70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Walcheren

Discussion in 'All Anniversaries' started by Joe Brown, Sep 14, 2014.

  1. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    These Memorials commemorate our landing on 1st November 1944 and were moved to this new location which will be officially opened on the Saturday 1st November 2014 as the Boulevard of Peace. The area in which these memorials stand is to be named ‘Uncle Beach’, which is very close by.

    Two columns of War Vehicles will form a Liberation Tour, one from leaving from the Museum for Freedom at Zeeuws-Vlaanderen and the other from Westkapelle, and will meet up in Flushing for the Opening Ceremony.

    Later the Liberation Tour of HGVs and Tanks will leave for Middelburg and Park Toorenvliedt where a Plaque will be unveiled to Commemorate the courageous action of Johnston Force which brought about the surrender of General Daser, Commander 70th German Infantry Division and Fortress Walcheren, along with 2000 of his men. Johnston Force, under the command of Major Hugh Johnston was composed of ‘A’ Company 7th/9th Royal Scots, 11th Machine Gun Platoon 7th Battalion The Manchester Regiment and ‘A’ Squadron 11th Royal Tank Regiment, advanced on the Western flanks of Middelburg and during the approach five men were killed.

    The Programme of Events is still provisional.

    My War Memoirs record:

    No. 4 Commando, 4th and 5th KOSB went across ahead of the 7th/9th RS. I went over some hours ahead of the battalion as an advance party to reconnoitre where the companies would go when they landed and to guide them into their positions. I sank up to my waist as I jumped out of the assault craft and was covered in mud but thankfully clear of enemy fire which was busy elsewhere. My task along with a major was to reconnoitre positions for the companies and then select a site for Battalion HQ and to do this in time to meet the rest of the battalion as they 'beached' from their landing craft in the pitch darkness.

    The C.O. with myself in attendance were soon called to Brigade HQ where he received orders to undertake a night attack and capture the heavily fortified German Command Post in the area of the Hotel Britannia on the sea front. The assault would be made through sea water flooding much of the island from the breach made in the sea-wall by the RAF. At high tide it could be up to our waist and at times could be chest-high! Normally the C.O. would reconnoitre the approach to the objective and determine the best forming-up place to launch the attack, but this could not be done because of the flood conditions and had to make use of aerial photographs and information provided by the Dutch Resistance.

    Wearing lifejackets and holding our weapons and wireless sets out of the water we advanced in single-file in the eerie moonlight through the deep flood water towards in the Hotel Britannia. The German Command Post had a network of 14-foot concrete positions surrounded by a steep bank and a 4-barrelled 20mm gun supported by machine guns located in an impregnable position on the hotel roof able to bring devastating fire on all the approaches on to the objective. As we made our way through the muddy sea water we came under heavy artillery fire and this proved to be shellfire from our medium guns firing from the area of Breskins and shots were falling short of the objective and landing on us. Our wireless sets were all shut down because of the flood water, and despite the efforts of the Royal Signallers attached to Battalion HQ they could not be made to work and were unable to get through to Brigade HQ to stop the medium guns. We sustained casualties but fortunately our wounded were kept afloat by their lifebelts and tended by our stretcher-bearers.

    During the shell fire, the C.O. told me to go forward and tell the two company commanders leading the approach march to keep pushing forward so we would not get too far behind our original time-plan which was to have artillery fire supporting us during the first wave of our attack. I remember making my way forward amidst the shell-fire as the shells were exploding in the water near me, throwing up green fluorescent spray. I saw casualties being helped into nearby houses.

    We were able to put the artillery fire support plan back by thirty minutes and again I surged through the flood-water to the head of the column to let the Company Commanders know about this change. The battalion continued its advance and as we approached the area where we planned to launch our attack on the objective, the C.O. ordered me to set up Battalion Tactical HQ in some houses nearby. Along with the S.O., I broke down the door of a house and as I led the way into the flooded ground floor I sank into a deep pit normally covered by a metal grid but this had been removed. I thought for a moment I had been booby trapped, but jokingly clambered my way back on to my feet and we all climbed indoors. Subsequently it proved that the house next door had German snipers and they were to become most troublesome.

