Scottish Lion On Patrol Ch 10
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Belgium and a Farewell

The regiment's new positions were on the edge of a "pocket" in which were large, well-armed, but disorganised, enemy groups, trapped by the swiftness of the armoured divisions' advances from the Seine and going this way and that in efforts to break out. The 7th Armoured Division had entered Ghent at six o'clock that morning, September 6th, and the enemy groups were a menace to one of its main. supply routes, through Avelghem and Audenarde. The regiment immediately sent patrols into the    "pocket".

On the left B Squadron was joyfully welcomed in Courtrai, which was later taken over by the Seaforth.  In the centre C Squadron reached the canal beyond Sweveghem and met opposition. Both 9 and 11 Troops were engaged in confusing fighting north and west of Vichte, and this is Sgt D. C. Waters's story of the 11 Troop patrol, carried out by three armoured cars, Lieut Gray's, Sgt Bradley's (with Tprs Waters and Crouch as crew) and Sgt Morrison's (with Tprs Wardle and Wiffen as crew) :



We went to Vichte crossroads, where the assault troop was sitting, and went on carefully. After about three miles we were met with that deadly silence which always foretold trouble ahead. The civvies were in their houses, and only viewed us from the corners of windows and half-open doorways. A couple of braver lads came forward to tell us that a long line of Germans was moving along a road about half a mile away in the direction of Waereghem. We moved to a point of vantage, traversing our guns on to a gap in some houses on the enemy's route. All three cars opened fire at once. There was panic among the Germans. Our car moved to a better position, and Sgt Bradley bawled "37 mm fire". I fired. There was a terrific crash and glass fell for several seconds; to our great relief we found that all that had happened was that the blast of the gun had broken a shop window. I looked down the road, and was surprised to see a German eyeing us through binoculars. When we traversed in his direction he disappeared behind a house. We set off down the road, and on passing the house Sgt Bradley screamed "Fire". I fired; the Besa jammed. Instantly I pressed the other trigger, as I knew the situation was desperate by the way in which the order was given. Two explosions occurred, followed by a third. The first was mine. The last was mine. The second was a Bazooka which had landed six inches', from our rear wheel. We halted, and traversed to the rear. Our 37 mm had scored a direct hit. The steady knocking of Spandau bullets on the outside of the car told us that someone else was asking for trouble. We wirelessed the other two cars, telling them that they were surrounded and we weren't far from it. Their reply camequickly- "We will join you." Only a few seconds later the first car tore round the corner about a hundred yards away with its guns firing into the ditch; the crew had spotted a Spandau position. The other car followed. It was now getting late, and the order to withdraw came over the wireless, so we began to go back the way we had come, knowing that it had been clear of enemy.
Sgt Morrison was leading, and to our amazement he suddenly stopped his car and began reversing. We followed his example. Over the air came "Enemy 88 mm sitting Vichte crossroads." We were cut off. Under cover of houses, Lieut Gray studied the map and made a quick appreciation. "Follow me" he said, and we drove after him down some lanes. A squadron of 11th Armoured Division tanks was firing in our direction from about 1,500 yards away. Not knowing what lay between us and them, we prepared to destroy our codes. It was now nearly dark. We suddenly hit a main road, turned left and went flat out so that very little could stop us except an anti-tank gun met head-on. We met one, but it was one of ours, and luckily it did not fire.



While 11 Troop was on this patrol, 9 Troop ambushed and shot up a bus full of Germans. Lieut Royle's troop suffered several casualties during the day, losing an armoured car and two carriers. The car was knocked out with an 88 mm shell by Germans who had changed their minds after surrendering when taken by surprise. Sgt H. W. Hanby, the car commander, and Tpr J. C. Neville, the driver, were killed, and Tpr Hoolachan, the wireless operator, was wounded. Two members of the troop were taken prisoner that day.

A Squadron, on the right, patrolled northward, in the direction of Gruyshautem, and captured about 13 prisoners. Under orders to reconnoitre to Waereghem from Kerkhove, Lieut Kerridge set out with his troop of three armoured cars and two carrier sections reinforced by a section of the assault troop with a half-track and six-pounder. He has described what happened:


We passed through tanks and motorised infantry outside Kerkhove and mooched comfortably on for about eight miles. Then I called up my tracks under Lieut Roy Higgs to form a firm base two miles behind me on some high ground. Meanwhile Sgt Ramsay was gallantly taking his car by itself into Waereghem and out again, reporting the presence of many Germans with anti-tank guns. On the road he met and knocked out a German lorry. He also met two German ambulances, but those he did not molest. While he was away my car and that of Sgt T. Hughes came under mortar, shell and small arms fire.

