Dive Into Sicily: Sensational

As Dave prepares for another Sicily tour I can’t help but be jealous.  Sicily is sensational.

Sicily is a new favourite spot to combine battlefield tours, spectacular feasts and unparalled cultural discoveries.  One of the highlights of our last visit there was discovering the UNESCO world site, Villa Romana del Casale, a 4AD Roman villa that has the world’s best examples of floor and wall mosaics.  It was one of those experiences when you travel where you are overwhelmed by both history and beauty in one experience.   

Then there are the endless meals of local, fresh and tasty seasonal meals. One memorable morning was my first experience drinking a granita for breakfast outside in the sun filled piazza in Siracusa; I chose almond but could have sampled pistachio, peach, fig or bergamot – a few tourists were about and a smattering of Siciilians dropped in for a breakfast expresso and quick chat with wait staff.  Travelling by car, you can see endless groves of oranges, olives and chestnuts that feature in the excellent meals that every restaurant serves.   Be sure to try the Lemoncello following at least one meal – a beautiful way to mark the end of el fresco dining in the warm evening air.

As we were staying in a coastal villa and could prepare meals, a visit to Siracusa’s seafood market was a loud and colourful experience.  It was hard to choose between shrimp and the fresh fish catch from the Mediterranean – so we came home with both.  A woman had purchased an octopus, so fresh, it was attempting to free itself from her shopping bag.

I recommend reading the history of the Hastings and Prince Edward County regiment, known as the Hasty Pee’s in Farley Mowat’s, 1955 non-fiction (part memoir/narrative) account, The Regiment, to know more about the local connections to Canada’s contributions at World War 2 sites.  Nothing beat spending the day touring Hasty P sites and then at the end of the day, throwing myself off the villa’s coastline of volcanic rocks into the warm, salty sea.  Sensational.




Wilfred Joseph (Bill) Nolan, Sgt. and Acting RSM, Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment WWII

Libby Yanch is a school colleague and friend of mine and when I mention that I am collaborating with an art teacher for a school contribution to Operation Husky 2018, she shares that her great uncle, Wilfred Joseph (Bill) Nolan, fought in Operation Husky in 1943. Libby’s great uncle was from Pembroke, Ontario.  Early in my relationship with Dave, our first trip together is in Sicily for ten, extraordinarily hot and sunny days.  We drove all over the place and often came across locations where Dave would sweep his arm over a breathtaking vista and say “this is where the Hastings and Prince Edward County Regiment were involved in a skirmish” or in a tight hairpin turn pronounce “this is the site where the Hasty P's did such and such”.  Libby’s great uncle never spoke about his wartime experiences to his family.  It was only after a stranger phoned her father many years later, that the family had some insight into his contributions to Operation Husky and the Italian Campaign.  Libby came back to school with two black and white photos of her great uncle Bill to share with me and his exploits, recounted by Mark Zuehlke, in Ortona – one where he is relaxing in a hayfield and the other in his uniform on a motorbike.  I can’t stop thinking about what it must have been like to be in the landing craft as he came ashore on the beaches of Sicily and had to walk across the island.  Most of their trucks were lost when two ships were sunk the day before landing. 

To see if I can find out more, I order Farley Mowat’s, The Regiment, a history of the Hasty P's, from the Wolfe Island library.  It turns out that Sgt. Bill Nolan’s story is included in this history of the infantry regiment.  It’s quite surprising to find out that a small part of your family history is caught in the pages of this iconic Canadian author’s words.  Bill Nolan’s story is one of bravery and leadership, where he led ten Canadians in an attack that provided critical intelligence for the others in the unit. 

Farley Mowat narrates:

“Baker company followed up the enemy’s defeat and Sgt. Bill Nolan, with ten men attacked and overran a house controlling the road junction, capturing eighteen German paratroopers in the process.

The capture of the paratroopers was a disquieting event.  It was the first indication that the enemy’s finest formation, the Paratroop Division, was arriving upon the scene, and it meant fighting ahead would be of unprecedented ferocity.” (page 145)

I wonder as I read this passage what that enterprise must have been like for those eleven Canadian soldiers. The detail is not there.  Sgt. Bill Nolan earned the Military Medal for this action.  Dave shares that he mentions this narrative with clients when he is standing at San Donato, on his Italian battlefield tours – a Canadian story that highlights the peril Canadians faced against the German forces as they advanced towards Ortona.  They would have known on this day that what lay ahead of them was going to be increasingly challenging.  The Paratroop Divisions were known for their skill and fierceness.