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Landing In Italy – A visit to Monastery Mountain

By George Mock (Signalman with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals)

After almost two weeks at sea, our troop ship, the S.S. Chitral drew in sight of land in the morning. Went out on deck and saw Mount Vesuivous and the coast of Italy, it was very mountainous. As we pulled into dock, it was quite a sight to see the burned out hulks of once famous boats, now just a pile of junk. Many ships were partially sunk and others should have been. What caught our eyes was the Red Cross ship that we spotted lying on its side. The Germans had apparently bombed it and they had done a very good job of her. An Italian submarine lay half in the water and half out. We had to use a burned out ship called the “Resolute” for a dock. Our draft disembarked at 9.30 a.m.

It wasn’t very hot but as we were carrying our kit bags and arms while marching for nearly a mile through the streets of Naples, we sweated with every step before arriving at a square used by the Canadian Army for all incoming drafts. There we were told to wait and not to leave the square.

We were served dinner, which was the American K-3 ration comprising of a can of hot stew, a cup of tea and hard tack. It was good though and we didn’t complain. We had to wait for two to three hours for the train and in that time we were getting our eyes filled with the strange sights of a new country.

Close to where I had laid all my equipment was a church, which the boys had been investigating. I later ventured inside myself and was amazed at the beauty of the altar and of the size of the church itself. All around us were buildings, or I should say, what used to be buildings. Our air force, the RAF, the Americans, the Germans, our Navy and the German Navy, our Artillery and the German Artillery all at one time or another had sent plenty of shells down on this famous city of Naples so that it was quite a mess. Just walls remained in most spots and the houses very badly bombed.

We saw extremelt dirty people and children running around by the hundreds. Most of us felt sorry for them and were giving them the candy and chocolate bars we had bought on board ship

The train was more like a Toonerville Trolley – just jammed with people. When we arrived at Nola we transferred into trucks; we were packed in like sardines. Just as we were pulling away I spotted Billy Herron, who I hadn’t seen for nearly three years but it was too late to draw his attention.

The truck ride was very interesting and we soon came into mountainous country, which was quite a sight, as I had never seen mountains before. We arrived at our reinforcement depot at Avellino and just as our truck turned the corner it had a flat tire so we all had to get out and wait until another truck came along. While we waited I spotted orange trees, palm trees and cactus.

Our billeting was in a large bombed out building; I was so cold that I went to bed with all my clothes on except for my shoes. I had four blankets, a greatcoat, and ground sheet and I still froze. I slept like that for four nights in a row before I finally got up enough courage to take the rest of my clothes off. I soon put on my winter underwear instead.

The “Latrine”. Road out of camp is on the right. The path on the right leading to the latrine is for sergeants and officers. (They had walls around theirs.) The one on the left is for “other ranks”.

On New Year’s Eve, we received permission to climb Monastery Mountain. At the top was the Sanctuario di Monte Virginie, which was run by the Capucini Brotherhood. During our climb we passed the seven stages of the cross. It took about three hours before we reached the monastery.

There was plenty of snow up there and it was very cold. A monk showed us all through the church, which was magnificent. A nun, who had died some 300 years ago, had been preserved and her body lay near an altar. All the altars were made of marble, which had been carried up the mountain by the women or by donkeys, and was bordered with gold.

We bought various souvenirs of the monastery then went over to the bar and had a few drinks to warm us up. It only cost us 25 cents for a shot of rum or any other liquor and it was all Benedictine, which was very good.

I had the good fortune to be able to mail a broach, necklace and bracelet I bought there to my girlfriend; Isabel (now my wife of 56 years) and she still has it.


 

 

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