After the reorganization was complete, the unit made a long move towards the Belgian border and debussed on 8th September at Hondschoote. Marching personnel and "F" echelon crossed the Franco-Belgian borer at 1600 hours into Furnes. From Furnes a plan was made for the occupation of Nieport, three miles distant on the sea-coast. The town was supposed to be garrisoned by coastal artillery troops, and the bridge crossing a wide canal intothe place was reported mined. A night move of companies and "F" echelon was planned to proceed down the inner bank of the canal on the narrow dirt trail and thus by-pass the mined bridge. The move wasaccomplished without mishap and the town of Nieuport was occupied with very little action. Drivers will not forget that drive in pitch blackness in rain and mud, over broken culverts and all manner of hazards. First contacts were made with the Belgian Unerground Movement. They were very active and very helpful.
Daylight brought evidence that the enemy had occupied several strongly fortified bastions along the coastal sand dunes toward Dunkirk. The companies were positioned to defend against counter-attack from these dunes. One of these bastions was a huge cement fortress well camoflauged in the sand with one side covering the sea and the other side all the land approaches. On 10th September, a two company attack on this large structure filed to get near the place and the companies suffered light casualties but did glean information about the strength and gun positions of weapons. The same evening, "A" Company put in another attack and succeeded in clearing the enemy from the duens but could not get near the fort proper.
The main observation point of the battalion was in the steeple of the church in the nearby group of buildings, and Lieutenant Urquhart, the Intelligence Officer, Captain George McLean, had estevalished a very comfortable place. Lieutenant Urquhart, while using the scout telescope accidentally let the end slip out into the bright sunlight. This was spotted immediately by the German gunners and there was hurried activity in one of the 6" gun pits. Then an armour piercing shell tore through the steeple inches below the perches of the observers. Never did men scramble down ladders so fast and hardly had the reached the ground when the steeple was torn off completely by a second shell.
Brigaider G. Gauvrea, who was now commanding the Birgade, decided to send in an ultimatum to the fort rather than use up more lives attacking the cement walls. A Belgian "girl-friend" of one of the Germans was sent in with a note to the Commander who returned it with the words, "It is disgustable, there is no question of it." At 0300 hours, 11th September, "A" Company had another try at the attack but every angle of approach was covered with streams of machine gun and rifle gire so they were forced to withdraw under a smoke screen. At this time of the campaign, adequate rounds of artillery fire were not available to help subdue the strongpoint. The coastal areas on the right towards Ostend had falled to the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade, and Brigadier Gauvrea secured the pay-book of a German Major who had commanded a large fort similar to the S.Sask.R. objective. He thought another ultimatum and threat might work so Lieutenant Urquhart accompanied the Belgian Woman back into the Fort with the pay-book and a note telling them if surrender was not immediate, heavy bombers would plaster the place. This of course was pure bluff. After a 15 minute delay, a German N.C.O. interpreter returned and stated they would surrender on the following morning if we guaranteed safe passage for the wounded and prisoners through the Belgian populace. They also wanted transport for the officers' baggage much to the amusement of the scout platoon. Brigadier Gauvrea arranged for the surrender for 0830 hours, 13th September, and to ensure a guarantee of good conduct, Major Buchanan was to trade places with the German Commander, who was to be held under guard at Brigade Headquarters. The C.O. had a rather uncomfortable night inthe German officers' mess musing on the absurdities of warfare and hoping some trigger happy S.Sask.R. chap wouldn't upset the apple cart. However, the surrender was made and some 140 prisoners of war and 26 wounded were sent on their way to the prisoner of war cages.
A scene with an ironic touch was witnessed as the prisoners were marched through Nieport streets. For months the Germans had used to march through those same streets singing a propaganda song "We are marching against England." As the Germans moved back under Canadian Escort, the civilians lined the streets singing in German to them "We are marching to England - as Prisoners."
This huge fort was found to be exceptionally well stocked with ammunition and foodstuffs, and with all the modern comforts of hom looted from the French and Belgian people.
Before the S.Sask.R. could procure any of the provisions and souvenirs available they were put on the move down the coast to attack Bray-Dunes Plage on 15th September. The Camerons had attacked the town from the front but had met very stiff resistance, and one company had been trapped and imprisoned in a cellar and were still there.
