“The guys from the north country”

A British officer during the Second World War chastised Private Ivan Gunter of Coe Hill for not going through proper channels to pass on information during a battle. Gunter replied that he didn’t have time because the Germans were killing people with an intensive mortar attack.

            Gunter told this story: “Howard Graham was sitting on a fence and he said to the officer, ‘Just a minute. Gunter’s quite right. These guys from the north country know what they’re doing’. The next day the officer apologized. Gen. Graham was a lawyer from Trenton, a mayor of Trenton, a very decent fellow, and he had been CO of the regiment.”

            “The guys from the north country” was a reference to the soldiers from North Hastings. Graham had commanded the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment 1940-1942 and then became commander of the First Canadian Infantry Brigade 1943-1944.

            Two of “those guys from the north country” did their hometown proud during the Second World War. The two, Ivan Gunter and Gerald Campbell, were both from Coe Hill and both won the Military Medal in separate actions. Gunter served with the Hastings Prince Edward Regiment (the “Hasty Ps”) while Campbell served with the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders (the “Glengarrians” or “Glens”). Gunter received his medal for action in Sicily; Campbell landed in Normandy with the forces attacking from the north.

            Campbell, a stretcher-bearer, was wounded during the crossing of the Ems River in April, 1945. Despite his injuries, he continued to attend to 17 other casualties while under intense mortar and shell bombardment. For this he won the Military Medal.

            Gunter received his medal for action under fire in Sicily. This is his story:

           On July 10, 1943, we landed on the shores of Sicily near Pachino, in the southeast corner. There were only a few Italian defenders so we had only a very few casualties. Our first battle, on July 15, was at a place called Grammichele.

            It seemed quiet enough but the Germans opened fire with mortars from a hilltop. I was in the intelligence section and part of our job was to plot positions on maps. I was riding a motorcycle ahead of a column of tanks.

            It was a heavy mortar attack. A shell blew the headlight off my motorcycle but it didn’t touch me. When I got up and got organized, I found I was off the road and the motorcycle was wrecked. I saw puffs of smoke coming up from the top of a huge hill, so I figured that’s where the mortars were.

            I ran back to the first tank, maybe 300 or 400 yards, and you’d swear the mortar shells were coming after me. There was a donkey cart on the road, broken down, a wheel had fallen off or something, and a mortar shell hit it and it vanished.

            I banged on the side of the tank with the handle of my revolver to get their attention. I wasn’t wearing any top, just a T-shirt, and the tank commander thought I was an officer so he took the co-ordinates I gave him. They were relayed to our artillery, and in a few minutes there were no more mortar shells falling on us.

            Medals are funny things. A good many people have done brave things but got nothing for it because they didn’t accomplish anything. I was given the Military Medal because I accomplished something army VIPs thought was beyond the duties of a private. I thought I was just doing what I was supposed to be doing.

            The second time I was wounded was up in Holland, on the 14th day of April, 1945. I was hit by a fixed line of machine-gun fire on a crossroads. That’s where the Germans fired from about two miles away, with a heavy machine gun, probably a .40 calibre, and they fired in an arc, almost like artillery. They only fired maybe once every two hours, and then they would fire for five minutes or so. They fired on places like a crossroads and if you happened to be there when they fired, you got it.

            It just so happened I was going through the crossroads on a motorcycle. I saw bullets hitting the pavement in front of me. I knew instinctively there was no point in stopping because I’d be stopping in the middle of them. I was puttering along at 35 miles an hour, so I gunned her and went through.

            One bullet hit me on the head and another hit my saddlebag. I went off into the ditch. This 48th Highlander – they were going through to cross the Apeldoorn Canal – he said, “Boy, you’re lucky.” I said, “Something hit me a smack on the head and I can’t see.” And he said, “Open your eyes.” So I opened my eyes and I could see. The bullet had hit my hat badge and it’s over in a field in Holland some place. It felt like I was hit on the top of the head with a club. I took my hat off and there wasn’t a drop of blood. The bullet had cauterized the wound, and then the blood burst out, and my face was covered in blood in a second.

            They took me off to hospital in England and by the time I recovered, the war was over.

– Ivan Gunter

Gunter received his medal from King George VI at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in July, 1945. “The King asked me, ‘Where did you earn this?’ and I said, ‘In Sicily, sir’.”    


From the book North of 7 – And Proud of It!, published by the Bancroft Heritage Book Committee, 2003. Out of print, available at libraries.