MY LAST BATTLE - WW II
On the 13th June 1940 I was a Private Soldier with the 48th Highlander of Canada, en route to almost certain death in collapsing France. On the 13th Apr 1945 (another Friday?) I was the Lieutenant in command of #14 Platoon, same Regiment and now a veteran of the Italian Campaign - about to start my last battle of WW II - in Holland!
The 1st Cdn Corps had come up from 'Sunny Italy' to help end the war in Northwest Europe and frankly, I was a bit surprised to be still alive. I had survived a lot of fighting and apart from a few superficial wounds and some impaired hearing, I was still in good health. Most of us knew the war must be coming to an end soon and there was a renewed determination to 'get on with the job' and get back to our homes and the loved ones we had not seen for so many years.
The battle for Apeldoorn started with an amazing amount of support for we PBI (poor bloody infantry) - more artillery, tank and air support than we had ever seen before. Even lowly Platoon Comdrs were able to call up rocket firing Typhoon fighter planes to blast enemy machine gun positions and it was an inspiring sight to see those 'Tiffies peel off and scream straight in on a well defined target. We were also impressed by the defiance of the Germans who would often stand up in their trenches and fire at our aircraft with apparent disregard for their own lives. These were not the 'old men and frightened boys' thought to be all that was left of the Wehrmacht.
We had the 1st Hussars for tank support with their versatile Shermans and, all we need do was indicate points of resistance with our tracer fire and they would hit the spot with those devastating 17 pounders. They were the most willing tank support I ever saw and as long as we could protect them against ant-tank fire, they would assist us in our attack.
On the morning of the 14th we were slowed by an increasingly resistant enemy and my Platoon got pinned down by a sniper who killed one of my men with his first shot. We couldn't spot the marksman, who would fire with deadly accuracy at our slightest movement. But, within minutes of my radioed request, we had clouds of 3" mortar smoke onto our position and we were up and onward to rejoin the attack.
Our gallant, 30 year old Colonel, Don Mackenzie had been killed on the 1st day of the attack and now we had crossed the Ijsell River between Zutphen and Deventer and were entering the built up suburbs of our objective. It was here that my long time friend and brother officer, Lieutenant Freddie Williams was killed as he led #13 Platoon in deadly street fighting.
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By the 17th, only 4 days after kick-off, Apeldoorn was taken, intact because the Germans, fearing encirclement, had withdrawn. The inhabitants were delirious with joy and treated us as the conquering heroes - we had always wanted to be!
On the 19th April the Germans agreed to a short truce in order that food could be transported through/across/over their lines to the starving Dutch who were in desperate straits. In the meantime we had moved a short distance West of Apeldoorn to the small town of Soest. Now it was almost over although rumours were rife and we were kept in a constant state of readiness. But the 'food truce' held for awhile and on the 26th April I found myself with a representative contingent from the Regiment attending a commemorative service in the nearby village of Wilp, where our 19 killed in this last battle now lay buried in graves heaped with flowers by the grateful Dutch.
Right up to the last hours of the war we were kept on 'stand by' and I remember being issued with maps for the area of our next battle where 'last ditch' German S.S. troops were reportedly ready to die before surrender. The conventional signs for enemy armour, artillery and heavy mortars were thick on the map in this area and as usual, we were under strength in the Battalion.
Then - - Oh Blessed Day! On the 7th May (which happens to be my birthday) came the longed for order: "Effective 0900 hrs all offensive action will cease". I have never had, before or since, a more welcome birthday gift! It is impossible to describe the sense of relief that war's end brought to me. Not only would I live, but no longer would I see my friends and companions slaughtered beside me. No longer would I have to write those dreaded letters to the next-of-kin of the men killed in my Platoon; those gallant men - who I shall always remember.
A.E. Brock, Capt. R'td.