Author: Ewa Brobäck

A Special Kind of Man

Ivar Lindström belonged to the ’A’ Company of the Westminster Regiment (Motor). The Company was under the command of Major John K. Mahony who seem to have been a great character. After the Melfa River Crossing (when Ivar was killed) Mahony was decorated – he received the highest award you can get as a British or Commonwealth soldier, the Victoria Cross. In 1944 Major Mahony was only 33 years old.

Early in the action Major Mahony was wounded in the head and twice in the leg, but he refused medical aid and continued to direct the defence of the bridgehead. The Germans saw that this officer was the “soul of the defence” and consequently made him their particular target.


Organized Social Activities
After almost two complete years of training in places all across Canada, the Westminster Regiment sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia to arrive in the Talvera Barracks of England in November 1941. In September 1943, under conditions of great secrecy, the “Westies” embarked on ships that they were told were sailing for Ireland. The reality was that the Regiment was going to Italy. Most of the time of the war the Regiment was actually not in battles, just preparing and training. During the years in England Major Mahony, according to the war diary, also seem to have been an important person socially organizing dinner parties, sports activities/competitions and film evenings for soldiers and officers to keep the spirits up.


Led the Company Across the River
During the battle at the Melfa River Major Mahony personally led his Company down to and across the river, being with the leading section. Although the crossing was made in full view of and under heavy fire from machine-gun posts on the right rear and left front, he personally directed each section into its proper position on the West bank. The crossing was made and a small bridgehead was established on ground where it was only possible to dig shallow weapon pits.

Former Journalist
Before Major Mahony joined the army he seems to have been working as a journalist with the Vancouver Province. He remained in the army until 1962 and retired to London, Ontario where he engaged in youth work. At his own request, he was buried without a military funeral in 1990.

There is a lot written about Major Mahony. Just Google his name if you want to learn more about him.


“Later We Erected the Wooden Crosses”

In Westminster Regiment’s War Diary* I have found out that Ivar Lindström belonged to the ‘A Company’. The company lost 18 men at the same day, the 24th of May 1944. On page 96 I found Ivar’s name and a description of the simple burial service two days later. The Padre, Captain D R G Owen (born 1914), performed the service and described the scene in the following words:

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‘It was necessary to use explosives in order to get down deep enough.’

”I think it was the second day after the crossing of the Melfa River when I got a message from the C.O. to go over at first light. The Regimental Aid Post (where I made my HQ. with the Medical Officer) was still on the south bank. I knew what this message meant. They had collected several bodies on our side of the river, and I knew there were many more on the other.

We set out (in the early morning) in a Bren carrier, taking with us our dead which we had wrapped in blankets. When we reached Tac. HQ. a grim sight greeted us. Here was a long line of bodies. The R.S.M., Mr. Clifford, and a work party were attempting to dig graves. The ground was baked hard and it was necessary to use explosives in order to get down deep enough. I proceeded to the task of identifying the bodies and preparing them for burial; in all, there were about twenty. We wrapped each one in a blanket, and put all the particulars in a tin to be buried at the head of each grave. I sent the names back to the Pioneers who prepared crosses on each of which was stamped the Regimental Crest.

Finally, everything was ready. We lowered the bodies into the long row of graves. A good number of officers and men gathered around and I began: ’I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live… Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions… Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He commeth up and is cut down, like a flower… In the midst of life we are in death.’

At the conclusion of the little service the graves were filed in; we piled stones around each mound. Later we erected the wooden crosses, and the local inhabitants painted the stones and put flowers on each grave. We learned subsequently that they tended them carefully until the bodies were removed to an official military cemetery at Cassino.

And so, on the north side of the Melfa River, exactly on the objective, the bodies of twenty Westminsters lay quiet, eloquently but silently witnessing to the first great achievement of the Regiment in battle–and its price.”

*The Westminster War Diary was published in 1964 by Major J.E. Oldfield. The book is an unofficial history of the Regiment in World War II. While many contributed Major Oldfield re-wrote the many parts into one manuscript. I find him a very good writer, which makes the book easy and enjoyable to read.

I found the War Diary  on The Royal Westies web.





Hard Times For Young Men

Many young men of Swedish origin living in Canada joined the military forces during WWII. Why?

Ivar was 11 years old when the Lindström family arrived in Canada. He was 13 when the stock market crashed in 1929 and the depression started – and lasted till WWII started in 1939, when he was 23.

In a book called ‘The Last Swedish Voices’ an old Swede tells: After the stock market crashed times were very tough in Canada. Then the war started and all of a sudden there seemed to be an awful lot of money in the system.

During the depression many young men had huge difficulties finding jobs and many drifted along starving and searching for temporary jobs. For young women it was easier finding jobs and families could get a little support from the authorities, but for single men life was very tough.


A ’Drifter’ or ’Fretare’. Back and forth they went by train (without tickets) searching for jobs. Their belongings in a sack and their nice trousers under a worn pair. GAC (From the book The Last Swedish Voices, Gunnar Nilsson).

Thousands of Swedes enlisted
According to the book ‘Swedes in Canada’ (Elinor Barr, p 118) there were 243 Swedish-speaking men from Alberta in Canada who joined the military forces during WWII. In total 1 305 Swedish speaking men living in Canada enlisted, most of them the army (1 076), but 163 joined the air force and 66 the navy. There must have been thousands of men of Swedish origin who went on war for Canada and the USA during WWII.


‘The Second World War is generally credited with ending the Depression. Hungry men who had been riding the rods only a few months earlier in search of work were now in demand as soldiers. Rather than having to buy their own work clothes, and sometimes tools, they were given uniforms, guns, and enough money for tobacco with a bit left over.’ (Elinor Barr, p 117).

I don’t know how the situation was on the farm in Meeting Creek in Alberta where the family settled, if Ivar was still living with them, but the 1st of December in 1942 he enlisted in Edmonton at the age of 26. Perhaps he did it for the money – as many young men always has been doing, and still are …

The Melfa River Crossing

Ivar was killed on May the 24th 1944, the same day as ”The Melfa River Crossing”.

On May 11, 1944, the attack on the Gustav Line and the Hitler Line commenced with the Westminsters and the 5th Armoured Division forming the exploitation force, hoping to break into the Liri Valley and the assault on Rome. The advance through the Liri valley included the Westminster’s most famous action, the assault water crossing at the Melfa River.

Found two photos from May 23 and 24 here:


Canadian troops advancing towars Melfa. 23 May, 1944.


Canadian forces advancing from the Gustav Line to the Hitler Line. 24 May, 1944, Liri Valley, Italy.

The Officer Commanding, “A” Company at the Battle of the Melfa River, Major Jack Mahony, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry and leadership under fire during that action fought in conjunction with the tanks of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians). (Wikipedia)

May the 24th
The Melfa River was the last major barrier confronting the allied army on their approach to relieve Rome. On May the 24th, ‘A’ Company of the Westminster Regiment (Motor), under the command of Major Mahony, was ordered to establish the initial bridgehead across the river Melfa.Read more here.


The Force Seems to Be With This Project


I booked the guide for the Monte Cassino area a copule of days agoo. We agreed on meeting up the 8th of May in Cassino. When I was working on this blog a little earlier this evening I realized Ivar Eskil was born on that very date – the 8th of May.

If there is a God in heaven, I think he is winking at me right now …