Canada in the Second World War

Events

The Destruction of Historical Heritage

The San Tommaso Cathedral in Ortona was literally gutted during the December 1943 fighting.

The San Tommaso Cathedral in Ortona was literally gutted during the December 1943 fighting.
Photo by Terry F. Rowe. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-136308.

During the earlier months of the campaign in Italy, churches, bridges and other structures of considerable heritage value were severally damaged or even destroyed by aerial bombings and artillery fire. In the spring 1944, the Allies were closing in on Rome, home to major monuments of Antiquity and Christianity.

Public opinion was a key factor in the war, as in every modern war, and at times influenced how battles were fought. As we have seen, neither the Allies nor the Germans would have fought so bitterly for Ortona without the radio and newspapers reporting on the events. Concerned with securing popular support for their policies, governments created agencies to study public opinion, usually through surveys. The following article is a fine example of this. It was published on June 3rd, 1944, in the Montreal daily La Presse.

A Sacrifice That Most Are Willing To Make

Canadians and Americans would rather save soldiers’ lives than historical monuments

Toronto, 3. – While the Allies were progressing towards northern Italy and air strikes in northern Europe were ongoing, Canadian and US public opinion institutes made a systematic survey of their respective public opinion regarding the treatment of churches and other historical monuments that the Allies may find in their way. The response is a clear demonstration that, if Hitler counts on public opinion to stop bombing monuments and therefore protect German troops, he is mistaken.

Within Canadian opinion, a special place must be made for the Province of Quebec, deeply religious and the only region where a majority opposes bombing churches. Otherwise, Canadian opinion is quite similar to that in the United States: the question asked being the same in both countries: “If generals believe that Europe’s religious and historical centres must be bombed, would you agree?”
Quebeckers have different views on the issue; therefore, their opinion appears in a separate column in the following table:

 
Quebec
Other Provinces
United States
For
40%
76%
74%
Against
52%
20%
19%
Undecided
8%
4%
7%

Women are not as likely to approve as men are:

Canadian Men
Canadian Women
For
72%
61%
Against
23%
32%
Undecided
5%
6%

Allied leaders said that all efforts would be undertaken to save monuments, but most Canadians and Americans support the principle recently stated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commander of the Allied Invasion Forces: “If we must choose between saving a building and sacrificing our men… the building has to go.”