We moved into the outskirts of Deventer early in the morning of the attack. I remember we took over a vacant house and our platoon grabbed a little rest for a few hours. We also had some mail brought to us, including a letter for me from my mother, who enclosed a four leaf clover she had found. I lost it just before we went into the assault. In the early morning 3 or 4 of us walked up to the corner and found that the cross-road at the top of the street was a sort of highway. I cannot tell you where it was, and if I ever knew the street name it has been long forgotten. The surprise was a pair of Germans in uniform, obviously older men, pedaling bicycles along the highway. I guess they were base soldiers simply going to work in the morning like they did every morning. If either one of them saw us, he did not recognize us as enemy soldiers, but it was pretty obvious that neither of them actually paid any attention to a few men standing on a corner. It sure registered on both of them pretty quickly, because suddenly they stopped cold, turned their cycles around and tried to scramble off in the opposite direction. Actually, it was quite funny to see those two, wearing very baggy uniforms, thinking they could pedal away faster than my Bren gun’s bullets! In fact, it probably saved their lives, because they looked so funny that we all started laughing and none of us could shoot straight, we were laughing so hard. However, a couple of short bursts from my Bren and a few shots from the rifles of the others, made them stop, jump off their bikes, and shove their hands in the air. One of them spoke reasonable English, and told us they were very surprised that the Canadians were there. We took them back to the house, and they were quickly picked up by a truck and driven away, presumably to be interrogated.
Later, we moved on, winding up on a treed hill or slope facing a wide field across a road at the bottom of the hill. We stayed in that position for an hour or more, lying on the ground, before the word came to go down the hill, cross the road and attack across the field.
As soon as we were in the field and advancing towards the buildings about 400-500 yards on the other side, the Germans opened fire with machine guns and mortars. We hit the dirt, and I can remember clearly lying face down behind my helmet (why I thought I could hide from gunfire behind a helmet is beyond me!). I heard, or felt, a thump in front of me, and looking up I saw the tail fins of a mortar bomb sticking up out of the ground not more than a yard away. There was no time to move, and no place to go to even If I could. I was just frozen with fear waiting for the explosion that never came. Either the ground was too soft to have triggered the bomb, or I can thank some slave labourer in a German factory for “fixing” the bomb so it would not explode! I just lay there for a few minutes until I heard Bill Richardson, who was just a few feet away from me yell for me to “come on”, so I got up and started to run towards the buildings. I couldn’t see any enemy soldiers but I sure could hear the gunfire from their machine guns and 20 mm cannon. About halfway across the field was a pretty deep ditch and we jumped into it as quick as possible, to catch our breath. Just before I reached the ditch, Bill Richardson, who was running just slightly ahead and to my left, yelled that he was hit, and when we both were in the ditch we looked at his right hand and saw where a bullet had sliced along the back of it. There was quite a bit of blood, but it was not a bad wound. Bill was very lucky that he was not a step further in front of me, because the bullet would have hit him in his upper body. We wrapped a handkerchief around his hand as quickly as possible and carried on with the advance as soon as the order came. Later, our first-aid man, whose name was Pinchbeck, but who we called “Pinchy”, patched Bill up and he had no further trouble with his little wound. Bill and I remained friends after the War until he passed away several years ago.
I have searched my memory, but cannot remember more about the actual attack. I have no memory of any fighting in Deventer itself and think the Germans must have backed out pretty quickly. I remember walking down the streets of Deventer , keeping close to the houses and buildings, looking for someone to shoot at, but I cannot remember seeing any enemy soldiers. I honestly cannot remember having to fire a single shot at any time during the “attack”. I remember being in a park when the Germans fired a number of mortar bombs that landed close to where I was. There was a slit trench dug into the ground into which I took cover, pulling a young Dutch man and his girlfriend in with me. She was very frightened but fortunately the bombing stopped pretty soon, they scrambled out of the trench and disappeared in the direction of some buildings – I guess they were going home as fast as they could.
Before dark, we were told that we were not going to stay in Deventer but that the German was retreating and we had to keep up the pressure on the enemy. So the Canadian Scottish moved out, and chased the Germans all night. So ended my share in the liberation of Deventer. We missed all the celebrations, but I hope it was a happy time!
My service with the Canadian Scottish ended at Wagenborgen. I was a Bren gunner in those days. Memory tells me that the date was April 21, 1945. I was in 17 Platoon of D Company, commanded by Major Tony Compton-Lundie, from Duncan BC. We were safely dug in some miles away on the night of April 20 when we were rudely awakened and told that we were going to move into the town of Wagenborgen right away instead of waiting for the whole battalion the next day. As we approached the town on the road leading into it, Major Lundie was leading and I was immediately behind him and slightly to his right. The rest of the Company followed in very loose fashion.