    The two leading company commanders formed their troops as square to their objective as possible despite the swirling, fast-flowing tide of flood water sweeping around them. At Battalion HQ we heard the stirring battle-charge of 'Up the Royals!' as 'D' Company's 16 Platoon made the first assault and they courageously and quickly captured two pill boxes and 35 prisoners. When we heard the sound of the ancient battle-charge echoing in the darkness of the night -- sounding like it must have done in many courageous assaults in the long history of the First Regiment of Foot -- the C.O. said aloud to all within his hearing: "It's going to be all right now!" So it was, but only after a gruelling and bravely fought battle, with sections and platoons of our three rifle companies and the two sections of the dismounted Carrier Platoon persistently and relentlessly forcing their way forward by sheer determination and bravery, bringing about the surrender of Oberst (Colonel) Reinhart and 600 prisoners; 50 Germans lay dead on the battlefield.

    During the battle we were without wireless contact to Brigade HQ, and the Brigade Commander was unaware of the very heavy resistance we were encountering. When that resistance was at its most difficult, the C.O. said to me: "Joe make your way back to the Brigadier and give him an outline of our position as you know it. Tell him we require our other rifle company (it had been left out of battle safeguarding civilian refugees as it was thought to be unnecessary as we would only meet sixty Germans on the objective)."

    The C.O. also instructed me to outline to the Brigade Commander two tactical alternatives that he might wish to consider. Clearly we were in danger of running short of ammunition, so I was ordered to bring back supplies.

    I immediately set off back along the route of our approach march, being initially accompanied by my batman to give protection whilst I relentlessly made my way forward and came under rifle fire from windows of houses by-passed by the battalion on their way to the objective. Later when I analysed my reactions, I was totally dedicated to the vital urgency of my mission and kept moving despite the enemy's fire which had become like the flood water troublesome and needed to be overcome by all the available energy I could muster. I did not attempt to return the fire. At one point I remember crawling through a graveyard that was only partially flooded and taking shelter between piles of destroyed gravestones as I came under fire from two possibly three snipers/riflemen deployed to cover what I assumed was an important approach junction leading to the main German defensive position. As I crawled through the graveyard I notice with a shudder the scattering of bones unearthed by mortar or artillery fire. When two-thirds of the way back, I was met by one of our water-borne Buffaloes. Two officers, one from brigade and the other from the battalion, had come forward to contact the battalion and were able to get me back in quick time. Whilst I reported to the Brigade Commander, they loaded the vehicle with ammunition ready for the return journey.

    With another officer from the battalion I directed the Buffalo back to where it could make its way forward to supply our rifle companies with ammunition. I then sought out Battalion Tactical HQ but the snipers had been active and forced it to move. I located it in a house not too far away, only to be told later I had nearly been shot by one of the signallers who had thought I was one of the snipers sneaking in through the window: such is war. We had so many casualties on the way towards the objective that only one stretcher-bearer was on the battlefield and did courageous work looking after the wounded and rightly awarded the Military Medal.

    The S.O. told me that immediately after I had left on my mission to report to the Brigade Commander, the C.O. had gone forward to try and visit one of the rifle companies and the one forward wireless set working to Battalion HQ reported the C.O. appeared to have been severely wounded and was lying in the flood water, his signaller and runner beside him. If he had not sent me to Brigade HQ to report on the battle situation, I would have been by his side. He was at first feared dead but later established he had been wounded with several bullets in the chest, his life-jacket saving him from drowning. His runner was also severely wounded, and to the sorrow of S.O. and myself, the signaller had been killed: he was one of the best, that was why he was the 'C.O.'s Signaller'.

    Later we were to learn that as the C.O. lay in the flood water within the sight of the enemy and despite his wounds had raised himself up to shout "Up the Royals!" to his men in the near-by rifle company. The men were so angered when they saw and heard their C.O. had been wounded, some had believed him to be killed, they reacted and made a ferocious surge forward . . . and that did it! The objective was overrun and the Germans came pouring out with their hands held high above their heads in surrender. It was a moment as proud as any I have ever read about in the annals of our ancient history.

