From left: Miff O’Connell, Charlie Muise and George Egan at the Wedgeport legion, where an event was held last week honouring and remembering those who took part in the Italian campaign during the Second World War. O’Connell and Muise both took part in the campaign. Egan, representing the Wartime Heritage Association, was guest speaker for the Feb. 28 event in Wedgeport. - Eric Bourque
About 80 people turned out last week at the Wedgeport legion for a special ceremony remembering and honouring soldiers who participated in the Italian campaign during the Second World War.The campaign – in which almost 6,000 Canadians died – has been described as an overshadowed or forgotten part of Canada’s contribution to the Second World War.The Friday afternoon ceremony included a brief memorial service in which two participants in the Italian campaign – Miff O’Connell and Charlie Muise of Yarmouth County – jointly laid a wreath.The event included a short presentation by George Egan, representing the Wartime Heritage Association, who spoke of the significance of the Italian campaign, which began in Sicily in the early summer of 1943.“Sicily was the first real test in (the Second World War) of what the Canadian army could accomplish,” Egan said.The Italian campaign continued into the spring of 1945. Of those who died in it, 30 were from various communities in Yarmouth County, Egan said.Through his involvement with the Wartime Heritage Association, Egan has helped gather much information on Nova Scotians who served their country, and he shared a few details about some of the Yarmouth County men who lost their lives in Italy during the Second World War.He then turned his attention to O’Connell and Muise, who were in the front row of Egan’s audience in Wedgeport (and who are members of the legion there, branch 155).O’Connell served as the nose machine gunner in a 15-ton armoured car and later in an open American scout car, Egan said, doing armoured reconnaissance, seeking out the enemy, withdrawing so the infantry could go in.“In the fall of 1944 their vehicles got stuck in the mud ... so after a few days he (O’Connell) was moved to the front to assist the infantry to hold the lines,” Egan said. “He arrived at 10 a.m. It was Oct. 11, 1944. At 1 p.m. he was hit by shrapnel. He was hospitalized just before Christmas. Again, he was wounded on Jan. 11, 1945. His closest call from the enemy guns came when a shell hit a few feet from his armoured car. He survived; the second machine gunner did not.”As for Charlie Muise, who served with the Irish Regiment of Canada in Italy, Egan related a close call experienced by Muise.“He and (fellow soldier) Simeon Maillet found themselves the target of a landing shell,” Egan said. “When the dust settled, all one could see was Charlie’s helmet. He had been buried in chunks of earth. Once dug out of the mud and he confirmed he was intact – although just a little shaken – he was hospitalized for a time before returning to the battle.”Goals of the Italian campaign included removing Italian troops from other areas of Europe, diverting German forces from France and reducing the strength of the German army, Egan said, and these were achieved.Others who spoke during Friday’s ceremony included Don McCumber, the legion’s district E commander (covering 14 legions from Yarmouth to Chester) and Danny Muise, warden of the Municipality of Argyle.Not present but sending letters for the occasion were West Nova MP Chris d’Entremont and Argyle-Barrington MLA Colton LeBlanc.D’Entremont noted how Canadians enjoy freedom and a way of life made possible by the wartime efforts and sacrifices of many, including those who fought in Italy.“These blessings have come to us at a great cost,” he wrote.