'Johnston Force' liberated Middelburg November 1944

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by Joe Brown, Nov 16, 2014.

  1. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    During the 70th Commemoration of the Liberation of Walcheren I was asked to address the gathering at the unveiling of the Buffalo ‘Snipe’ Memorial at the World War 2 site at Toorenvleid Park, Middelburg about ‘Johnston Force’. It is reproduced to add to the WW2 accounts available on the Forum.

    I am deeply honoured as a surviving Veteran to pay tribute to Johnston Force, its valiant leader Major Hugh Johnston, and the courageous officers and men of A Company 7th/9th Royal Scots, the 11th Machine Gun Platoon 7th Manchester Regiment, and ‘A’ Squadron 11th Royal Tank Regiment whose Buffalos transported Johnston Force - 140 men in total – who liberate Middelburg on 6th November 1944.

    The Brigade Commander did not choose the direct route to Middelburg by advancing along both sides of the Canal from Flushing, which had just been liberated. I heard him say that he anticipated too many casualties from the well-prepared concrete enemy positions. He decided to find a way we would not be expected. He was determined to reach Middelburg by going through the seemingly impassable and deeply flooded terrain which was heavily mined and beset with deadly overhead explosive devices erected to deter anyone trying to reach Middelburg from the west.

    The Brigadier gave orders to myself and two other officers to find a way through Field-Marshal Rommel’s lethal deterrents, which we did after overcoming these hazards. The route was carefully followed by Johnston Force, surprising the enemy garrison by getting into a position west of the city ready to do battle but first a White Flag Party gave the German General commanding Fortress Walcheren the opportunity to surrender.

    General Daser totally taken by the surprise with the arrival of ‘armoured vehicles’ full of Scottish soldiers, blustered that he could not possibly surrender to a mere Major. However, Major Hugh Johnston was not deterred by such nonsense, borrowing a ’pip’ from another officer, promoted himself to a Colonel, and then told General Daser he must hand over his pistol and give the order that all German Forces lay down their arms in surrender and assemble in Middelburg Square. The General did as requested; handed over his pistol and was escorted into captivity.

    With the courageous help of the Local Resistance and Dutch Police as well as the enthusiastic participation of the general population of Middelburg, the surrender was undertaken in a rapid but orderly manner. By between 1700 and 1830 hrs the Square filled with 2000 prisoners of war.

    Major Johnston faced the formidable task of keeping such a large number of prisoners under control. He gave orders for the four Vickers Machine Guns of the Manchester Regiment to be sited one in each corner of the Square. These were supported by Buffalos carefully positioned with their 37mm guns and Officers, NCOs and men of ‘A’ Company The Royal Scots with fixed bayonets patrolled the perimeter of the Square. 140 men held 2000 prisoners from about 1700 hours until relieved 10 hours later at 0300 hrs the next morning by the 5th Highland Light Infantry.


    I was only 23 at the time, Major Hugh Johnston a little older, and a much respected Senior Officer who had been a medical student when the War started in September 1939. For this most able officer, having had the responsibility of forcing a General to surrender and now faced with the task of keeping 2000 P.o.Ws under control with only 140 men until relieved the next day, it was truly an awesome task. But this young Major still found time to order all the bakeries in Middelburg to open up and bake large quantities of bread to feed his 2000 prisoners. It was a decision that showed his deep humanity in his concern and care for his prisoners.

    It is good to see Rory Johnston here today and to hear me publicly acclaim his Father Major Hugh Johnston to be held in the highest regard by The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and by the Government of The Netherlands who decorated him with The Order of the Bronze Lion. Rory published a very fine book about his Father’s exploits, A Major Hoodwink: How a Royal Scot Outwitted a German General.

    As a Veteran it is a very special moment to stand at this place in Proud Remembrance of Brave and Courageous men who were killed when Buffalo Snipe struck a mine during the advance on Middelburg. Sergeant Jack Hall, then just aged 18 years old and one of the youngest men in 'A' Company 7th/9th Royal Scots, was one of the men in ‘Snipe’, suffered in that explosion, and we are honoured he is here today to pay his own tribute at this never-to-be-forgotten and sacred place where six men died to Liberate Middelburg.

    [Written for the November Newsletter for the Veterans of the 7th/9th Royal Scots.]


    'A' Company 7th/9th Royal Scots with bayonets fixed patrol Middelburg Square.

    Joe Brown.
    Tricky Dicky and gpo son like this.
  2. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

    I first read of these events in Geogre Blackburns. "Book the Guns of Victory". I was amazed by the trickery and bravdo of your Major. there must have been some well hidden smerks in such a high tension event as well. Thanks for adding your eye witness accounts and activities contributing to the surrender. Undoubtedly saving 100's of lives. The 1st Cad Army was fortunate to have men of your quality under command.
  3. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    Thanks for this great account of this very brave action.

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