Walcheren Causeway (31 October 1944 – 2 November 1944)
At 0950 hours on the 31st of October, Operation SWITCHBACK – the effort by the 3rd Canadian Division, 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division and 1st Polish Armoured Division, to clear all Germans south of the West Scheldt – was completed. That same day, South Beveland was at last cleared of Germans. To the east, Canadian troops had taken Bergen op Zoom and the Allies were pressing north. However, the great port at Antwerp, so essential to easing the Allies’ logistical problems, was still unusable because of the German batteries located on Walcheren Island.
South Beveland was connected to Walcheren Island by a narrow causeway; just 40 yards wide, it stretched for a mile, “straight as a gun barrel.” On it was a road, a set of railway tracks, a bicycle path, and a thin line of poplars. While many Germans retreated over the causeway to Walcheren Island, others chose to surrender to the Allies instead; their losses in dead and wounded had been heavy.
Canadian intelligence maps, printed on the 23rd, showed German defences east of the causeway in detail, but none at the western end. It was hoped that the Second Canadian Division could “bounce” the Causeway – take it in a lightning move from the confused and reeling Germans. Middleburg, the capital town on Walcheren Island, was only 4000 yards inland.
On the 30th of October, the Royal Regiment was only half a mile from the eastern end of the Causeway. The Division’s commander ordered them to prepare to drive over the narrow strip of land and enable another brigade to pass through onto Walcheren itself. The commander of 4th Brigade, however, saw that the Causeway was bordered on each side by mud flats, which were hidden at high tide. He thought a water crossing would have a better chance of success than a charge down the causeway. The Second Division had trained in assault crossings in England, in anticipation of the need to do so at the Seine. Since his troops were tired, and since only two units of the Second Division had taken assault boat training (the Calgary Highlanders being one of them), the job was passed on to the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade.
The Calgary Highlanders found that boats could not cross the Slooe Channel (also referred to as “Sloe”), however, and last minute plans were drawn up.
The 31st of October was quiet for the battalion during the morning; the Intelligence Section was had at work until very early in the morning preparing maps and air photos; the battalion remained on “one third stand-to” (in other words, 1 of every 3 soldiers was awake and alert) until 0800 reveille. The war diary reported that “the majority enjoyed a good night’s rest.”
At 10:00 hrs, a “Huddle Red” was called at Brigade Headquarters, where Acting CO Ross Ellis, the Intelligence Officer, and Major Harrison of the 5th Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, met with Brigadier McGill. He announced that the Royal Regiment of Canada was established at the eastern end of the Walcheren Causeway, and that by first light on the 1st of November a bridgehead was to be created. Thirty-five stormboats belonging to the Division were available and a Field Company of Royal Canadian Engineers from II Canadian Corps Troops would deliver them. The assault, to be launched by the Calgary Highlanders, was to be done before high water at midnight, when the water was estimated to be 14 feet deep. This would be Phase One.
Phase Two would see Le Régiment de Maisonneuve ferry across in boats to assault north of the railway.
Phase Three would see the Calgary Highlanders exploit to the edge of Arnemuiden, with the inter-battalion boundary being the railway.
Two private soldiers, Thompson and Fox, were tasked to drive Weasels to bring wireless sets and ammunition up after the assault. Riflemen would also carry ammunition with them and dump it when they landed on Walcheren Island; the 3″ mortars of the Highlanders and Maisonneuves (and the 4.2″ mortars of the Toronto Scottish) would remain on South Beveland, though a mortar representative was to travel with each battalion.
Four field regiments of 25-pounder guns would be available for fire support, to fire barrages or time concentrations. No anti-tank guns or carriers were to be taken over, and the Medium Machine Guns of the Toronto Scottish would be used to neutralize enemy concentrations on the left and right flanks. A troop of tanks was also expected to be able to support the Phase Three exploitation to Arnemuiden.
