It Was Just A Ditch...
by Stanley Scislowski
Perth Regt, 5th CDN ARMD DIV, 1943-1945

20 December, 1944 -- The night was as black as pitch, no moon, no stars, and not even the flash of artillery to light the way for the Canadian infantry, moving forward to the start-line for their next attack. It was unusually quiet, as though the armies facing each other in the flatlands of the North Italian plains had gone to bed early. The only sound came from the scuffle of ammunition boots on gravel, as the grim-faced infantry worked their way forward. To a man, as always, they fervently hoped that the advance would be a 'walk-over'.
Alas, it was not to be. The enemy had not gone away, nor they had gone to bed early. Except for those momentarily relieved of weapons-post duty, the enemy was very much awake and alert. They were in positions all through the area with their weapons trained at the single point where they were sure the Canadian attack would come in on them - the roadway crossing the Fosso Munio stream.
Spearheading the attack in the lead section of the lead platoon of the Perth Regiment of Stratford, Ontario, was a 17-year old Windsor lad. Too young to have been inducted into the army, Lance Corporal Freddie Lytwyn had to have lied about his age to get into uniform at all, and again to have volunteered for overseas service. He was a veteran now, a participant in several hard-fought battles. As he marched on towards yet another action, only five days before Christmas, he was hoping, as all men do when going this way, that it would be an easy affair, and that he would come out of it okay.
Undetected thus far as they approached the start-line at the roadway crossing this insignificant, narrow watercourse, No.12 Platoon, Baker Company, entered a roadside drainage ditch, and with stealth, made good time on the way to their first objective. They strained their eyes peering into the black fields around them, to catch signs of enemy presence - to evade if they could, or to throw out a curtain of fire if need be.
The immediate danger, however, was not in the open fields to their left, nor in the impenetrable darkness to their right - it was straight ahead along the line of the ditch. An enemy machine-gun crew hidden behind a stone culvert awaited them, their weapon trained down the centre of the ditch. Their machine-gun, an MG-42, was rated at 1200 rounds per minute, almost twice as fast as our Bren, and could, in the narrow confines of the ditch, do considerable slaughter. There was no way the man behind the gun could miss the approaching Perths.
At 25 yards' range, the enemy gunner squeezed his trigger, and the gun ripped off a long burst. Four hundred steel-jacketed slugs slammed into the bodies of the lead two sections of 12 Platoon within seconds. Twelve men died instantly, their bodies literally shredded in the slash of bullets. Farther along the column others, a little slower to react to the ripping-canvas sound of the gun, threw themselves onto the slick sides of the ditch, but they delayed their own deaths by only a few seconds.
Somewhere in that pile of torn bodies lay that of our 17-year old Windsor lad, Freddie Lytwyn. He was too young to die in battle... he was too young to die this way at any time. He, like countless others of our generation, had been denied by the cruel fates of war the opportunity to reach manhood, to love, to marry, to raise a family, to enjoy all those things which we as survivors have since taken for granted.
And so, in eternal thankfulness to God that somehow we were spared a similar fate and allowed to live out our lives as He had intended, it is only fit and proper that on Remembrance Day we should pause and pay tribute to their supreme sacrifice.
I have taken the liberty of describing the last moments in the life of one inordinately young Canadian who represents the hundred thousand and more other Canadians who have laid down their lives in war. I have done this for a reason... it is much easier to focus the memory on one individual than it is on a faceless multitude.
In remembering one, you remember all.

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