Canadians heading to Sicily to mark 75 years since deadly Allied invasion
A group of history buffs will head to Sicily later this month for a 320-kilometre trek in honour of the 562 Canadian troops who lost their lives in the sometimes overlooked Second World War invasion of Sicily.
Steve Gregory has organized the group of Canadians, Americans and Italians, who will trace the route that the Canadian soldiers took to liberate the island from Benito Mussolini’s fascists 75 years ago.
The 1943 mission was known as Operation Husky. Gregory’s Operation Husky 2018 includes a 20-day march starting in the town of Pachino, where the Canadian troops went ashore on July 10, 1943.
The roughly 25,000 Canadians faced landmines, mountainous terrain and Adolf Hitler’s German troops. Of those, 562 were killed, 1,664 wounded and 84 taken prisoners of war, according to Veterans Affairs Canada.
But Canada – along with Britain and the United States -- managed to force the Italian and Germantroops off the island in 38 days. The victory secured an air base and shipping lanes that would allow the Allies when it came time to take mainland Italy.
Gregory says it’s a “moral duty” to remember the men who fought and died.
“We can't forget that we sent these men into that danger,” he told CTV Montreal. “We owe them the dignity of remembrance.”
Gregory’s interest in the battle began years ago when his son, who was 10 years old at the time, tried to learn about the conquest for a school project and couldn’t find much information.
In 2013, Gregory decided to raise awareness by organizing a march of 300 Canadian and Italian civilians along the same route taken in 1943.
Bob Werbiski was there, in honour of his father who was a pharmacist during the battle.
He remembers putting his hands in the water at Pachino and thinking, “This is where, 70 years ago, somewhere along this beach my father got off a ship and started his experience of the war.”
“I'd never thanked my dad for serving,” he said. “So that was emotional.”
This time, Werbiski plans to bring markers with the names of Canadian who died to place in each town along the route. It’s one more way for him to keep the history alive.
With a report from CTV Montreal’s Angela MacKenzie