Major-General C. Foulkes attended the unit orders group on the high observation point which overlooked the whole stretch of sand dunes. It was planned to cross the mile of dunes in a long single file laying white tape and telephone wire as progress was made. The march was successful, with only minor casualties from "schu" mines. A quick attack captured the intermediate strong point, which was another underground concrete establishment, and a 75-mm gun in good working order. The fall of Bray-Dune Plaige followed. By mid-afternoon the whole area had been cleared but progress toward Dunkirk was stopped by fire from more strong points. The large guns in Dunkirk were also dropping the odd shell around the village, making life decidedly interesting. Daylight had disclosed this long stretch of sand dunes seeded with thousands of mines and very man small cement fortifications. Anti-aircraft guns were mounted on some of the higher positions, and these had fired at both the S.Sask.R. and the Camerons. All in all, the regiment believed they had been very lucky to guide 500 men across one mile of sand dunes in the dead of night through the minefields and under the muzzles of the enemy warheads. The 'unexpected' had paid dividends.
In the afternoon of 15th September, Lt.-Col. B. Ritchie, formerly of the 'Black Watch' (Royal High Regiment) of Canada arrvied to take command of the regiment with Major Buchanan appointed 2 i/c. The following day was spent in feeling the enemy out. "A" Company cleared an enemy outpost from a group of buildings and each company sent out strong probing patrols. On the 17th, word was received that Intelligence believed the enemy were attempting to evacuate Dunkirk by water, and other outer defences were greatly reduced in strength. "C" and "D" company patrols soon discovered otherwise. A "C" company patrol under Lieutenant L. A. Michael was stopped abruptly and the "D" Company patrol working up the sea-coast was pinned down by machine-gun fire from four different posts. Artillery fire soon added to their difficulties. Using smoke, the patrol withdrew, but one officer and fourteen other ranks were casualties.
At 0900 hours, 18th September, a "cease fire" order was received to allow an ultimatum to be sent into Dunkirk. When this was refused, a heavy fire plan was carried out.
Every last weapon including the captured S.Sask.R. 75-mm gun, was fired into the city with no apparent results other than to stimulate the enemy to send back a much heavier volume of fire. British reconnaissance parties arrived in preparation for the area take-ver from 6th Canadian infantry Brigade who were to be moved near Antwerp for a long, well-earned rest.
The S.Sask.R. was billeted down in the small town of Contich, twelve miles south of Antwerp, and spent four nights and three days of rest and reorganization. The local populace was very cooperative and warm-hearted. Many lasting friendships were made. Two regimental dances were held, and although the floor was rough, and the orchestra not the best, the gaiety of the entire crowd compensated for these deficiencies. The Burgomeister attended both dances and his daughters welcomed a number of officers and men to their homes. Time went quickly. On 21st September, Lt.-Col. V. Stott, formerly 2 i/c of the Calgary Highlanders, arrived and took command from Lt.-Col. Ritchie who was posted to command The Black Watch (R.H.R.) Lieutenant M. Phillips was also posted as Intelligence Officer.
Once again the S.Sask.R. had been given an outstanding man as its C.O. Colonel Stott was destined to lead the regiment throughout the of the war, and bring it home to its triumphal parade in Weyburn.
The battalion left Contich on 23rd September, travelling north over the Albert Canal, and then west to Gravenwezel, and finally to a position two miels north of the village. "C" Company was sent forward to the Antwerp-Tournhout Canal to observe enemy movements, and to hold this area in preparation for a later crossing to take place in the morning. The Fus. M.R.s were to cross just southeast of Lochtenberg, and the S.Sask.R. about a mile to the Fus.M.R.s left. Shortly after the unit started off for the concentration area, unexpected word was received that the area was held by the enemy. No on ehad suspected that the enemy was on that side of the canal at all. An area was chosen to the left instead, which necessitated the crossing of a small secondary canal prior to approaching the main canal. Between the canals the unit was pinned down by machine-gun fire. Artillery fire was brought down on the north bank of the canal by the 6th Field Regiment but it did not silence all the enemy weapons.
At a brigade orders group, a larger fire plan was laid on for a crossing at the original site. Smoke from the 25 pdrs. was to cut off enemy observations on the left, and that of the 3-inch mortars to be used on the right. "H" hour was to be 1300 hours. This time the crossing went according to plan with "A" Company obtaining the bridgehead and "B," "C," and "D" Companies passing through. The next orders were to fight to Lochtenberg a half mile to the east.
"A" and "B" Companies started off on this task. They worked down each side of the road overcoming small pockets of opposition, but were temporarily help up on the edge of the town by two light German tanks approaching down the other side-road. They fired H.E. and M.G. inflicting rather severe casualties.
Two men crept forward with a PIAT and though they both received minor wounds, they succeeded in damaging a tank and forcing it to withdraw. In this action, Major Harry Williams was killed while crawling down the ditch to direct action.
In the meantime the Fus. M.R.s were counterattacked by 200 infantry, and 12 tanks and were forced to withdraw across the canal. The Brigade Commander, realizing the S.Sask.R. would be in a very sticky position the next day without the support of anti-tank guns ordered them to pull back. The withdrawal went off in a very orderly fashion, and shortly, all companies were back with little interference from the enemy. One company was stationed on the canal bank to secure the crossign.
