While on the topic of honouring, I hope readers recognize the flaw in the oft comments about our male heroes, when we tend to forget our female heroes with the same compassion. But regular readers of this blog know that I try to give considerable space to also honour the fairer sex. These blogs have covered many of these women, even going back to Civil War days when they could be arrested for wearing mens clothes, but wearing they did as they stood in the face of the enemy beside their "fellow" soldiers. Stood and I should add, also fell!
That being said, tomorrow we should all be setting aside some time to reflect and show appreciation for our "foremothers." Tomorrow is International Womens Day, and has been so proclaimed for many years. Over 100 countries participate in events to honour the day... and the women of today... and our many yesterdays.
For those of you in the United States, you also have the priviledge of honouring these women all month long as it is Womens History Month. It started out as a week of celebration many years ago but was expanded to a month back in 1987. In Canada we celebrate the month in October as it was in that month that in the famous Persons' Case of 1929 was decided. Lord Sankey made the ruling that the silly MALE politicians and judiciary of the day should pull their heads out of the sand. He then went on to say OF COURSE women were "Persons." Dah!
Much has also been written on this site about the month, how three BC women, my late mother being one of these, advocated for a year for the creation of such a month of celebration.
So, with this said, today's column picks up on where I left off with the Devils Brigade 2 weeks ago. It spoke of one of these women that should be remembered. Her name was May de Macedo and she lived in Victoria BC. Living with modest means, she encouraged her young son Maurice, who was born and schooled in Victoria, to leave a labourer's job in the local mill and join the army. Perhaps it would lead into a better paying and longer lasting career. Sadly it didn't. He was killed in action serving with the brigade in Italy. It was just a few years after joining up.
The last blog told that May was selected to play a most prominent role in the unveiling of a monument to the Brigade. It was built at Helena Montana, the town of their old training grounds. The monument was drapped with a parachute, in honor of the many hundreds of paratrooprers in the brigade that lost their lives. At the unveiling she, as the mother of a deceased soldier, would be representing upwards of about 4,000 men, when she did the unveiling. The next day things changed for the better when Mrs John Fitzpatrick of Rhode Island, who lost a son, of the same name, was selected to participate in the unveiling, and would thus represent the Americans who were killed in action or later dying from battle wounds.
Maurice would soldier with the brigade in several US camps, then was sent of to the Aleutians and then with the unit continuously till sent off to Italy.
The allies had been bogged down on gaining any ground, pardon the pun, in this area for a long period of time. Lost time, manpower, resources and morale were all costly to the allies and something had to be done.
The map gives you an idea where the Brigade would be sent. It was most rugged going but EXACTLY what the paratroopers had been training very hard to do.
Plans would be drawn up to take the larger of two mountains and then turn their attention on the others. But it would be a Canadian Colonel that suggested that perhaps they ought to attack the toughest one, and from the hardest side. No one in their right minds would expect such an attack. And in fact the Germans would have their backs to the men if the climb could be made.
The new brigade plan, as shown with the red arrow had the men climbing the very steep and trencherous rock face shown.
First they had to get well over a thousand men into place at the base or as close as possible. It was muddy and they were tired from a long march. It was raining and the going was rough. It was difficult to see in front, but then again, the enemy must have had even more difficulty seeing them hiding in the brush and moving towards the base.
Before the climb the heavy guns pounded the mountain. One reference said that at least 900 cannons fired away for about four hours. One vet would later say that the mountain was almost aglow from the heat of the cannon shells.
Then the climb started by sending up about a dozen, including some natives, to secure and drop climbing ropes. Then the brigade's first regiment started their climb. It was most rugged. At any moment a rock could let go and the soldier sent tumbling to death carrying about 100 pound of supplies with him. And dropped rocks might have alerted the enemy.
When the climb was done the men had to quickly organize and move some 300 meteres away to engage in an enemy all stunned at the enemy at their backs, and shown above. The mountain was taken for the most part in just a few hours but at incredibly high costs. Some say one in four, others say 4 in ten would fall. One of these early casualties to the brigade was Sergeant Maurice de Macedo from Victoria BC. The ridge in which he apparently died was so narrow that when on it you could not go backwards, and as the ridge twisted at one point the advancing men were lead right into very heavy enemy fire.
The newspapers back home would first learn that Maurice was missing in action. It would take days to find the bodies of some of the men. Maurice's body was found a few days later and the press soon learned that rather than MIA, he had in fact perished in action.
There is still more to this story and I will wrap this up with the Sunday blog next.