The Causeway (Sloedam) battle, Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 1944, part 3

‘I think that my experience of taking part in the Causeway battle on Halloween night and November 1, 1944 in Holland is probably the most terrible 40 hours I have ever spent…’ -the late Bill Powell, 1998

In October 1944 the Germans controlled the entrance to the port of Antwerp although it, with all its docking facilities, had been captured intact. Duncan’s late Bill Powell was one of the Calgary Highlanders who, as part of the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions, were assigned the task of driving them out, the Highlanders to capture the mined Scheldt Estuary…

Bill Powell: On the afternoon of Oct. 31st, the Black Watch started out, preceded by a barrage of our own artillery. The regiment was in no condition to mount an attack under these circumstances. They were still trying to recover from "Black Friday" which had occurred some time before on the Peninsula, when the regiment lost many men in a hopeless battle. [Although] many of their men were new and inexperienced, the bulk of the regiment managed to get about halfway down the Causeway under heavy enemy fire but could go no farther.

However, a small group of men managed to get to within approximately 25 metres of the far end [before] the regiment was ordered to retire. Those most advanced took up refuge in the German brick-lined slit trenches [but] their casualties were heavy.

I will now give a personal account of my recollections of the Causeway battle.

After such a long time, one has doubts about the accuracy of one’s memories. However, [everything] I’ve been able to check is quite accurate. As I recounted earlier, our platoon and all others were desperately short of men. So it’s hard to imagine (as I recall) that by the time we’d reached the western end of the South Beveland Peninsula, the strength of our platoon had reached 24 men, the most our platoon had since I joined them back in France…

After the Black Watch had been ordered to retire, we found out that it was [our] turn to be (as someone put it) introduced to this inferno. When our order came down for us to follow the Black Watch for the second regimental attempt to cross that terrible Causeway, we found that "B" Coy was to lead the assault and even worse than that, our #12 Platoon was to be the first. One historian has referred to us as that "gallant band of men," and as "the heroic band."

We got about halfway down the length of the Causeway and came across an enormous crater. Our whole platoon got into it and had a brief few minutes of partial protection. Then away we went again. There were many casualties in our platoon. One in particular I shall never forget. The Jerry’s were firing rifle grenades. As we all lay flat to avoid some particularly intense fire, this rifle grenade rolled right under one fellow and exploded. His last words were, "I am dying." I wish I could remember his name…

We got up again and proceeded farther. We must have been really close to the far end when all hell broke loose. There were machine guns and everything else you could imagine. How many of us were left after that, I can’t say. One of the histories I’ve read about casualties said that "B" Coy lost most of Platoon #12. One of these casualties was Lt. Lefroy, shot through the chest.

Eventually we were ordered to fall back, how far I don’t know. But this order never got to our platoon. It wouldn’t have done any good if it had. Those of us who’d survived didn’t know what to do. We were so close to the Germans we could hear them talking when the firing died down a bit. We had to lie perfectly still to avoid detection. Then it was decided that someone should try to get back and contact Capt. Clarke and the rest of "B" Coy.

Somehow I volunteered or got elected or something. I started off. When the fire got too intense or they fired another Very light [flare], I’d lay flat. Then I’d get up again. I was too exhausted to run. I finally reached them, where I don’t know, but it took a long time. It must have been Capt. Clarke I [spoke] to. He [asked] where we were. I said, "Damned if I know, near the far end somewhere." There was no way they could help us so I decided I had to make my way back to what was left of our platoon. I must have been lucky because I made it without being hit.

When I rejoined our platoon, I found Cpl. Morris with help of the survivors was gradually pulling the wounded Lt. Lefroy across the ground a foot or two at a time. How many hours it took I don’t know. Cpl. Morris just wouldn’t give up [and] finally Lt. Lefroy was brought back to relative safety.

Next morning the Calgary Highlanders were to try again. This time "D" Coy was to lead

the attack. Of course, our battered "B" Coy was to go along, too.

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