by Stan Scislowski, 11 November 2003
Reprinted with the generous permission of Stan Scislowski
The night was black as pitch, no moon, no stars, no flash of artillery fire to light the way for the Canadian infantry moving forward to the start-line of their next attack. The night was unusually quiet, as though both armies facing each other in the flatlands of the North Italian plains had gone to bed early. The only sound came from the scuffle of the infantrymen's boots on gravel as they worked their way forward. To a man, as always, they fervently hoped that the advance would be a 'walkover', but it was not to be. The enemy had not gone away, and they had not gone to bed early. Except for those momentarily relieved of weapons post duty, the enemy was very much awake and alert. They were in positions all through the area with their weapons trained at the single point where they were sure the Canadian attack would come in on them, and that was the roadway crossing the Fosso Munio stream.
Men of the Anti-tank Platoon, Support Company, Perth Regiment, 11CIB, 5CAD in their first action, Arielli, Italy, 17 Jan 1944
In the lead section of the lead platoon of the Perth Regiment from Stratford, Ontario spearheading the attack was a 17 year old Windsor lad. Actually, too young to have been inducted into the army, Lance Corporal Freddie Lytwyn had to have lied about his age to get in the army. But he was a veteran now, a veteran of several hard-fought battles as he marched on towards yet another battle, this one only five days before Christmas, hoping, as all men do when going into battle that it would be an easy affair and that he would come out of it okay.
Undetected thus far as they approached the start-line at the roadway crossing of the insignificant narrow watercourse, they entered a roadside drainage ditch, and with stealth. made good time on the way to their first objective. They strained their eyes peering into the black fields around them to catch signs of enemy presence?to evade them if they could, or to throw fire at them if that had to be. The immediate danger, however, was not in the open fields to their left, nor was it in the impenetrable darkness on their right. It was straight ahead along the line of the ditch. An enemy machine-gun crew hidden behind a stone culvert waited for them, their weapon pointing down the centre of the ditch. Their weapon, an MG 42 rated at 1200 rounds per minute, almost twice as fast as the Bren, could in the narrow confine of the ditch do considerable slaughter. There was no way the man behind the gun could miss the unsuspecting approaching platoon.
At 25 yards range the enemy Fusilier squeezed the trigger, the gun ripping off a long burst. 400 steel jacketed slugs slammed into the bodies of the lead two sections. Twelve men died Instantly, their bodies literally torn apart in the slash of bullets. Farther along the column, others a little slower to react to the 'ripping canvas' sound of the gun, threw themselves onto the slick sides of the ditch, but they delayed only by seconds their own deaths. Somewhere in that pile of torn bodies was that of the 17 year old Windsor lad. He was too young to have to die in battle. . .He was too young to die at any time. He, like so many countless others of our generation had been denied by the cruel fates of war to reach manhood, to love, to marry, to raise a family, to enjoy all those things that we as survivors have taken for granted. And so, in eternal thankfulness to God that somehow we were spared a similar fate and allowed to live out our lives as He had intended, it is only fit and proper that on Remembrance Day we should pause and pay tribute to their supreme sacrifice.
I¹ve taken the liberty of describing the last moments in the life of one inordinately young Canadian who represents the hundred thousand and more other Canadians who laid down their lives in War. I have done this for a reason, that reason being that it is much easier to focus the memory onto one individual than it is onto a faceless multitude. In remembering one. . .you remember all.
Copyright © Stan Scislowski
About the AuthorStan Scislowski served with the Perth Regiment of Canada, 11th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division.