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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Monuments Men: Part 49: ‘God loved you more’: Pte. James Alvin Hutchinson
Canadian soldiers advancw toward the Gothic Line, a key defensive point for the Germans. (LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA)
Alvin Hutchinson's tombstone in Italy. (Virtual War Memorial)

It’s been a century since Niagara-on-the-Lake’s iconic clock tower cenotaph was erected. Then, in 1926, the Township of Niagara unveiled its own memorial in Queenston. In recognition of those who fought and died in two world wars and beyond, NOTL historian Ron Dale has been researching the stories of the people – all men – whose names are engraved on the two cenotaphs. This is one in a series of stories documenting and remembering the sacrifices of those commemorated on the municipal memorial in Queenston.

 

Ron Dale
Special to The Lake Report

Almost a year before the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Canadians were fighting to drive German forces from Sicily and Italy.

Along with American and British forces, Canadians landed in Sicily on July 10, 1943, and finally forced the German defenders from Sicily on Aug. 6.

Canadians landed in Italy on Sept. 3, 1943, and fought against a slowly retreating enemy until February 1945.

During this Mediterranean campaign, the Canadian Army suffered 25,264 casualties, including more than 5,900 killed.

The bloodiest battles for the Canadians were fought in crossing the Moro River and the capture of Ortona on the Adriatic coast.

The Moro River Campaign from Dec. 4, 1943, until Jan. 4, 1944, took the lives of 2,339 Canadian men.

Between January and May 1944, the Allies launched four major offensives to drive the Germans back from their prepared defensive lines. Rome was abandoned by the Germans and occupied by the Allies on June 4, 1944.

By August 1944 the Germans had been driven back to their “Gothic Line” of defences and the Canadian Corps was tasked with breaking through that line.

The Canadians crossed the Metauro River on Aug. 25 and five days later fought bloody actions at Foglia River on the Gothic Line.

By Sept. 2, the Canadians had smashed through part of that line and were advancing to the Conca River, forcing the Germans farther north. The city of Rimini was their next objective.

It was during this campaign that Pte. James Alvin Hutchinson of St. Davids began his war.

Known as Alvin, he was born on Feb. 22, 1925, in Heathcote, Ont., son of Edwin Hutchinson and Annie Hazel Bovair.  Alvin Hutchinson was living in St. Davids with his parents by 1943, working as a truck driver for the Otis-Fensom elevator company.

On Oct. 12, 1943, at the age of 18, the minimum age for enlisting, he joined the Canadian Army.

From Nov. 6 to Dec. 20, Hutchinson completed basic training in Toronto before receiving more advanced infantry training at Camp Borden, not far from where he was born.

This training was somewhat hurried, lasting from Dec. 21 to Feb. 19,1944, including time away from camp for Christmas leave.

From Camp Borden he travelled to Woodstock for vehicle training. He was a truck driver in civilian life, so it was not long before he qualified on a variety of military vehicles.

By May he was considered ready to be sent to war. On May 8, 1944, he disembarked in England and was assigned to the 3rd Canadian Reinforcement Unit.

On July 16, 1944, Hutchinson embarked on a transport ship bound for the Mediterranean. After arriving in North Africa, he was shipped to Italy and initially assigned to the 48th Highlander Regiment.

He was then transferred to the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards Regiment, which had suffered heavy casualties in the Italian campaign. He arrived at the camp of the Princess Louise Regiment on Sept. 12 while they were fighting their way toward Rimini.

Hutchinson was almost immediately in action. The Canadians were facing very well-trained German troops of the 1st Parachute Regiment.

The Canadians were pummeled by artillery, tanks, machine-guns and mortar fire. The Germans were slowly pushed back and eventually abandoned the Coriano Ridge, a major defensive position.

On Sept. 21, the Allies finally entered Rimini, which had been deserted by the German defenders.

The next objective for the Princess Louise Regiment, as part of the 5th Armoured Division, was to advance across the Lombardy Plains to Bologna and the Po River.

During this struggle the Germans continued their fighting withdrawal. It was during this time that Alvin was mortally wounded, dying of his wounds on Sept. 28, five months before his 20th birthday.

Hutchinson is buried in the Gradara military cemetery in Provincia di Pesaro e Urbino, Italy.

His mother chose the inscription on his tombstone in Gradara: “Dear Son, We Loved You Dearly but God Loved You More. Rest in Peace.”

Hutchinson is remembered on the cenotaph in Queenston and on his parents’ tombstone in Heathcote.

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