Stanley grew up in Red Deer, Alberta, and enlisted there on June 6, 1940.
He was selected for Officer’s training and graduated as top cadet in his class. In 1943 he was deployed overseas as a Gun Position Officer to Italy with the 8th Field Regiment of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division. Because of the huge offensive in Europe, the Canadian troops arrived in Italy without enough food, supplies and equipment. Stanley spent 20 months in the Italian Campaign, where he was once Mentioned in Despatches.
In early 1945 he was sent back to Western Europe with the 5th Canadian Division where his unit fought in France, Belgium and then Holland. Sailing home on the Queen Elizabeth after the war ended, he recalled leaving behind some of his best friends, who lay forever beneath white crosses in Italy and Holland.
After we arrived in Calgary, we billeted for a short time at Mewata Barracks by the Bow River. There were no regular uniforms available so fatigue uniforms were issued. No regard was taken as for size. Benny Bohn had been issued pants that came up to his armpits.
At Mewata we had our first 24 hr guard duty of two hours on and two hours off. We had to present arms or salute in front of the armouries, and not knowing an officer from a private, we saluted nearly everyone that went through the doors. The first month in the army was sure an eye opener for me of what was to come. Finally we were issued khaki summer drill uniforms which were comfortable and smart.
I had taken my Model A Ford Coupe to Calgary. When my friends and I would go into town, we would pick up as many soldiers as could hang onto the car. Several times the police stopped us on Macleod Trail and gave us a stern warning about having too many on the car.
The last time we were stopped, they were going to charge me, but when we told them we were leaving the next week for Eastern Canada, they let us go. We were young and full of high spirits. During the Calgary Stampede our Battery was used for crowd control, so we were lined up along the parade route. Several fellows could not stand the heat and the very long wait, and collapsed from the heat and lack of hydration.
We were sent to Shilo, Manitoba, about 20 minutes from Brandon. This was where we did our training. While there we had mostly dehydrated rations; turnips, potatoes, powdered eggs and other junk prepared by inexperienced cooks.
On one occasion, by previous arrangement, we got our rations, sat down, and then on signal 250 men got up and left the lousy food on the table. We all walked out in protest. This immediately got the attention of the Officers and the Quarter Master staff. The food was a disgrace. We were still in Canada, and such type of rations were unnecessary!
Naples, Italy, 1943
After spending one month in North Africa, we crossed the Mediterranean on some small East Indian ships to land in Naples on Christmas Eve. Naples harbour was in shambles from Allied air attacks. We were taken by American transport trucks to Avellino, about fifty miles from the front line.
Our arrival at the large reinforcement depot at Avellino was unexpected by the Quarter Master. When our men, about a thousand in number, lined up to get a meal on Christmas Eve, they were informed that there were no rations available.
Wet snow on the ground, an old Italian barracks with windows and doors broken, plus no food made the men very miserable. We did the best we could by hanging blankets over the openings.
Within about a week we were moved to Atripolda, a small town a few miles from Avellino. While we were in Atripolda, Mount Vesuvius erupted. It was a wintry day and light snow was falling at mid-day. The sky turned black as night, and ash and soot were coming down with the snow. It surely made everything dirty!
While in Atripolda many of us developed desert sores on our legs or arms. These would not heal. They started small and then spread into a circle about the size of a quarter crusted over.
The Medical Officer put on a blue ointment to control it but this was not very effective. Just before leaving for the front I went to the M.O. again and this time he gave me some of the new "sulfa powder", the wonder drug, to take with me.
It was against regulations to give this out but it proved a wonderful medication. After several applications my sores dried up. I treasured and saved the remaining powder in an envelope. My friend Mac MacLaughlin, a motor mechanic, had very sore hands with large abrasions that would not heal. We used the sulfa powder on him and presto, his hands were healed!
The guns initially issued to the Regiment on arrival in Italy were from the North African Campaign (General Montgomery's 8th Army), and were 105 mm howitzers mounted on tank chassis without a turret. The top was open. There was thick armour plate for protection of the gun crew.
