January – February 1945

By January 1945 it was becoming clear that the strategic importance of the Italian campaign was waning and with the growing need for support in Western Europe, Allied High Command devised Operation Goldflake, a secret plan to relocate  Canadian troops, over 60,000 men, from Italy to North West Europe without tipping off the Germans.

On January 3, 1945 Harry and his unit headed south to Aquila and all though they did not know it at the time nor would they learn of it until long after the war, they would be helping to prepare and execute Operation Goldflake.  The entire operation required the utmost secrecy, and several precautions were taken to ensure the Germans were kept in the dark. To maintain the charade, the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals maintained normal levels of radio chatter by sending fake messages to avoid rousing enemy suspicions. Next, a special unit was created with the task of keeping up appearances. These men were tasked with driving along predetermined routes across the front to maintain the illusion that Canadian forces remained in their positions.

In early 1945 Harry and his unit arrived at Mussolini’s Chalet in Aquila.  One of Harry’s favourite stories about his time in Aquila was the following:

“This was the best accommodation we had ever been given in Italy.  It had been Mussolini’s recreation chalet and it had an indoor tiled swimming pool, the first I had ever seen and because he liked bicycle racing he had his own velodrome.  I did not get to ride a bicycle on it but it sure was fun to wind up the old Norton!”  Anyone who has met Harry can picture him that day tearing up that track with a huge grin on his face!

Fellow Dispatch Ride takes a break on his trusty motorcycle

While there Harry and his crew spent time renovating two schools adjacent to the chalet so that troops had a place to R&R when they came off the line.  By mid-February the work was completed and according to Harry:  “we got word to remove all Canadian identification off of our uniforms and vehicles.”  Just before midnight they started to move and headed for the Port of Leghorn.  “The trip from Aquila to Leghorn took us three days. In Leghorn we were loaded onto a ship with the lighter vehicles on deck. We had to drive up quite a steep, two track steel ramp to get there and I was the only one that rode his bike up.  The other Dispatch Riders had their bikes put aboard with a sling.  I enjoyed the trip to Marseilles very much. It was an American ship and they treated us to a steak dinner and ice cream for dessert, the first since Canada”

CBC Canadian Army News Reel:

In closing Harry sums up that time as follows: “All of our work had just been a diversion to make the Germans think we were staying in Italy.  The Germans did not realize that the Canadians had left until they arrived in Holland.  There were 2 Canadian Divisions fighting in Italy when D-Day took place on June 6 1944 and to this day they refer to us as the D-Day Dodgers.”

Client Testimonial

Harry Watts

A decade ago the NSD team had the pleasure of meeting Harry through our annual Motorcycle Ride.  As a member of the 1st CAV Motorcycle Unit, Harry rode in our annual fundraiser and championed our cause. Harry had a knack for bringing people together and was an engaging story teller.  Somehow he was always able to shine a light on the positive side of his journey, even when faced with horrors of war. 

You can read more of Harry’s stories in his book “Dispatch Rider”.  All money raised from the purchase of the book goes directly to supporting Service Dogs and continuing Harry’s legacy.

This year’s Charity Ride is featuring an Online Auction with a vast selection of unique items to choose from.  The Auction will be available to all of our supporters and will go on-line July 1 and run through July 5th  – Check It Out!

Thank you to our generous partners and sponsors.