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Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Family Remembrance for Remembrance Day

This story is about my cousin Hans William Jamieson. You are probably wondering about the combination of names. Well Hans' father was William Jamieson, born in Ireland in 1873 but his dad was born in Scotland. Hans' mother was a Danish girl named Martha Larsen, born in 1886. Hans was their first child, born in 1908. They subsequently had twin boys Howard Samuel and Harold James, born in April 1910, and later a daughter. Sadly one of the twin boys, Harold died at 3 months old in August 1910. The family lived on a farm at Jarrow, Alberta which is 95 miles SE of Edmonton, as the crow flies.

Hans was a 36 year old soldier in the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada. I don't know why he joined up--he was past the age of first call up. Perhaps he felt it was his duty. In the fall of 1944 Canadian troops of the First Canadian Army were engaged in the bloody Battle of the Scheldt which was fought in Holland and was to first seize Antwerp from the Germans and then liberate Holland. Geography made the Scheldt River valley very daunting. The Island of Walcheren had been fortified by the Germans into a powerful stronghold. The south bank of the river's estuaries were flat flood lands enclosed by dykes.  The area, being below sea level, was well suited to defense.

On September 21, 1944, the 1st Canadian Army's armoured division moved northward--the 4th Canadian Armoured Division was given the task of clearing the Breskens Pocket--the south shore of the Scheldt River around the Dutch town of Breskens. Meanwhile the 1st Polish Armoured Division headed for the Dutch-Belgian border further east and to the area north of Antwerp. The Battle of the Scheldt officially began October 1. The Allies had 60,00 troops, the Germans 90, 000.

What followed was 5 weeks of very difficult fighting. The Allied forces, were ultimately successful in clearing the Scheldt, after numerous amphibious assaults, obstacle crossings, and costly assaults over open ground. Both land and water had been mined by the Germans and the Germans defended their line of retreat with artillery and sniper attacks. By November 8, the Allies had cleared the port areas, but it was at the cost of 12, 873 casualties, half of which were Canadian--6,367.

It was during one of those costly assaults over open ground that Hans died. It was October 13, Friday the 13th and the Black Watch were ordered  to capture the small town of Woensdrecht, which was well fortified by the Germans. The attack had to be made up a hill and across 1,200 yards of open beet fields. It was in broad daylight--11:30 AM--with no cover, flooded fields, driving rain, and landmines. By the time the battle commander had the Black Watch retreat the regiment was almost wiped out-145 casualties, 56 dead including 4 company commanders, one company had been reduced from 90 men to 4 survivors, and 27 men had been taken prisoner. The Black Watch never had a chance that day.  They were already below strength as they had been all but wiped out at the Battle of Verrieres Ridge on July 25, 1944.  Of the 325 men who went out to fight that day, only 15 made it back to allied lines.  The rest were dead or wounded. I don't know if Hans was in that battle. October 13 would be forever known as Black Friday for the Black Watch.

Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery--1,118 Commonwealth burials of WW II soldiers, 31 unidentified, 1,087 identified Canadians. Hans is buried in plot 4.A.5, which means  that as you look at the picture, he is in the first row of the section to the right of the Stone of Remembrance.
Hans is buried in Bergen-op-Zoom cemetery in Holland.  As with all the war dead cemeteries in Europe it is beautifully cared for. The Dutch take particular care with the Canadian graves, because not only did so many Canadian die fighting in the Battle of the Scheldt, but it was Canadian soldiers who liberated Holland in the Spring of 1945. The Dutch had suffered terribly during the winter of 1944-45 because the Germans had cut off all food and fuel shipments to the western provinces which had a population of 4.5 million. The people suffered severe malnutrition with 18,000 starving or freezing to death. It was known as the Hunger Winter. Many ate tulip bulbs to survive. Canadians were able to negotiate a truce briefly with the Germans and allow some food in, but the real relief was when the Germans finally withdrew completely and the Canadians marched in. They shared their food with the Dutch. Canadian occupation had another effect-- 1,886 Dutch women became war brides and came to Canada.

Hans wasn't married, so his parents were listed as his next of kin. My dad told me that when he returned from his overseas service in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1946, he went out to Jarrow to visit his great Uncle and Aunt. He has also said that from time to time while he was driving a bus, he would see the surviving brother Howard downtown in Edmonton.  He said that Howard seemed like a lost soul, a misfit--perhaps the loss of his twin brother and then the loss of his older brother, had been too much for him.

War is such a terrible thing--so many men and women lose their lives and never have the chance to fulfill their potential. And in the end, wars are fought so that small groups of people or even individuals can retain or get more power or make huge amounts of money off armaments, war profiteering, and financing wars. Someday, perhaps we can stop them and not fight anymore wars.

From the Second World War Book of Remembrance

Rest in Peace Hans and all your brothers of the Black Watch and all men and women killed in wars.

4 comments:

Sam said...

Beautifully written. I did not know the Canada had such a huge role in liberating Holland.

Sam

Jane of The Jewels said...

Thanks for this very interesting history lesson. These stories are so haunting, but they need to be shared - lest we forget - especially here in Canada where we have (thankfully) been insulated from the horrors so many others in this world have seen & lived. The war machine is a big business financed on the backs of the innocent - I don't know how these devils sleep at night.

Dianne SS said...

Sam: Unfortunately the story of Battle of the Scheldt and the liberation of Holland are forgotten parts of WWII history. Hollywood has a lot to do with it--they almost always focus on American war stories and since this involved primarily the Canadians, it's not worth bothering about. You may not be aware that Canadians were in very heavy fighting in Italy. Also, at the June 6 D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy, the Canadians forces were assigned Juno Beach. At the end of the day at 2100 hours, when operations were halted, the Canadians had pushed further inland than any other of the leading allied forces.

Jane: I agree that we need to keep alive the stories of the sacrifices that so many made. We are very lucky here in Canada--at least so far.

Squishy said...

Sounds like, if you know about this, you should write it. It gets lost very quickly.