The Long Road Home: The Autobiography of a Canadian Soldier in Italy in World War II

Description

257 pages
Contains Illustrations
$19.95
ISBN 0-7736-0122-8

Publisher

Year

1984

Contributor

Reviewed by Terrence Paris

Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.

Review

The author, an Ontario civil servant, recounts his wartime experiences from his enlistment as a private in the Cape Breton Highlanders at age 18 in 1941 until his final battle in the Italian campaign, among the dykes of the Senio River, as a sergeant of the Lanark and Renfrew Scottish Regiment, Christmas 1944.

What emerges is an unromantic memoir. The raw language of the dialogue sounds authentic. The soldiers’ slang is not translated. Cederberg usually portrays himself as an individual with common sense and restraint in the ranks of more hot-blooded comrades. In one episode, a soldier is stabbed, presumably by a Fascist partisan. Despite Cederberg’s protests, his buddies decide to lob shells into the sleeping town of Altamura. Several villagers are killed. The colonel orders the mortars cleaned to conceal their firing. Yet, at times, Cederberg is honest enough to betray a typical adolescent’s response to situations. At the exciting news that “the Canadian Army’s operatin’ this cathouse. They got MPs outside an’ issue pieces of ass inside,” the Highlanders line up in “a cathouse parade” for servicing by child whores at 200 lira a shot. Once the perfunctory transaction has been concluded, the disappointed Cederberg ruefully observes, “I felt used.”

The reader will be struck by the persistent contrast between humanity and extreme violence, between compassion and callousness. The first Highlander casualty at Orsogna is avenged by the shooting of a German who has set himself up as a convenient target when he urinates in full view of his enemy. A short while after, the Germans are lent morphine and stretchers, which they later return along with a gift of schnapps. At Monte Cassino, eight “Eyetie” civilians, including one woman, are shot when they fail to turn back from the direction of the German lines. Later, the contents of a Christmas parcel, sent by the author’s mother, are given to a needy family in Ravenna. A tender, almost domestic interlude with an English prostitute in Rome is set among scenes of “wild, breathless, brawling, cursing” battles in the Liri Valley and the Gothic Line, and ultimately at the Senio River. Here Cederberg is at his most skillful: the fatigue and fear of a single soldier squatting in a muddy slit trench is set against the course of the raging battle, “a lot of confusion mixed with noise and motion — all stirred into one giant bollix.”

Citation

Cederberg, Fred, “The Long Road Home: The Autobiography of a Canadian Soldier in Italy in World War II,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36799.