NEIL CAMPBELL RHODES

Captain | Royal Canadian Infantry Corps

 

A hot prelude to a dusty summer nearly spoiled the fair Mediterranean weather for the West Nova Scotia Regiment in the last days of May and early June.  The unit in reserve lived in comfort briefly – away from the sound of guns with the luxury of films and a mobile bath unit, a barber and even a watch repairman.  Sparse showers and an occasional torrent of rain that turned the camp to mud interrupted the otherwise pleasant days of training, general duties and trips to Naples and Pompeii.  For the first two months, Private Rhodes found life in the Italian theater rather enjoyable and more recreational than he expected as a replacement for casualties in a combat unit.  Preparations for an offensive began to instill excitement throughout the ranks at the end of July when the division began a slow move north, taking positions near Florence as a feint.  At midnight on August 29, they relieved the 48th Highlanders and spent a rather quiet night half a mile from the Gothic Line.

 

On the advance across the river the following day, all thoughts of days and nights in balmy relaxation were shattered by destructive shell fire and Schu mines that would take the lives of thirteen and wound 72 other members of the regiment.  The leading companies were able to withdraw under cover of smoke and in the afternoon of the 31st, the regiment moved back across the river to reorganize for another advance the next day.  By the time intelligence reported that the West Novas were against more German guns than ever before in Italy, they were well aware of what they were facing.

 

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When Rhodes arrived in Korea as a second lieutenant, he had been up and down the promotion ladder of other ranks many times, often preferring life as a private.  After his second enlistment in 1948, however, he accepted the role of responsibility and was commissioned as an officer.  A rather senior junior officer with far more experience than most coming out of school, he was a valuable platoon leader.  Unlike his arrival in Italy during the Second World War, when he joined the 1st PPCLI on the Korean front in the first week of June 1952, the regiment had not broken contact with the enemy since September.  His first nights on the line were interrupted by bombardments and haunting bugle calls.

 

His first few weeks of combat were fleeting and at the end of June the battalion went into reserve.  Now reminiscent of his Mediterranean summer, spirits were high and the men greatly enjoyed their time off the line, at least until early afternoon when the peak temperatures were stifling.  They fortunate for the next month and a half to have limited time exposed to the elements and after returning to their bunkers at the front, the weather drifted to cooler days with mornings of thick fog clinging to the valleys.  On the night of October 3rd, Rhodes was tasked with leading the assault force of a raid against an enemy held area.  Their objective to capture a prisoner was cut short when an oppressive enemy opened up on them.  Though the firefight was only minutes, it felt much longer and despite all the experience one may have in combat there is always a distorted sense of time when in battle.  The patrol quickly fled as the Chinese directed their artillery at an escape route in the direction of the Royal Canadian Regiment, where they suspected the raid originated.  The misdirection fortunately gave Rhodes and his men time to evacuated their one killed and one wounded.

 

When the 3d PPCLI took over from the 1st Battalion, Rhodes transferred to complete the second portion of his tour.  The period was dominated by actions on The Hook.  In late November, the regiment supported operations on the contested hill and series of ridges.  Components were attached to the Black Watch for the period and those not involved in the fight watched the vivid battles from their positions.  Even after Rhodes left for Canada at the end of February the Commonwealth Division was still fighting over the bit of ground.

Sources:

Rhodes, Neil C. “Neil Rhodes - Veteran Stories - The Memory Project.” The Memory Project, www.thememoryproject.com/stories/822:neil-rhodes/.

Raddall, Thomas H. West Novas: A History of the West Nova Scotia Regiment. T.H. Raddall, 2014.

Canada, Canadian Army “War Diaries.” PPCLI War Diaries, 1952-1953.

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