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Doc Alexander on News Talk 770

In May I did an interview about my grandfather with Dan Riendeau of News Talk 770 CHQR in Calgary. He hung onto the interview for Remembrance Day took the time to include sections of Doc Alexander’s journals, read by colleague, along with sound effects. It’s nearly 20 minutes long and a great listen, aside from the ill-prepared interviewee . . . (that would be me; I didn’t have my facts and figures at hand and had to by memory). But I think it came out well nonetheless. And my thanks to Dan for a great Remembrance Day piece.

 

May 14, 1945

We had a small celebration in the Mess — Freddi Jenner and Dick Edwards both formerly of the Calgarys were present. It was a very nice evening.

Children waving flags on VE Day, 8 May 1945. 'In bomb scarred Battersea, the little Londoners celebrated V E Day among the ruins of their homes'.

Children waving flags on VE Day, 8 May 1945. ‘In bomb scarred Battersea, the little Londoners celebrated V E Day among the ruins of their homes’. Science & Society

Nov. 25–28, 1943

Nov. 25 – Five months ago today we sailed from Scotland. One month from today is Xmas. Fine today and mud is drying somewhat. Nothing new, still running Regiment and Section. Picture show in Mess tonight – “The Sea Hawk”.

Nov. 26 – Had lunch with McIndoo at “B” Squadron today. In he morning I am speaking to and inoculating “B and C” Squadrons against Typhus. The weather is ideal today and the ground is drying up fast. Rather cold tonight. Some letters from home but I don’t where the parcels have gone. Letters are the main things though. One German plane shot down here today.

Men of the RAF Regiment assist an RAF intelligence officer to salvage important parts from a Messerschmitt Me 410 photographic reconnaissance aircraft, shot down on the banks of the Sangro River, Italy. © IWM (CNA 2226)

Men of the RAF Regiment assist an RAF intelligence officer to salvage important parts from a Messerschmitt Me 410 photographic reconnaissance aircraft, shot down on the banks of the Sangro River, Italy.
© IWM (CNA 2226)

Nov. 27 – One year ago today we moved from Seaford to Worthing. It is not the same Unit as it was then. Inoculated “B and C” Squadrons today against Typhus.

Nov. 28 – Still inoculating. Talked to Harry Williamson from Bde (Brigade headquarters) – he informs me that we will probably be starting for England in one week’s time, as the exchange personnel are in Africa and they at Bde have received information that they will be sent to Italy as soon as possible. Was also informed today that the recommendation for my majority had gone in – but I don’t get it. Bde medical meeting tomorrow afternoon at the ambulance. There may be some definite word then.

Oct. 28–31, 1943

Regular journal

Oct. 28 – Raining cats and dogs. I wam in my desert tent at noon – with a lantern burning. It is very cold but I am dry in here and my section is under canvas, so no complaints. Dave Clapperton has been sitting here talking to me. He drops in nearly every day. We are still on the side hill outside of Jelsi. A staff Sgt. from Brigade Workshop is making me lighting plan for my tent and will probably be over this afternoon to install it, so that will help will help a great deal. A glorious mail yesterday, so even if it is raining today – the skies are bright.

 Unloading of the first load of airmail for Canadian soldiers in Italy from a Boeing B-17 aircraft of No.168(HT) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, Foggia, Italy, 30 December 1943.   Credit: Lieut. Frederick G. Whitcombe / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-140094.

Unloading of the first load of airmail for Canadian soldiers in Italy from a Boeing B-17 aircraft of No.168(HT) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, Foggia, Italy, 30 December 1943. Credit: Lieut. Frederick G. Whitcombe / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-140094.

Oct. 29 – Very muddy out. The C.O., Bob Scholes and I drove over to Riccia to try and find a place to locate a hospital. There is a large school there which we may get in a week’s time. Called in at Bde H.Q. on the way back and had a chin wag with Timmy Cameron. This afternoon, Jerry Booth and I went to ASC and Advance Workshop. Stoney Richardson was here on my return. He is coming to town for a visit one of these days. Tomorrow morning the C.O. and I are going into Campobasso. May find something of interest there.

