Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dad's Navy Days: September 1943 - Italy (13)

"Some buddies and I spent my 23rd birthday singing our
lungs out in a cottage-style house near the beach..."
Leading Seaman Coxswain Doug Harrison

For about 30 days in 1943, under relatively peaceful conditions, my father delivered the material of war back and forth across the Strait of Messina, between Messina, Sicily and Reggio, Italy. Three days after D-Day Italy (September 3) he turned 23 years of age. He says he sang his lungs out, and more:

     Some buddies and I spent my 23rd birthday singing our lungs out
     in a cottage-style house near the beach, complete with a piano but
     incomplete with no roof. I had my guitar along and we all had some
     vino. About midnight with the hilarity in full swing, thunder rolled,
     the skies opened and the first rain in months came pouring in. Soaked
     inside and out we headed to where we belonged, singing “Show Me
     the Way to Go Home” as big as life and twice as natural.
     [The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

It seems life in Sicily wasn't bad at all at times. (I'm sure the vino helped.) Father likely thought his time on the water and routines on land were easy, at least manageable for the most part. Feeling better after his time in Hill 10 Hospital in Malta - fighting a bout with dysentery - he even performed a few medical duties for others. He writes:

     One of our stokers set up a medical tent for the civilians at Messina
     and treated them for sores and rashes. We fed them too but when
     pregnant women came we had to close up shop.
     [Pg. 35 "DAD, WELL DONE", D. Harrison's naval memoirs]

And writing for The Norwich Gazette (his home town paper) 20 years later he adds a few more details:

     In the navy we just acquired things. A tent was set up on the beach
     after we acquired some salves, soap and gauze to treat the locals who
     had rashes and cuts, etc. The word spread about the Canadian Marina
     Hospital and one morning a few days after we opened, two very
     pregnant ladies appeared. The work of mercy ended, and very quickly
     I might add, amidst our embarrassment.

["Seaforth Highlanders medics treat a Sicilian girl whose
insect bites have become infected" Photo by Terry F. Howe
found in OPERATION HUSKY by Mark Zehlke]

Though he and the stoker couldn't help pregnant women, he and other sailors were able to help Sicilian civilians in other ways thanks to their regular Navy food supplies. On two occasions father wrote about the connection he made with Mrs. Guiseppe and her son Pietro. The first time was in 1975:

     After a time we were sleeping in casas or houses and I had a helper,
     a little Sicilian boy named Pietro. First of all I scrubbed him, gave
     him toothpaste, soap and food. He was cute, about 13 or 14 years of
     age, but very small because of malnutrition. His mother did my washing
     and mending for a can of peas or whatever I could scrounge.
     I was all set up. [Pg. 35, "DAD, WELL DONE"]

Father remembered more details about his relationship with the Guiseppes twenty years later. 

More to follow.

["Doug Harrison with nephews Bill and Bob Tait, 1941"]

Above photo property of KH

Please click here to read Dad's Navy Days: September 1943 - Italy (12)

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