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Keeping his memories alive: George F. Burrows Italian campaign Second World War.


OCTOBER 1939, Canada was one month into the Second World War. By October 1944, George F. Burrows had been serving in Italy for two months preparing for the Battle of Ortona, where most of the Canadians involved lost their lives. Deaths in Ortona and nearby towns totalled 1,372--almost 25 per cent of all Canadians killed in the Mediterranean theatre. George Burrows survived the battle, but was later taken as a prisoner of war. He was liberated in May 1945. His audio interview is available on The Memory Project website (

THE BIGGEST BATTLE that we had was the Battle of Ortona, where we lost a lot of men. At that point in time, I was running, well, a crew, a 2-inch mortar crew [ordnance SBML (smooth bore muzzle loaded)]. Our job was to stay at the rear of the platoon at all times so we could give them better fire support in front of them with the mortars. You can't fire too close to your own people, otherwise it might fall back down upon you.


We crossed the [Moro] River and we went up the hills, and we turned to the right, which was going east, toward the city of Ortona, which is on the east coast. We went over there for about a half a mile and then we turned left to head toward what we called the crossroads. When we got to the crossroads, we lay over there for a couple of hours, surveying the situation. We had a house there, a building rather; it was like it was on a corner. We were hanging out in front of that and when it was time to move out, our lieutenant did not know whether we should do a survey of the little field across the road from us or not.

And from being as a private, officers don't, as a rule, listen to what privates have to say. So the thing when I seen it with my experience, now, he was a newer officer than I was, because I was in the invasion [of Sicily]; he was not in that. He was brought in following the fatality of our previous officers. He didn't know whether to do it or not and he asked the sergeant what he thought and the sergeant said, I don't know, sir. Well, this was a field, for your own verification, this was just a plain field across the road. It had a hedgerow, which would be about almost two and a half, three feet high, running across from left to right, that is from west to east on the edge of the road. Beyond that, it's like a normal farm field and when I seen that, from my experience, I know for a fact, there had to be an enemy machine gun located somewhere around that specific area. But he didn't realize that, he didn't think it was a consideration--he didn't have the experience for it. He didn't ask any questions.


To make a long story short, what he asked everybody to do, he said, "Okay, line up, we're going to move ahead." And when they lined up on the road, they were standing between the house on the road, between the house and the hedgerow. When they formed up as a group, that's when the enemy opened fire. We lost most of our platoon right there. There was, my objective was safe because we were further back, out of gun range. But out of all of them, there was about only three or four who survived, so we had lost very heavily on that particular battle.

The regiment, as a whole, had very heavy losses from time to time. We landed in Sicily with 756 men. We wound up in December, approximately 15 December 1944--our major had sent a letter, a phone call rather, around "Toons," telling them of the fact that of 756 men who'd landed in Sicily on 10 July 1943, there were exactly 34 of us left. And of the 34, nine of those were officers, the other nine were other ranks which would be sergeants, corporals and a few privates. Most of those would be coming from Headquarters Company, which was not a fighting company, it was a support company. But I would be one of maybe six or seven, or eight of the 25 who survived that at that point in time. I carried on with the regiment until we were taken prisoner on 17 February 1945. We were taken to a prisoner of war camp, which was up north.

We were held there until May the fourth when an American tank was cruising up in this area. He come by the POW camp, stopped; he turned the turret gun into the commander's house and he then got out of the tank. He went to the camp and stopped on the outside of the front gate. He asked the officers in charge of our camp, which was Englishmen, how many people we had. He was told that we had 'x' number of people. He went back to the tank, got a hold of the base, told the number of people we had, where we were and they were told that we would be picked up the following morning, which was my birthday. So that's the day that I got out, May the fourth, we got to get out of the prisoner of war camp.

We were then taken back by the Americans to the American air base and we were treated like kings. They opened up the canteen for us. They gave us everything we wanted, no charge for anything at all and the following morning, we were all segregated by nationality, like English, Scotch, Irish, American, whatever, and then we were flown to our own military base. We were flown in [Douglas DC-3 transport aircraft; for most it was] the first time we had ever flown. We were flown from--this would be from near the Bologna area--and we were flown down to Bari in the south of Italy, where our Canadian camp was. When we flew down there, we were interrogated of course. This was as to why and how we were taken prisoners, what the situation was. Once that was done, then we waited for a ship for about two weeks to come pick us up and take us back to England.

Created in 2001, The Memory Project is a speakers bureau and bilingual, educational program designed to connect veterans, serving soldiers, and students online and in classrooms across the country. The speakers bureau includes 1,500 volunteers from across Canada who visit classrooms and community groups sharing their personal experiences. Memory Project speakers represent a wide range of conflicts, including the Second World War, Korean War, Peacekeeping Operations, and other Canadian Forces experiences.

The Memory Project also includes a digital archive which makes thousands of veteran stories and personal artifacts accessible to the public. For more information, to register as a volunteer, or to book a speaker for your classroom or community group, please visit

The Memory Project is supported by Veterans Affairs Canada and is an initiative of Histories Canada, the largest independent organization dedicated to Canadian history, identity and citizenship.

with the support of Canada

Caption: LEFT: Private George Burrows standing guard while stationed in the Racetrack in Queen's Park, London, Ontario, Fall, 1940.

Caption: OPPOSITE PAGE, BOTTOM: Northern Italy, late summer of 1944. George Burrows describes: "We had just returned from the front line for a short rest period. Temperature was 104 degrees. I am standing in my bedroom for the night among the cactus. While there, an Italian photographer came along and took this picture for [the amount of]2 lire and developed it while I waited. "
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Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2016
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