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    Robert Whyte Patterson
    Born: March 1, 1917
    Killed in Action:  December 20, 1944
    Robert “Bob” Patterson was born to Harry Murray Patterson and Lucinda Amelia Whyte Patterson on March 1, 1917, in Stratford.  The family lived at 132 Norman Street and were well known in the community.  Harry Patterson, a Stratford native, and president of the Stratford Brass Company (the Brassy) had been prominent in the business and civic life of the town.

    Bob was the eldest surviving brother to Phyllis, Harry “Tom”, and Don.  He was a popular young man, well known for his athletic ability.  He was outstanding on the football and rugby fields and was offered scholarship at Western University to play rugby.  He opted to remain in Stratford to work at the Brassy with his father after his graduation from high school.

    Bob married Edith Beatrice Cameron (Trix) on September 27, 1941 and continued working and living in Stratford until he was called up for service as a reinforcement officer in April 1942 with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.  Initially stationed in London, he was subsequently sent to Gordon Head, BC for training, then back to Camp Borden for further training where he qualified as Lieutenant.  He was sent back to Gordon Head, where he stayed until his father died suddenly on September 19, 1942.

    His father died without leaving a will which left the family business in some turmoil.  Bob applied for and was granted 6 months compassionate leave to return to Stratford to arrange the affairs at the Brassy in October 1942.  He reported back for duty in Gordon Head, BC in April 1943.

    During his leave in Stratford, Trix discovered she was expecting.  Their child, Joan Elizabeth Patterson was born in Stratford September 13, 1943.  Sadly, Joan was born a “blue” baby and died 5 months later.  It’s unknown if Bob had the chance to meet his daughter.

    Bob embarked for duty in the UK in November 1943.  He was able to meet with his brother Tom Patterson (stationed with the Dental Corps) near London, England during this time.  Most of his service in England was uneventful and he embarked for duty in Italy in May 1944. His war records show his attendance at various courses and his letters home detail his interest in local art and culture, and poignantly his last letter home dated December 16, 1944 bearing Christmas greetings was likely received after the family’s notification of his death.

    Bob was killed in action, Dec. 20, 1944.

    His last mission was outlined in “Not all of us were Brave” a memoir by Stanley Scislowski who witnessed the events first hand.  “…Baker Company entered the drainage ditch on the right side of Chiara Road.  Four hundred yards to their front a stone culvert barred their way.  Behind the culvert a two-man enemy MG 42 crew waited.  There was no way they could miss the target approaching them.  All they had to do was point their gun straight down the ditch and fire.  Anyone approaching along the ditch made a perfect target and in no way could avoid being cut down like wheat under a scythe.

    The crew waited until the lead section came withing twenty-five yards before the man behind the gun squeezed the trigger.  In that first five second burst 150 steel-jacketed rounds ripped down the length of the ditch.  The first eleven men were knocked backward under the impact of the bullets smashing through flesh and bones.  Most were dead before they hit the ground.  The survivors of that first burst flung themselves against the slick sides of the ditch in a desperate attempt to scramble out of the line of fire, but their frantic efforts delayed only for seconds their own deaths as the next burst stitched a murderous path along the line of fallen and scrambling men.  The wounded, the dying, and the dead lay piled in heaps of blood-splashed bodies, the trickle of cold water beneath them running red from the gallons of blood draining into it.  The cries of the wounded rose above the whiplash of machine-gun bursts.  Help, however wouldn’t reach them this night.  Any move by a stretcher bearer to reach the wounded would have only brought his own instant death.  The ditch was an abattoir.”

    This account aligns with the story his brother Tom heard from Bob’s comrades that he was cut in two in a culvert by machine gun fire and died instantly.

    Tom Patterson’s book “They never rationed Courage” was published in 1995.  It contains a sampling of his letters home during his service in the war.  The appendix written by Tom at time of publication tells his story of learning about his brother’s death.  He was stationed in Holland where his unit was having a Christmas party in December 1944 when he came upon an old school friend from Stratford.  The Perth Regiment had just arrived in Holland from Italy and he was happy to see a home town friend.  He related that his friend, Bob Johnston must have been shocked to see him in such good spirits. He pulled Tom aside and said how sorry he was about his brother Bob. Tom looked at him in silence, not realizing his brother had been killed a few days earlier.

    Bob is buried in Villanova Canadian War Cemetery near Ravenna, Italy.

    More recently, Donna Maxwell, a nurse from Calgary who was raised in a military family, become involved with project initiated by a local woman, “Rosalia” who wanted biographies of all the Canadian servicemen in the Villanova cemetery.  She was a child when her village was liberated by the 5th CAD. A small book was published with brief biographies of each Canadian.  Sadly, the project was unfinished and Rosalia died in 2021 of Covid.  Donna is continuing her research and hopes to publish information on a website in the future.  One story she did relate was of a local tradition in the village that when a male child was born, the parents would choose a name from the Villanova cemetery to honour the Canadians who liberated their town.

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