Yesterday, after school, we traveled to the nearby town of Ortona. In the winter of 1943, this town was the site of the bloodiest battles fought by the Canadians in the Italian campaign.
The Allied troops had landed in Sicily in the beginning of July of that year, and over the summer claimed victory over the German and Italian armies. By September, the Allies were on the mainland. The Americans headed north along the Mediterranean coast toward Rome, while the British and Commonwealth soldiers followed the Adriatic. By this time, Italy had surrendered, and the Germans were in a position where they had to hold as much ground as possible, at any cost.
Both armies made it to the Winter Line by December: the Americans at Cassino, and the British and Commonwealth at the Moro River. Here, the Canadians were called upon. After fighting their way through the Moro River Valley and “The Gully”, both the Canadians and Germans suffered heavy casualities. The Germans retreated to Ortona, and the Canadians followed, fighting street-by-street, and house-to-house.
After eight days of battle, the Germans fled on December 28. In the end, 1325 Canadian had died, representing a quarter of all Canadians killed during the Italian campaign.
Today, there stands a museum dedicated to the battle. There, they have relics from both German and Canadian forces. In the centre, a model of the town shows what it would have looked like during that horrific December of 1943.
We later walked to the Church of Saint Thomas. This magnificent church was almost completely destroyed during the war. It has since been reconstructed. Interestingly, it houses the remains of Thomas the Apostle.
At the end of the street, seemingly out-of-nowhere, is the Aragonese Castle, dating date to the 15th century.
We finished our tour of the town then visited the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery. For most of our students, this was the first time they had been to such a site. Reading the inscriptions on the tombstones, and seeing how young these men were, resonated with our students, making for an emotional, but important day of remembrance.