Brunssum Canada Delegation Commemorates the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Scheldt

January 17, 2020 - Defence Stories

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Atop the dyke at Hooftplaat, NL, the beginning of the 33km march to Knokke, BE.  Canadian Delegation with teachers from AFNORTH International School.

The members of the Canadian Delegation at Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCBS) commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Scheldt Estuary during the Second World War from November 1st to 3rd, 2019. The military members from JFCBS were also joined by several teachers from the AFNORTH International School, the Canadian military attaché from The Hague, and a group of Canadian students and teachers who travelled from Kingston, Ontario, Canada.  

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The “For Freedom Pipes and Drum Band” accompanying the Canadian Delegation at Adegem Canadian War Cemetery, near Maldegem, BE (02 November 2019). WO Manon Lirette (JFCBS/J8/BUD) stands at the cenotaph.  

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Marching along Op SWITCHBACK route from Hooftplaat, NL to Knokke, BE.  Canadian Delegation with teachers from AFNORTH International School and students from Kingston, Onatario, Canada.

In September 1944, the Allied advance was stalled as logistical lines were stretched to their limit and further advances would depend on the opening of the port at Antwerp. Movement along the Scheldt River was controlled by German positions, either strongly fortified (such as on the island of Walcheren) or easily defended on the flat open polder country (the south bank of the estuary).  Clearing the southern shore of the estuary was allotted to the First Canadian Army which, in addition to three Canadian Divisions, had a Polish Division, a British Corps, and at various times American, Belgian and Dutch troops.  Some of the most bitter and difficult fighting of the war occurred from October to November 1944 as the Scheldt estuary was cleared under Operation SWITCHBACK. The First Canadian Army suffered over 12,000 casualties of which 6,367 were Canadians.

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Laying a wreath at Hickman Bridge – named for Sgt Jack Hickman, Canadian Military Engineer, at Retrenchement, NL before crossing into Belgium.  Colonel Walter Taylor (JFCBS/MGT/IKM) and WO Sandra Gulin (JFCBS/OPS/J2) laying the wreath.

Annually, since 1973, citizens of the Knokke-Heist region in Belgium have organized a series of parades and ceremonies as a tribute to the sacrifices made by those who participated in Operation SWITCHBACK.  The “For Freedom Pipes and Drum Band” performed at Adegem Canadian War Cemetery, near Maldegem, BE. The majority buried at Adegem Canadian War Cemetary died during Operation SWITCHBACK clearing the south bank of the Scheldt, but many Canadians who lost their lives elsewhere in Belgium were also brought to this location for burial.

The weekend events always culminate with a 33 km march from the town of Hoofdplaat, NL to Knokke, BE. The march stopped briefly at Hickman Bridge in the Netherlands prior to crossing into Belgium while Col Walter Taylor and WO Sandra Gulin layed a wreath named for Sgt Jack Hickman, Canadian Military Engineer, at Retrenchement, NL. On 3 November 1944, Sgt Hickman was the second-in-command of a bridge construction troop which came under German artillery and mortar fire. The march then continued to Knokke, BE finishing retracing the movement of the First Canadian Army during Operation SWITCHBACK in 1944.

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