HOLLAND - NIJMEGEN SALIENT
On 6th November, the officers attended a lecture by Lt.-Gen. Simonds, who was acting G.O.C.-in-C. Canadian Army. He explained the importance of the opening of the port of Antwerp and also the future intentions of the Army. On 8th November, the battalion left for the area of Nigmegen Salient in Holland near the German Border.
The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was to take up a defensive position with two brigades up, with two battalions in each brigade on the front line and a third battalion in immediate reserve. Initially, 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade was on the left, centred around Groesbeek and 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade was on the right with 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade in reserve. The right forward battalion of 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade held an area of open ground from the River Maas, east for 2,000 yards. The left forward battalion held positions almost due east of Mook ina wood which also contined the enemy forward positions. The reserve battalion was between the left battalion and Mook.
The S.Sask.R. were to relieve the Somerset Light Infantry of 214th Brigade, 43rd British Division, in a reserve role based around the village of Mook. The enemy was reported to consist mostly of battle groups with considerable artillery in support. This area became known as the Reichswald Front and the German positions were all inside this huge forest, only 3,000 yards from the Maas river at our backs. The entire area was spotted with hundreds of gliders which had been used by the 82nd U.S. Airborne Division in securing objectives in the Nijmegen-Grave area as a part of the famous attack on Arnhem to the north.
The route to the Reichswald front was through West Mall, Oost Mall, Turnhout, Pappell, Tilburg, and with the Division Dispersla Point at Grave. By 1600 hours on 8th November, the take-over was complete and Colonel Stott arranged counter-attack roles and also patrols to check on the reported enemy positions. The regiment, in reserve, had the Fus. M.R. on the left in the woods, and the Camerons on the right on the open river flats. On 10th November, Brigadier R.H. Keefler took command of the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade. He was the former C.R.A. of 2nd Division and had recently been commanding the Division in the absence of the G.O.C.
On 14th November, H/Major R.L. Taylor, the unit Padre, left to take over duties at a higher post. Major Taylor had been in action throughout the fighting in Europe. No man could have been more respected than he was. He was present at all fighting, to help and give counsel to new reinforcements. He attended the wounded and took care of the dead. He had often proceeded into actions with leading troops so he could act as an extra stretcher bearer. The name and exploits of Major Les Taylor will long be remembered by the S.Sask.R. He was replaced by H/Capt. Gordon Walker.
Most of the activity in the area consisted of patrolling and sniping. The weather was mostly unpleasant with plenty of rain and mud and then deep snow. Even carriers were unable to move at times and the wide-tracked 'weasels' were used to carry ammunition and supplies to the forward companies. The abttalions changed positions on the night of 14th/15th November. Movement in the area was impossible except under cover of darkness. "B" Company of the Camerons met an enemy patrol. The Camerons medical jeep was folowing an S.Sask.R. 15-cwt. truck when they were attacked by a German patrol using shovels for weapons. The sick Cameron lying on the stretcher made a hasty retreat but the jeep driver was somewhat beaten up before he too managed to escape. Meals were brought up twice daily only. During the day everyone stayed in the few buildings and the slit trenches. Enemy propaganda pamphlets were shot over in shells, causing quite a bit of amusement. The following is a reproduction of one.
"LOOK HERE, GANG - HE IS ONE OF YOUR FRIENDS - AN AMERICAN. He seems to be enjoying himself, at least that's my impression. Those bragging Americans don't know the limit; they simply show off. To please 14 women is quite a tough job. But there is another tough job going at present - "Aix la Chapelle (Aachen)." Those Americans thought themselves fit to tackle this job in a pig's whistle. Boys, now look at the mess they've made of it. Think of the casualties the God's-own-countrymen had suffered so far. And the German winter offensive did the rest. I suppose now they can't tackle their job - alone! Those braggarts expect YOU to get them out of their troubles.
NOW YOUR HELP IS REQUIRED
In this position they don't mention their superiority in material any more, because (you know it all, boys) the Germans gave them a proper hiding. Well seasoned soldiers have to help them now. Sometimes I can't help thinking that Tommy and Jerry ought to understand each other better. At least much better than you and those American suckers. Indeed boys, it is a thousand pities that you and I are enemies."
On 18th November, Ptes. Reid and Edwards of the scout platoon went out for a day behind the enemy lines and returned with valuable information about enemy defenses. On the night of 19th/20th November the Camerons took over the area and relieved the Fus. M.R. This position was in the woods at the end of the Reichswald Forest and the forward platoons were within grenade distance of the enemy trenches. On the take-over, three of "C" Company men were missing. A corporal was taking two men up to a slit trench and one of them was heard of again. It was presumed that a patrol ambushed them.