Storm boat troop commanders and flotilla commanders were to contact us at 1700 hrs. to rehearse carrying dryshod. Major Carsen, Royal Canadian Engineers, was to contact us regarding lights and markers. Major Ellis suggested that the initial landing to be staged as originally planned and that it included the use of LVT’s. (Landing Vehicle, Tracked). The Brigadier explained that there were none on hand. The plan then was that if the Black Watch were successful, then the Calgary Highlanders would “swoosh” through to ARNEMUIDEN and Regiment de Maisonneuve would have no set task, until later. The Brigadier said he expected the “form” would be definite about 1400 hrs. And therefore, there would be an “O” Group at 1500 hrs.
Before leaving Brigade, Acting CO Major Ellis had phoned to the Adjutant to have the company commanders assembled. They were waiting when we arrived and were given the proposed plan.
At 1300 hrs, A/C.O. Major Ellis was on his way again to Brigade to talk over the Fire plan for the night’s operations.
Leaving Brigade. at 1500 hrs, (the CO) returned to Tactical HQ to hold a meeting of company commanders. Representatives of the Corps Troops, Field Company were on hand to put Baker company through its paces in handling the Assault Boats. Instructions were given to Privates Thompson and Fox as they were to drive the Weasels. As the definite plan for crossing had not yet been formulated, discussion centred more on the subject of the attack once we had landed on WALCHEREN Island. Scout officer Lt. Sellar had gone up ahead to study the situation from close angles and to observe and report on the Black Watch progress. He found that they were held up due to heavy enemy resistance from mortar, MMG and heavy guns.
During Maj. Ellis’s visit to Brigade, the company commanders went up to recce the area 2130. The Battalion “O” Group was cut short as Major Ellis again had to return to Brigade to attend further briefing on the subject of the crossing.
After supper, company commanders returned to Tactical HQ. to get the final picture. At 1830 hrs, Maj. Ellis broke the news that there would be no “boating”, but that we would cross the causeway on foot at 2400 hrs. The order of approach was to be Baker, Dog, Able and Charlie, and eventually, Tactical HQ. Baker company was to cross the start point at 2400 hrs, i.e. set foot on the Eastern extremity of the causeway. Baker company was to move off from its company area at 2245 hrs. and the other companies were to gauge their time from the leading companies. The initial plan was that Baker company would traverse the causeway and fan out North, South and West to include the area from 202300 to 203306. Dog company was to pass through Baker and go South to area 197294. Once these two had signalled their success, then Able company securing second objective at 190315. Mobile Fire Controllers were to operate with Charlie, Dog and Able. A section of pioneers was allotted to Baker, Dog and Able. Bde. arranged to procure for us the mortar platoon of the Camerons. Together with the Black Watch and our own, a comprehensive fire plan was outlined. The bulk of the support before and during the crossing was to be provided by arty, bofors, med. arty. and 4.2 mortars and to start at H-20. The code word “Robin” was to be used to notify afty. that three companies had crossed and that Charlie company was on its way over. Maj. Ellis stated that he would hold another Huddle before pushing North. The sequel to our operation was that R. de Mais. would follow us and enlarge the bridgehead Southward. In the meantime, the 157 British Div. would come up from the South. Advance Tactical HQ. was to be established at the same locale as that occupied by R.H.C., namely Farm at 224294.
Capt. Clarke caused certain consternation when he announced at 2145 hrs. that his company was on the move. One other company took up the signal and started to “green”. After a few humorous exchanges on the blower, Maj. Ellis finally succeeded in halting the column. The explanation was that the men were suffering from sore feet and it was decided that it would be a help to have them move early and slowly so as to be on the start line on time with a minimum of effort. Promptly seizing advantage of the situation, Maj. Ellis had Capt. Clarke and his platoon commanders in to Tactical HQ. for a last minute briefing. The Black Watch, having had an unpleasant time all afternoon and night, was thinning out to allow us in. Promptly at 2340 hrs, as per schedule, the fire programme unfolded and it was quite spectacular. By this time, Tactical HQ. was in position and a going concern. At 2350 hrs, Baker company once again startled its listeners by announcing “Baker company reports Merry Christmas”.