    Twenty of our lads lay dead on the battlefield, including two company commanders; twice as many officers and men were wounded. It was bitter news for me that five men of my former platoon were amongst the dead; their keen, young faces and distinctive personalities remain in my memory.

    On patrol to Middelburg

    On the evening of November 4, our newly-appointed C.O. (he was previously Second-in-Command of the Battalion), was ordered by the Brigade Commander to stand-by to lead a white-flag party to negotiate the surrender of the German garrison in Middelburg. The next morning I went with him to join the Brigadier to observe 4 KOSB advancing up both banks of the canal towards Middelburg, the capital of Walcheren. Although the approaches to Middelburg were being shelled, the advance was extremely difficult with a large number of concrete positions to be overcome.

    The Brigadier thought the possibility of heavy casualties could be avoided and decided to send a patrol consisting of the Brigade Liaison Officer with myself and the Reconnaissance Officer of "A" Squadron 11th Royal Tank Regiment (which provided the Buffaloes: amphibious tracked vehicles) to reconnoitre a route to the west towards the main road leading in to the north of Middelburg and determine whether it was possible for a battalion transported in Buffaloes to get into a position to attack Middelburg from the north.

    We set off in a Buffalo at about 1445 hours, and it became quickly evident that the difficulties that would face the patrol were the heavy level of flood water surrounding the approaches to Middelburg as well as the extensive minefields and numerous anti-landing devices. These devices consisted of wooden stakes with explosive charges placed above the flood-level and were interconnected by wires and named by the Dutch Resistance as 'Rommel asparagus' after Field-Marshal Rommel who had ordered them to be erected. Initially the progress was slow but we reached Kouderkerke, some four kilometres south-west of Middelburg, without encountering enemy resistance. After taking time to explore the approaches to the north of Middelburg, the failing light made us decide to return and report to the Brigade Commander that it would be possible in daylight for an infantry force in Buffalos to follow our route and with careful navigation through the various hazards to reach the outskirts of Middelburg and be in a position to attack.

    On the way back we ran into difficulties at about 1750 hours when the Buffalo, manoeuvring to avoid 'Rommel asparagus', got one of its tracks jammed on a concrete bridge that was totally submerged and unseen under the grubby flood water. A motor-cycle was jettisoned along with other heavy 'non-essentials' but this did not help to dislodge and re-float the Buffalo and we remained stuck on the bridge. The Dutch Resistance had contacted our patrol when it first entered Kouderkirke and now they came to our assistance, rowing out to rescue both the Brigade L.O. and myself. We explained to the Resistance that we needed to get back to Flushing as quickly as possible and although they readily agreed to guide us, they advised we would have to wait for first light to avoid the heavy tidal surge of flood water returning to the sea through the breached sea wall as the nearest crossing point back to Flushing was very close to the gap.

    We sheltered in different houses and I shall always remember the kind and warm welcome extended to me. After receiving hospitality I was shown to a bedroom at the top of the house and experienced a few hours rest in the luxury of white sheets!

    Two Resistance men called for us in the last hours of the night's darkness and we set off to begin our wade through the flood water on what proved to be a most hazardous journey. They had made the crossing before and knew how to attempt it, directing our efforts in handling and positioning large lengths of wood which enabled us to reach an area of submerged ground that the four of us could just about manage to stand and at that stage we were half-way across the gap. We stood there for a moment to draw breath, clutching one another to keep balance as the tidal waters swept past us; if we had slipped we would surely have been swept into the Scheldt Estuary! With anxiety we viewed the distance still to be crossed but under the leadership and skill of our two friends of the Dutch Resistance and deft use of those valuable logs -- we made it!

