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The Italian Campaign was the longest fought by the Canadian Army during the Second World War. Yet its importance is often overshadowed by other major battles of that conflict. Canada’s efforts in Italy – like those in Normandy or the Netherlands – touched communities from coast to coast to coast.
More than 93,000 Canadians from all three branches of the Canadian Forces – Army, Navy and Air Force – served across
Italy from the summer of 1943 until February 1945. From Sicily in the south to Ravenna in the north, Canadians earned a reputation as tough, effective fighters.
They repeatedly overcame stiff enemy resistance and broke through heavily fortified lines as they advanced across the rugged terrain of Italy that favoured the German defenders.
Through Sicily, Ortona, the Liri Valley, Rimini, Ravenna and beyond, Canadians were instrumental in the eventual victory of the Allies in Italy. Often, a small group of Canadian soldiers – sometimes even just a single man – were the difference between Allied success or defeat of the battlefields there.
For example, the headquarters of Veterans Affairs Canada in Charlottetown is named after an Islander and former minister of the department who enlisted in 1940. He was wounded during fighting in Italy in the late summer of 1944 and returned to his unit after a few weeks. On Dec. 21, 1944, Sergeant MacDonald was seriously wounded during heavy fighting near the Senio
River in northern Italy and would lose his left arm and leg. After the war, he returned to his farm in Bothwell, P.E.I., married and raised seven children. He served in the provincial legislature and later became a federal member of parliament. He was appointed minister of veterans affairs in 1972 and again in 1980.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Italian Campaign, a Canadian delegation is visiting important historical sites and memorials across Italy. This delegation includes veterans of that campaign, as well as young people to whom we pass on their stories.
But the responsibility of keeping alive the memory of our Veterans is not these young peoples’ alone – it falls to all of us. May we never forget the brave men and women who stepped forward in times of conflict to strive for peace, and let us continue to honour their eternal legacy of service and sacrifice for generations to come.
Lawrence MacAulay is Canada’s minister of veterans affairs and member of parliament for Cardigan.