Mann receives award of excellence for valour in the Italian campaign during WWII

By Liz Dadson


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The walls in Charles Mann's Kincardine home are covered in accolades, honouring his service in the Second World War.

Last week, he received another one, from Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb, on behalf of Veterans Affairs Canada.

This was the award of excellence, originally presented at the Peace Through Valour dinner in Toronto Oct. 16, to remember and honour the courage, valour and pivotal contributions made by those who fought in the Italian campaign during the Second World War.

"I wasn't able to attend that event," says Mann, who will be 92 in June, relaxing in his reclining chair at his Huron Terrace home.

However, he remembers the Italian campaign, arriving in Naples, Italy, in November, 1943, with the First Special Services Force (Devil's Brigade) and fighting the Germany army to take the hill at Artena.

"We broke through the German defence and captured that hill," he recalls. "We were high up in the mountains, and it was tough going but the work had to be done."

Mann served from 1940-46. He did three years of pre-war service in the militia, and shipped out in January, 1943, arriving in the Aleutian Islands, Aug. 15, 1943.

"There were no Japanese there, much to everyone's surprise and relief," recalls Mann. "Despite all that American, Canadian and British intelligence, they didn't know that the Japanese had gone."

Three days later, he was back in San Francisco on two weeks' leave. Then he travelled to Virginia, sailed to Africa and on to Naples in November, 1943.

"We fought all the way to Rome, and captured that city on June 4, 1944," says Mann. "Then we liberated the south of France in August, 1944."

From 1942-44, Mann served with the First Special Services Force which consisted of 800 Canadian soldiers, and 1,000 American, the first elite unit of its kind.
The Canadians were from the Second Canadian Parachute Battalion, says Mann, seconded to the American army.

The Devil's Brigade was famous for its amphibious landings, Mann recalls, similar to the famous D-Day assault. The group was disbanded in December, 1944.

In September of 2013, Mann and Jack Callowhill, 91, of Stoney Creek, flew to Italy to help make a documentary about the Second World War.

"We went back up into the mountains where we captured that hill," says Mann. "It was at La De Finsa, near Cassino, Italy."

While he appreciates the award of excellence, Mann says he is most pleased that the veterans of all wars are finally receiving more recognition than they have in a long time."

Meanwhile, Mann is looking forward to yet another accolade, a United States Congressional Gold Medal, for the Devil's Brigade.

"We've been working on that for over a year," says Mann. "But I'm not sure when it will be presented."

He says there are possibly three gold medals cast - one for the Smithsonian, one for the Helena Museum in Montana (headquarters of the First Special Services Force), and one for a Canadian museum.

"The medal might be ready this fall," says Mann.

Today, there are only 22 original Canadians and 100 original Americans, still living, who fought with the First Special Services Force.


Charles Mann in Artena, Italy, where the First Special Services Force broke through the German defence and captured the hill in November, 1943

Huron-Bruce MP Ben Lobb (L) presents the award of excellence from the Peace Through Valour, to Second World War veteran Charles Mann of Kincardine, for his service during the Italian campaign

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