Looking over the history of the Second World War, we’re drawn to certain high polish marks, like Normandy, that dominate our attention.
Outshone in the chronicles is the less lustrously remembered, but equally deserving Italian campaign which began on a beachhead in Sicily. It was called Operation Husky. Canadians and Hamiltonians played a big role, and it proved to be the leverage on the southern flank that enabled D-Day in the first place.
The Italian campaign is immortalized in books such as “A Bell For Adano,” Farley Mowat’s “And No Birds Sang” and more wryly, “Catch-22.”
Soon, Max Fraser hopes, we can add another plank into the culture of this not-unsung-but-not-sung-enough campaign.
Max, originally from Hamilton, took part in a fascinating three-week journey that 10 Canadians embarked on two years ago.
The 10, from all over the country, marked the 70th anniversary of the Sicily/Italy campaign by retracing the 300-kilometre march that Canadian soldiers made through Sicily in 1943, the staging post for the push into Italy.
“My father (James T. Fraser) fought in that campaign,” says Max, “with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment out of Belleville, Farley Mowat’s unit.
“He didn’t talk about it. A lot of it was horrible, though he did open up a bit in later years.”
In 2006 Max’s interest waxed as his daughter, in high school, had an opportunity to do a battlefield tour in Italy and France. By this time, his father had died.
Max went on the trip; it moved him deeply.
“It was a hugely emotional experience, all that history buried in the ground” in Canadian war cemeteries abroad, says Max. “It became a personal mission to help remember and understand the extent of the sacrifices.”
When he heard about an expedition to Sicily, organized by Steve Gregory in Montreal, he had to go.
“We went from the beach at Pachino on the southern shore to Agira. Every day we’d go 15 kilometres, starting early to beat the worst of the heat. It was the height of the summer. We got to experience some of what the soldiers went through.”
The Canadian soldiers had to deal with all kinds of terrain, up and down, a lot of it very mountainous, says Max.
“The combat was not that difficult at first,” he says, “but it wasn’t long before they encountered strong resistance and suffered casualties. It was the first time in World War II that the Canadians had been in significant combat aside from Dieppe.”
The expedition ended in a moving hillside ceremony, where a roll call of Canadian soldiers was read and volunteers stood up in their stead as names were recited.
Max wasn’t just a regular participant in the walk. He was shooting it.
Now living in the Yukon, he’s a filmmaker/videographer and decided to document the whole project. The work, tentatively titled “Bond of Strangers,” is nearing completion.
Since Max has no major broadcasters on board, he crowdsourced the funding and has raised more than $30,000.
Max has great footage from the walk itself and now is finishing up final interviews and editing. He is sounding out grant organizations for help.
Jordan Slump of Hamilton, a big fan of the project, has donated to the crowd-source funding. Hamiltonians, he says, were well represented in the fighting in Sicily.
Renowned Canadian author Mark Zuehlke, who wrote “Operation Husky: The Canadian Invasion of Sicily,” is a supporter of the project.
“The documentary is called ‘Bond of Strangers,’ a play on ‘Band of Brothers,'” says Max. “These 10 people didn’t know each other. On this pilgrimage of remembrance, a great bond has formed, deep and lasting friendships akin to those of the fighting troops.”
To find out more about the “Bond of Strangers,” visit Max’s site, maxfraser.ca.
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