These guns were very worn from firing thousands of rounds, therefore in late April 1943, twenty new 105mm Self Propelled (SP) guns, nicknamed "Priests" were issued to the Regiment, thus leaving 4 old guns. Each regiment had 24 SP guns. The new guns arrived at the 8th Field just before my posting to the Regiment. They weighed 22 tons each.
John Fearnley was the key person in our half-track. If anything happened to me, John was completely capable of taking over the troops at a moment's notice. Along with John in our half-track were Gunner Pat Hilker, two signallers - Clark and Thorlekson, and our assistant Noble.
John was from Rapid City, Manitoba. Pat had joined up at Red Deer with me and turned up in Italy in the 8th. Luck of the draw, so to speak. Keith "Mac" MacLaughlin, our motor mechanic, was from near Calgary, the town of Gleichen. On 19 May, 1944 after a few days in the holding area under camouflage, the 1st and 5th Canadian Divisions started to move. (This was in preparation for the successful attack on the "Hitler" Line on 23 May, 1944.)
The Commanding Officer of the 5th Canadian Division was Major General Hoffmeister of Vancouver. Captain George Riley was our Troop Captain. Captain Peter Leacock from Calgary was attached to our Headquarters.
On Victoria Day, May 24, 1944, the advance party of the Canadian 8th Artillery Field Regiment raced up the Liri Vally in Italy to reconnoiter gun positions for battle action. It was a hot sunny day. We were shelled mercilessly by the rear guard of the retreating Germans up high on the Cassino mountains.
That beautiful sunny afternoon we suffered nine killed and sixteen wounded. That night when we bedded down we each dug our individual slit trenches under cover of the trees in several olive orchards. As was the order of the time, due to malaria in Italy, we hung our mosquito nets from the gnarled olive tree branches above.
However, to our horror, during the night the enemy determined to have another crack at us, and launched an air raid on our sleeping troops in the valley. There were flares, bombs and machine gun fire. The flares hit the sky and revealed scores of white mosquito nets, under which we had been asleep!
There was a mad scramble to tear each mosquito net down and hide it under a bedroll. The next day the cooks and quarter stories were emptied of tea, so that we could dye our mosquito nets a less conspicuous colour. Thereafter all our mosquito nets were a dull brown, and much less observable by passing enemy planes.
Now Cassino Mountain and Cassino Abbey had not been captured from the Germans. Therefore they could overlook our position and our movements which made a lot of dust, so they subjected us to heavy artillery fire.
However, on our left flank was a lower range of mountains, the Aurance, which was where the French Moroccan Mountain troops were deployed. They did most of their fighting at night on foot carrying small arms and knives, and using donkeys for supply line transportation.
They scared the living daylights out of the Germans. We had a standing joke about the fierce Moroccans. After a raid, a German soldier said "Hah, you missed me!"... to which the Moroccan replied "Just shake your head." And sure enough it fell off. We loved those brave Moroccan troops, and we were sure glad they were on our side. They were such vicious night knife fighters.
The Liri Valley
We were bombed by the low flying German planes. This was our first experience with bombs and believe me - it scared the dickens out of us! It was at night and we could hear the planes coming over and then there would be a great blast nearby.
Several of us were lying in a shallow ditch, and a young Gunner about 18 years old was in front of me. His boots drummed a tattoo on my helmet in his fright and nerves. I tried my best to reassure him that we would come out all right. From then on we dug slit trenches faster and deeper in between the firing of our armoured guns.
My friend John Fearnley recalled, he would never forget the night we went through the Hitler line. His mother had torn out the page from the 23rd psalm from an old hymn book, and put it in the little army bible that we carried.
Stan had the little bible with the 23rd psalm with him. We were both reading this to ourselves that night when we were bombed. The next night was even worse. It is sure lucky that we got as far as we did in life.
The Adriatic, 1944
With our 5th Canadian Armoured Division over the Melfa River on the 25th May, 1944 and the liberation of Frosinone, the crucial battle for the Liri Valley was over. In this engagement, our 5th Armoured Division had encountered some of the fiercest fighting of any time during the war. By May 30th we had advanced 64km in a straight line and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy.