One particular piece of heroism was displayed by an unrecorded person during the attack across the canal. L/Cpl. Trail, the medical officer's driver, had been attached to "A" Company as a stretcher bearer. The crossing had been made near a house at the canal lock gates, and an enemy machine gun in the left flank had been creating casualties across the canal, L/Cpl. Trail was badly wounded, and fell back towards the water but was saved by his foot catching on some wire. The other S.B.s and casualties reached the safety of the house. Trail's groans could be heard, but each time an attempt was made to leave the house, the machine guns would open up. Captain Frank Hayter, the unit M.O., was on the spot and took off his tunic and prepared to go down to help Trail. Before he could leave, an unknown scout made a dash to the bank under covering fire from the house, and succeeded in bringing the wounded man to the M.O. L/Cpl. Trail, however, died of his wounds later in the day.
The following day, recces were carried out, and plans were laid on for the crossing of the canals on a two brigade front. Small arms fire was exchanged during the day, and patrols went across during the night.
On 27th September, plans for the next operation were completed. 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to cross the canal a few miles to the east while 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade were to make a diversionary attack at their present location. The S.Sask.R. was again given the job of crossing in the assault boats and the Engineers were to erect a bridge to allow the anti-tank guns to cross as soon as the banks were cleared. At 'H' hour, 1530 hours, artillery and 3-inch mortar smoke blinded and silenced most enemy positions, but one concrete pill-box held up the crossing until a 6 pdr anti-tank gun put it out of action. Lieutenant L.I. Stacey of "D" Company crossed with his platoon and attacked an enemy post that was hampering the Engineers in their attempts to build the bridge. Showing exceptional courage, and personally leading the action, he was killed before the position was finally overcome. The platoon was ordered back across the canal under cover of artillery fire. It was learned that 5th Canadian Brigade had made a successful attack and so the diversionary attack, the objective of the S.Sask.R., had been successful.
Four patrols were sent out during the night. A patrol of the carrier platoon almost had a fight with a sub-unit of the Polish Division, as no information had been received that it was in the area.
Thus September ended with the S.Sask.R. still in close contact with the enemy. Battle casualties for the month totalled 159, including 7 officers and 34 men killed and a further 3 officers and 55 men injured and sick.
Killed: 7 officers, 34 other ranks
5th Canadian Infantry Brigade had met still opposition, so the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade attack through them to Lochtenberg did not come off as soon as anticipated. Plans were completed and the support tied in. The regiment was to have "C" Squadron of the 10th Armoured Regiment (The Fort Garry Horse) as well as MMGs, anti-tank 17 pdrs, field and medium artillery. Lt.-Col. Stott and Captain F. Lee, who had taken over "B" Company, went up in the Air Observation Post squadron aircraft to study the route to be followed in the attack. This was a big help and a smart way to do a recce.
Wounded: 4 officers, 99 other ranks
Missing: 0 officers, 15 other ranks
Sick: 2 officers, 30 other ranks
Accident: 1 officer, 11 other ranks
Shock and Exhaustion: 0 officers, 14 other ranks
On 1st October, the unit moved to a new concentration area just south of St. Leonard but the attack was again postponed. On this day, Captain V. Schubert and some of his men returned to the battalion. He had a very interesting story to tell about his capture in the Battle of the Foret de la Londe.
At 0615 hours, 2nd October, the attack started down two parallel roads leading west along the north side of the canal. "D" an "C" Companies worked down the road inland. "B" Company cleared the town of Locht before the rest of the battalion had started and had to wait until "D" Company had advanced down the canal. The main opposition was met a mile beyond Lochtenberg at the edge of the forest. Both forward compaines came under fire from MMGs, mortars and anti-tank guns. "D" Company's Carrier was hit and went up in flames. There was ample support at the call of the battalion and it was soon brought into play. With the assistance of tanks, MMGs, and artillery, the defences crumbled and the advance continued. By noon 54 prisoners of war had been taken, and half an hour later Lochtenberg was taken.
The Camerons had been working on an axis about two kilometers to the north and scceeded in taking their objectives, and an S.Sask.R. patrol reported the area between the battalions as clear. Now the second phase of the attack began. This called for the battalion to work down to the position where it had first crossed the canal. "C" and "D" Companies started off leaving the other companies as a firm base in town. One more the tanks and anti-tank guns had to soften up resistance before the objectives could be stormed. The Fus. M.R. followed the remaining companies up to the area and concentrated to the west of the S.Sask.R. "B" Company was given the task of crossing a small canal from the north and taking up positions on the Antwerp-Turnhout Canal to the west between the S.Sask.R. and Fus. M.R. A road block on the small bridge was removed and the night succeeded with minor resistance. During the night about 50 enemy worked in on "B" Company and assisted by fire from a light armoured vehicle. A short, sharp engagement occurred, but "B" Company held firm and the enemy withdrew, leaving a number of their own dead and wounded. It was evident from these prisoners that the enemy were poorly organized and knew little of their own troops.