At 2400 hrs, Baker company started out along the causeway, while everyone waited, almost with bated breath for their first report.
Items also worthy of mention during the day included a visit by Capt. Percy to Tactical HQ. where his word of good cheer was very appropriate. In his usual customary thoughtful way, he brought some cigarettes.
Maj. D. K. Robertson came up the Bttn. and sat in on Maj. Ellis’s “O” Gp. Our efficient and hard working Adjt., Capt. Dore brought up some liquid cheer in the form of 2 bottles of Cognac per officer.
Capt. Newman, our very good arty. fellow worker put in an appearance once again, eager to go to work.
More than one remarked that Jerry would not forget the Halloween party which the Calgary Highlanders calculated to put on for Jerry’s benefit!
A company of the Black Watch went forward down the Causeway on the late evening of 31 October. Canadian guns of all calibres, including light and medium artillery, anti-aircraft guns, and mortars, bombarded the dykes along the far end of the Causeway. The Black Watch managed to get halfway across the Causeway before being stopped by heavy casualties.
“B” Company of the Calgary Highlanders went forward next, finding even the entrance to the Causeway under heavy enemy fire; the most alarming enemy weapon was the high velocity anti-tank gun that fired straight down the length of the Causeway. The Highlanders could see enemy shells bouncing off the pavement. The Company could go no farther than the crater in the middle of the Causeway. The crater, blown by German engineers, not only provided cover but also prevented any armour from crossing over. Any entry onto Walcheren Island would have to be by unsupported infantry.
A new fire plan was drawn up, and shortly before dawn “D” Company moved down the Causeway, managing to inch their way to a German roadblock at the far end. The leading troops rushed the roadblock, seized 15 prisoners, and radioed back their success. Soon the other three companies were coming forward to reinforce the bridgehead. By 9:33 am the objectives at the western end were reported secure.
The four companies fanned out on the eastern end of Walcheren Island, but the fighting was bitter and intense. “D” Company lost all its officers killed or wounded, prompting the Brigade Major of the 5th Brigade (a staff officer) to volunteer to take over. Permission was granted, and George Hees (future Minister of Veterans Affairs) went forward with an Artillery Forward Observation Officer as his second in command.
In the face of heavy opposition, however, the Calgary Highlanders were forced to withdraw from the island, handing over a small bridgehead to Le Regiment de Maisonneuve on the evening of 1 November.
As the fighting raged into the afternoon on 1 November, German counter-attacks took a deadly toll of the Highlanders on Walcheren Island. Sergeant Emile Jean Laloge, of 18 Platoon, found himself picking up German grenades and throwing them back at the Germans. Laloge earned the DCM several times; when a Bren gunner was killed, Laloge repaired the gun and turned in on the Germans. When the PIAT man was also wounded, he turned this weapon on the enemy as well.
The Calgary Highlanders suffered 64 men killed, wounded or missing during the Battle of Walcheren Causeway. To this day, the Regiment considers their battle there a testament to courage, determination, and endurance. They rank it alongside the Battle of St. Julien, for which they wear their cherished oak leaf shoulder titles.
Soldiers wounded at Walcheren Causeway, photographed on 1 November 1944. At left, Lieutenant Thomas Langley Hoy (with bandaged leg) of the Calgary Highlanders waits with Private Tillick of the Toronto Scottish Regiment (wearing the glengarry). Below left, Private William R. Van Horne of the Calgary Highlanders is attended by medical personnel. Below, a German Unteroffizier (Sergeant) being given a tetanus shot by a Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps soldier.
To the Calgary Highlanders on 2 November 1944, however, nothing was more important to them than hearing that, for the first time since arriving in France, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division would be pulled out of the line for a period of protracted rest. It was a welcome respite.
