Friday, November 11, 2011


Antwerp-Turnhout Canal - This canal was one of the waterworks connecting with the city and its badly needed port facilities. The Calgary Highlanders arrived in this area on 18 September 1944, and on the 21st a bridgehead over the Albert Canal was created by Sergeant Ken Crockett and a handpicked section of ten men. His brave foray into enemy territory was soon expanded to a company sized bridgehead, after which the entire Fifth Brigade was able to follow. His nomination for a Victoria Cross was turned down at the highest levels of command for a very well deserved Distinguished Conduct Medal instead.

The Scheldt - The Scheldt battles were fought on both sides of this waterway during September, October and the early part of November 1944. All three Canadian divisions in northwest Europe took part in these actions, as well as several other divisions under the command of First Canadian Army. Major features north of the Scheldt Estuary included, from west to east, Walcheren Island, North Beveland, and the South Beveland Peninsula. To the south of the Estuary was the area known as "The Breskens Pocket". The Calgary Highlanders fought many actions in the Scheldt battles, highlighted by the Battle Honours listed next.

Woensdrecht - a village at the base of the South Beveland Peninsula in the southwest of The Netherlands. Any units seeking to gain access to South Beveland had to clear a series of villages in this area of enemy soldiers. From 22-27 October, much mighting was seen in this area between the 5th Brigade and veteran German paratroops of Battle Group Chill.

South Beveland - a long peninsula marking the northern boundary of the Scheldt Estuary, the waterway through which Allied ships would have to sail to reach Antwerp and shorten Allied supply lines, still being traced over land all the way back to Normandy. The failure to secure a port closer to the front line meant the expenditure of thousands of gallons of gasoline trucking supplies through France, Belgium and Holland. The Highlanders fought their way west down the Peninsula with the rest of the 2nd Canadian Division, in order to reach Walcheren Island and silence the many German coastal batteries there.

Walcheren Causeway - After South Beveland was secured, the only land route to Walcheren Island - last holdouts on the Scheldt Estuary - was a long causeway just 40 metres wide and over 1000 metres long. The Slooe Channel through which the Causeway ran was too shallow for assault boats, and the salt marshes and mud made the way impassable to land vehicles or marching infantry. On Hallowe'en Night, the Calgary Highlanders followed up a disastrous attack by the Black Watch on the Causeway, and managed to force a shallow bridgehead on the far end. Fierce fighting ensued, and the Highlanders were relieved by Le Regiment de Maisonneuve on 1 November. Sixty-four Highlanders were killed or wounded in the action; the ferocity of the fighting was testified to by the actions of Sergeant Emil Laloge, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for, among other things, picking up German grenades and throwing them back at the enemy before they could explode among his men. This battle is commemorated each year by the Regiment with a drumhead ceremony and visit from the Dutch community.

There is more here....

That action, the one where Sgt Crockett did deeds of daring worthy of a movie all its own nearly didnt' work. The Canadians pushed the defending forces back sure enough, but standard tactics by the Germans at that time were to fade back, and then return in force. The Canadians nearly broke (some say they DID break and run) but my uncle Bill set up a machine gun and covered the retreat. The Canadians recovered, and held the bridgehead long enough for Crerar's army to get across the Albert Canal, and start the big push into the Beaveland peninsula. The result of this action which was started with such a bang was the ability to clear the north side of the Scheldt estuary, whichin turn allowed ships to reach Antwerp. The history of the "bloody causeway" is yet another story, devoid of glory, and covered in mud.

This of course is part of the "forgotten war", the rolling up of the left flank...the heavily fortified "fortress europe". During the beaveland campaign, the British got the middle thrust, the "bridge too far", and the Americans got Paris. And then the Battle of the Bulge, which was their particular slice of hell.

I walked off the rememberance parade this morning...the first one I have EVER walked off. It was during the solemn prayer, everybody's head was lowered and the padre was droning on. I think it was the phrase "grant us victory oh Lord", which caught my attention, and I remembered the 1909 writings of Mark Twain. He was clearly staring his creator in the face at that time....he died only a couple of years later. This is Mark Twain's words....

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came -- next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams -- visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

    God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory --

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this -- keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. the whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory -- must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!"

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

I must be a lunatic because it makes PERFECT sense to me.


Anonymous said...

Bill - This must have been where Uncle Bill was killed (Sept 22). How did you find the information about his actions? Mark Twain's words are so clear!


STAG said...

Hi Susan,
Yes, this is EXACTLY the action which Uncle Bill was killed in. He saved the highlanders by his heroic actions, and was killed for it. Uncle Nick buried him on the Belgian side of the canal the next day. Bill's body was removed to the Cemetary at Bergen Op Zoom a couple of months later (without Nick's knowledge or approval), and the Dutch have maintained his grave with GREAT care and respect ever since. I have heard that every Dutch child is assigned a Canadian soldier's grave to honour and tend. I left a Canadian quarter on his headstone. I suspect that were you to visit there a dozen years from now, it would still be there!