Oct. 31 – Halloween – no party. Ralph and I have some potatoes for tonight. Yesterday the Colonel, Bob Scholes and I went to in to Campbasso for the day. Did some shopping and went to the “York” Hotel for lunch. This is an Italian hotel under the control of our R.A.S.C. In the afternoon we went to the Sacray Theatre and saw an Italian show, run by our own Auxilary Services. Real theatre and a very good show. Leading lady was from Lentini – our H.Q. in Sicily. To look at her, I could never imagine it.

Extended journal:

A terrible day, dark, rainy and cold. The ground is drenched – cars and tanks are stuck everywhere and we are wading everywhere. It is also terribly slippery. There is a good deal of sickness and everyone is wondering whether we live outside for the winter. It is beginning to look like it and not a pleasant thought.

On Oct. 31 we went to Town – spent the day in the Maple Leaf City, Campobasso. Tried to do shopping there, but there was absolutely nothing worth buying. In the afternoon we went to the Theatre and saw the Lady from Peatina.

Sept. 10-18, 1943

Sept. 10: Moved north at 6 a.m. Moving forward RAP (Regimental Aid Post) forwards and ADS (Advanced Dressing Station) to Badolato. We go with flying column. Stoney with 3 tanks, a Co. Of recce and my jeep will drive straight through to Constantza. Prisoners are still coming in. Big bridge ahead badly blown. All bridges from here up are blown. Several detours due to blown bridges – all mine fields have to be swept. We climb the Appenine Mts to go through a Town on a very top known as Montara (?), the streets are so narrow, we have to knock houses down with the Tanks. The scenery is beautiful. The people are in thousands lining the streets, with flags of welcome out to American and British. They clap and cry – but still I don’t trust them. Everything here is much superior to Sicily. We enter Catanzaro at 5 p.m., a big Italian Military Center. I contact the head for southern Italy and search the hospital for English and American prisoners. Steal a car but tires blow out on me so give it back to its owner. Honesty always pays.

Sept. 11 – Proceed back to Locri to check up on my posts – have a grand trip, but the entire 1st Div is in Convoy on the road. We have moved our harbour to Catanzaro Di Marina.

A Sherman tank passes through Nicastro, 11 September 1943. © IWM (NA 6902)

A Sherman tank passes through Nicastro, 11 September 1943.
© IWM (NA 6902)

Sept. 12 – Inspection by GIC 1st Div, Gen. Simmons. Bathing in the Mediterranean right at our door. Have picked up a grand bunch of medical supplies.

Sept. 13 – “A” Squadron joins us.

Sept. 14 – Still bright and clear, are packed up for move up the coast of 150 miles tomorrow. We have joined up cross country with the 5th British Div, thus completely cutting off the toe of Italy. When we again reach our objective and join up with the 5th, the instep will be cut across – the heel and Taranto are already taken by the 5th Corps – we will then have the foot cut off and I imagine all will concentrate on the Naples Foggia line, in preparation for the Rome line. The best part of the Mediterranean where we are harboured and are bathing daily is the Gulf of Squillace. Still no mail in and cannot send any mail out. Will be glad to be on the move again tomorrow.

Sept. 15 – Moved off in “A” Echelon, passed north east along the coast through Passo di Trocellio then passed inland to Cutro, then north Strongoli, then still north along the coast road to Cariati on the shore of the Gulf of Taranto. There were several demolitions along the road, making detours necessary. Part of the country is very barren and mountainous with huge herds of gray oxen. More transport by here by oxen than by donkey. The last 20 miles have been olive groves – we are harboured in one. Thousands of Italian soldiers around. People are a very poor class. Pulling north now, covered 92 miles today.