Private Frank Holm (Signaler)
Baker Company – – my company – – took the lead. Captain Clarke, second in command of the company, was in command. Major Robinson, I assume, was L.O.B. for the operation. It was late in the evening as we moved single file at five-yard intervals southward down the road to the eastern approach to the causeway. I was carrying the 18-set. I had the earphones on but no messages were being passed. We never passed messages going into action unless it was absolutely necessary, and then the message would be as brief as possible so as not to let the enemy discover the frequency we were transmitting on. I normally had one earphone on my ear to listen for messages and the other off my ear so I could hear what was going on all around me. As we moved out onto the causeway all was quiet and calm. The road was paved. To the right of the roadway was the railroad track. To the left of the roadway it seems the Germans had dug slit trenches at regular intervals. They were evidently intended to be used for their own defence if necessary. It was October 31. I remarked to my partner: “Tonight is Hallowe’en. I wonder if there are going to be any fireworks?” The answer came soon enough. A very few minutes later, at 11:00 p.m., our field artillery started to put down a barrage on known targets such as gun emplacements on the Walcheren shore to support our attack, but the moment our guns opened up the German artillery opened fire on the causeway.
It was devastating fire with high velocity shells coming straight down the roadway, sometimes ricocheting off the pavement. We had to go to ground. Captain Clarke and I scrambled into one of those German slit trenches so he could try to assess the situation and communicate with Battalion. To assess the situation was easier said than done. The rifle platoons were spread out along the roadway up ahead. So Captain Clarke told me to stay put till he got back; took his runner Maxwell with him and went forward as fast as possible to check on his platoon officers to see how far their platoons had got and what problems they had run into.
Meanwhile the commanding officer of the battalion, Acting Lieutenant Colonel Ellis, came on the air asking for a situation report. Captain Clarke having gone up ahead, I had to find the company sergeant major to answer the C.O. I found him but he didn’t have anything illuminating to say except what was obvious, that we were coming under very heavy artillery fire. I got back to my slit trench where I remained as ordered.
This must have been close to halfway across the causeway. The slit trench seemed to be solid. Jerry had been considerate enough to line the sides with bricks. This must have been done at their leisure, long before the present hostilities. Little did the Germans know that it would be a life-saving shelter for Canadians. Besides the high velocity shells, the enemy was firing with heavy artillery. These were probably coastal guns in permanent emplacements on the island.
Suddenly Captain Clarke and Maxwell appeared from the direction of Walcheren. They dove into the slit trench. Maxwell was completely out of breath and made the observation that Captain Clarke was a hard man to keep up with. Captain Clarke was obviously very tense and understandably so. He was agonizing about the situation his company was in and about what to do next. However, he got himself together, took the microphone and spoke directly to the colonel, giving him a full report on the deployment of his platoons and what we were up against.
At some point the Germans discovered our wireless frequency and proceeded to jam it. All I could hear then was a loud EEE-YOW-EEE-YOW-EEE-YOW. When that happened the control set at Battalion (HQ) would start sending out a netting signal on our first alternative frequency, which is what happened. Then I had to tune in my receiver to Battalion, net my transmitter to my receiver and call up Battalion to see if they could hear me: “Hello Mike Two, report my signals, over.” If they could hear me loud and clear I would get the message: “Mike Two, strength five, out.” Messages had to be brief. The ‘Mike’ was part of our battalion call number for the day; ‘two’ meant Baker Company; ‘strength five’ meant loud and clear and ‘out’ meant end of conversation, no reply expected.
We had to change frequencies several times on the Causeway. It was usually like that. On a quiet night with nothing going on the 18-set was good for clear communication for about twelve to fifteen miles, but as soon as you went in on an attack there would be a lot of static from vehicles and explosions and probably Jerry would jam your frequency. It became difficult to maintain communication over one or two miles, let alone twelve miles. I believe that there on the Causeway, as on other occasions, the problem of maintaining communications helped me to keep my sanity. I was so busy with this task that to some extent it took my mind off what was going on around me.
