Lt John Somerset Osborne, 1st Field Company, Military Cross

Military Cross
Lt John Somerset Osborne, MC
Background 

John Somerset Osborne was born in Winnipeg where his father was a professor at University of Manitoba. In 1938, he came to Montreal to study at MacDonald College where he had completed his first year in agriculture. He was working as a student engineer at the asbestos mine in Danville, Quebec when the war broke out and he joined the Royal Canadian Engineers as a sapper on 19 September 1939. He was commissioned in the UK in July 1941.  He served throughout the campaign in Sicily and the Italian mainland.  He was wounded in November 1944 but remained on duty.

The following paragraphs add context to the award citation. The 1st Canadian Division's attack on the Hitler Line started ay 0600 hours on 23 May with two brigades up - 2nd Brigade right and 3rd Brigade left. The 1st Brigade relieved the second later in the day with the 48th Highlanders and supporting tanks in the lead.  The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment followed and relieved the 48th Highlanders in their attack on Point 106. The Hitler line was breached in the early evening as the 5th Armoured Division prepared to break through to the Melfa.

The 23rd of May was the worst single day in terms of casualties for the Canadian Army in the Italian Campaign. Eight hundred and ninety (890) Canadians were killed or wounded. The 2nd Brigade alone suffered 543 casualties, and supporting British armour lost 44 tanks. As these events occurred, the Allies were finally breaking out of the Anzio beachhead, threatening to cut the Germans off from the rear, making exploitation of the Hitler Line penetration a priority.

The biggest task for the Engineers on the Hitler Line was breaching minefields.  Besides being covered by fire and defended by dug-in tank turrets and pillboxes, the minefield was over 200 feet deep with heavy barbed wire on either side.  It included Italian box mines, mostly surface laid.  Each brigade went into battle with a supporting field company.  The Sappers started during the night of 22/23 May, gapping minefields even before the assaulting troops were in position.​ This is where we find Lt Osborne.

After the war, he stayed in the service and receive the Canadian Forces Decoration in 1957. He died in Vancouver, BC on 29 April 1970 at the age of 57 years.

Citation 

On 23 May 1944, 1 Canadian Infantry Brigade were to attack the Adolf Hitler Line. Lieutenant John Somerset Osborne with his platoon of engineers was responsible for clearing a tank gap through the minefields in the vicinity of the road leading to Pontecorvo (Map Reference 7217). On the evening of 22 May 1944, previous to the attack, he led a mine-clearing party forward through heavy shelling and mortaring to clear mines from the road. So intense did the enemy mortaring become that this party was driven back. Showing complete disregard for his own safety, Lieutenant Osborne then went forward alone and completed the task. When the attack was launched on the following day, word came back that a 15-hundredweight water truck had veered from the lane, struck a mine and was obstructing the gap he had produced the previous night. This officer led a small party forward again under the heaviest mortar fire. Soon his part was forced to withdraw due to heavy casualties. Again Lieutenant Osborne went forward alone to clear the obstacle. His efforts were finally successful and the supporting arms could again move forward. This officer's actions were largely responsible for enabling the tanks to move forward in close support of the assaulting infantry of 1 Canadian Infantry Brigade. His cool resolved manner and initiative set the highest standard of devotion to duty for all ranks.

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