Sept. 16 – Moved north at 900 hours through Corigliano, a dirty little Town, then north to the cross road leading to Castrovillari, harboured in a pine grove on the shores of the Gulf of Taranto – wonderful swimming, 45 miles today. We have now travelled up the coast from Reggio, 272 miles. Expect to go farther soon.

Sept. 17 – Moved with “A” Squadron Tanks in advance guard to 3rd Brigade, jeep ambulance and motorcycle only.

Sept. 18 – Started at 5:15 a.m. – Each Tank loaded with infantry from West Nova Scotia passed through St. Arcangelo, Missanello, and are now harboured in a grove while the artillery have taken up positions covering a detour past a blown bridge. We are hitting for Corleto today and hope to reach Potenza tomorrow. The rest of the Regiment have moved up along the coast. Only moved 28 miles today. This afternoon we were called to Corleto to remove a wounded German officer.

June 16 – July 4, 1943: Bound for Sicily and Operation Husky

June 16: Got our allotment for boats today. I will be travelling with “C” Squadron. Bert, Ralph, Bill, Ruddick and I will go on the same boat. Expect to pull out in little over a week, but from where or to where, I don’t know.

June 18: Two years ago today we left (Camp) Borden (Ontario). Just finished a long and interesting B.S. Session – Bob Taylor, Tommy Johnson, Bruce Trotter, Poop and I. This is the only recreation we have here at all. This camp is even worse than Salisbury Plain. Believe it or not.

June 19: Sudden orders to move off tomorrow morning. One terrific day of documentation. Poop and Jimmy staged a celebration at night, which did not help our sleep much.

June 20: Fell in in full kit by Naffie and marched to Langholm stations, which we left at 10:20. I hated very much to say good by to old Hank Greenberg who was down to the station to see us. Off. He is not coming with us. We picked up the XIth Bn at Hatwick, passed through Edinburgh and Glasgow, saw Mr. Muir’s Bank (the Clydesdale Bank) on way through. Landed at Greenoch at 5:30 and marched to barracks. Bob Taylor, Bob Donby and I occupied a compartment in train coming up. Bob Taylor, Grant Elliott, Capt. McKay (M.O. With XIth) and two other XI officers and myself are sharing a billet, a club house of a cricket green.

June 21: Breakfast is over, sick parade is over. I have just brought Ralph up to our billets and I am now going to have one swell bath. Tonight I went out to Part Glasgow and visited Mr. And Mrs. Murray and Mrs. Brown. The latter is writing home.

June 22: We line up at barracks at 9:30 a.m. And come by bus to Wemyss Bay where we go aboard L.S.T. 164 – F11. All “C” Squadron is on this boat. I am sharing a cabin with young Archibald from Saskatoon. In the adjoining cabin are Cresey (Calgary), Grant Morrow (Peterborough), Graham (Montreal) and Don Taylor (Toronto). The accommodation is excellent here and the meals are grand. I don’t know when we sail, but there is a large convoy forming. I still don’t know where we are going.

June 24: Still in harbour – started Malaria treatments today. The last of our troops came on board yesterday. Big Canadian mail brought around to the Ships today and we sent mail off. Don’t know how long they will hold it before posting.

June 25: Sailed tonight at 5 p.m. – It is now 8 p.m. And no sea sickness yet.
Officers on board:
Capt. Liggett — Brigade, Capt. Swanson RCASC, Capt. Gillespie RCOC, Capt. Curran RCPC, Capt. Gray Brig. H.Q., Lieut. Hanson RCCS,
Calgary Regiment: Major Donahie, Capt. Taylor, Lieut. Graham, Lieut. Morrow, Lieut. Cawsey, Lieut. Archibald, Capt. Alexander
June 26: One day at sea, starting our second. Long rows of vessels parallel in Convoy with destroyers in front and on the sides. Ireland has at last faded from sight – now no land visible as we start our second day. Got doused with a pail of water from the upper deck today. The sea is smooth and we seem to be making good time. The Convoy really is a glorious sight to see. Much warmer today. Not very much sickness aboard. We expect to turn south tomorrow so it should be warmer.