The night passed and morning came. Baker Company headquarters remained where it was. The shelling continued. The heavy shells were the worst. The explosion would send a shock through you that would reach the very depth of your nervous system and put in doubt your ability to take it. But once in a while one would land in the soft mud flats beside the Causeway, sink in the mud and fail to explode. You could feel the ground shake as it dug in. With this continuous bombardment I was about at the limit of what my nerves could take.
There was a bit of relief though. We did have some air support in this operation. On several occasions ‘Typhoons’ flew over and fired rockets at the heavy gun emplacements on Walcheren. The Jerries must have taken cover because the shelling would cease for several minutes and we would be able to get out of our trenches and cheer and shout defiance at the enemy. But the guns were not silenced. As soon as the ‘Typhoons’ had completed their attack the Germans resumed the bombardment.
A heavy shell hit awfully close. When I looked up I saw nothing but black. I thought for a moment that I had had it; but it was only a shower of mud and dirt that came down and there was a wheelbarrow sticking out over the end of the trench. Where that wheelbarrow came from I will never know. I hadn’t seen it before. At this point I swore that if I ever got out of this hellish place I wouldn’t mind eating dirt for the rest of my life.
Captain Clarke spent a lot of time up ahead with the platoons, but from time-to-time would need to pass messages over the wireless. We would call down artillery fire on enemy positions on Walcheren. I would say, for example, “Hello Able Two, message for Shelldrake, Mike Roger 242703, Mike target, fire, over.” ‘Mike Roger’ was a code word for map reference and ‘Shelldrake’ was the code word for artillery. Within a few seconds we could hear the gun reports from the eith twenty-five pounders of one battery of field artillery and I would receive the message: “Hello Able Two, shot, send corrections, over.” Then we would hear the shells whistling overhead and the detonations on the enemy target. It was very reassuring. If I called for a ‘Yoke’ target all twenty four guns of the 5th Field Regiment would fire. It was my understanding that we could also call for a ‘Queen’ target, in which case all the artillery in Second Division would open up. By my calculation at the time that would be eighty guns, that is, three field regiments plus one regiment of medium artillery. All this was available because for a short time we were the lead company of the lead battalion of the lead brigade of Second Division.
Once, where I was, a young rifleman dropped into my trench; I didn’t know where he came from. We talked a bit. He looked distraught and bewildered. All of a sudden he turned pale, peeled off his equipment and said: “I’m getting out of here!” He climbed out and headed eastward off the causeway. The poor guy had lost his nerve. He had cracked.
…At one point a shell hit very close to me and the explosion did something to the wireless set. It went dead and I couldn’t find the problem. Captain Clarke was not there. What was there to do? I couldn’t just do nothing. I headed back off the causeway to Battalion HQ to pick up another 18-set. In my absence, so I was told, Baker Company moved ahead and since they had no signaler, they borrowed the signaler from Dog Company which was moving up behind them so I went in with Dog Company. As we advanced along the causeway the main problem was the shelling. I noticed several Canadian dead lying face down in the dirt, wearing the insignia of the Canadian Black Watch. They must have been casualties of the Black Watch assault of the previous afternoon.
D Company headquarters advanced as far as a huge crater about two-thirds of the way along the causeway. It pretty well cut the causeway in two. The Germans must have blown the hole to prevent vehicles from crossing. Dog Company headquarters took up a position in the crater. Baker Company HQ must have been up very close to the island. Where Able Company and Charlie Company were I had no idea at the time. Sometimes, as I have said, it was difficult to know the complete picture, especially at night. It was hard enough to do your job and keep track of the few people around you. Later that night Baker Company and Dog Company were relieved by other units and moved back off the causeway. That was the night of the first of November.
