiful day with lots of sun. The time changes back one hour at 2.00am.to slow time.

Oct.31st.

We set the alarm for 5.00am slow time and was up and had our bags in the hall by 6.00am. We had breakfast and were ready to leave for the airport by bus at 7.00am. but true to form we didn’t get away until 8.00am and were at the airport by 8.30 am and had to unload at the main terminal because they weren’t ready for us until 9.15am. We had a walk up and down then boarded the buses and were transported out on to the tarmac and boarded along with quite a number of Canadian Service Personnel but only a few over ½ of our group. We took off at 9.40am and arrived at Catania at 10.55am but were served a full luncheon on the way and the Service personnel were most helpful when at all possible. We boarded the buses and were in the Sheraton Catania at about 12 noon. We found our room (#447) and had a rest while we were waiting for our luggage. This is a nice hotel but not as luxurious as the one in Rimini with smaller rooms but equipped with everything. We walked over to Baia Verde Hotel (approx. ½ km.)to a reception and dinner hosted by Canadian Ambassador Fowler on a covered patio overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and then walked back and were in our room by 10.30pm and were in bed early.

Nov. 1st.

Wakeup call at 6.00am and left at 8.20am for Agira War Cemetery. We drove through the mountains and some very rough dry country towards the interior of Sicily. We arrived at Algira War Cemetery by shortly after 10.30am , the cite is located on top of a knoll with very little parking but the bus managed to get us to the gate with the assistance of the police and we climbed to the top of the knoll where they had a covered seating area for the Veterans and their Caregivers. We had another very impressive ceremony conducted by the 2 Canadian Senators that were traveling with us. I read the Act of Remembrance and each Veteran laid a wreath at the cenotaph in turn when called. We left the cemetery about 12.30pm on buses for the Town of Agira which is located at the top of one of the local mountains and to the Algira Rangers Hall for a luncheon hosted by the Mayor of Algira. There was music and singing and lots of wine and large bottles of beer for E2.50. We left on the buses at 3.30pm and arrived back at the hotel in Catania by 5.00pm where we had a bit of a rest as we were both tired. Algira War Cemetery has 490 graves, all Canadian, and I counted 25 or 30 “Hasty P’s”.

The dept. decided to treat us to dinner at the hotel so we went down about 7.30pm to see if we wanted anything to eat and had an enjoyable time with a small amount of food and lots of wine and champagne and as it was someone’s birthday one of the members played his pipes and one of Canada’s Youth did a step dance. We had a visit with Cy Yarnell and Bob Blake and were back in the room by 9.30pm.

Nov. 2nd.

Wakeup call at 7.00am but I was already up as I had trouble with both shoulders during the night so didn’t sleep too well. We had breakfast and boarded the buses at 8.30am but didn’t leave until 9.00am for Ispica where we were supposed to be at a Plaque Unveiling Ceremony by 11.30am to commemorate the landing of Canadian troops in Sicily in 1943 but didn’t get there until 12.15pm but the whole town waited for us and we were all given reserved seats directly in front of the podium. There were speeches by our 2 Senators and a lady MP from Canada and we were back on the buses by 1.15pm and left for a luncheon hosted by the Mayor of Ispica. It was very nice with too much good food to eat and there was lots of red wine. We (Mom and I) were taken by mini bus to view the beach near Noto where I landed in 1943, it was difficult to find because the area has all been built up over the past 60 years but the van driver enquired and found it with assistance from a 1943 map that I had taken with me. We left about 5.40pm in the mini bus and were back in the hotel in Catania (Sheraton) by 6.55 where we had a bit of a rest and changed clothes for a farewell dinner tonight at 8.00pm, our trip is coming to an end and we have a full day off tomorrow. The buses were late coming in from Pacano so we didn’t start dinner until after 8.00pm. In between courses we had speeches by the Deputy Minister of Veterans Affairs ( Jack Stagg) and our 2 Senators. It was a good meal with lots of red wine and bottled water and one of the young people (Stephanie) read her write up of the trip. Plaques were presented to the Canadian Ambassador and 3 pipers played a few pieces and the Veterans all had their pictures taken with yhe young people and didn’t finish until after midnite – a long tiring day.

Nov.3rd.

We were up and around before 8.00am, had breakfast at 8.30am and caught a shuttle bus in to the Catania Centre at 10.00am. We didn.t get too far before a thunderstorm blew in and it poured rain for a good share of the day. One of our group lent us an umbrella so we wouldn’t get soaked getting back to the bus for 12 noon so we only bought a couple of souvenirs before returning to the hotel. We found lots of time for a nap in the afternoon. We went down to the bar and had a couple of beers with Cy and Bob and came back to the room and listened to Pres. Bush being declared  President of The United States for a second term. We went out for dinner and were with a couple that we hadn’t talked to before and found them most interesting, dinner for 2 with 1 glass of wine was E36.30 plus gratuities. We were back in our room by 9.20pm and to bed early as we are being called at 5.30am tomorrow morning for our trip to Canada.

Nov.4th.

Up at 5.30am, had luggage out by 6.00am, had breakfast and left the hotel by bus at 8.40am but got hung up at the airport and didn’t board until 11.30am and took off at 11.55am. We arrived in Shannon Airport in Ireland at 3.30pm and had 2 or more hours in the terminal there was a large duty free shopping area so we did a bit of shopping. We left Shannon at 6.20pm and arrived in Ottawa at 12.55am (Sicily Time) and changed our watches back 6 hours and were in the hotel by 8.10pm (Ottawa time) as things were well organized. We were both dead tired but had to wait for our baggage to come to the room before we could settle down. Helen ended up going down to the lobby and bringing ours up so we could get to bed. We had 3 full meals served on our trip today and flew for 9 hours and 50 min. In bed early as we have to attend the Senate tomorrow.

Nov.5th.

Up at 7.00am, had breakfast at the Lord Elgin Hotel and left by 9,30am by bus to go to the Senate Chamber. The Veterans were seated on chairs in the center of the chamber and the caregivers in the gallery. There was a very impressive ceremony for the opening of Veterans Week in Canada with speeches by The Minister of Veterans Affairs and other dignitaries with some music. There was a reception in the lobby at 11.15am and we left by 12.15pm to bus back to the hotel. We changed clothes and packed suitcases and then walked down street against a very strong wind to purchase some ribbon  We went up to our room until 2.45pm and brought baggage down and checked out then sat in the lobby until 3.30 and left by taxi for the train station. We sat in the 1st class lounge with Cy and Bob and boarded the train with them at 5.35pm and left at 5.55pm for Belleville. We were picked up by taxi and were at the cottage by 9.15pm and were glad to be home from a great trip that was very tiring but certainly worthwhile.

From the Picton Gazette:

Italy trip 1 Italy trip 2

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