    The Brigade Commander issued orders for "A" Company of the 7th/9th RS and a machine-gun platoon of the 7th Manchester Regiment to be transported in Buffaloes and following the route taken by our patrol they had to get into position at the rear of Middelburg ready to attack. They surprised the German garrison by this unexpected approach of amphibious track vehicles crammed full of Jocks, and quickly sent to the General's HQ a 'white flag' party accompanied by a Norwegian officer as interpreter. They enforced the surrender, General Daser handing over his pistol along with his Chief-of Staff's map-case showing all the German troop positions on Walcheren. Later OC "A" Company thoughtfully and kindly presented the map-case to me as a remembrance of my part in the reconnaissance patrol. Our force of eleven Buffaloes moved into the main square of Middelburg and orders given to the German officers to bring their men into the square and pile their armaments. We had taken 2,000 prisoners with a force of 140 men and as the Germans began to realise this there was signs of unrest. However, this was kept subdued during the hours of darkness by a vigilant 'A' Company 7th/9th RS and having positioned well-sited machine-guns of the 7th Manchester Regiment in the four corners of the square. Sadly during the advance over the route the patrol had taken, one Buffalo struck a mine which killed one man and wounded another.

    As footnote I add that when I met the OC "A" Company after his epic successful operation, he presented me with the mapcase of the General's Chief-of-Staff, saying: My heartfelt thanks for your splendid and very brave job. Without your recce patrol the day before my 'navy' might still have been wandering about somewhere out there!

    Joe Brown.
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  2. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

    Thanks Joe very time i read your story I am astounded that any one survived the assualt Thanks.
    If I may indulge by adding the account of the Calgary Highlanders attack on the Walchern Causeway the same night. they too had a teriffic fight which they consider a testament to courage deterination and endurance. A day earlier the the Black watch were repulsed with high casualties. http://www.calgaryhighlanders.com/history/highlanders/1939-45/walcherencauseway.htm
    stolpi and CL1 like this.
  3. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    The attack made through the Walcheren Causeway was a most formidable task and the bravery and courage of the Canadian men will always be quoted and remembered.

    We as a Scottish Division were proud to be under the Command of the Canadian Army.

    The report you have kindly attached is a first-class account.

    With warm regards,

    gpo son likes this.
  4. No.4CommandoBairn

    No.4CommandoBairn Well-Known Member

    I found it!

    I've just started to read it and see that you're writing from personal experience, Joe. I shall read this, properly, later.

    What a wonderful thing to do - people with a great interest in this are and will be so grateful. Thank you.
  5. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    thank you for posting

  6. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    Remembering also the achievements of No's. 41, 47 and 48 Royal Marine Commando, and No. 10 Inter-Allied Commando, who landed at Westkapelle, 1 November 1944.

    Account here from the 47 Royal Marine Commando Association: - click on 'History', '47 Royal Marine Commando', scroll down to '1 November 1944' for a summary, and then the link at the bottom of the page for a full analysis.

    No. 47 RM Commando had previously, amongst other actions, landed on Gold Beach on D-Day, attached to 231st Infantry Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division, with the task of capturing Port en Bessin; which they did early on D+2.


  7. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    And not forgetting the Royal Navy personnel and Royal Marines who manned the various support craft. They played an invaluable role in drawing fire from the coastal batteries so the commandos could land relatively unhindered. It worked - one of the batteries (W13 I believe) ran out of ammunition! However, the tactic took a terrible toll, with 185 RN personnel killed.

    There's a memorial to these men at Westkapelle.

  8. Rob Dickers

    Rob Dickers 10th MEDIUM REGT RA

    Great, Thanks for posting that Joe.

    As you know my Dad's 10th Medium Regt RA was one of the 9AGRA regts firing in support, their Bty CO 84th Bty went over as FOO with your 52nd Div.
    Best regards
  9. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day joe brown.ww2 veteran,yesterday.10:57am.re:70th anniversary of the liberation of walchern,i have read your post and as usual your discription takes one along with you,it was a major victory.against great odds,to those who did not return.may they rest in peace,and to you and your men.thank you,regards bernard85 :poppy: :poppy:
  10. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Thanks for your kind words.

    We lost 22 Royal Scots Killed in that Action in Flushing and at Middelburg. When I go back and stand again in the places where we fought, I am taken aback that everyone is busy with their every-day life, and I have an inward urge to stop each one and tell them what happened here in November 1944! Then in quietness accept that is what it was all about: that these fine Dutch people should live in peace and be free do go about their daily lives and inwardly say a tearful Amen to those who sacrificed their lives to bring it about.