…When B Company gathered the next morning we counted about sixty out of about one hundred who went in on the attack. That meant that B Company alone suffered about forty casualties…
Taken from A BACKWARDS GLANCE: The Personal Story of an Infantry Signaller with the Calgary Highlanders in World War II by Frank P. Holm (Sault Ste Marie, ON, 1989)
Private George Teasdale (Rifleman)
The next day, after the rest of the regiment came up, we moved to the entrance of the causeway. A lot of the young kids were getting upset. It was pretty awesome. The Germans were firing shells from the other end, bouncing them off the road, and they were ricocheting back and forth all over the place. But the attack had begun. We moved out early in the morning, onto the road, and found a lot of dead bodies from the regiment that had been in ahead of us. As soon as we started to run, the firing began, and I can still remember the Mad Major yelling, “Come on, you sons-of-bitches!” We got all separated. At one point, an armoured bulldozer came along to try to fill in a ditch that had been blasted across the centre of the causeway, but it drew heavy fire and had to back off.
I think I got close to the other side, but I don’t know how close. When I had worked my way forward, I jumped into a crater and found a major from another company. There were a half dozen bodies lying in the hole. The major asked me who I was and where I had come from. When he saw me peering over the edge, he told me to stay put. We talked a bit about the attack, and he was obviously upset. Things had gone wrong.
After a while, my own company’s commanding officer and a platoon lieutenant crawled up beside us. They looked into the crater, spotted me and the major, and yelled at us to go with them. The major grabbed my shoulder and told me again to stay where I was. The other officers went on. The next thing I know, there was a hell of a commotion and back they came, both of them hurt, dragging each other. That’s how far they had gone. We couldn’t move ahead. Anyway, the battle lasted the whole day, and when the night came, somebody crawled up beside us to call us back. I remember getting off the causeway – I was out of it. We were a sorry looking bunch.
Text and photo taken from A LIBERATION ALBUM: CANADIANS IN THE NETHERLANDS 1944-45 by David Kaufman and Michiel Horn. (The Bryant Press Ltd, 1980 (ISBN 0-07-092429-5))
Captain F.H. Clarke (Acting Company Commander)
For manoeuvring, we had just the space between the top of the dyke and the water back of it. When the tide came in, it wasn’t very much. The enemy were using 81 mm mortars on us, at less than fifty yards range. They were dug in on the land side of the floodbank and we were on the water side.
….We were strung out in a long thin line, and couldn’t do anything; we couldn’t move one way or another. Each time we tried to go over the dyke we took a hell of a beating. About this time Jerry launched a counterattack at the end of the causeway, at our point of contact with D Company…
D Company was being forced back; that would leave us exposed at both ends – our rear was now in danger…and eventually we moved back behind the crater in the middle of the causeway and held on.
Major Ross Ellis (Acting Battalion Commander)
(Webmaster’s comments in blue)
(Interviewer’s questions in green)
I think they called it Woensdrecht, but it was a coffin-shaped piece of property we opened up. That’s what started the move up the Scheldt. It wasn’t Hoogerheide that opened it. It was the one in the middle of October that opened up the Causeway up to the Scheldt.
“Why was (the Causeway) attacked the way it was?”
At that time, on orders from corps and division and so on, we went in. The intelligence information on that was about as bad as anything we ever got.
We were directed to go in there, pull into the main city, which was Middelburg, take it, and we were told that there were some 350 “white bread” cases, ulcer cases. In other words, just a kind of semi-hospital unit of the Germans holding that as a base and no ability to fight or anything. They kicked the hell out of us and they did with the (British) Mountain Division (the inaptly named 52nd Lowland Division) that went in after us. They eventually came in from the south from Flushing with many, many times the troops we had. They came in from Westkapelle into…Middelburg.
Another thing was that in the intelligence reports was that we couldn’t go on the land attack across where the canal was supposed to be because it was so bad. The only way we could do it was to cross on that causeway. It was ultimately found out that we could have gone across in a number of places without the slightest difficulty, spread our troops out and been much more successful than we were. These are the things that are a bit disturbing.
It was an awesome situation trying to advance up that damn Causeway.
