In March 1945, after several hard-fought battles, the Canadian Army freed the Netherlands. On this 75th anniversary, we are pleased to be able to publish excerpts from G. William (Bill) Streeter’s travel diary following his 2016 trip to the Netherlands and the sites of battles and cemeteries. (Part 1) .
Wednesday, September 21st
We left at 8:30 a.m. for the Bergen-Op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery on the outskirts of the city. Of the 1,115 soldiers buried here there are 968 Canadians. One of these is 19-year-old James Douglas Stoddart, who was residing in Port Elgin when he enlisted. His parents were Fred and Mary Stoddart of Kincardine. A fellow Saugeen Shores Heritage Committee member, Audrey Underwood, corresponded with him during the war.
There was also a stone there that was of special interest to me. During the 1960’s and 70’s, I worked with a veteran of WWII who, while laying wounded in a trench, witnessed the death of his Major who died while firing his pistol at close range while he and his group fought off charging Germans. His name was Major H. O. M. Lambert and he won the Military Cross for his bravery. My work associate was Lieutenant Owen Borthwick. His story of the battle is told in a Mark Zuehlke book titled “Forgotten Victory”.
We then proceeded to the town of Putte and their Monument of gaining their freedom by Canadians on October 6, 1944. We had a brief stop in Woensdrecht to see their old gun and plaques in the town square.
Our next stop was at the Sloedam causeway leading to Walchern Island.
The Canadians had a horrible battle here and lost many soldiers in crossing this causeway as the Germans had vantage points that gave them a major advantage. There is a very attractive new memorial close to the major highway recognizing the enormous contribution the Canadian Army made to the people of the Netherlands in the Sheldt Estuary and throughout the province of Zeeland.
We then visited a small private museum displaying items collected by the locals after the freedom of Walchern Island. While interesting it wasn’t significant.
At the end of the island is Kapelshele West. This is a very large tourist area with beautiful North Sea beaches and, a bit astonishingly, it is a favourite vacation spot for many Germans who own a lot of summer homes in the area.
This area was liberated by English, Norwegian and Dutch Commandos who had to scale the 50-foot-high dyke after significant air bombing by the commonwealth air forces. The bombing of the dykes flooded any escape route the Germans may have had and the commandos “took no prisoners”.
We visited another area, The Dishoek Battery, that the Commando group had captured and taken along the shore from Kapelshele West.
Our final stop of the day was at Vlissingen, the largest city of the island. It is across the estuary from Breskens and has a very modern look with lots of sail boats and tourists. There are beautiful views of the North Sea and the Scheldt estuary.
Another long day and back to the hotel at 6 p.m. for a nice dinner and a relaxing evening in the town square.