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

(Conclusion) ‘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 Allied advance through Holland was held up because 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’ B Coy who, with the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions, were assigned the task of capturing the mined Scheldt Estuary. Despite heavy casualties these attempts to secure a toehold on Walcheren Island by way of the Walcheren Causeway were repulsed… Bill Powell: "D" and "B" Coys were considered to be the heroes of the assault! However, I would like to say that any soldier out on that Causeway went through a terrible time. Most of us had no desire to be heroes. This left one regiment, the last one of the 5th Brigade, to be thrown into that hell-hole, and that was the Regiment de Maisonneuves. They did their best but I understand that two companies were sent forward and got to within 200 metres of the end. They, too, of course, suffered a great number of casualties.

Sometimes one hears the question asked, "Why does a man go into a battle in which he is almost certain to be killed or wounded?" There are many possible reasons. Perhaps a soldier does what he’s ordered to do because of his training; perhaps a sense of loyalty to his comrades and his regiment is the unspoken reason; at times a set of circumstances can leave a soldier no choice; more often it is a case of, you just do it.

When I joined our platoon back in France, it seemed to me that if you belonged to a rifle company there were only two ways you were going to get out of there: you were going to get killed or wounded. There were no other ways! My description and sequence of events may not be accurate but it’s fairly close. It’s obvious that the intelligence each regiment received before the battle was not correct. If the Brigade had known the nature of the German defences, I doubt that the Causeway would have been attacked in that manner, with three regiments of the 5th Brigade thrown into the battle, one after the other. The battle lasted 53 consecutive hours.

Various descriptions have been given of the assault: an inferno, a killing ground, to name a couple. Someone said the shells were falling like rain.

It was recorded by another, as one of the most brazen of all frontal assaults in history. Our Col. Ellis said something like this, "Put a bunch of guys in a cannon, push them up to the mouth." I’m quite sure that it bothered him for the rest of his life. The Causeway battle cost the 5th Brigade 135 men, killed or wounded. I’m surprised it wasn’t more. It was the last battle of the Scheldt campaign for the 5th Brigade that began on Oct. 1, 1944 at the Albert Canal. The campaign to open up the Scheldt Estuary was over for the Calgary Highlanders, too. We were finally transported to Liere, Belgium, for a few days’ rest before being sent up to the Nijmegen front. I’m sure we were all in a mild state of shell shock.

One evening in the street below I could hear pipes playing. It was one of our two pipers. It was something else I shall never forget… As I think, and try to write about the Causeway battle, I find my emotions rising, even though the events I’ve tried to describe happened so long ago. It’s something I shall never forget as long as I live, particularly because of all the soldiers from my own #12 Platoon who got killed or wounded.

Editor’s Note: So recounted Bill Powell in 1998 of the eight days of fighting for the Scheldt Estuary which cost the Cdn. 2nd and 3rd Divs. 355 officers, 6,012 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. The Calgary Highlanders lost 107 men killed, 327 wounded. Walcheren Island was finally captured in an amphibious assault by British commandos and the battle for the Causeway has been described as a "costly and ultimately unnecessary diversion".

Duncan-born William James Kershaw Powell died Oct. 1, 2005. He was 83.

www.twpaterson.com

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