‘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 who, with the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions, were assigned the task of capturing the mined Scheldt Estuary. At this point he’s the only man of "B" Coy who hasn’t been wounded…
Bill Powell: I had a good friend in #10 Platoon in our company. Jim Rycroft was 19. As Huskins and I made our way back towards the end of the Causeway, I looked over the dike and there was Jim with his Bren gun, firing away at the enemy who were shooting back at him. I saw bits of turf flying up in the air [from] their fire. He was a brave man. As Huskins and I finally approached the Causeway, I saw Capt. Clarke carrying a wounded soldier horizontally across his shoulders. When we got back on the Causeway, all three forward companies were taking heavy casualties. "A" Coy had no officers left.
Ellis, Sellar [sic] and Brigade Maj. George Hees went onto the Causeway to see what was happening. Col. Ellis made his way up the Causeway and stopped at every slit trench and talked to everyone in spite of the shellfire. Maj. Hees volunteered to lead "C" Coy although he had no experience in the field. As Col. Ellis said, it took a lot of guts to be introduced to action in a hellhole like that. [Maj. Hees went on to become a well-known federal politician and cabinet minister.] Somewhere in all this action Jim Roycroft’s good friend, Lt. Moffatt, was shot and killed, exactly at the location where the monument to the three regiments now stands. Also, Capt. Lasher got wounded for the third time. He was "B" Coy’s CO when I joined the regiment back in France. "B" and "D" Coy’s now reported that they were down to 22 men each [from] a full company of about 100 men. Of course, when the assault started, the regiment wasn’t at full strength; much of this I’ve gathered from accounts I’ve since read.
Getting back to my recollections, my memory of what transpired after Huskins and I got back on the Causeway completely fails me. I suspect I must have helped Huskins back to the Regimental Aid Post. I’m sure by then I must have been completely exhausted after all those hours of almost continuous action.
On hearing my story about the Causeway, my wife Dot and a friend said, "Why, you went up and down the Causeway six times!" Not quite: Halloween night, almost to the far end and back the same night, looking for the rest of "B" Coy. How far that was, I don’t know. Back up to #12 Platoon again and returned to the eastern end of the Causeway with [them]. November 1st: All the way to the end of the Causeway, proceeding south on Walcheren [Island] for about 4-500 yards, returning to the Causeway and then to the eastern end with Pte. Huskins. So I don’t know what that [totals] but I do know one thing: It was absolute hell.
One thing does come back to me. Whether it was in the first night’s action or during the second day’s, I can’t say for sure but I think it was the second day when I received a slight graze over one eye, which really amounted to practically nothing. However, the second one was slightly more serious. A partially spent piece of shrapnel hit me in the backside (to use the polite term). It went in about a halfinch and bounced out…
At the regimental Aid Post I was ordered to lower my pants and my long underwear. The medical officer took a look at it, cut off a large square of bandage, put it in the palm of his hand and slapped it into place. He gave me a big shot of rum and said, "Back you go." So much for my hope of getting a "Blighty" (a wound bad enough to get you out of the war but not bad enough to handicap you for life).
Well! Back to the Causeway battle. I don’t recall what happened but I assume I rejoined my company. The situation for the Calgary Highlanders became so hopeless that in the end the whole regiment had to retire. When we finally got off the Causeway, that made two regiments that weren’t able to establish a permanent beachhead on Walcheren Island, although you might say that temporarily we, the Highlanders, had secured a toehold on the island.
(To be continued)