© IWM (A 18096) Operation Husky: The Sicily Landings 9-10 July 1943: A late evening picture as the fast convoy of big ships, carrying the men who made the initial assault, approached Sicily. Photograph taken from the destroyer NUBIAN

© IWM (A 18096)
Operation Husky: The Sicily Landings 9-10 July 1943: A late evening picture as the fast convoy of big ships, carrying the men who made the initial assault, approached Sicily. Photograph taken from the destroyer NUBIAN

June 27: Everything just the same today. Getting some warmer. It will probably be pretty monotonous before we get to the end of our journey. Good weather.

June 28: The weather is still excellent, but very heavy swells are running and we are rocking like a cork. There will probably be a lot of sea sickness tomorrow. We are still running south west. Will turn east for Gibraltar one of these days.

June 29: Very difficult to write as it is so rough. We are supposed to be a few hundred miles out to sea, opposite the Bay of Biscay – but all the water looks the same to me. We are really having a congenial – all good fellows, so everything is o.k. This flat bottomed L.S.T. Is grand in harbour, but holds the world’s championship for the open ocean.

June 30: Last night we had engine trouble and got quite a long way behind the Convoy – caught up O.K. During the night. We are not rolling as much today. We have just finished our fifth day at sea – should reach Gibraltar by the end of the week. We will certainly all be glad to find out where we are going and to get there.

July 1/43: Dominion Day – I wonder what news is broadcast to you at home today. We are now a few hundred miles west of Portugal – still proceeding south. We put on our Eastern uniforms today – shorts with open shirts – lovely and warm out – bright sun and smooth sea. Gave three lectures today on heat stroke and Malaria. We are having a real good trip, but will be glad when we reach the other side.

July 2: Still beautiful weather. Nothing of interest today.

July 3: Shooting accident on board, not serious. Sing song on deck today. We are getting nearer Gibraltar. All indications point to Italy.

July 4: All called to action stations early this a.m. A corvette had made contact with a submarine and dropped some depth charges. Results unknown. This afternoon the sea is like a mirror. It is very warm and the sun is almost blistering hot. Have just had a nice salt water shower and am tingling all over.

May 11, 13, 15 & 16

May 11: After Officer’s board this afternoon, Poop and I went down to meet a Tank train in Langholm – stepped into a little tea room and had a swell tea. Jill’s photo arrived last night.

May 13: Have finished boarding the entire Unit tonight and am absolutely exhausted. Expect to go to Glasgow early on Saturday morning – phoned Rena Ferguson tonight, but she will not be there. I have never seen it rain any harder than it has for the last two days – everything is drenched. All the Unit with the exception of HQ Sqaudron is out on the ranges and will remain for another week. Two letters from home tonight, but expecting me back, but I am afraid it will be a long time before that happens.

May 15: at 7 a.m. – Dawson drove Ralph and I into Carlise, where he caught the train for Blackpool and I caught the train for Glasgow. Arrived in Glasgow at 12:29 and made connection with train to Giffnock station. Saw Rena before she went on holiday, then came home and had a sleep. In the evening Mr. Muir and I went to the Royal Theatre to see “Tonight’s the Night”. It was a grand show. Mrs. Muir’s sister is here for the weekend – we are having a grand time.

May 16: Mrs. Muir, her sister, Mr. Muir and I went to Church this a.m. This afternoon Alex Greenshield (the man who drove me to Loch Lomond) came in to tea and spent part of the evening here. Mr. and Mrs. Bruce were in for supper and have just gone home. Tomorrow I am to meet a Mr. Binning at Grosvenor for lunch – he is a drug manufacturer and I am trying to get a supply of drugs for the Unit. I am not on leave, but do not know when I will return to the Unit. As soon as I get my work done I guess. Now to bed.