A Soldiers Tears
by Jack Rafferty, 156 Brigade, 7th Battalion The Cameronians.

I shed no tears
As they fell to the ground
Never again to speak
To laugh or to love
I shed no tears
As we gathered round
To gaze into their silence from above
Now - after all those years
I shed my tears
Tears for the unshed tears
That are forever in my heart
Tears of my soul

At 4:45 in the morning on September 1st 1939, Hitler ordered hostilities against Poland to begin. In response, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, at 11:00 AM and at 5:00 PM, respectively.
World War II had begun.

" As England, despite her hopeless military situation, still shows no sign of willingness to come to terms I have decided to prepare and if necessary to carry out a landing operation against her. The aim of this operation is to eliminate the English motherland as a base from which war against Germany can be continued and if necessary, to occupy the country completely."
Adolph Hitler, Directive No 16
16th July 1940

Then it happened - the long awaited day. On June 6th, 1944, the Allies landed on the coast of Normandy; and all of Europe held its breath as they began to drive the German army back towards the Rhine. In August, mysterious radio messages began to be repeated again and again on certain wavelengths:
'This buzzing makes one dizzy.'
'Nancy has a crick in her neck.'
'Gaby is going to lie down on the grass.'

Hearing these messages, the F.F.I., the French Secret Resistance Army, immediately stepped up their incessant guerilla-warfare against the Germans, ruthlessly sabotaging anything and everything that might be of any immediate military use to them - roads, railway lines, bridges, telegraph posts - until everyday life ground to a tense, expectant standstill.


D company, 156 Brigade, 7th Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)


On 15th September 1944, my father was transferred from the Black Watch Regiment to D Company, 156 Brigade, 7th Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), part of the 52nd Lowland Division in Field-Marshal Montgomery's 21st British Land Army, where he met Jack Rafferty from Aberdeen, who was to become his lifelong friend. Prior to joining the Cameronians my father trained with the 51st Highland Division, The Black Watch, in the mountains of the Scottish Highlands.

After being hidden in obscurity in the early war years, the Lowland men, commanded by Major-General Edmund Hakewell Smith, became recognised as one of the finest fighting formations in the field. For month after month these sturdy men trained at altitudes averaging three to four thousand feet above sea level, making forced marches across the very roof of Scotland in weather that would have discouraged less determined troops. Gradually the whole intricate system of mountain warfare became first place with them. SS Lady of MannLong hardened with physical fitness standards which surpassed any other fighting troops in the country, these men could make long forced marches over difficult country with three inch mortars slung from their backs, and they could climb with these loads using the science they had been taught by Norwegian experts. They were fit (my father was graded A1+). They were mountain troops. and the World knows to what extent those long days of hard training stood the Lowlanders in good stead in the dreaded mud swamps of a badly flooded Holland.

On the 16th October 1944, 156 Brigade,
7th Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
disembarked the SS Lady of Mann at Ostend.

 

The Scheldt Estuary

On the night of the 25th October 1944, in a crowded room of the small Hotel Rotterdam in Sas-Van-Gent, a group of officers were gathered round a table laden with maps, air photographs, and sketches, discussing in great detail that part of South Beveland which lay across the Scheldt Estuary. The clearing of the Scheldt Estuary was a priority as winter approached, for the Germans were preventing the use of the great port of Antwerp by clinging desperately to their positions. Having completed the first phase of the plan, Operation Switchback - involving the clearance of the South bank of the Scheldt - the objective now was the islands; and it was in this vital operation that the 52nd Division was to fight its first great battle with brilliant success. And in this and subsequent actions there was demonstrated that remarkable degree of loyalty as between the Gunners and the Infantry Brigades of the 52nd Lowland Division that was one of the finest fruits of their long training together in the Highlands of Scotland. They wholly trusted each other.

(Oct 21st - Massive German surrender at Aachen)
(Oct 23rd - 26th - The Battle of Leyte Gulf, the biggest 3 day naval battle of WW II)
(Oct 25th - Russians invade Norway, take Kirkenes)

The Germans still held and heavily defended Walcheren, the key to The Scheldt, with scores of heavy guns in massive concrete emplacements. At the request of the First Canadian Army Command, the RAF bombed the dykes and the island was nearly completely flooded.