On 3rd October, the brigade was to capture Camp de Brasschaet and Brasschaet town. "A" Company led with "C," "D" and "B" Companies following, and with the same supporting arms to back up the attack. Major R.B. Dale-Harris of the 6th Field Regiment arranged for fire to be brought down on likely enemy targets along the route to discourage the enemy before contact was made. As far as Het Zand, "A" Company cleared out pockets with the aid of the tanks and took numerous prisoners of war, and then "D" Company took the lead in the advance. At 1800 hours, Brasschaet was entered, and rarely have troops been received so warmly with flowers, kisses, apples, kises, beer, kisses, and much handclasping and smiles. Many Belgians were crying with emotion. The S.Sask.R. had twenty-eight casualties including four killed for two days' fighting, while the enemy lost over 70 prisoners of war and as many wounded and killed.
Close contanct was maintained at night between companies for there were still reports of a large group of enemy in the area. One guard in particular was on the alert. The night was very black. Movement was heard near the post and the challenge for the password was given. No answer was received, so the sentry opened up with his Bren. At first light, a dead pig was discovered. The town and surrounding area was carefully checked in the morning, and before noon, a number of prisoners of war were taken, including some who tried to pass as Belgian civilians. The inhabitants actually became a nuisance in their enthusiasm for reporting collaborators and giving and asking advice. The town printed a special order thanking the regiment for freeing them from Nazi bondage. However, this fine hospitality could not be enjoyed for long.
The regiment was ordered to take over an area from 5th Canadian Infantry Brigade at Sternhoven and Brecht covering a 10-mile front. This take-over was completed at 0400 hours, 5th October, with "A" Company at Sternhoven and "B" and "C" Companies around Brecht. The enemy was in close contact, and shelling and mortaring kept everyone on ther toes. Indeed, contact was so close that two scouts, Dunny Powell and Cy Whitford, had a very narrow escape from being captured or killed. The scouts believed they had made "kills" in a sniping spree and decided to go out to check on results. A route was chosen via a row of houses, a hedgerow and a ditch. The day was hot. The two scouts stopped for a rest and decided there was no enemy in the vicinity so they could walk openly across the field to the bodies. They got out of the ditch in which they had been resting and proceeded about 30 yards, when five Jerries in a concealed weapon pit, appeared only a few feet in front of them. The Jerries opened up with machine gun fire, but by huggin the ground, Powell and Whitford escaped the stream of lead going over thier heads, Whitford received a wound i nthe ankle, but by firing in turn at the pit to make Jerry keep his head down, the suceeded in crawling back to the ditch. Powell and Whitford were sure of two killed out of the five enemy. They decided to let well enough alone!
A strong fighting patrol cleared the road from Brecht to Sternhoven, with the support of a troop of tanks and MMG harassing fire. The battalion was now on the extreme right of the Divisions, and had made contact with the Gloucestershire Regiment of 49th British Division regarding patrols. The area was held by the unit from 6th to 9th October. A counter-attack was expected on 2nd Division's front so every man was continuously on the alert. The tanks were sued to shoot up buildings susptected of holding enemy, and the cout platoon used its snipers to good advantage. The expected counter-attack did not develop so 4th and 5th Brigades moved into Holland and 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade was ordered to a concentration area behind them. The route was to be via Lochtenberg, Fort de Schooten and Brasschaet, then west to the main Antwerp-Bergen-op-Zoom road, north into Holland, through Putte to positions east of Moleneid, relieving the R.H.L.I.
After a long, long wait on the roadside for the T.C.V.s to show up, during which Colonel Stott reemarked: "If I stand on these crossroads much longer, I'll be picked up for vagrancy," the long, miserable trip finally got under way and was completed without incident.
(From the Sunday Graphic)
By A.P. Herbert
Hail, Soldier, huddled in the rain,
Hail, Soldier, squelching through the mud,
Hail, Soldier, sick of dirt and rain,
The sight of death, the smell of blood.
New men, new weapons, bear the brunt,
New slogans gild the ancient game.
The infantry are still in front,
And mud and dust are much the same.
Hail, humble footman, poised to fly,
Across the West, or any wall.
Proud, plodding, peerless P.B.I.,
The foulest, finest job of all.