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1943::A Christmas Dinner On the Front Line

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

A special Christmas dinner for Vancouver Islanders.

1943::Canadians finding their way through the heavily bombed streets of Ortona, Italy

"1943::Canadians Find Their Way Through Heavily Bombed Streets of Ortona, Italy"

Photo Clip: Illustrated London News (1944)

London England

'The Few' was the name given to the Vancouver Island soldiers by the rest of their battalion. Men from Victoria, Oak Bay and Esquimalt had stuck together and made it through the difficult times. On Christmas Day, their platoon was engaged in a heavy street fight when they received word that a special Christmas dinner was being prepared for them to enjoy.

1943::Bombed San Thomé Cathedral in Ortona, Italy

"1943::Bombed San Thomé Cathedral in Ortona, Italy"

Photo Clip: Illustrated London News (1944)

London, England

It was a cold Christmas day in Ortona. The men had endured weeks of fighting, and their numbers had been sorely depleted. The military was aware of their situation, but heavy rain and snow made it difficult to reach them. They soldiered on with what they had while anxiously awaiting help ...and their Christmas dinner.

1943::The Christmas Dinner in the Old Church

"1943::The Christmas Dinner in the Old Church"

Source: tbd

It would take a whole day of juggling the front line to feed all the men, but for those who survived, it would be a meal they would never forget. With their rifles still hot and their comrades holding the line, a small squad of soldiers snuck away from the action and stepped into an old church - the only building left standing in the area. A likable Padre greeted them at the door and said grace before seating them at a white-clothed table to enjoy their meal.

1943::Soldiers enjoying a Christmas dinner on the front line in Ortona, Italy

"1943::Soldiers enjoying a Christmas dinner on the front line in Ortona, Italy."

Library and Archives Canada, PA-163936) Photo Credit: Lieut. F. G. Whitcombe. Canada. Department of National Defence

A plate of roast pork and potatoes was placed in front of each soldier, along with Christmas pudding and a bottle of beer. The Padre told jokes between bites, and the men joined in to sing Christmas carols to drown out the sound of the battle still raging outside the church walls. When their bellies were full and their hearts filled with cheer, the men thanked the Padre and opened the door to the war outside. They returned to the front line to relieve their comrades who stepped into the old church for the next round of Christmas dinners.

"Men of the Seaforth died that day, some with, some without, their Christmas dinner." - "Cap" Thorsen

1944::Seaforth Highlanders burying their comrades after winning the Battle of Ortona.

"1943::Battle Was Won and Comrades Were Buried"

Photo Clip: Times Colonist (1944)

Victoria, British Columbia

The Seaforth Highlanders paid tribute to their fallen comrades just days after their Christmas dinner. The soldiers were buried in a makeshift cemetery shortly after the allied soldiers won the battle.

1943::Boots On For a Month

"1943::Boots On For a Month"

Clip: The Province (1944)

Vancouver, British Columbia

The inability of the military to send relief troops to their location caused many soldiers to face some of the worst battle conditions of the war. The battle was won shortly after their Christmas dinner, and by then, additional troops were no longer required.


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