Saturday, May 19, 2007

oops...its Malta

And here I thought the tickets were to Rome. Ah well. Next week.
Here I lugged this armour halfway around the world only to find the armoury is closed. Seems the roads were all being torn up, and nobody could get in the door, so they downed tools and hung a shingle on the door saying "closed until further notice!". Crikey! Well, instead of hanging around Valetta and its noisy road work, we wandered back out to the bus scrum and took the number four out to Fort Rinella. (google Fort Rinella,Malta, you'll be glad you did!) While Brenda drove off to meet our friends at the airport, I made an excellent afternoon with M. F. chatting about everything under the sun. About time I had such a break...the first one in years. I treated myself to a Cisk (thats a beer) and a kinney (thats a soft drink). I got the impression that M.F. needed a bit of a break as well...the frustrations of managing several museums has clearly taken a toll on his patience. We discussed the possibility of creating a hands-on working armoury, and it surely won't be THIS year, nor likely even THIS decade! (and I see that there is already an excellent armourer here in Mosta, creating armours for a display troupe. All I can say is "good on ya!" I am not much worried about competition because of course, there is never enough metal clothing to go around! And this guy is really good. I really must try to make time to visit him this week!

So Jennifer, you wanted to know about my uncle Bill. Well, he was born in the dirty thirties in Saskatchewan, and followed his brother Nick into the Calgary Highlanders. I really don't know much about him, or what they did for a year in England....Nick never talked about it....but like all the Canadians, they landed on Juno beach in June of 1944. The Canadians had it a little easier than the boys in the movie "Saving Private Ryan", or "Band of Brothers" because they managed to take out some of the machine guns, but it was bad enough. They fought North, bypassing Paris (Patton wanted to go into Paris, and heck, let him!), charged overland and took Antwerp. They eventually ended up at the French Belgium border in a place known as the "Breskens Pocket" . The Scheldt river forms an estuary at that point about 2 miles wide that ships have to travel to reach Antwerp. The geography is such that if you take Antwerp, you can invade Germany, but if you don't take Antwerp, the supply train becomes impossibly long. This means clearing the Germans out of both the south and north sides of the beautiful Scheldt Estuary. The south side is called the Breskens Pocket, and the north side is called Walchern Island. Clearing the Breskens pocket was bad enough, but then they had to cross the Albert Canal to bypass Antwerp and right hook around to clear the north shore and all of Walchern Island.
The battle of the Scheldt is known as the great unknown battle, understandable considering that the British were going A Bridge Too Far, and the Americans were dealing with the Battle of the Bulge. They got all the press. The Canadians were simply rolling up fortress Europe. One flooded, dike surrounded field at a time. The first step was to take the Albert Canal. 200 meters wide, and a formidable barrier. You would have thought it was a movie! 12 men went across in the middle of the night with their rifles slung over a broken canal lock gate, and made a bridehead by taking out a couple of machine gun posts. D company was in reserve, while A, B and C companies expanded the bridge head. The Germans made a determined counter attack, (they are famous for that!) and pushed the Canadians back to the lock, and nearly into the Canal, when they were rallied by some very determined Canadian officers. Canadians were nearly routed except for D company which covered their retreat, saving many men from annialation, and stiffened their resistance to the counter attack. By morning it was over, Canadians had formed a solid bridge across the Albert Canal, and my uncle had been killed as he covered the withdrawal.
There is more, much more, but that is the essential juice of my Uncle Bill's part in it. He was buried in Belgium, and then a few months later, was dis-interred and re-buried in Bergen Op Zoom Canadian War Cemetary with a dozen of his mates who died the same day.
The lock is still there, though of course, the gates have all been repaired and the lock masters know nothing about how important their little workspace is in the great attack into Holland. I have some copies of the battle, the war diaries in fact, and plan to post scanns of them on these pages in future weeks. For now, I am away from home and away from my picture base, so I must make a thousand words do where a picture would have sufficed!
Tomorrow, I shall attemp to see what is up on the Saluting Battery below the Barakka Gardens in Valetta. (google time again, grin!)

1 comment:

secretpseudonym said...

Wow. Very glad to read all about the battle of Scheldt. I learn so much from you! It’s too bad the Canadians didn’t get more press. Amazing story about your uncle Bill. I could picture it all in my mind as I was reading. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to present your gift of armor! Can’t wait for the next installment.