At least every morning, and once just at dusk, the Germans tried to overrun us in this bridgehead...but we had these Bofors guns on our side of the canal...somebody decided they would be operationally good to stop these counterattacks by the Germans, and they certainly did.
Through the CANLOAN scheme during the Second World War, Colin Brown was a Canadian Army officer who served with British forces. He fought through Europe with the British Army's Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Facing stiff German resistance, Brown was part of the attempt to secure the Gheel bridgehead in support of Operation Market Garden in 1944.
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In this case we didn’t think we were going to ever get overseas before the war ended, I mean, we had visions of the war being over, like on D plus two and a half [2.5 days after D-Day] or something. So we wanted to make it at least overseas. So when the chance came to go on loan to the British Army, we were paid by Canada so there was no sacrifice on our part. We were paid by Canadian rates of pay and so it worked out good, we got where we wanted to go and the Brits got the use of 600 and some odd Canadian officers.
Gheel [Belgium] was, it was just about the time of the operation, you will remember [Operation] Market Garden, Monty [British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery] decided – he got [U.S. General Dwight] Eisenhower to agree to give them all the support, and they dropped paratroops starting in a line from Eindhoven in Holland, and straight up through to Arnhem-Nijmegen. Well, we were supposed to be making a second road up from Eindhoven through Turnhout Tilburg on the left so there’d be more than one route to supply. We got stopped at the [Meuse-]Escaut Canal – we called it the Gheel bridgehead – and we never were successful. Meanwhile, the operation failed anyway.
I don’t know whether other units ever had that unpleasant experience, but, at least every morning, and once just at dusk, the Germans tried to overrun us in this bridgehead, and we were so lucky, because it was not part of our planning, but we had these Bofors guns, on our side of the canal, were not being employed because we didn’t have a bridge. So somebody decided they would be operationally good to stop these counterattacks by the Germans, and they certainly did, I have never seen them used in that role before.
Well, we were by this time getting newspaper – they’d be one or two days late – but, my particular division, we went right past Belsen, and Belsen was a notorious [concentration] camp. I personally didn’t actually go in the camp, but you could smell it miles away, and we ran into some of the – they had sub-camps. There were foreign workers living under the same conditions – as we got close to Hamburg [Germany], they had these camps of foreign workers, and people with the striped suits and all that. Well, they were so thin and starving, but they were working in the munitions factories, and they were in rough shape.
Within a week or two of the end of the war, in May , and the little village, all the civilian – wearing civilian clothes – Germans and, there were women as well, children, and – I sent [personnel] carriers up this drag – that you could tell that they weren’t acting as normally if they would be relaxed and even smiling and waving, they were just standing there looking kind of scared. We suspected there's something funny and suddenly a soldier would pop up out of a slit trench, with a Panzerfaust [anti-tank rocket] that banged my two carriers, which caught on fire and we had to back off.
We did actually capture a couple [of enemy soldiers], but they just surrendered, you know, once they’d fired their anti-tank thing, and since we’d had no casualties, we went – we could tell the war was so close to ending. Didn’t seem much point shooting the fellow who’s trying to give up anyway.