There were no buildings in the area. Command Post was a large dug-out in a bank and lined with logs. Each fighting pit was a combination of dug-out and slit trenches. Some parts were lined with parachute silk and other parts of the gliders salvaged from the dozens of gliders in the vicinity. The mud made transportation of casualties most diffuicult. All troops were issued with rubber boots and extra socks. The forest itself was well mined by the Germans and travel was kept strictly to the paths. On 25th November the unit was moved into reserve, and bath parades, movies, and passes to Nijmegen were the routing. Regimental Christmas cards had been printed in Belgium and sold to the men. Scout Dunny Powell created several bery humorous cartoons to be used as supplementary Christmas cards and these were printed and issued for free.
November battle casualties had been comparatively light, with a total of 42, including 7 killed.
On 1st December, a battalion parade was help in the D Company area and Lt.-Col. Stott announced that Corporal W. J. A. Mitchell had been posthumously awarded the Military Medal for gallant and distinguished conduct during the Bray Dunes Plage Battle. C.S.M. Smith was called forward and it was announced that he had been awarded the Military Medal for gallant and distinguished conduct in the Foret de la Londe Battle. That afternoon the battalion moved to their new positions at Malden with "C" Company going to Grave. The main role now was to guard the big bridges over the Maas River from possible parachutists or frogmen. A rather extensive program was carried out to acquaint new reinforcements with the valuable battle lessons learned the hard way and to iron out the mistakes made by veterans. Exercises in assault river crossings, companies in defense, and the use of flame throwers were conducted.
But the reserve role did not last long and on 8th December, the regiment relieved the Calgary Highlanders which was the right forward battalion of the 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade and was based around Groesbeek. This was a good battle area for a change. All the battalion was housed, except for one platoon of D Company which occupied an outpost position. Cooking had to be done on a platoon basis and with a minimum of smoke because any sign of habitation or movement always brought down enemy fire.
It was in this Groesbeek position that the Padre had received a request to send up some reading material. He did, but instead of the expected Penguin books, etc., he dispatched a bundle of religous tracts by mistake. The howls were loud and long.
L.O.B. personnel and "F" echelon vehicles were located in a small German barracks in the Groesbeek Forest to the rear of the battalion. The scout platoon set up OPs along the front and these were excellent points of vuiew for directing artillery fire. Numerous patrols were sent out to get prisoners but to no avail. The enemy had been there for months and had constructed a complete defensive position, interlined with communication trenches.
One night Sgt. Smitts, a Dutch interpreter attached to the battalion, gave an address to the Germans over a load speaker system. They listened to him for ten minutes then gave their reply with heavy artillery fire. On the night of 15th/16th December, the battalion moved back into reserve to the former Cameron position.
On the 18th December, Lt.-Col. Stott and some officers attended an investiture at Grave, conducted by Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, where awards were presented to several officers and men of 2nd division, C.S.M. Smith, J.A., and Pte. Presley were among those awarded the military medal. On 20th December, Operation "Dynamite" was conducted against enemy positions in front of Groesbeek and about 1,000 yards east of Knapheide. The object of the raid was to get information needed in planning the expected big push. The operation was carried out by "D" Company under command Major W.S. Edmondson. Planning had been carefully carried out and abundant artillery support was available plus the 3 Canadian L.A.A. Regiment and the 3" Morters of Camerons of C. The attack was carried out with great skill, and one prisoner was obtained who turned out to be an important one. He was a staff driver who had been sent up to the front line as a disciplinary measure. Due to the darkness of the night and a miscalculation by one platoon of its proper objective, a strong machine-gun post was left in action. This post created quite a few casualties as did the heavy artillery fire returned by the enemy. Although casualties were relatively high, the results were considered worthwhile. Lieutenant Fred Propp was killed after he had carried out some wounded chaps and was going back into deep enemy territory after another of his men. Lieutenants D.K. McDonald and J.F. McGeough were among those wounded. The S.Sask.R. suffered casualties of three killed and twenty wounded.
On 23rd December, 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade were moved into the reserve positions for the Christmas holiday. On this sqame day, COlonel Stott flew to England for an inspection of reinforcements. The regiment moved across the Maas River to Cuijik with "B" Company going across Wijchen to guard Corps dumps. At this time the British and American troops were engaged in the Battle of the Bulge and the German Army was making a determined bid to break through to the Brussels and Antwerp, cut the Maple Leaf supply line which was the main traffic route tot he Canadian Army in the north, and eventually encircle and destroy the 21st British Army Group. It was anticipated by Intelligence that paratroops and frogmen might come into the 2nd Division to blow up the important bridges over the Maas and Waal Rivers. Co-ordination of defenses in and around Cuijik was made with the nearby 2nd Division N.C.O. training school, by Major Buchanan, who was acting C.O.
