In the Canadian War Cemetery in Agira, Italy, 490 identical headstones reach across a gently sloping hillside. In the centre, the Cross of Sacrifice, representing those who have no known grave, stands guard.
Mount Etna looms in the distance. In silence, members of Task Force Libeccio pay tribute to the memory of Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in Sicily during the Second World War.
On July 10, 1943, the lead elements of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade landed at Pachino in southeast Sicily as part of Operation Husky, the first Allied amphibious attack on the Axis powers in Europe. Op Husky launched the Allied campaign in Italy, which took Fascist Italy out of the war and compelled Nazi Germany to redouble its efforts in the Mediterranean theatre, weakening the forces fighting on the Eastern front.
Sicily’s sprawling valleys, high mountain ridges and deep rivers provided the retreating Axis forces with excellent defensive terrain, and the Allied armies paid dearly for every step of their advance.
Sicily was the baptism of fire for the Canadian Army serving overseas in the Second World War, and 562 soldiers are known to have lost their lives there. Agira was captured by the 1st Canadian Division on July 28, 1943, and chosen a few weeks later as the burial site for Canadians who died fighting in Sicily.
Despite the high tempo of flying operations, about 20 members of the Trapani detachment made the three-hour trek to Agira in mid-May to remember those who laid down their lives for freedom.
“The Canadian Forces members buried in this cemetery made the ultimate sacrifice for a foreign land and the people of Italy,” said Lieutenant (Navy) Jean-Francois Petitpas, Task Force Libeccio chaplain. “Their sacrifice continues through Canadian Forces members who have served and continue to serve throughout the world.”
An unexpected addition to the parade was the presence of Solange Levesque, and her daughters Guylaine and Melanie Roy, of Bathurst, N.B., who came to Agira on a pilgrimage in memory of Ms. Levesque’s father, Corporal Thomas Levesque of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. He fought at Agira in 1943, soldiered through Italy, and eventually made it home safely.
“He was supposed to come here before he died, but he passed away when he was only 62,” said Guylaine Roy. “We wanted to do this for him.”