In the spring of 2004, Bombardier Charles Hunter, an Original ’39er, sat at the supper table of the Gregory family in Westmount, Quebec.
He regaled them with stories of his experiences on the battlefields of Italy. Charles was a gunner with the 2nd Field Artillery Regiment. He fired the famous 25 Pounder all throughout Italy. Charles’ recounted a heroic battle involving the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment (Hasty Ps) of Belleville Ontario. The Battle of Assoro was an amazing story. Erik Gregory, 11 years old, sat in rapt attention.
A week or so later, Erik’s grade 6 history teacher, Madame Pachis, invited him and his class to participate in the Historica Fair, a national history program for students from across Canada. Erik immediately chose the Battle of Assoro as his topic. Stephen, Erik’s father was surprised and delighted. What a brilliant way to honour Charles and the veterans of this campaign, he thought.
Erik’s enthusiasm quickly turned to concern as he struggled to find documentation. Though Farley Mowatt, the famous Canadian author had himself been a Hasty P and had written of his experience in “And no Birds Sang” and “The Regiment”. His books were among of the few resources available. Fortunately for Erik, his uncle Andrew is a war buff and historian and was able to help him find more material.
Erik and his father brainstormed on how best to present the information about Assoro. They recorded a brief interview with Charles. Erik made a model of a 25 pdr which Charles had generously provided and Steve helped him paint it and prepare the diorama box. Erik prepared a presentation board featuring maps and text in French. As his father watched him throw his heart into this project, Steve became completely engrossed in the Canadian campaign. These men had displayed courage incredible courage, but there was so little coverage as compared to Normandy or other important Canadian campaigns.
Erik’s project was a fantastic success. His classmates voted his project as one of the best in the class. As a result of this vote, Erik’s project was presented at a regional history fair. His presentation at the fair was selected as one of 160 projects Canada wide and he was invited to present it at the 2006 National Historica Fair in Halifax. It was an honour to be selected. Each of the projects was exceptional.
Later that year, Erik decided to offer his project diorama to the 2nd Field Artillery Regiment as a token for their museum. His offer was warmly received. Each of the officers of the Regiment with whom he met offered him praise and encouragement. LCol. Bourque, commanding officer of the Regiment, asked Erik to present his project to the officers. Erik beamed as he concluded his presentation and was presented with a plaque from the Regiment acknowledging his achievement. Steve had rarely seen such a smile on his son’s face and he was overwhelmed by the generosity of these soldiers; LCol. Bourque, Gratton, Aubé, Saint-Louis, de Kovachich, among others – what gentlemen.
This experience led to a family tour of Italy in 2006.While in Sicily, Steve stole away to visit Assoro and the Canadian war cemetery at Agira. This short trip to Agira had a profound effect on Steve. Alone in the graveyard with more than 400 souls, he felt compelled to thank each one. What appeared from a distance during his son’s project to be such a glorious triumph hid the tremendous sacrifice of the young men who fought these horrible battles; 18 and 19 year olds, sons, fathers, brothers and husbands. At that moment, Steve decided that more had to be done to honour these men. The 2013 Canadian Citizens’ Memorial Campaign in Sicily was born.
The name was later shortened to Operation Husky 2013 and plans began to form featuring a 400km symbolic march, daily remembrance ceremonies, a commemorative pipe band, a museum exhibit to educate the public about Canada’s contribution and a monument on the beaches of Pachino when the 1st Canadian Division landed in 1943. Erik offered to drive the truck.