Spr John Bruce Craik, 3rd Fd Coy 23 May 1944

Sapper Joh Bruce Craik's Headstone in the Cassino Commonwealth War Cemetery

John Bruce Craik was born in Tees, AB, the son of John and Hattie Craik. After finishing junior high school in rural Alberta, he worked in farming for ten years in the Peace River area and later in construction as a pipe-fitter. He was 29 years old when he enlisted in Calgary AB on 11 January 1943 and declared his occupation at the time as hard rock miner.

Initially classified as a general reinforcement, he was selected to join the Royal Canadian Engineers and sent to Camrose AB for eight weeks of basic training on 29 January. On completion, he was sent to A6 Canadian Engineer Training Centre in Camp Chilliwack BC on 1 April for sapper training until July. For trades pay purposes, he was qualified as a Driver/Mechanic Group ‘C’.

John embarked for the UK in July 1943 and was assigned to the 14th Field Company as a reinforcement. He arrived in Italy in November 1943. In March 1944, he was posted to the 3rd Field Company located in the area of the Foggia Plain south of Naples. John and his company focused on preparing for the planned attack on the Gustav Line under the peak of Monte Cassino, scheduled for May 1944.

On 23 May 1944, at 0600 hours, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry right and the Seaforth Highlanders left, assaulted the Adolf Hilter Line. The 3rd Field Company's war diary describes the day well.  Reveille sounded at 0400 hours and sapper detachments were soon on their way to join their infantry battalions. The barrage opened at 0500 hours and the leading infantry companies set off at 0600 hours with sappers in close support. All went well until 0740 hours when a minefield was reported in the PPCLI area. The platoon commander, Lt Carr-Harris had lost touch with both the engineer and infantry headquarters.  Sergeant Kerr was sent forward with a party of sappers to deal with the delay but was pinned down by enemy fire, losing three sappers.  As it turned out, Carr-Harris was already in the thick of it. He had taken his men with him as soon as the tanks encountered the minefield and the anti-tank guns covering it from a distance.  Under pressing pressure from artillery and directed machine-gun fire, the sappers were able to find a way through the minefield.  Lieutenant Carr-Harris, Lance Sergeant Irvine and Acting Corporal Harrison were all decorated for bravery that day.  This fact is mentioned only to add context to the tributes to those brave sappers who died following these three. The hell they suffered that day on the Hitler Line saw the worst carnage of the Italian Campaign. No amount of courageous leadership will work without the full support of brave soldiers. 

By the end of the day the Hitler Line was smashed and the 5th Armoured Division started moving forward to seize a crossing on the Melfa River to open the Road to Rome. The 3rd Field Company had lost five killed and 13 wounded or missing including Sapper John Bruce Craik. Although initially reported as ‘missing’, he was later confirmed as “killed in action” the following day.  He is buried in the Cassino Commonwealth War Cemetery.

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