Soldier dodged bombs and bullets during the invasions of Sicily, Italy, in World War II

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Moose Javian Lance – Cpl. Gilbert John Hyde served in the 4th Unit of the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards during World War II.

Lance Cpl. Gilbert John Hyde’s unit faced little enemy resistance after landing on the beaches of Sicily three days after the main Allied assault on the Mediterranean island, but the horrors of war grew as they advanced inland.

Hyde, then 23, was a Bren Gun carrier driver in A Squadron of the 4th Princess Louis Dragoon Guards (PLDG), a reconnaissance regiment. Born Moose Jaw, he enlisted on October 18, 1938 at the age of 18 and trained in Canada and England – witnessing the Battle of Britain – before his unit sailed to the ‘underworld of Europe’ with the famous British 8th Army.

Late arrivals

The Guards were supposed to hit the beach on July 10, 1943 as part of Operation Husky and scout the area with the infantry. However, by the time the squadron arrived at half strength on 13 July, fighting had shifted inland while a weak Italian coastal division offered no resistance.

“I think they were just glad to have given up. …we unloaded our vehicles and drove about two or three miles inland, and my introduction to the war was that night,” Hyde recalled.

The unit was bivouacing—or encamped—behind a hill, and since it was pitch dark they didn’t know where they were.

Night Terror

“And about three in the morning, holy smokes, we heard those guns go off, and that’s the first time I’ve actually heard artillery fire because we’d been doing reconnaissance work…” he said.

A battery of 155-millimeter howitzers began firing over their heads, but the soldiers, realizing they were friendly, fired at the enemy. Hyde still found that frightening, considering it was 3am and they were in a foreign country.

Enlightenment begins

Hyde and his squadron packed up the next day and caught up with the advancing infantry, where his unit was ordered to inspect a nearby village. This mission was successful with no casualties, but they would not all be like that.

A week after their arrival, members of Hyde’s unit were killed after being hit by German machine guns and mortar fire.

“…I was still with the Commander myself,” Hyde recalled. “Although we heard the shells and machine guns, we weren’t really under fire ourselves.”

Move to Italy

After six weeks in Sicily, the PLDG crossed the Strait of Messina to mainland Italy.

Another infantry unit had landed ahead of the guards and cleared the way, meaning Hyde’s unit had little resistance after landing at Reggio di Calabria on 3 September 1943 on the west coast of Italy.

They then traveled south and up the east coast to Locri, where they encountered thousands of Italian soldiers ready to surrender.

“…we see these guys coming out in full marching order, swords, bayonets, flags, bands, a whole division coming down the road to us,” Hyde said. “And the general leads the parade, with all his medals and sashes and God knows what, and we just kind of waved at them, ‘Go on guys, we can’t, there’s nothing we can do for you.’ ”

team fire

The guards continued north, with mountains on their left and the Ionian Sea on their right. At 10:00 a.m., a squadron of Allied Kittyhawk fighters yelled overhead and “hurled the living Jee-zus” out of the unit.

The planes continued to shell the Canadians for 10 minutes, although the latter fired flares to call off the attack. The attack destroyed two Bren Gun carriers, two armored cars, killed two men and injured five.

“We just ducked under our vans and trucks and just prayed to God that nothing would happen to us,” said Javian the moose.

Ten minutes later, German Messerschmitt 109 aircraft flew overhead, flapping their wings before taking off. Hyde believes the plane did not attack because they probably believed the unit to be German.

Little Stalingrad

After several months of fighting, the Canadians reached Ortona, halfway down Italy’s east coast. There, on December 20–28, 1943, they took part in the Battle of Ortona, known as Little Stalingrad because of its fierce fighting.

A standoff made reconnaissance unnecessary. However, Hyde recalled two notable events in the area.

One took part in standing patrols, where soldiers dug foxholes and spent many nerve-wracking hours listening for enemy patrols.

“If you’re out there until 4 a.m. just before sunrise, it’s cold, (it’s dark), it’s wet, you’re miserable, you have to pee, and every little noise, you, you swear to god it is moving enemy,” Hyde said. “You know, it could even just be a rabbit or something….”

Another artillery scare

The second experience again concerned artillery. The Canadians and Germans traded volleys throughout the day, prompting Hyde and his unit to convert a chicken coop into a dugout where they could safely watch the action on a hilltop.

During an artillery battle, the unit heard a German shell like a “damn freight train.” Hyde saw the grenade fly over the roof of the shed, “about a meter above my head”. The men rushed outside to find their armored car upside down on a two meter high mound of dirt.

The grenade had passed under the vehicle but had not exploded.

“And I looked at it, you know, just sitting there,” Hyde added, “and that’s what I remember about Ortona.”

After more months in Italy, Hyde and the Princess Louis Dragoon Guards ended the war in the Netherlands. He later served in the military until 1974.

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