Farley Mowat’s Letter From Sicily, August 1943

(Mowat family collection)

Letter From Sicily Tells Of Regiment, by Farley Mowat

Published in the Picton Gazette, 27 August, 1943.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: A twenty-two year old Farley Mowat, yet to become a celebrated Canadian author, sends a letter from wartime Sicily. Mowat would later write of his experiences in Assoro in his books “The Regiment” (1955) and “And No Birds Sang” (1979). His memoir of his war experience, “My Father’s Son: Memories of War and Peace” (1992) collects the letters he exchanged with his family during this time, but this letter, dated 6 August, 1943, does not appear there. Striking in its familiarity and immediacy, it was first published in the Picton Gazette, 27 August, 1943, as a part of the paper’s extensive coverage of the local regiment’s courageous actions abroad.]

Lieut. Farley Mowat Says H. & P. E. R. Better Than Good—Dying German’s Strange Request—Men Look upon General Montgomery as a Kind of God—Writes on Typewriter Formerly Used by Mayor of Assoro.

Major Angus Mowat, Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, Headquarters, M.D. 3. Kingston, has kindly sent The Gazette a copy of a very interesting letter from his son Lieut. Farley Mowat, H. & P. E. R., in Sicily. Major Mowat states, “The Picton Gazette comes regularly and I find the news of our regiment intensely interesting. I clip all items concerning the regiment and am making them into a scrap book for the information of some of the lads here and also for the other lads when they come home.”

Lieut. Mowat’s letter follows:

Canadian Forces,

Central Mediterranean Force,

6th August, 1943.

“It has happened again, after serving under Alec Campbell, who is a stout feller, I am now back as battalion intelligence officer. The last one was killed along with your old friend, Bruce (Lt.- Col. Sutcliffe) and I am now under Major Bert Kennedy pending Lord Tweedmuir’s return from hospital.

This war has become almost monotonous, the procedure being as follows, rest two days, walk one, cross country at night, fight a battle, climb a mountain and rest two days. We could carry on now with our eyes shut. Our last show (3rd of August) was the pleasantest to date; after fooling around a few mountains we located the enemy and sat down. Bert got on the blower and our artillery hammered the daylights out of ’em for 15 minutes. Started forward and found a few Heinies still in a shooting mood. Sat down, repeated the artillery procedure, until, when we finally got on the position the remaining Huns were slap-happy. They were paratroopers, incidentally.

One lieutenant fatally wounded and completely punch-drunk, expressed a dying wish that he be allowed to see the Canadian “automatic artillery gun”!

The poor (censored) are getting a rough handling and we will give them a rougher one. The main reason for our slower advance is terrain. Indescribable. One battalion of Canucks could go a long way towards holding off a whole German army in this country. Yesterday I undertook to take two carriers across country on a recce. We covered ten miles in 36 hours and I now wake up in a cold sweat remembering some of the chasms we bridged.

My brothers of the Hasty-Pees say I now look my age, probably because of a luxuriant moustache (pale yellow).

At the moment I sit under an olive tree and, all things considered, comfortably, except for Dad’s favorite smell, “Germans ten days dead in the sun,” actually they are only two days dead but they do pretty well.

At long last I have got my paws on my favorite weapon, this ancient and decrepit typewriter with the staggers and rickets, but still able to transfer thought to paper. What a relic! It was formerly the property of the Mayor of Assoro and it took our best mechanics three days to get it in running order.

Got my sleeping bag the other day for one night only and found in it many old letters which I re-read with gusto. Would certainly appreciate hearing from some old friends.

Wish the Major was here to observe the antics of a number of Messerschmits who are at the moment getting the tar knocked out of them by a bunch of Kitty Hawks. It is amazing how quickly they jettison their bombs and try to pretend they are moles. They get down between two mountains and fly in circles hoping that our pilots will run out of petrol (gas to you). One has just tried that stunt in our valley but there happened to be some Bofors at the bottom of it. He made a lovely bang, all pretty red smoke. Bad cess to ’em, they disturb our siestas with their noise, be it mortars, bombs or shells. They don’t do much damage but we don’t consider it cricket (baseball to you, Major) to make loud noises behind the lines. Incidentally, our artillery has the noise making business right down pat too, and they managed to impart a considerable amount of shrapnel with it. Jerry is more afraid of our artillery than anything else in the world except the Canadian infantry — we hope.

Monty (General Montgomery) has just gone by in his jeep, with his good old sour puss. He may look mean as a rattler but Lord how he can fight an army. I doubt if there is a soldier here who doesn’t look on him as a kind of god; A god of the Old Testament variety, though, because to cross Monty is worse than tackling the Hermann Goering division single-handed.

Had a lovely day the other day, cleaning out the front of Regalbuto, and in so doing the unit did in a satisfactory number of German paratroopers from whom I have collected much booty. All sorts of strange bombs and two new weapons previously unreported.

My platoon hate, as you used to do, my habits with enemy bombs, but it is instructive to figure out their mechanism and geld ’em.

I have never been more on the bit than now. I can’t say I was never more happy, but honestly this business has a lot of fun to it. In between being scared to death by shells, and scaring Heinie to death with bullets, we have pretty fair rest periods in which we can do a lot of sitting. If I had a Bay of Quinte wharf here I could spit in the water and whittle a stick with great comfort, this being appropriate to our mental condition while resting.

I think I shall trot over to the wreck of that M.E. now and see if I can salvage the swastika for a dinner table. Aeroplane wings also make good bars if you have anything to serve over them, which we haven’t.

Tell that dog of mine to stop being a fool about thunderstorms. We had one two days ago, unexpectedly, and everyone was cowering six feet deep in slit trenches saying their prayers before we got on to the fact that it was only a thunder storm.

The food is plentiful and good. The good old Hastings and Prince Edward are better than good and personally I don’t want for a single thing, although I would pay something for one cool long glass of Molson’s.

Love to all and tell my friends to write.

Your affectionate son,