You put a bunch of guys in a cannon, push them up to the mouth, tell them to spread when they get to the mouth of the cannon, and that’s about the time the thing goes off. So it was a bad deal.
(Question: “In your history I was reading that George Hees went up and took over “A” Company. I was talking to him…he was very fuzzy about this.”)
George has got reason to be fuzzy about it. Knobby (Captain F.H.) Clarke was in Toronto when George ran as (a candidate for Member of Parliament). He was having a little trouble so he brought his war record into it. The way it read on that particular case: he went up, took over the company, and sorted out the whole bloody Calgary Highlanders/5th Brigade. He got them into battle order and pretty near won the battle by himself.
He has changed his story. He said he led this platoon or (a) small company of (Le Regiment de) Maisonneuve and he didn’t lead the Calgary Highlanders.
That’s not correct. It was quite a thing for him to come in…because he had come up from Tac HQ from Brigade to get a progress report. He was wearing a staff cap which he always wore, the ordinary officer’s cap. He then said, “Well, I’ll go up and take over a company because I’ve lost two company commanders and a couple of platoon commanders. Wynn Lasher and Shoning had been wounded. I’ll go up.” He called back to the Brigadier and the Brigadier said “sure”, so we got him a tin hat and took one of the scouts to take him out and show him how to run a Bren Gun.
I took him up onto the Causeway. He didn’t lead any Maisonneuve across. During the night he got shot in the arm. What he did was very commendable because it took a lot of guts for a guy who had never been in action to go into a hell-hole like that one. George spoke to the unit at one of the reunions and was well-received. That was a stinky-hole and we were finally relieved by a British Mountain (Division)…the 52nd Division.
What part did the Maisonneuve play?
The Maisies – they backed us up and were supposed to at one point go through us. Dalt Heyland was partway up the Causeway and then came back to his company. They were a bit startled that somebody up there was shooting at them. It wasn’t a good place for any of us, really. They sort of make out that they were the people that took the Causeway.
The Maisonneuves? Yes. That’s not correct.
I’m sure it isn’t. They probably took it and kept it. We were the only ones that took it and put troops onto Walcheren Island itself. We lost Johnny Moffat in there. (Lieutenant John David Moffatt was killed on 1 November at Walcheren Causeway, aged 25). That was the only place I saw Germans using flamethrowers on our troops. John’s group went off the end of the Causeway, went south, and got involved with the German flamethrowers at that point. The Germans from down near Flushing were firing those 9-inch guns which made a hell of a hole.
That whole battle was a real tough one. From a Canadian point of view, nobody has really written anything about it. It was principally a Canadian battle. The Brigade came in at the last to take over Flushing. That lasted about 5 or 6 days. But the battle down in Breskens, the battle in South Beveland, lasted pretty nearly 20 days.
It was a Canadian operation. It was one that I think ultimately led to the opening up of that entire area and the shortening of the supply lines and everything else.
That was essential.
But the actual battle itself in which the Calgary Highlanders took part didn’t develop a great deal The main accomplishment we got out of there was we got as many as we could out alive. We did a very commendable job as far as our guys were concerned. It was the way the Highlanders went all the time; they got a job and went at it.
It was so essential that Antwerp be open because the logistic situation was so bad and they were trying to move the supplies 400 miles from the Normandy beachhead.
I took over after we went into Hoogerheide. I had command of the unit for Woensdrecht for the Walcheren battle and after we opened that up, (Lieutenant General) Guy Simonds (commander of II Canadian Corps and sometimes acting commander of First Canadian Army) came up and congratulated the Calgaries on doing that because we were the last of four or five regiments that tried it. (The Black Watch, for one, had suffered terrible casualties at the Coffin on what they called Black Friday, 13 October 1944). Guy came up and I was acting CO with the information that there was somebody already on the way up (from France) to take over (the battalion)… Then I had to (take the) unit up through Beveland and onto Walcheren Island. Then we were pulled out of there and went back to Hieres(?). Two days later I was the Colonel which made me quite happy?