The War in Italy

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Canadian troops advancing towars Melfa. 23 May, 1944.

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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.

 

Private Lindström Was Not Hard to Find

It was a cousin of mine who found out that one of our grandmother’s brothers, Ivar Eskil Lindstrom, died in World War II where he was a soldier in the Canadian Army. She just googled his name – and there he was!

Private Lindstrom’s young life ended in connection with a military offensive called “Melfa River Crossing” on 24 May 1944. He was born in Stensele in Västerbotten in the north of Sweden the 8th May 1916. He was 11 years old when the family emigrated to Donalda in Canada.

Ivar Eskil enlisted in Edmonton in December 1942 when he was 26 years old. Over 40 per cent of all Canadian males of military age participated in the war. Maybe they were attracted by messages like this:

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Ivar Eskil belonged to a Canadian regiment, Westminster Regiment (now the Royal Westminster Regiment). His tomb – a real stone – is in the Cassino War Cemetery which is located approx 140 kilometers south of Rome.

Many lost their lives
The result of the four-month fighting at Monte Cassino was that the British and American divisions could begin their march on Rome, which was captured by the Allies on June 4, while the German troops left the city. Along with Ivar Eskil seventeen of his comrades from Westminster Regiment also lost their lives in connection with the offensive on May 24.(Much has been written about the battle of Monte Cassino. I will write more about that another day.)

Cassino War Cemetery seem to be very well organized. When I found this page I decided I really had to go here, sooner or later.