In order to take Walcheren, it was first necessary to capture the neighbouring peninsula of South Beveland. Picture dawn on the 26th October, Terneuzen, a steady drizzle of rain, long lines of Buffaloes - half ship, half tank - and long lines of men moving forward to embark for the shores of South Beveland, with mingled feelings of what awaited them on the other side. The flotillas were made up of amphibians, small naval assault craft, and D.D. Tanks. As they drew near the shore at Ellewottsdijk they were met by salvoes of mortar bombs on the beach and in the water, and they dashed inland to dig in in sodden ground. By 8.40am the next day they had captured Ellewottsdijk. The mud and high dykes were making it difficult to get anything heavier than infantry vehicles ashore. Even light infantry vehicles had to be pushed up the steep face of the dyke by bulldozers. It was decided that to get the guns ashore, the Divisions three field regiments of Royal Artillery would go round by road through Antwerp and come into action up the Beveland isthmus, still in the process of being cleared by the Canadians.

Once South Beveland had been cleared, it was decided that North Beveland should at least be reconnoitred, and in the process 600 prisoners were taken. It was learned that this pleasant and fertile land had been known by the Germans as 'Little England' because there wasn't one collaborator among its inhabitants. The 52nd's Recce Regiment had some odd experiences on North Beveland with sundry Germans trying to keep an escape route open, and it was later learned that the island of Schouwen, to the North of Beveland, was being used by the enemy as a launching platform for V-weapons.

The enemy's resistance was now broken and he was left holding the narrow causeway which joined the mainland to Walcheren Island. The south side of this narrow causeway was named the Slooe Channel. When the tide was in the water was 330 yards broad, when it was out this contracted by more than half, leaving stretches of grey mud on both sides. Above high water mark on Walcheren side was a salt marsh, stretching more than a thousand yards before firm land could be reached. Quite impassable by armour, it is said that the Germans lost 100 men trying to cross here in 1940. Two men of 202 field company managed to plot a way across and back in the dark on 1/2 November, and the following night took three others to tape out a route for the advance. The Cameronians crossed the channel in assault boats and started up the marked track through the marshes. Reaching firm ground on Walcheren they caught the enemy completely by surprise. The whole bridgehead established on Walcheren was now 2000 yards deep and two miles wide. At Veere the enemy was so completely shattered by the force of the advance that they came marching in by the thousand. Companies were sending back prisoners of war many times as strong as the battalions, to be dealt with by the over worked prisoner of war cage personnel.

A second brigade left the mainland from Ostend to attack the port of Flushing, in the south corner of Walcheren. The Germans had made a fortress out of this usually small town of 22,000 inhabitants. The dyke was honeycombed with defensive positions. Concrete was laid on fourteen feet thick, so that even quite heavy shells merely dented it. It was the job of the KOSB and No. 4 Commando to clear this section, while heavy naval ships including HMS Warspite, Erebus, and Roberts were to form a bombardment squadron; and in the Breskens island the heavy guns of three A.G.R.A.s stood ready to provide support. Bomber command contributed a total of 4,871 tons of bombs dropped, and during the last three days of October, 654 Spitfire sorties and 150 Typhoon sorties were launched against gun positions. Before nightfall on 3rd November Flushing had been cleared of the enemy and both the K.O.S.B. Battalions of 155 Brigade were moving slowly up the banks of the Middleburg canal. Flooding to the west of Middleburg was so bad that map reading was impossible. The Commandos had meanwhile fought a glorious battle at Westkapelle.

The enemy had by now been forced into the town of Middleburg, which was then taken by an element of bluff. General Daser had wrongly assumed that the floods completely protected his back door, but a company of the 7th/9th Royal Scots and a machine gunner platoon of the 7th Manchesters was on its way in Buffaloes towards Daser's last stronghold. It had been decided on a small force (in fact they were outnumbered 10 to 1) because a larger attack would have been too slow in advancing. Daser, after being conned into thinking that a British Armoured column would shortly be advancing, offered very little resistance.

(Oct 29th - Last use of gas chambers at Auschwitz)

This marked the end of the Beveland campaign. The Scheldt Estuary was clear, and the harbour of Antwerp could be opened. By the evening of 4th November the first minesweepers were working on the Scheldt in one of the most extensive and intricate sweeping operations ever undertaken by any Navy.

To clear the battlefield of mines and booby traps, the Dutch used their collaborators and German prisoners. In many instances throughout the campaign the dead had to be left because the germans had attached bombs or mines to the corpses.

(Nov 4th - Surrender of Axis forces in Greece)
(Nov 6th - Joseph Stalin renounces the neutrality pact between the Soviet Union and Japan)

At the war cemetry in the town of Bergen op Zoom, grave # 8 A 5, there rests Rifleman Kenneth Deighton #14430899 7th Battalion Cameronians; Died on Nov 6 1944 age 20.

Towards the Rhine  >>>>

 

 

on leave in Brussels, Nov '44