In September 1944, the acute need for a port promised to be alleviated by the capture of Antwerp, with its large port facilities intact. However, the British 2nd Army was unable to quickly secure the Scheldt Estuary, the waterway leading into Antwerp. No Allied ship could come within miles of Antwerp until the large number of coastal guns lining the Scheldt were silenced. The Germans were aware of the importance of the Scheldt, and hastily organized an amalgam of veteran parachute units and low grade infantry units to defend it. The Canadian Army moved to clear the lands east of Antwerp, and south of the Albert Canal. Wyneghem was one of the towns in this area, and was cleared of Germans by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division in September 1944, followed by further battles along the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal.
The 2nd Canadian Division relieved the British 53rd (Welsh) Division in Antwerp on 16 September 1944; German forces were still in possession of the northern outskirts of the city, and along the line of the Albert Canal. On 19 Sep, the 2nd Canadian Corps was ordered to advance north to Bergen op Zoom, with a westward sweep to clear the Beveland Peninsula. Operation MARKET-GARDEN, the great airborne offensive on Arnhem and the Rhine River, got underway on 17 September, putting a freeze on supplies for the British 1st Corps, who did not arrive from Le Havre until 24 September. Ammunition remained scarce for the 1st Canadian Army as well, as supply lines were stretched thin, running back to the Normandy bridgehead.
The commander of the 2nd Canadian Division, not wishing to enter into an urban battle in Antwerp, wished to send the division on a flanking mission to the east of the city instead.1
At Wyneghem, a damaged lock gate over the Albert Canal was selected as a crossing point, and a patrol of just eight men under Sergeant G.R. “Ken” Crockett of The Calgary Highlanders went over the canal early on the morning of 22 September. Heavily armed with automatic weapons, the patrol inched over the gate – at one point consisting of a single pipe – and onto the enemy held bank, where a sentry was dispatched in silence before the patrol was spotted by German machine gunners. Crockett managed to head off German counter-attacks, contact his company, and organize a bridgehead over the canal – for which he was recommended for the Victoria Cross, a recommendation approved by Brigade, Division, Corps and Army, but ultimately rejected by 21st Army Group, who suggested the action made for a very well-deserved Distinguished Conduct Medal instead.2
With the Calgary Highlanders and elements of Le Régiment de Maisonneuve across the Canal, engineers were able to bridge it, and the Germans quickly withdrew to the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal, allowing the 49th British Division to cross the Albert Canal unopposed further east. In the words of one historian, “The rapid dislodging of the enemy from the Albert (Canal) was due almost entirely to Crocket(t)’s heroic action.”3