We continued our move back over the spine (Apennines) of Italy. It was 120 tortuous miles of narrow, poorly maintained roads always at night without lights.
"P" Battery Troop Commander's Sherman tank was always deployed with the tanks so that he could receive fire requests from the Tank Regiments and could radio back the fire orders to our supporting Artillery Regiment.
His tank had a wooden gun instead of a real one because it was not a combat tank and we were still short of tanks and guns. While moving to the Adriatic through small mountain villages some of the local people spotted this wooden gun and nearly had hysterics laughing, pointing and joking about it in Italian. They also called the Canadians, "Canadesi" in Italian.
British and Canadian officers were issued with long barrel 38 calibre Smith and Wesson revolvers. Upon being issued with these we were told that 38 calibre ammunition was very scarce. I was somewhat bemused when we were issued eight rounds each so I never dared practice firing in case I ended up with a revolver and no shells. I never did fire my revolver at an enemy in Italy. Therefore, the eight rounds lasted until we went into action in Holland at Arnhem.
Throughout the Italian campaign one of our Captains, Paddy Morrison (an American in the Canadian Army) had an American issue 45 Colt revolver which was much heavier than ours. The main difference was that our .38 bullet would not always stop a man or knock him down - dead or otherwise! All the American officers carried Colt 45's and had lots of ammunition!
While moving up to attack the Coriano Ridge, I believe that I had the narrowest escape of my war years. I was in an armoured half-track command post vehicle which was about 11 tons, and had to advance down a road that was being heavily shelled. There was no choice but to drive into the bursting shells and dust and hope to heaven they would all miss us - which they did.
We were pinned down, and hollering for gun specialist Sgt John Fearnley to please get us out of there! He got the guns positioned and fired, covering us as we took off. My driver Pat Hilker and I were scared to death until we got through.
At this point I think I should explain how some of us adopted a philosophy of fatalism. We had to be smart and take whatever precautions we could while under shellfire, but beyond that we just figured that if our number was not up we would be all right - no problem today - carry on - nothing to worry about.
The 5th Canadian Armoured Division attacked Coriano Ridge early in September along with a British Division. There was very fierce fighting, and we were continually shelled by German artillery and "screaming meanies". The screaming meanies were large calibre mortars.
They had revolving barrels and fired about ten projectiles in succession. The projectiles were drilled in such a way that they screamed and howled as them came through the air. These were extremely demoralizing to us.
Also making this a very difficult campaign was that we were continually crossing rivers and other obstacles. As the Germans slowly retreated, they had the advantage of having all targets accurately surveyed in because they had recently occupied those positions. This made their artillery fire on us very accurate.Heavy Rains and Jaundice
When the hot Italian summer broke, we were deluged by heavy rains which turned all roads into quagmires of mud. Tank movement became virtually impossible. The entire Army literally came to a stand still with all our vehicles bogged down in the mud. The streams and rivers crossing the Front had become raging torrents. We sought shelter where we could.
Some fellows who dug holes in small hay stacks to stay dry were often set on fire by German tracer bullets. Some tank troopers took shelter from shell fire and rain by sleeping under their tanks only to have the tank slowly sink into the mud at night and pin them underneath, killing them.
We tried digging shallow fox holes about 18 inches deep to escape the shrapnel only to have the hole fill with water during the night. It was a hellish time. It is impossible to describe the horrors the men went through. We hadn’t had dry clothes or feet. Every day we hoped that we would come down with jaundice which meant we would be shipped back to a hospital and recreation area for several weeks.
When it finally happened the outbreak of jaundice was very severe, and upwards of 100 troops and officers were evacuated. Some of our men "cracked up" at this time and had to be taken out of the line.
Still others thought that shooting themselves in the foot would be a way of getting into the hospital. And there was never enough to eat. (The Americans had much better rations than the Canadians did.) The dysentery never let up, and sometimes we were to the point where the pain came close to outweighing anything the enemy could throw at us.
