To 1944, where in February all attention was being paid to relatively new theatre of the Second World War. We will discuss that, other war news, and there will even be a mention of a sporting name we first heard many may posts ago in this series… Read on!
From the steppes of Russia and the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, as we read last week, the focus of the war reporting for Peterborough readers had by February of 1944 shifted to Italy, and in particular the Second Battle of Monte Cassino. It was a key spot on the main route between Naples and Rome, and the Allies badly needed to wrest it from the hands of the German army. The town of Cassino is overlooked by a high hill (the “Monte” of the place-name), upon which is situated the historic Abbey of Monte Cassino, founded by St. Benedict himself in the sixth century, and the original home of the Benedictine Order of monks.
However, the Allies’ military intelligence reported that German soldiers had fortified the Abbey and were using it as an observation post to direct artillery. And so the difficult decision was made to destroy it, and on February 15th the U.S. Air Force reduced the Abbey buildings to rubble in a bombing raid that involved more than 200 planes. The destruction prompted an anguished, and angry, editorial in the February 18th Examiner:
“Has anyone read of the bombing of the Abbey of Monte Cassino without regret? It was a building of great beauty and great historical association, but it was something more; it was a monument of civilization… The same cynicism which led the Germans to destroy the Tolstoy museum in Russia and the treasures of Naples made them use Monte Cassino as an observation post directly overlooking the Fifth Army approach… We know that the decision to shell the monastery was not taken lightly; it was a necessity of war, and it was an unhappy one.”
What nobody either writing or reading the Peterborough Examiner could have known at that point was that the whole thing was pointless; the Germans, respecting an agreement with the Allies to preserve the site for its historical value, had not occupied the Abbey after all. Ironically, they did do so once the place had been destroyed, and their fortified position in the rubble would cause the Allies a great deal of difficulty and many casualties as the battle went on (Cassino was eventually taken by Allied forces, but not until May). In the meantime, however, the only casualties from the February bombing were the monks, and those residents of the town of Cassino who had sought shelter in the Abbey.
There were war bulletins from elsewhere, too. Allied attempts, eventually successful, to secure a beachhead at Anzio south of Rome were underway, and the February 17th Examiner told its readers that there “the Allied forces were holding against continuing enemy thrusts.” And further north, nearly a thousand Allied aircraft, including RCAF planes, hit Berlin with what the February 16th Examiner called “the greatest load of bombs ever dropped on a single target.” The Luftwaffe would respond to that attack with a raid on London; the newspaper of February 19th described it as the “fiercest raid since the 1040-41 attacks.”
The war in the Pacific went on as well, with the February 18th newspaper reporting the bombing of Japanese positions at Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. And on the eastern front, the Red Army was continuing to push the Germans westward out of Russia, although the pace of the Soviet advance had slowed a bit: “Reds Won’t Stop Until Berlin Reached,” read an headline in the Examiner, again on February 18th. And so it went.
Canadian soldiers were heavily involved in the fighting in Italy, including Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment, which drew heavily from the area of Peterborough. That meant, of course, that there would be grim notices in the newspapers. “Two men dead, and two wounded, is the Peterborough total on today’s casualty list,” reported the Examiner on February 18th (the two fatalities were Gunner Hector Brick, of Donegal Street in the city, and Private Kenneth McGregor, of Lindsay). However, it was not all sadness. On the 17th, the newspaper reported on the safe return of Staff Sergeant Louis Jackson, of Murray Street, “home from the war for keeps, after 39 months in the first go with the Germans and 35 months in this one.”
In Peterborough herself, beyond the news of her men abroad, it must be said that not much at all was happening. Even the now-familiar reports of wartime fund-raising efforts were few and far between. The city’s malefactors, too , were taking it easy; as the February 18th Examiner reported, the city’s weekly court docket involved only a single case to be dealt with, and that a mere matter of public drunkenness; “The usual court attendants had just nicely seated themselves,” quoth the newspaper, “when the proceedings were all over and they had to go out into the cold again.”
Even in sports, thinks were relatively quiet, although the various city leagues — hockey, basketball, curling, bowling, etc. — were all in operation. One interesting hockey note from this time: the idea for a Hall of Fame for the sport was already under consideration, and would indeed become a reality in 1945. It is no surprise, furthermore, that debate over who should be inducted was also already underway. On February 17th, an Examiner article suggested that early Peterborough hockey star Fred Whitcroft, whom we have met before in this series, would be a worthy candidate. In this, the writer got his wish, although not right away; Whitcroft would be inducted in 1962.
All this, and no talk of Valentine’s Day? Well, Valentine’s Day in those days was not what it is now, especially not when a fair number of Peterborough’s youth were away on warlike business. However, the holiday did receive a mention in the February 19th Examiner from “Samuel Marchbanks” — i.e. Robertson Davies — who lamented that he had received not a single valentine, and blaming it all on middle age. “I must remember to send myself a Valentine next year,” wrote “Marchbanks,” “to impress the postman.”
And that will do 1944, I think. The next post in the series will look at late February of 1945, as the Second World War nears its end. In the meantime, however, you may get caught on what was going on in Peterborough at this time back in 1892. Thank you for reading!