Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas Memories

For those of you who still stumble upon this site, you may be wondering where I've been and why I've posted so little of late. The main reason is I've been occupied working on the new season of a television series about historic tank battles which is called, appropriately, Greatest Tank Battles. (The series website can be seen here, and the show begins its second season in Canada and its first season in the U.S. in January. It's also airing overseas.) The secondary reason is I've been trying to unwind this holiday season. But rest assured I'm not going to stop my work commenting on maritime security.

It has been my pleasure to spend the last few months interviewing veterans from the Second World War, former members of armoured units who fought for the Allies and their opponents; Canadians, Americans and Germans. These are gentlemen in their 80s and 90s who endured situations few today can comprehend, even those who have seen service in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's easy to forget the sacrifices that were made by another generation, even those who were fighting for "the enemy". Battle is so often not about politics, but about the guys close to you. The bond between comrades (not in the "Soviet" form) is unique, and the bond between tankers is perhaps even closer than their other combat arms brethren.

To hear the stories of tankers has, as I said, been a pleasure. But to hear the experiences of those involved in the December 1943 battle for the Italian town of Ortona has been eye-opening. as an upcoming episode of the Greatest Tank Battles will recount, this was one of the most intense battles the Canadians would fight in the Second World War, leading to more casualties than were incurred in the D-Day landings.

From December 20 to 28, 1943, Canadians tanks and infantry would take on elite German paratroopers for control of the Adriatic port. You can read more about it here and here. But amidst all the fighting, the Canadians managed to arrange a Christmas dinner, in a church on the outskirts of Ortona. It was one of the most amazing moments to occur at this Yuletide time while conflict was going on, and is pictured below.

Remember those in harm's way at this time of the year, those far from home and family, be they warriors or mariners. Peace unto all.

Ortona, December 25, 1943