A word here about the school will refresh memories for many. The school had been established within the Division for the training of Junior N.C.O.s who had been promoted in the field and had not had an opportunity to train for their extra duties. For each two weeks' course, the regiment sent 15 N.C.O.s Some will remeber a passing out ceremony when a captain instructor was demonstrating PIAT shooting. Several bombs had not exploded, so the worthy captain picked them up, one in each hand and jammed them into the dyke bank preparatory to firing at them with a rifle. He did not need a rifle, there was no more Captain.
The carrier platoon, under Captain George Stiles, had 'found' a small pig shortly after arrival in the Mook area. Thinking that Christmas rations might be a bit skimpier than usual, the platoon decided to keep the beastie and fatten him up to be the real treat of their Christmas meal. Not wishing to have the animal stolen, they deposited it in an old dry well. Christmas came and a problem. What with the lack of exercise and ample food supply, the pig had grown too big to be lifted out as easily as it had been put in. An urgent cry to the Q.M. for help with operation "LIFT" saved the day.
Christmas dinner this year was arranged in two sittings because of lack of proper accomodation. The meal was thoroughly enjoyed as was the picture show put on afterwards by the Canadian Legion. The officers gathered inthe evening for their regular Mess dinner. An amusing episode occurred that fine Christmas Day. Two worthy members of the scout platoon had 'found' a gallon of rum lying unattended in or near the R.A.P. Working on the assumption that Sgt. Miles would probably go away and forget it, the scouts put it under their coats (to keep it warm) and walked out to enjoy the crisp country air. Sgt. Miles, misjudging the intentions of the two well-meaning scouts, called in the regimental provost who went in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, when the two scouts discovered they had walked away from the R.A.P. carrying the jug, they realized their intentions might be misjudged. It was a difficult predicament to be in, but the men solved the problem by going to a Dutch friend's house and cementing the Canadian-Dutch relations with a good christmas spirit.
On 29th December, the complete battalion were moved to Dreihuizen. Here many of the men were billeted in private homes, much to their enjoyment. The Brigade now became corps reserve. New Year's Eve was even quieter than usual, and so ended another month and another yeaer. Everyone hoped they would be home for the next New Year's celebrations.
Battle casualties for December were 4 officers and 37 other ranks.
Killed: 0 officer, 10 other ranks
New Year's Day, 1945, was celebrated by a dance in the evening. There was a good turnout of girls and the boys quickly entered into the fun.B
Short regimental schools were set up for instruction in radio telephone procedure, the use of Life-buoy flamethrowers, and in tank-cum-infantry tactics. Colonel Stott reutrned to the regiment on 3rd January looking a bit tired after picking holes in reinforcement training and the strain of a week in Piccadilly, but soon picked up the reighns of command again. On 7th January, the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry took over the positions and the S.Sask.R. moved to NijMegen for a few more days of relaxation befor emoving back to the old Mook positions on 10th January, as left forward battalion.
Wounded: 3 officers, 24 other ranks
Missing: 1 officer, 3 other ranks
Sick: 0 officers, 34 other ranks
Injured: 1 officer, 3 other ranks
The positions had been steadly improved in this area, and the left forward company position, in particular, had been developed with a network of communication trenches. Four standing patrols were now maintained and also a contact patrol with the battalion on the left. The thick blanket of snow made concealment more difficult and 50 snow suits were issued for patrol use. The standing patrols were very trying due to the cold weather. One of these white robed patrols consisted of Lieutenant Vic Roberge and two scouts who made a pre-dawn foray into enemy territory with fine results. They entered a six foot deep enemy communication trench and proceeded down it till they heard voices about twenty yards ahead of them. One Jerry approached unarmed towards them and was terrified as he rounded the bend of the trench and saw three white robed Canadians aiming Sten Guns at him at close range. The young German was ordered to put his hands up and a Sten was pushed into his ribs, but the man was so frightened he started to howl and called for help. The officer fired his Sten but it had jammed with snow so he hit the prisoner over the head with it, stunning him. The Jerry attempted to escape the dugout and the Stens came to life with two bursts that finished the war for the unfortunate German. Just beyond this point was a dugout with two Jerries in it so the patrol cleaned it out with a grenade. Another Jerry approached the patrol down the trench and he was givena burst of Sten gun buttlets. A burst of Schmeiser fire at point blank range from the top of the trench was returned with much greater accuracy than given. The area was getting warm and over-populated so the patrol withdrew to the battalion under further harassing small arms fire.
