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Escaut Canal No 8 lock
Kasterlee War Cemetery
St Dymphna, Gheel
THE FINAL TRIBUTE, HOLLAND-GERMANY
In 2003 and 2004 my brother and I journeyed to Normandy to see
the battle sites and memorials to the men of the 181st Field Regt.
Our experiences can be found on my ‘visit to Normandy’
page. It had always been our intent that we continue to follow the
route of the 15th Scottish Division all the way to Hamburg where
they celebrated VE-Day.
Our plan was to take the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, drive through
France and Belgium, and spend a few days there before driving through
Germany onto Hamburg. We arrived safely in Hilvaranbeek, where we
set up our base, a large village that the Division passed through,
just a few miles south of Tilburg which they liberated 28 October
1944. We wanted to visit especially, the towns of Geel and Aart
just inside the Border with Belgium. This bridgehead, which spanned
the Meuse-Escuat canal was the scene of prolonged and bitter fighting
which cost 44 Brigade many casualties and was never more than a
thousand yards wide or deep. The Division repelled no less than
thirteen counter-attacks by the German 1st Parachute Army commanded
by General Student, many tributes are paid to the fine shooting
of the Artillery during this battle. After eight days, and some
700 casualties the bridgehead was abandoned, the only consolation
was the destruction of tons of enemy armour and men. As we stood
on the bridge looking Eastwards we could clearly see Number 8 lock,
where Major TP Woods RE and his intrepid band of sappers fought
bravely to erect a temporary bridge whilst under heavy fire. We
had already called at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Kasterlee
to pay our respects at the memorial to Gnr John Armstrong, where
we laid a single poppy and signed the visitors- book, as we had
done at all the Cemeteries in Normandy.
We also visited the church of St Dymphna in Geel, where all the
Regiment’s casualties where originally buried. Most of this
church was destroyed by shellfire, but it was nice to see that much
of the original building was still there. Over the course of the
next few days we visited six cemeteries and followed the Divisional
route through Best Vynen, and Miejel, which had all been rebuilt,
after being flattened by shelling and bombing during the fighting.
We eventually made our way to Xantan via Kleve and the Rheichswald
War Cemetry. This is where the Division concentrated before making
its way to Rheinsberg, where it crossed the River Rhine on rafts
and assault craft 25 March 1945. It was quite sight, just as the
history books describe it, fast flowing with shallow sandy banks.
The final couple of days were spent visiting memorials in Hanover
and making our way up to Hamburg where we had two memorials to visit.
Our last night was spent in the company of Leon Timmermens and his
family who live in Tilburg. Leon, together with others does a very
worthwhile job keeping the memory and friendship of the 15th Scottish
Division alive in Tilburg. We left Holland after 8 days of travelling
and visiting the sights that I have been reading about for the last
twelve years, my final ambition achieved. I’m sure that I
will return to North-West Europe as my research continues to open
more avenues of interest.