Alphonsus Hickey was born, raised and went to school in Whitney Pier, Sydney, NS. He came from a large family of six boys and two girls, the son of Euphemia “Femy” (née Gillis) Hickey from Whitney Pier, and Alphonse Hickey from Conception Bay, Newfoundland. His mother passed away in 1937 and his father died less than a year and a half after Alphonsus was killed. At the time of Alphonsus’ death overseas, all of his siblings were still living at home on East Broadway in Whitney Pier, except Peter who was also in the Canadian Forces. As the young Hickeys were growing up, their grandmother, Catherine Gillis also lived with them. They were all very close to her and thought of her as their mother.
Alphonsus left school in Grade 9 and went to work at the blast furnace of the Dominion Steel Company in Sydney. His father and uncles also worked there.
After war broke out in 1939, Alphonsus tried to enlist in the army but was rejected after having had both feet burned in an accident at work. His second attempt was more successful and he signed up on August 18, 1942. His service number was F32124. He did his basic training in New Glasgow, NS, and at the end of October was transferred to Aldershot, NS, for further training. On February 11, 1943, Alphonsus was transferred to the Cape Breton Highlanders who at that time were training in England. He disembarked there on March 17, 1943 and in October/November of that year sailed with them to Italy.
On April 13, 1944, during the fighting in Italy, Alphonsus was wounded and spent nearly a month and a half recuperating from his wounds. He was posted back to the battalion near the end of May.
Alphonsus was killed in action on the evening of August 30, 1944, during the battle for Point 120, a hilltop feature in the German Gothic Line. Located on the east coast of Italy, the Gothic Line was one of several defensive lines created by the Germans to slow the Allied advance up the length of Italy.
Alphonsus was a member of "B" Company which made the first of the battalion's two ill fated frontal assaults up the steep slopes of the hilltop position. The Germans allowed the "B" Company men to clamber, unmolested, up the rugged slope which was infested with mines and barbed wire entanglements. When they neared the top, the Germans opened up a furious barrage of fire from numerous machine gun nests which were well prepared and dug in farther up the slope and on an adjacent hill. The company was caught completely by surprise. Intelligence reports prior to the attack had indicated that Hill 120 was unoccupied by the Germans. After several hours of bitter fighting, suffering intense machine gun fire, shelling and German counterattacks, the company was finally forced to withdraw from the hill.
Wartime newspaper accounts of interviews with survivors of that assault tell how, at that point in the battle, Alphonsus Hickey volunteered to stay behind with his bren gun and act as a rearguard to cover the withdrawl of his company. The men around him handed over their bren gun ammunition as they slipped by in the dark.
Alphonsus' body was found the next day after Hill 120 was finally captured by the Irish Regiment in a flanking attack. The bodies of dead German soldiers were found around Alphonsus' last defensive position attesting to the fact that he had fought a valiant one man battle until he was finally killed. He had sacrificed his own life in order to save the lives of his comrades.
Alphonsus Hickey was posthumously awarded a Mentioned in Despatches for his actions that night. After the war, many of Alphonsus' comrades and family members felt that his actions that night warranted a more distinguished award, but since the battalion's attacks that night did not achieve a successful outcome, a higher award was not forthcoming.
At the time of his death Alphonsus was 24 years old. He held the rank of private. Alphonsus was laid to rest in Montecchio War Cemetery in Montecchio, Italy.
For additional information on Alphonsus Hickey, refer to the following online source:
I would like to thank Mrs. Margaret Hickey of Whitney Pier, Sydney NS, sister-in-law of Alphonsus Hickey. She provided family information when I met with her in 1991. I would also like to thank Mrs. Catherine Curtis of Downsview, Ontario, who was kind enough to lend me a photograph and newspaper clippings to copy. All items were sent and returned by mail in 1992.