When the rains finally quit and the hot dry weather returned, the 8th Army (including our 5th Armoured Division) reopened the offensive with renewed vigour. Our health slowly returned. The objective of our 5th Division was Coriano Ridge.
During the battle of Coriano Ridge and area, General Burns reported that Canadian casualties were approximately 2500 for the 1st Canadian Division and 1500 for the 5th Canadian Division.
The 8th Army commander signaled General Burns, Commander of the Canadian Corps, on September 21, "By the bitterest fighting since El Alamien and Cassino you have beaten 11 German Divisions and broken through into the Po Valley. The greater part of the German Armies in Italy have been terribly mauled. I congratulate and thank you all."
September 1944 was the deadliest month for Canadians during the entire Italian war. For my part this month was certainly the worst of my entire Army career.
While attacking Coriano Ridge our Troop had another severe blow. Our Troop Captain Riley, along with his crew of driver and signalman were up front with the tanks directing our supporting fire. It was the habit of Captain Riley to have the hatch of his Sherman Tank open.
He would have his head and shoulders out so he could visually observe the zone our shells were falling in. By sheer chance, a German mortar went into the open hatch, and exploded instantly, killing Captain Riley and crew. It was devastatingly sad for our Troops.
Senio River, December 1944
General Crerar, Commander of the 1st Canadian Army fighting in France, sent his personal congratulations to Corps Commander General Foulks. This recognition was welcomed by us because at this point we considered ourselves to be 'the forgotten men of the Allied Armies in Italy'.
We felt we were forgotten because all effort was going into Europe on the Western Front. We were short of ammunition and reinforcements, and only barely had enough food for a few weeks.
It hurt our feelings very much when a horrible Lady Astor in England called us "D-Day Dodgers". We got her back in a way with a song composed by one of the soldiers aptly called : "We Are The D-Day Dodgers".
On the nights of December 12 and 13 in the wet snow and rain, the Division advanced over two canals and one river, but was forced to halt there because of bad weather and very strong German positions. This was the limit of the Northern advance in Italy for the 1st Canadian Corps and the Division dug in to hold the line on the south side of the Senio River.
We stayed in this position throughout the balance of December including Christmas. The Canadian Corps sector was the only part of the Italian Front where there was not a white Christmas. The snow had melted, and it was cold, rainy and foggy weather with dreadful muddy and wet conditions.
A wary truce was observed on both sides of the Senio River and some Christmas songs were heard from both sides. Our guns were silent from 2308 hours until 847 hrs. We came out of action for one hour in order to have Christmas dinner. Christmas Day at our 'D' troop position was unique for us in that we had fresh roasted turkey!
This came about because our fellows had seen some turkeys around an abandoned farm house about two weeks before Christmas. They caught 5 turkeys, improvised a crate and brought them back to our gun position. We had to mount a 24 hour guard over them because nearby troops from other regiments were all set to steal them from us. Our gallant gunners held the line and so we had roast turkey for Christmas. (As far as I know the other troops had canned turkey.)
Stanley was a Gun Position Officer with the 71st Battery, 8th Field Regiment of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division. Stanley spent twenty months in Italy during the Italian Campaign, and was Mentioned in Despatches once. His unit was sent back to Europe in early 1945, where he served in France, Belgium and Holland up to the end of the war. On 15 April, 1945, his best friend, Capt. Mel Donnelly, was killed by a sniper at Barneveld, Holland.
In Comines, Belgium Stan was placed in charge of two honour guards: the first at the Menin Gate Memorial, and second as Commander of the Regimental Honour Guard of 50 men for Field Marshall Montgomery.
On 10 May, 1945, just two days after the war ended, his brother Wilford Bruce Farrow, drowned while on active duty in Newfoundland. Soon after returning home from the war, he married his childhood sweetheart Margaret Fairbairn who had served in the WRCNS during the war.
As long as he was able, Stan never missed attending the Remembrance Day Ceremony each year to honour all those who sacrificed their lives for their country. He remained lifelong friends with Sgt. John Fearnley, Gunner Pat Hilker, and Capt. Peter Leacock.