Spr Hugh John Nelson, 10th Fd Sqn 25 May 1944

Spr Hugh John Nelson's headstone in the Cassinio Commonwealth War Cemetery

Hugh John Nelson was born in Battleford, SK, to Frederick and Lily Nelson.   When he was young, his family moved to Eburne, BC where he was working as a truck driver when he enlisted in the Army on 24 August 1942 in Vancouver, BC. Sapper Nelson received basic training in Chilliwack and arrived in the UK on 1 April 1943. He was assigned to the Engineer Reinforcement Unit where he qualified as a Class III Driver and Group ‘C’ Driver-Operator (Heavy Equipment).

In late September, he was posted to the 10th Field Squadron and shipped out to Italy in November. On the way, his convoy was attacked from the air on 6 November, sinking one of the ships carrying Canadians. No lives were lost, but Vern's ship was delayed for a day as it split from the convoy to help pick up the survivors.  The ship was unsuccessfully torpedoed the following day.

Once ashore in Italy, the 10th Field Squadron took over well-used equipment and vehicles from the British 7th Armoured Division who were returning to England. The Squadron was moved over 200 miles southeast to the Taranto area and attached the newly arrived 2nd New Zealand Division. Despite having to complete a great deal of vehicle and equipment maintenance, they immediately got to work on bridging and route repair and construction tasks.

As the 5th Armoured Division gained strength in Italy, the Squadron moved closer and closer to the front relieving other Eighth Army formations. Their first action came on 17 January 1944 supporting the Perth Regiment in an attack in which four NCOs and two sappers were wounded. The Squadron then moved back towards Naples to the city of Caserta. Again, bridging and mine training, rest and maintenance, as well as planning for the Liri Valley operation occupied their time. In mid-May, the 5th Armoured Division started moving forward to the Hitler Line in anticipation of pushing forward to establish a crossing over the Melfa River.

At 0800 hours on 24 May, the leading troops of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division drove forward through the gap in the Hitler Line. With each of the three armoured regiments were parties of sappers from the 10th Field Squadron in “Honey” reconnaissance tanks— 18 parties in all. Each of the three troops reconnoitering for fords and found a few crossing sites.  The rest of the Squadron followed up behind with the main body improving two fords across the Melfa under constant shelling. They built a 40-foot Single-Single Bailey bridge later that night. The next day was no less hectic.  The CO was wounded in shelling and Sapper Hugh John Nelson was killed during a German air raid that evening. He is buried in the Cassino Commonwealth War Cemetery.

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