JOHN DeMONT: Honouring Nova Scotia sacrifice in the hills of Sicily

Categories: Canada


He doesn’t do so every day. But there is a good chance that as you read this, David Hutt, bearded and bespectacled, knees creaky from his years as an electrician, will have stepped out of the door of his Dartmouth home.

Then, in sturdy hiking shoes, with or without his trusted trio of King Charles Cavalier Spaniels, he will put one foot in front of the other down the sidewalks in the Main Street-Waverley Road-Montebello subdivision area.

The whole stroll, which varies in length depending upon whether he has played golf or hockey that day, and whether the dogs have joined him, usually takes a couple of hours.

That’s a long time when the scenery is unchanging. When I asked how he breaks the monotony, Hutt said that he listens to ’70s and ’80s rock on his iPod.

“Often,” he said the other day, “I think of what the hills in Sicily will be like.”

In a few weeks, he will find out.

Hutt, you see, has volunteered to join a group of 20 Canadians — which also includes Sydney native Andrew Giggey — celebrating the essential role our military played in the allied invasion of Sicily, code name Operation Husky, that led to the liberation of Italy.

The route. – The Walk for Remembrance and Peace

They will mark this occasion in memorable fashion.

On July 10, the Canadians will stand in the Sicilian heat near a village called Pachino, in the southeast corner of the Italian island, where exactly 80 years ago the 1st Canadian Infantry Division came ashore. Then they will start walking, and not stop until they reach the foot of Mount Etna.

The city of Adrano is a fitting destination. In July 1943, the Canadian military stood there victorious, having helped drive the Axis powers’ sea, air and land forces from the island.

The Canadian victory meant the stage was set for the invasion of the Italian mainland, and critical shipping lanes had been reopened for allied merchant ships, changing the course of the Second World War and therefore history.

The cost of the victory was immense. The roads were heavily mined, the terrain at times hellish.

Canadian soldiers riding on a Universal Carrier in Sicily in July 1943. - Library and Archives Canada
Canadian soldiers riding on a Universal Carrier in Sicily in July 1943. – Library and Archives Canada

Military historian Mark Zuehlke describes the German tactics in Sicily as “heavily entrenched fortifications set on ideal defensive terrain of ridges, mountains and rivers. When one line was breached, the Germans quickly withdrew to another.”

The Canadians endured 20 days of brutal fighting over the 325-kilometre campaign. All in all, our forces suffered 2,300 casualties in Sicily, 562 of them fatalities.

“For me, it is all about the veterans and keeping their memory alive,” Hutt said of his decision to re-walk all 325 kilometres of the Canadian campaign in Sicily.

This is no leisurely stroll. Over 20 days, the marchers will stop in 22 towns and villages where the Canadians fought.

Along the way, they will plant 562 markers, white with a red maple leaf, bearing the names of the fallen who came from regiments from across Canada, including the West Nova Scotia, with its motto Semper Fidelis (always faithful) and its regimental badge containing a Nova Scotia schooner.

Two of the markers will be for regiment members from the province’s South Shore: Pte. Dennis Aubrey Rhuland of Mahone Bay, who was just 21 when he fell, and Fauxburg-born Pte. Larry Willoughby Veinotte, a man of 37 when he died, like Rhuland, near the ancient city of Agria, where both are buried, and their markers will be placed.

David Hutt walks along Waverley Road as he prepares for this July's Walk for Remembrance and Peace in Sicily. - Ryan Taplin
David Hutt walks along Waverley Road as he prepares for this July’s Walk for Remembrance and Peace in Sicily. – Ryan Taplin

Moments like that will be emotional for Hutt, who grew up in Tangier and joined the army cadets in high school in Sheet Harbour. He was training to be an electrician in the summer of 1975 when, needing summer employment, he joined the naval reserves.

“The summer job that lasted 40 years,” he jokes of his naval gig, part-time except for a six-year period in which he worked steady with the Navy, where he rose to the rank of chief petty officer second class.

Mostly, Hutt’s working days were spent as an electrician, usually repairing traffic lights.

The desire to pay tribute to our veterans was sparked by a couple of battlefield tours of Europe, in particular one in which he visited Vimy Ridge, and the Somme site of the battle of Beaumont-Hamel where the then-colony of Newfoundland suffered immense loss.

“They really had an impact on me,” he said. “It was very emotional to be in these graveyards and see how immaculately kept they were and how revered our veterans are. It made me realize the sacrifices made for us over there.”

An opportunity to commemorate those sacrifices came when a friend told Hutt about a group being put together by a Montreal businessman to mark the Canadian contribution to the Sicilian campaign.

It will, he knows, be a challenge. Hutt is the accommodations guy, which means he gets the marchers in and out of their digs every day. They will be up at 5 a.m. to beat the heat, and then, after a hearty breakfast, hit the road.

The days will vary: the longest is scheduled to be 32 kilometres, with another day meant to involve seven kilometres in the morning and another seven in the afternoon.

Hutt, who describes himself as “not in bad shape compared to some”, knows about the hilly terrain. This week, the temperature in Sicily was already reaching the 30s.

“The heat is a worry ,” he said of the marchers, most of whom he estimates to be in late middle age. “I guess you just keep going.”

Knowing what our troops went through 80 years ago, he thinks that is the least they can do.

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