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Honouring our Local Heroes

November 7, 2019   ·   0 Comments

Written by PETER RICHARDSON

Steve Chamula is an unassuming man, quiet and soft spoken. He was born in Detva, Slovakia, on May 6, 1921. Today, he resides in Shelburne. 

However, once upon a time, in February of 1939, he was a young 18-year-old immigrant, fresh off the boat and looking for work in Canada. He settled in Port Colborne, where he found work in a bakery and, by his own admission, became a pretty good baker. But by now, things in Europe were turning towards war and Steve’s home country was then occupied by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. As things worsened in Europe, Steve decided that it was his duty to help and so, in 1943, he enlisted in Toronto’s famed 48th Highlanders and received training at Brantford and later, Camp Borden. He would spend one final training stint in New Brunswick, before he sailed for Glasgow on the troop ship Mauritania. Once in the UK, Steve was eventually stationed in Aldershot, where the 48th were incorporated into the 1st Infantry Brigade. In 1944, Private Chamula shipped out to Naples, with the rest of the 1st Battalion, to participate in the repatriation of Italy, arriving just a few weeks before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. It was in this campaign, that the Canadians first showed the German army that they were a force to be respected, feared and reckoned with.

Steven took part in the battles for Ortona and the Moro River, a campaign that became know as the Stalingrad of Italy, for the fierce hand to hand combat that took place, and for its resemblance to the defence of the famed Eastern front City. It was here that he was wounded, in the leg by shrapnel and was treated in a field hospital before being transported behind the lines on a hospital ship, to the town of Bari. He would spend the next 30 days recuperating, before returning to his unit and pressing on towards Rome. Although Steven’s 1st Brigade, did not fight in the taking of Ortona, they were the one’s who spearheaded the push to reach the town. It took eight days to liberate Ortona and the Moro River battle, of which this was one, accounted for almost one quarter of all Canadians killed during the entire Italian campaign.

In April of 1945, the Canadian Corp was ordered to leave Italy and to proceed to northwestern Europe, to join the 1st Canadian Army and liberate the Netherlands. To this day, the grateful Dutch people remember and honour the Canadian forces who fought in Holland. While stationed in Holland, Steven volunteered to be part of the occupying forces in Germany, with the Queen’s Own Rifles and remained in Europe until 1946, when he received his discharge. He remained a private, throughout the war, in part due to his poor English.

On returning to Canada, he became a Canadian citizen and married his wife, Antoinette, in 1948. They had three boys, Norman, Alan and Robert. The boys still live about 25 Km from Shelburne and visit their father often. Antoinette passed away several years ago. Steve has two brothers living in Europe and still speaks Slovak, though he admits to understanding the language better than he speaks it. He has several grandchildren and is a member of the Shelburne Legion.

When he returned to Canada, from the war, Steven worked in the automotive industry, as a bodyman and mechanic, eventually settling west of Shelburne, where he owned a farm and built a home and raised his family. Like many veterans, Steven does not dwell on the events of the Second World War. He has not stayed in touch with any of the men he served with and prefers to remain simply a cog in the wheel that liberated Europe and crushed Nazi Germany. However, despite this, he represents the determination and unselfish giving that epitomized the young generations who fought in both Great wars. Steven was not even naturalized when he enlisted in the 48th Highlanders and yet he felt it was the right thing to do. It was this attitude and determination to stop what was happening Europe that made, to a large degree, the Allied victory possible and contributed to the defeat of the Third Reich.



         

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