Oct. 3-6, 1943

Oct. 3/43 – We go forward beyond Motta and stop and search the burned tanks. The bodies are all burned beyond recognition, but I find eight and am able to recognize them by their positions in the tanks – we send word back to the padre, the numbers and location of the dead, and continue our advance to the cross roads one and one half miles west of Motta. Here our tank column divides – two troops advance on Volturara and one troop swings to the right to cover Marcos – a little town to the right of Volutrara, and not on the main road. There is a concentration of Germans here who are giving us a lot of trouble.

We send back and bring up our ambulance and station it in the vicinity of the cemetery, while we in the jeep accompany the Tanks towards Volturara, and Italian civilians are busy repairing it. The Infantry cannot get beyond the Town due to heavy fire from St. Marcos, and we cannot get through to the hills beyond Volturara to shell the Town. Capt. McIndoo and I go on a recce but discover nothing, so more artillery is brought up to shell the Town.

It is decided not advance until the following day, so we bed down where we are. Slim, Ralph and I find a little deserted farm house below the hill and move in – we have a roaring fire and spend a very comfortable night, but have great difficulty in getting our jeep back on the road in the morning, as it has been raining all night, and everything is an awful mess.

Oct. 4/43 – “C” Squadron will advance to Volturara at 9 a.m. – we will accompany them with jeep ambulance and one light ambulance. The tanks go cross country, straight down the hill towards the Town – we stick to the pavement and wind round and round the hair pin bends. There is a hold up ahead – the tanks are stopped on the side hill exposed to St. Marcos – we are with them.

There is considerable mortar and anti-personnel fire, but eventually the tanks start on again and enter the Town. We enter the Town also and set up in the doorway of a blacksmith shop. A certain amount of anti-personnel fire, high bursting shrapnel continues during the day. The Tanks are held up in Town and cannot advance.St. Marcos must be taken and a combined Infantry and Artillery attack takes place and the Town is taken. We stand on the Main Street of Volutrara and watch the capture of St. Marcos. Brig. Wymann comes into Town and rules that I am too far forward so orders me to return. We move out of Town one mile and camp in a house facing St. Marcos. Tomorrow we have to go back and let another man come in. One more knock, I seem to be always getting them.

Oct. 5/43 – We go out the branch road to the right in an effort to get Jack Jenner’s body, and cannot reach it due to enemy fire, so we return to Reception Post and Bruce Hunter, Jim, Bert go forward. We are relieved the following morning by Sedenburg, when we return to the 2nd Field Amb.

Oct. 6/43 – Sedenburg and “D” section came forward to relieve me, and I with my section return to the 2nd Field Ambulance, which is situated on the main Foggia road about two miles east of Lucera. In the evening I am called by Col. Hunter who at last agrees that we are at a dead end in the Tank Brigade and that as far as he can see, there is very little likelihood of us ever getting anywhere. He then informs me that my name has been submitted for the exchange. I will return to England to lecture the Amroured Medical Corps – and one of their officers will replace me here. I don’t know what to think of it, but he also said that on account of my age I was being withdrawn from the Field anyway, so I don’t know whether I’m pleased or not. My Sgt. has gone to Altu (?) and the Cpl. has gone to “A” as Sgt. I now have Sgt. Hodgkins and Cpl. Naylor.

A sketch by artist Arnold Hodgkins of the graves of Sgt. B. Lynch, Major Bruce Trotter and Trp. V.T. Pallson, all killed on Sept. 31, 1943. Arnold Hodgkins served in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, and it appears, he served with Doc Alexander and gave this sketch and a few others to him. This particular sketch is now in the collection of the Kings Own Calgary Regiment Museum at the Military Museums in Calgary.

A sketch by artist Arnold Hodgkins of the graves of Sgt. B. Lynch, Major Bruce Trotter and Trp. V.T. Pallson, all killed on Sept. 31, 1943. Arnold Hodgkins served in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, and it appears, he served with Doc Alexander and gave this sketch and a few others to him. This particular sketch is now in the collection of the Kings Own Calgary Regiment Museum at the Military Museums in Calgary.

My section and I set up an admitting office and M.I. room – looking after Brigade troops, Canadians and English. It keeps us busy – the Hospital is right over us and is kept busy with Malaria, Jaundice and all the other usual things. We have rearranged all our medical supplies and I have given a course of lectures to my section, so they have been kept on the move. We are in a big chateau belonging to the Mayor of Lucera – very lovely place with no means of heating and no sanitary facilities at all. Our sick inspection room is large with stone floor and walls. We have it fixed up very well indeed, practially all with scournged materials. Malaria and Infective Jaundice are fairly heavy, and there are desert sores by the thousands.

The main tank activity is about over – and the hills are wet and cold. We are in the centre of Foggia Plains. There is a constant roar of planes coming and going. The hospital is so full that the officers are living in tents pitched on the balcony.

There is the odd picture how, the mail service is rather slow and many of the boys are getting badly browned off, as the MWS has never handled battle casaulties, but only sick.

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About Rob Alexander

I am a writer, photographer and historian and the author of The History of Canmore, published by Summerthought Publishing of Banff, AB.

2 responses to “Oct. 3-6, 1943”

  1. Rose says :

    These entries are breaking my heart now Rob. How could anyone get through things like this? Get over them?

  2. Mike Hunter says :

    Oct. 8/2013

    Rob,

    Once again, on Oct. 6, 1943, your grandfather and my father cross paths.

    You will recall that, in Aug. 1942 when they shared the Dieppe experience, Alex was the Medical Officer of the Calgary Tanks and my father was in command of the 2nd Field Ambulance. Shortly thereafter my father was sent to “Corp. Headquarters” in a planning role and then on to command a Field Dressing Station. In Apr. 1943 he was returned to the 2nd Field Ambulance in preparation for the Sicily invasion and he remained in command of that unit until Oct. 14/43.

    If you look back to Alex’s journal on Aug. 11/43 you will see that he was sent to the 2nd Field Ambulance as part of his “punishment” following a disagreement with the Calgary Tanks CO. By his last journal comments on that date I think it is safe to say that it was not a happy reunion on that occasion.

    It is quite a coincidence that during this time the first anniversary of the Dieppe raid came along and Alex and many Calgary Tanks veterans of the raid had the opportunity to attend a memorial service. I have no idea if my father had the opportunity to attend but I dearly hope so.

    Now (Oct. 6/43) my father has to advise Alex that he is to be removed from the field and returned to England. Although the journal seems to show that “Doc.” is a bit ambivalent about his feelings one can be very sure that being separated from one’s parent unit, after being with it for years, would be a heart-wrenching event. This would be particularly so given what they have been through and the losses they have suffered over the previous few weeks.

    On Oct.14/43 my father was promoted to full Col. and was sent elsewhere. There was still a lot of war ahead and it will be interesting to see if they meet again.

    Mike Hunter

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