The following is part of a continuing series of profiles of servicemen from the Glebe and St. Matthew’s Anglican Church who gave their lives to Canada and the pursuit of peace in Second World War. We commemorate and remember their passing, 80 years ago.
Remembering Private Walter Gardiner
By Kevan Pipe
Canada joined the war against Nazi Germany on September 10, 1939, the only country in the western hemisphere to do so, standing side by side with our European allies. Our forces began arriving in England less than 60 days later as the country began to mobilize almost immediately. Our airmen took part in the Battle of Britain, and our navy engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic. The Canadian army helped to defend the United Kingdom and formed part of the British Overseas Expeditionary Force in France in early 1940. The collapse of these forces and miraculous rescue of more than 300,000 allied soldiers from Dunkirk back to Britain in May 1940 brought that phase of the land war to a close.
The next few years for the Canadian army in the U.K. was dedicated to preventing enemy invasion and training for what lay ahead. The first major battle commitment by our soldiers was the invasion of Italy via Sicily in July 1943. Among the soldiers on that mission was Walter Douglas Gardiner, a member of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church.
Walter was born May 14, 1912, son of William and Emily. The family lived at 391 Bank Street, just north of Gladstone Avenue. He had 2 brothers, Alfred and George, and a sister, Larodeline.
By 1939, Walter and family were residing at 546 Lyon Avenue, just north of Catherine Street. Aged 27 and working as a messenger, Walter enlisted in the Canadian army on September 16 just six days after Parliament declared war on Germany. Private Gardiner (# C21122) was assigned to the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, Canadian Infantry (later renamed the 1st Battalion). The regiment underwent an immediate 100 days of intensive training and was one of the first units deployed to England on December 22, 1939.
In spring of 1940, the regiment was shipped to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force, with his regiment reaching the town of Laval, located just to the west of Le Mans, about 250 kms southwest of Paris. It was at that point in mid-May, as the Germans surged forward, that the regiment was ordered to retreat to England via Dunkirk, along with 338,000 allied troops who were evacuated in Operation Dynamo between May 26 and June 4.
The next three years were focused on protecting the British Isles while training for the eventual invasion of Europe. The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment was part of the 1st Infantry Brigade of the First Canadian Division when it joined the allied invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943. The Battle for Europe had truly begun, and Gardiner was part of this effort.
Over the next 93 days, his regiment fought its way off Sicily and up the boot of Italy until it found itself in the Battle of Campobasso in central Italy from October 11 to 14. Campobasso was a priority target as it was rumoured to be the headquarters of German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring.
After four days of intense fighting, Campobasso, a provincial town of 17,000 people, finally fell to the Canadians, with mopping up operations taking place for days afterwards to clean out enemy stragglers and snipers.
It was a major victory for the Canadian 1st Infantry Brigade, which was awarded battle honours. Campobasso became a major resting point for Canadian troops for the duration of the conflict and was known as Maple Leaf City.
During the mopping up operations in Campobasso, Nazi forces periodically continued to shell the town from their artillery emplacements kilometers away. On October 17, Gardiner, by then 31 years old, was killed in action.
Gardiner is buried at the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in San Donato in the Commune of Ortona. Gardiner and his regiment fought in no less than 10 separate battles from July 9 upon landing in Sicily to mid-October, earning honours for each of these battles.
At the Moro cemetery, there are 1,615 war graves, and Gardiner is buried alongside 1,374 fellow Canadians, most of whom were killed in the battles of Campobasso and later that year in Ortona. His mother, living in 1946 at 72 McLaren Street on her own after her husband passed away, received the Memorial Cross, which is given to all mothers and wives of servicemen killed in action, along with the medals awarded to her son, including The Italy Star.
Kevan Pipe is a Glebe resident and member of St. Matthew’s, the Anglican Church in the Glebe.