Strathcona’s and Westies Commemorate 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Melfa River
“Straths and Westies have crossed the Melfa River and linked-up on the west bank.” These same words were remarked 75 years ago as they were again on 24 May 2019 when the Regimental delegation commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Melfa River. Twelve serving Strathconas from across Canada stood in formation on the banks of the Melfa River with the Westies as the Canadian Ambassador to Italy, Ms. Alexandra Bugailiskis, remarked on the heroism and valour displayed at that very site by their predecessors.
The Regimental commemoration ceremonies included dedications in the towns of Pontecorvo and Rocasecca, both liberated with support from 2nd Canadian Armoured Regiment (Lord Strathcona’s Horse, Royal Canadians) and the Westminster Regiment (Motorized). In Roccasecca, a belvedere was dedicated in honour of Major Jack Mahony, V.C., the humble and tenacious leader who was awarded a Victoria Cross for his gallant action while leading A Company in the defense of a small but crucial bridgehead established by Lieutenant Perkin and the “STRATHFORCE” reconnaissance troop. These actions undoubtedly changed the course of the Italian campaign and enabled the Allies to continue their attack beyond the “Hitler Line” towards Rome and eventually defeat the Wehrmacht in Italy.
The Regimental delegation spent time exploring the crossing site, following Perky’s approach down into the riverbed and up over to the small farmhouse where he captured eight German soldiers. They visited fallen brothers-in-arms at the Cassino War Cemetery, and honoured their foes buried at the German Military Cemetery in Cassino. The delegation visited the Torrice Crossroad and retraced the steps of a major battle that took the lives of nine Strathconas and earned the Regiment a battle honour. Here, they had the great fortune of hearing Trooper A.G. Scott’s daughter, Michelle Scott, recount the story of her father’s role in the battle where he despatched a Panther crew while dismounted ahead of his troop leader’s Sherman.
The twelve soldiers who participated all shared different and unforgettable experiences as part of the visit. Sergeant Droogers (Peace Support Training Centre) was surprised to see “the terrain in the area, especially the elevation of the surrounding hills and mountains, and the overall tactical reality the Strathcona soldiers would have faced moving through the valley.” Corporal Ford (Headquarters Squadron) remarks, “I was moved by the respect and gratitude of the Italian people. I was humbled to be walking the same ground as the men who fought and died for the Italian people and everyone who suffered under German rule.”
Together, the Straths and Westies commemorated the brave and selfless actions of the Canadian soldiers who fought valiantly in the Liri Valley and liberated the Italian people from fascist occupation. It was a humbling experience that shall never be forgotten.
Major Jack P. Nguyen
Officer Commanding A Squadron