The Saga of Fred Lytwyn

AT THE FRONT

Too Young To Die

by Stan Scislowski

 

The night was black as pitch — no moon, no stars, no flash of artillery fire to light the way for the Canadian infantry moving forward to the start line of their next attack. It was unusually quiet, as though both armies facing each other in the flatlands of the North Italian plains had gone to bed early. The only sound came from the scuffle of the infantrymen’s boots on gravel as they worked their way forward.
To a man, as always, they fervently hoped that the advance would be a ‘walkover,’ but it was not to be. The enemy had not gone away, and they had not gone to bed early. Except for those momentarily relieved of weapons post duty, the enemy was very much awake and alert. They were in positions all through the area with their weapons trained at the single point where they were sure the Canadian attack would come in on them, and that was the roadway crossing the Fosso Munio stream. In the lead section of the lead platoon of the Perth Regiment from Stratford, Ontario spearheading the attack was a 17-year-old Windsor lad. Actually, too young to have been inducted into the army, Lance Corporal Freddie Lytwyn had to have lied about his age to get in the army. But he was a veteran now, a veteran of several hard-fought battles. As he marched on towards yet another battle, this one only five days before Christmas, he hoped as all men do when going into battle, that it would be an easy affair and that he would come out of it okay. Undetected thus far as they approached the start line at the roadway crossing of the insignificant narrow watercourse, they entered a roadside drainage ditch, and with stealth, made good time on the way to their first objective. They strained their eyes peering into the black fields around them to catch signs of enemy presence to evade them if they could, or to throw fire at them if that had to be. The immediate danger, however, was not in the open fields to their left, nor was it in the impenetrable darkness on their right. It was straight ahead along the line of the ditch. An enemy machine-gun crew hidden behind a stone culvert waited for them, their weapon pointing down the centre of the ditch. Their weapon, an MG 42 rated at 1200 rounds per minute, almost twice as fast as the Bren, could in the narrow confines of the ditch, do considerable slaughter. There was no way the man behind the gun could miss the unsuspecting approaching platoon.

Fred’s letter home of October 8, 1943 before joining the Perth Regiment. As instructed, and probably through his own common sense, Fred’s letters were always about simple subjects and never alarming.

Fred’s first letter home as a Perth rifleman in A. Company written on November 15, 1943.

Fred and a buddy heating rations in the field.

Three days after the Perths’ first action at the Arielli on January 17, 1944, Fred wrote home in his usual laconic, homey style giving no hint of the battle. A. Company had been in the lead and had taken a considerable beating.

Fred’s letter home dated September 6, 1944 that mentions the key role played by the Canadians in the penetration of the Gothic Line and that the fighting had been against Germany’s best, their paratroopers.

Fred’s Christmas Card dated November 15, 1944

Fred on leave in Florence with a Perth cap badge on his beret.

The inside message of the card.

Front cover and last page of Fred’s last letter home to his sister Mary dated November 28, 1944.

Inside of Fred’s last letter home.

An attack at the Fosso Munio was launched on December 20, 1944 and saw A. Company in a leading role. The company seized a strongpoint, which the Germans repeatedly counter-attacked, and Fred was killed during this action. The dreaded official announcement of Fred’s death was sent on January 4, 1945.

The regiment’s padre, H/Captain Crawford-Smith, sent this letter to Fred’s mother on January 6, 1945

The Department of National Defence sent details of Fred’s burial in Villanova Cemetery, August 24, 1945

An official certificate of appreciation from the Minister of National Defence

A certificate of remembrance from Fred’s High School