Of course we were nowhere near full strength, and memory says Dog Company totaled less than 70 men altogether (maybe 68?), so it did not take much ground for us to spread out pretty well. We came upon a roadblock across the total width of the road that looked pretty formidable. Lundie motioned for us to stop, and about the same time I spotted a German soldier standing on a small knoll to the right of the road, but he ducked out of sight before I could take a shot at him. There was a little shouting in German and then we came under fire from at least one machine gun and several rifles, obviously from well prepared positions. Either they were lousy shots or it was too dark for them to take good aim, but no one got hit.
I was about to hit the dirt and shoot back (I couldn't see any target, but I do not like being shot at) when Lundie yelled to fall back and get moving fast, so I followed him and we all ran back as fast as we could go, jumping off the road and running beside it until we came to a big barn into which we all took cover. the walls of the barn were constructed of thick rock, behind which we were safe from small arms fire, so we liked it. The next day, April 21, came pretty fast and with it a lot of gunfire from the enemy, although the rock walls of the barn kept us safe from it. Later in the morning the enemy started some 88 fire into the field opposite to the barn. Later, in the early afternoon when we started our assault, the 88 battery (there had to be more than one gun) popped a bunch of airbursts right over the road as we ran out of the barn. In retrospect it is obvious that the gunfire into the opposite field in the morning was only to range in for the coming airbursts fired over the road.
There was a ditch running beside the road and as we ran out of the barn we all jumped into it as fast as possible, and scurried up the ditch to get away from the airbursts. I well remember those damn airbursts, and why I wasn't hit I will never know. As I slithered up the ditch like a little rat getting away from a cat, I noticed a stream of blood coming out of both pant legs of the fellow in front of me. He was a year or two older than I was, and had been a sideshow barker before joining up. I can't remember his name, but he was hit pretty bad in both legs, obviously from the amount of blood that streamed down his legs. He did not slow down at all, but kept scurrying up that ditch in the effort to get away from any more airbursts. I caught up to him and tapped him on the boot, yelling that he was hit. He stopped, looked down at his feet, screamed profanely, and turned back immediately, scrambling out of the ditch and running like hell back to the barn. I met him after the War in Aldershot where he was working in the kitchen, and he told me that he had been hit in both thighs and in both arms, but did not know it until I grabbed his boot and told him. Remarkable.
We kept going up the ditch, heads down, and constantly under fire from the enemy but fortunately there were no more airbursts. I passed a couple of our boys who had got up too high in the ditch and were wounded for their mistake, but most of us got up the ditch in one piece until we were opposite the roadblock I told you about. When we were about halfway there, I heard a Bren gun carrier roaring along the road. Later, I found out it was outfitted with a flame-thrower and the plan was that it would torch the roadblock and anybody behind it before we attacked it. Unfortunately, the Germans had mined the road in front of the roadblock and the carrier hit one, blowing up and burning. We did attempt to charge that roadblock position, once, but failed even to get out of the ditch. I have little memory of what happened, for which I am grateful because it was not nice, but I looked at the records, and we lost 21 killed that day, and I am sure there was quite a few more wounded. Pretty bad, considering the total numbers that went in to the attack.
Suffice it to say that nine of us, including a sergeant named Dodds who was the only officer or NCO left, backed up a side ditch and lay in water for a number of hours waiting for dark, before the Germans found us and we were forced to surrender. Incidentally, while we were lying in that water filled ditch, the enemy started firing artillery shells at the barn, setting it on fire. We learned later that several more of our guys were killed in the gunfire, including Tony Lundie. Incidentally, the Germans trucked us to the coast, a place I think was called Delfzijl, where we were loaded into a barge and towed over at night to Germany. One of our boys, Les Butterick, a kid from Vancouver, who had been badly wounded, died that night on the barge. I cannot remember the names of all nine who were taken prisoner that day, but two of them were Sergeant Dodds (who gave the order to surrender) and my pal from Victoria, Bill Richardson, who passed away several years ago. The whole battalion took up the attack the next day and avenged Dog Company by pasting the Germans and liberating Wagenborgen. For me, the real heroes of Wagenborgen are the 21 Canadian soldiers who died on the 21st.
Thomas J. Halbert
A big thank you to Wouter Veldhoen (NL) who recorded and provided this story.