A group of infantrymen assault down an Ortona Street under the covering fire of a tank.
From 20 to 26 December 1943 The Loyal Edmonton Regiment and The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada engaged in a battle to dislodge the tough troopers of the German 1st Para Division from the Adriatic coast city of Ortona. It was the hardest fighting Canada's 1st Infantry Division had met so far in Italy but much greater challenges lay ahead. In Ortona the Canadians developed new techniques for urban warfare.
In 1945 aspiring young artist Gerald Trottier, barely twenty years old, was commissioned to produce a mural of the December 1943 Battle of Ortona. It depicts a group of infantrymen assault down an Ortona street under the covering fire of a tank. An Ottawa supply unit, No. 26 Central Ordnance Depot, paid the commission from canteen funds and intended it for display in their unit canteen. The mural was painted in oils on a canvas of masonite, 48 feet wide by 8 feet high. At one time it was said to be largest oil painting in Canada. Veterans of the battle attest to the accuracy of its imagery.
Starting with army photographs of the battle Trottier produced charcoal sketches, then ink roughs which were projected onto the masonite canvas. He painted the huge work in oils assisted by another young artist, John Parsons, in an incredibly short period of two months. Gerald Trottier went on to have a productive, distinguished career as an artist especially renowned for spirituality and an accurate and realistic depiction of the human condition.
No. 26 Central Ordnance Depot relocated to Cobourg about 1953 and eventually decided to donate the painting to The Loyal Edmonton Regiment. It was mounted on the west wall of the Prince of Wales Armories. The formal presentation and unveiling with the regiment on parade took place on Saturday morning 28 October 1961. After the Armories passed to the City of Edmonton the mural was moved to the current location on the east wall. It is best viewed from the second floor patio area to the right of the entrance to the city archives.
In 1993 the 49th Battalion Loyal Edmonton Regiment Association arranged for the mural to be photographed. Gordon Henderson undertook this very challenging commission. It was done in the summer so it had to be shot after midnight to ensure total darkness. The challenges of compiling an image of this very wide object emulated those of the production of the painting: it was shot from the roof of the “building within the building” that houses the city archives. Access for the 4x5 view camera and lights was through a hatch in the ceiling. Two lights were placed and fired several times to get the correct exposure.