The L.O.B. rest centre was set up in Mook and provided a chance for short rests, a wash, and a movie, etc. Parties were also taken to Nijmegen to swim in a heated pool and to the large rest centre theatre where very good movies and stage shows entertained the battle weary soldiers.
Major Buchanan, 2 i/c, was sent to England for a course on Air Support and his long overdue 9 day leave. The course covered the close co-operation and support that would be needed for the fighting in the Far East Theatre if the regiment was sent there. The snipers and scouts had a very active shooting and observation period in these day sof winter which were almost like the Canadian winters at home. Captain George Stiles also conducted a flame throwing school in preparation for future operations.
On 16th January, Major E.W. Thomas left with the first detachment to Canada under the new long service scheme. Major V. Schubert took over "C" Company and Captain Stiles went to "D" Company. On 19th January, three Jerries were taken prisoner by a forward company, and on 22nd January an enemy deserter gave himself up to "A" Company.
The winter months had been comparatively dull and uncomfortable but morale remained high. Publication of a regimental new sheet was started and it was named "The Purple, Green, and Gold news sheet." This proved to be a very worthwhile effort. Later on Colonel Stott used the news sheet to promote a contest to select a regimental motto. The final motto chosen was "Strengh, Spirit and Renown" submitted by Pte. E. Clark of C Company. This was used on all possible occasions and on regimental stationery. A few of the slogans submitted were:
Sharp Shooting Ramblers
Towards the end of January, the melting snow and mud become enemy No. 1 again. Dugouts leaked an required a lot to repair. The Battle casualties for January were lighter than at any time since landing on the COntinent with a total of 1 officer and 26 other ranks:
Stott's Stubble Rats
Stott's Sturdy Riflemen
Sober Strong and Steady
Swift Souvenir Retrievers
Savage Souls of Retribution
Saskatchewan Sand Rats
Smiling Squarehead Reapers
Sirloin Steak Rustlers
Strengh, Spirit, and Reliability
Sturdy, Staunch and Reliable
Smart, Strong and Ready
Stott's Slugging Romeos.
Killed: 0 officers, 10 other ranks
It was during January that many visitors from various rear branches of the services came up to see how the P.B.I. lived in action and to get a first hand look at the front lines. Two of these visitors were the only ones of their branch of service to see the enemy in his local habitat. Two scouts were 'scouting' in Grave when two C.W.A.C.s expressed a desire to see the German front lines. Not to be rude to the fair sex, the scouts escorted them to the monastery at St. Agathe, a few miles south of Cuijk. The monastery was used as an O.P. by the Toronto Scottish and was situated on the banks of the Maas river directly across the river from Middleair Huis which was occupied by the enemy. The C.W.A.C.s were dressed in regular greatcoats, steel hats, etc., and looked exactly like male soldiers as they climbed the four flights of staris to the O.P. with their escorts. When the surprised Scottish O.P. man on duty saw the faces of the 'soldiers' he nearly fainted. The scouts claimed it was the most surprised look of the was. The C.W.A.Cs were in luck and were able to see several Germans going about their duties a mere 150 yards away. It was likely they were the first ones of their corps to see the enemy in action.
Wounded: 1 officer, 14 other ranks
Missing: 0 officers, 2 other ranks
Sick: 2 officers, 41 other ranks
Injured: 0 officers 4 other ranks
On 1st February, Colonel Stott paid a visit to "D" Company and informed Sgt. LeMarquand and Cpl. R. J. Maulbert that they had been awarded the Military Medal for distinguished conduct during the company attack on the night 19th/20th December in front of Groesbeek. Later on that night the Headquarters' kitchen was damaged by fire when the petrol cooker exploded.
Patrols and snipers still continued to exact a steady toll of the enemy strength. The mud was terrific and most roads were impassable to vehicles. The left forward company was still the hot-spot on the front so change-overs were frequent.
On 7th February, information was released concerning Operation Veritable which was to be the big break-through on the marathon Allied front. THe operation was to drive the enemy to the eastern banks of the Rhine River. For days the area behind the battalion grew and became packed with hundred of guns, tanks, and troops.
At 0500 hours on 8th February, the heavy barrage started. About 1,000 guns in the Canadian Army were having a field day. The 6th Field Regiment alone fired their full quota of 12,000 rounds during the day. As one officer put it "Hell could not be any worse!" The battalion had no operational role to play so had a grand stand seat for the attack on the Reichswald Forest. Stand-down was ordered for dawn on 11th February. There were four casualties caussed by Schu mines. On 14th February the battalion moved to overcrowded Nijmegen, and organized, interior economy and bath parades took up the time all too fast.