The cold hard wet slog continues across Holland

Infantry and carriers of the 15th (Scottish) Division
Infantry and carriers of the 15th (Scottish) Division, during the assault on Liesel, Holland, 2 November 1944.
Churchill tanks of 4th Grenadier Guards near Liesel-Meijel, 1 November 1944.
Churchill tanks of 4th Grenadier Guards near Liesel-Meijel, 1 November 1944.

Robert Woollcombe wrote a noted memoir of his service with Kings Own Scottish Borderers as they crossed north west Europe from France to Germany in 1944-45.

In November 1944, they, like a large part of the British Army, were still stuck in Holland, where he recorded his general impressions:

The burnt villages dotted back, the riddled church spires, and here a burnt-out tank with the whole turret knocked cleanly off and deposited some yards away by one frightful blow from a powerful gun.

The miles of signal cable stretching rearwards through the slush. The ubiquitous Redcaps on traffic control at every churned crossroads. A German motorcyclist, mistaking his way, careers slap up the road to Deurne village into a column of our troops moving up to take their turn in the trenches, and crashes from his machine.

Here a heavy lorry that has skidded into a ditch at a wild angle; the driver and his mate sitting near by, marooned on a petrol tin, chewing sandwiches. A crew from the Reconnaissance Regiment huddled in the shelter of a grey armoured car in their thick waterproof overalls, their goggles pushed up, brewing tea.

The blinding flashes of the big guns at night, and the eerie, unwavering beams, far back, of Monty’s Moonlight; and patrols, creeping over the marsh and dykes, cursing it at the skylines.

The new O.C. “A” Company sticks his face with glinting spectacles in the top window of our croft to observe a spandau position. Instantly a vigilant shower of bullets rattled through the roof — he swore afterwards that he had seen them coming – and he spun from the ladder on which he was standing and crashed to the floor, his finger snicked as though by a penknife.

For a moment I thought he was dead, and was bending over him when another burst came through the tiles. There was a tap where a bullet grazed a couple of inches from my brain, leaving a slight dent in my steel helmet.

Another time a heavy German gun pinpointed us, and began to drop enormous shells around Company Headquarters, ranging us carefully. Craters were steadily torn up, slowly creeping closer, until they were straddling us.

Our croft was not strong. At length we fled, and in the nick of time, tumbling from the cellar with no dignity at all, map-cases flapping, wireless headphones flying; the lot of us. The next two shells were direct hits. The croft caved in on itself and the cellar ceiling gaped at a smudgy November sky. The big gun stopped…

We had thrown ourselves into a section of large concrete drainpiping, conveniently half-buried in the kitchen garden by the original civilian occupants of the place, to form a shelter against the day when the war might sweep over them. It was uncomfortable, dark, and you could barely stand upright, and all curves – but safe.

Inside there was a desperate smell, and a Dutch family, who were in fact the rightful owners of the now-destroyed croft.

We bundled them and their personal belongings, from food to pieces of furniture, on to the Company carrier and evacuated them. The carrier looked like something from a Chaplin reel, only not so funny.

We then found it necessary to empty our new abode of various utensils full of excreta and urine. The family, with small children, had been hiding there for about a fortnight.

There were a few clear days, but most of the time it was raining, with mud and slush being mashed up everywhere and the weather growing colder.

See Robert Woollcombe: Lion Rampant: The Memoirs of an Infantry Officer from D-Day to the Rhineland

Contemporary newsreel of British in Holland with section on specialist amphibious transport:

A despatch rider pushes his motorcycle along a flooded road in Holland, past an artillery tractor which has got stuck in a ditch, 8 November 1944.
A despatch rider pushes his motorcycle along a flooded road in Holland, past an artillery tractor which has got stuck in a ditch, 8 November 1944.
German prisoners captured by 53rd (Welsh) Division in Holland, 17 November 1944.
German prisoners captured by 53rd (Welsh) Division in Holland, 17 November 1944.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.