Sgt Allan Joseph McPhee, 4th Fd Coy 22 May 1944

Sgt Allan Joseph McPhee
Sgt Allan Joseph McPhee's Headstone in the Cassino Commonwealth War Cemetery

Allan Joseph McPhee was born to John and Sarah McPhee in Glace Bay, NS. He joined the 3rd Fortress (E&M) Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, a Non-Permanent Active Militia unit in Sydney, NS on 10 July 1939. The unit was mobilized and Allan transferred to the Canadian Army Active Force in October 1939. In January 1940, Allan was posted to the 1st Field Company in Halifax and then on to the UK arriving on 9 February 1940. He was appointed to Lance Corporal in March.

In June 1940, the 1st Canadian Division started to move from England to Brittany in France as part of the effort to re-establish a second British Expeditionary Force (2 BEF) in Europe following the Dunkirk Evacuation.  Lance Corporal McPhee landed with the main body of the 1st Field Company in Brest on 14 June with most of their vehicles having arrived a few days earlier with the advance party on 8 June.  The company quickly moved out of Brittany inland to assemble in the area of Laval-La Mans.  The 2nd Field Park Company landed without their equipment and stayed in Brest with Division Engineer HQ.  3rd and 4th Field Companies, while having assembled in English ports, were not embarked. 

Things moved faster than the planners had anticipated. The French Army was near collapse and unable to support the new Allied force. Without support and with the capitulation of France only days away, the newly landed troops were withdrawn little more than a week later. The 1st Field Company left most of their equipment, destroying as much as possible. Six soldiers were taken prisoner. (see: First Canadian Military Medal Won by a Sapper Under Mysterious Circumstances)

Allan was promoted to corporal in October 1940 and in August  1942 he successfully completed a bomb disposal course. Corporal McPhee was posted to the 4th  Field Company in March 1943 and took part in Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily, landing at Pachino on 10 July.  Throughout the Italian Campaign, Allan's company supported the 1st Canadian Division, usually affiliated with the 3rd Infantry Brigade. In the first week of September, the 3rd Brigade led the rest of the division crossing over onto the Italian mainland at Reggio.  The attacks took the Germans totally by surprise and there was little resistance. There followed months of hard slogging, often without adequate equipment, building roads, bridges and diversions for the advancing Allied armies, first along the toe and heel of the Italian boot and up the east coast through the mountains taking part in many battles including crossing the Moro and fighting in Ortona. Allan was promoted to sergeant in December 1943.

In the spring of 1944, the emphasis in Italy was concentrated on the Road to Rome. The entire Eighth Army, of which the 4th Field Company was but a small part, was secretly moved from the east coast to the west and the newly Canadian Corps was positioned to break through the Gustav and Hitler Lines to open a route through the Liri Valley to Rome.

By 20 May, the Gustav Line was breached and the 1st Canadian Infantry Division was poised to assault the Hitler Line with the 2nd and 3rd Brigades leading. Early on 23 May, the Canadians launched their attack. Under heavy enemy mortar and machine-gun fire, and at great expense in killed and wounded, they advanced under the Allied largest artillery barrage of the Italian Campaign. The Germans answered with massed fires from six-barrelled Nebelwerfers, artillery, mortars and machine guns. The division suffered terribly with the numbers of killed, wounded and missing the highest of the Italian Campaign.  

Battles such as this do not take place without considerable engineer work being completed before H-Hour.  On the morning of 22 May, while elements of the 4th Field Company were conducting reconnaissance patrols forward of the infantry, clearing mines, and preparing routes and assembly areas for the assault troops, a party led by Sergeant Allan Joseph McPhee came under enemy fire. Allan suffered a serious shrapnel to the head. He was evacuated to the 5th Canadian General Hospital and he died of his wounds at later that day.  He is buried in the Cassino Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Return to the Liri Valley Tributes page