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  11. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

    A little Bump for this great contribution by Joe
    Here is a quick synopsis of the fighting leading up to the liberation of Walchern. lacking a bit of accuracy regarding the activities of the 52nd Lowlanders', but quite good on the lead up battles from the Canadian side. It is true the casualties were staggering for the compoent units of the 1st Canadian Army which included many British, Polish, Czech, and Belgian units. In fact Canadians were a minority in the 1st Can Army at this point.

  12. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    The Port of Antwerp had been liberated by 11th Armoured Division on September 4, 1944. However, the Port and its facilities could not be put in to operation until it had been cleared of its extensive mining hazards, nor could it be reached by Allied shipping until the heavy coastal defences on Walcheren, like those at Westkapelle - described as 'some of the strongest defences in the world' - had been destroyed or captured. (Hist Sec file C.O. H.Q./Y/3: C.O.H.O. Bulletin Y/47, April 45: Combined Operations against Walcheren.)

    The West and South sides of the island were protected by underwater obstacles, wire and infantry positions on the dykes and dunes, with gun batteries in support behind. Flushing had a perimeter defence system, including two anti-tank ditches. The strong points on the SW Coast, as far North as Westkapelle, were fairly heavily fortified, though less heavily than those at Flushing. (21 Army Gp Report.)

    Intelligence indicated that no fewer than eighteen batteries covered the approaches from the sea. The strength of the garrison was estimated between 6,000 and 10,000 men, mostly from 70 Inf Div. The 7th/9th (Highlanders) Battalion The Royal Scots eventually forced 2,600 of them to surrender including the Oberst commanding the Flushing Garrison and the General who was Commander Fortress Walcheren.

    Lt-General Simmons, commander 1st Canadian Army, appreciated that the greater proportion of the land surface of Walcheren lay below sea level and if the dykes could be cut, salt water would flow in and flood the interior, thus isolating and demoralizing the enemy and enabling our troops to take full advantage of their amphibians. That was why it was decided to bomb the dykes and flood the island, which not only caused problems for the enemy occupier as well as the population but also for the liberator as the tidal flood water at times could be waist high.

    Joe Brown.
    gpo son likes this.
  13. No.4CommandoBairn

    No.4CommandoBairn Well-Known Member

    Can't believe it's almost time to travel to Vlissingen - I've been waiting for this for such a long time.

    I will meet the man my dad was billeted with and travel to various places with him to pay my respects to those who did not return.

    To walk in their footsteps ... such a privilege.
    4jonboy likes this.
  14. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    No. 4 Commando Bairn,

    When in Walcheren you see an old man with a walking stick and wearing a glengarry which has this badge, stop him and kindly introduced yourself. I would be very proud to meet you.

    Joe Brown.
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  15. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    I can tell you that you will have a wonderful time because I finally made the journey to Italy in May to visit the places my late father had been.
    A very emotional lifetime opportunity not to be missed.
    You are very fortunate to be meeting a man who knew your father and hear stories about him.

    Indeed it will be such a privilege and I hope you have a great time. Look forward to seeing your photos.


    PS. Don't forget to say hi to Joe from us all on the forum-we want to see a piccie too :wink:
    gpo son likes this.
  16. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Have a safe journey Joe and I look forward to seeing your report and photos.

  17. No.4CommandoBairn

    No.4CommandoBairn Well-Known Member

    I will be messaging Joe to see where, exactly, we can meet up ... so looking forward to that, too.

    Standing on Sword Beach, a few years ago, was so emotional ... this one's going to top that, I think.

    Hauger and Dieppe next year.
  18. No.4CommandoBairn

    No.4CommandoBairn Well-Known Member

    I'll be leaving early and meeting up with Joe tomorrow evening as the get-together is in his hotel.

    I've been talking to a resident of Vlissingen and he showed me an article that appeared in one of their big papers ... all about Joe. This is going to be special.
    gpo son likes this.
  19. Staffsyeoman

    Staffsyeoman Member

    Late husband of a (now also late) friend of ours; his war came to an end at Walcheren on 1 Nov 44 - Capt. FE 'Ben' Benwell. Commando. Seriously wounded.
  20. Nijmegen

    Nijmegen Member

    Mosaic picture of Vlissingen, composed of aerial pictures taken on 18 October,

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