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) (Part 2) (Part 3)
Friday September 23
Wybo arrived just after 8:30 and we went to the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery close by.
The grave of James Currie is here. He was living in Southampton and was a member of the Baptist Church when he enlisted. There were 19 members of the Southampton Baptist Church that enlisted in WWII. He was the only church member that died in action. I have a picture of the James Currie stone and there is a small Kincardine Pipe Band flag stuck in the ground in front of the stone. Obviously, there was a recent visitor from our area. This was the largest Canadian War Cemetery in the Netherlands with 2,598 buried there in total with 2,331 being Canadian.
Groesbeek is very close to the German border and our next stop was at Den Heuvel. This is not even a village, but a farm located on the border and it was here that the first Canadian soldiers set foot on German soil. They were members of Le Regiment de Maisonneuve “A” Company commanded by Major G. F. Charlebois. Today the farm buildings sit on a small knoll looking down to the German Border. A sign at the farm gate welcomes short stay caravan parking.
We travelled through Zufflich, Kleive and other small villages all of which had battles between the invading Canadians and the Germans. This led to Mooyland Wood which the Canadians struggled to clear of deeply dug in German fortifications that resulted in many deaths.
In the middle of the wood is a castle that today has been very attractively repaired from the many bombing hits it took in the winter of 1945. A receptionist at the entrance to the castle told us that there were still trenches visible if we walked into the woods. We took about a half hour to stumble through thick undergrowth and found trenches and low and behold Wybo tripped over a rusted old shovel, probably used in digging the fortifications by the Germans. We stumbled out of the tangled undergrowth and back to the car.
From here we travelled through the village of Mossuf to a rebuilt home in Beingrebuit that had been bombed but has been rebuilt and recently modernized with solar panels and has an official historical plaque mounted on the house recognizing Sgt. Aubrey Cousens of the Queens Own Rifles of Canada who bravely led his platoon in the capture of these farm buildings.
After stopping at Keppeld and viewing another battle memorial (only in German) we stopped for lunch at a bakery in the village of Ueden and very friendly staff made us sandwiches on fresh out of the oven buns.
There was a plaque at the base of a railway overpass which carried the railway line through the Hochland Gap which marked one of the heaviest battles the Canadians fought in the 44/45 campaign. The Gap was a couple of miles farther on and we drove up to it.
We arrived at Villa Rheichswald which had been a tourist spot prior to the war and a military building during the war. It had a great view of the gap between the Hochwald and Tueshenwald forests. It was through that gap the Canadians had to fight their way with the Germans entrenched in heavy fortifications on both sides. This battle lasted for many days before the Germans headed for the river Rhine at Xanten. This was where the Germans vacated the Rheinland in early March 1945 and blew up bridge crossings behind them.
When we got to the Rhine at Xanten we found a ferry dock with outdoor restaurants along the shore. It was only fitting to sit and watch the barge and boat traffic with a fine pint of German Beer.
Wybo drove me back to Holland, to the train station in his hometown of Arnhem and I took the train to the Schiphol airport outside of Amsterdam and returned home on Saturday.