Soon afterwards Roy Higgs arrived with the tracks, having overshot the proposed firm base, and the whole troop was immediately deployed and the six-pounder brought into action to cover the road. The small arms and mortar fire was heavy, and a shell landed under the back axle of my car. A German O.P. was eliminated, but enemy infantry, plus what we presumed to be a self-propelled gun, attacked us from left and right, the gun bringing fire to bear on the rear of our six-pounder. As the half-track was unable to manoeuvre quickly, a carrier was sent to recover the six-pounder, but the carrier was hit and ditched.
At the same time Sgt Hughes's car was put out of action by a small anti-tank gun and my own was hit in the radiator. Sgt Ramsay was ordered to retire towing Sgt Hughes's car while I covered him. This worked, and I retired to the carriers, which were being organised for withdrawal by Lieut Higgs and Sgt Bob Gillespie. Owing to the built-up nature of this area, the wide, deep ditches and two woods, our arcs of fire were narrow. The assault troop section and the carriers of Sgts Munton and Ladds were covering the left flank well, but our blind side was" sticky".

Wireless contact with squadron headquarters was regained through a step-up, and we were ordered to pull out instantly, as the Germans were reported to be behind us. The assault section and the cars went first, followed by the carriers. While retiring to his section an assault trooper was killed by machine gun fire. The six-pounder (without its firing mechanism) and the damaged carrier had to be abandoned.

After going back five or six miles we met an advance troop of the Royal Tank Regiment who said that three tanks had been sent to help us and two of them had been knocked out five miles behind where we had been in action. We all returned to Kerkhove.



Other A Squadron vehicles patrolled the main road between Kerkhove and Avelghem, on which unescorted supply vehicles came under fire from an enemy machine gun. This was eventually traced in a factory on the outskirts of Avelghem. It was only after a gallant member of the White Brigade, the Belgian underground army, had lost his life that the post was overcome.

Throughout a drearily wet night patrols from the regiment guarded crossroads around the squadron harbours, and next day, September 7th, the" pocket" was again explored while the Germans continued their frantic efforts to find a way out of it. The haphazard movements of these enemy groups meant that unless a patrol was on the spot it was never certain whether a town or village was clear of the enemy. The Belgians in the area found this bewildering, and became understandably cautious in the display of national flags, which were something of an embarrassment when Germans arrived. The sight of the Scots Greys' tanks going south through Avelghem to a night harbour made the inhabitants so anxious that hundreds of flags disappeared and an exodus began, in spite of the presence and reassurances of C Squadron, the Cameronians and the underground forces, which gave the squadron much help. After the war, Major Mills returned to Avelghem at the invitation of the burgomaster and townspeople, and opened an avenue named Liberation Avenue (Major L. H. Mills) in honour of C Squadron.

Some of the regiment's hardest fighting at this time took place at Deerlyck, where Tpr A. A. D. Davies and Tpr B. T. Miggins were killed. L/Cpl L. Cole and Tpr H. Hoyle, too, lost their lives in the" pocket". B Squadron, obtaining information about the crossings of the Lys on September 7th, met stiff opposition in Deerlyck and Harlebeke, and the assault troop casualties in Deerlyck included the troop commander, Lieut Harvey. Wounded, he was removed by Belgians to a cellar, where they were celebrating liberation while the battle continued above. The 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers attacked and captured Deerlyck, taking nearly 70 prisoners.

C Squadron discovered a strong group of Germans in Kaphoek, only a mile north of Avelghem, and A Squadron, working with the tanks of the 4th Armoured Brigade, met self-propelled guns and dug-in infantry in Caster, a mile north of Kerkhove. While the tanks were heavily engaged there the squadron shot up German transport and took 40 prisoners.

At dusk, the 4th Armoured Brigade withdrew to the line of the Escaut canal, and A Squadron, with the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, formed a defensive ring round the Kerkhove bridge. In the night the bridge was attacked by about two thousand Germans. It was a night of noise and tension. A Squadron had crossed the canal at dusk and taken up positions covering the bridge, but as the bridge was wooden the tanks had to stay on the far side, and their crews made most of the noise by firing in all directions except to the rear. The attacks failed. It was the last co-ordinated effort to break out of the "pocket".

Next day, September 8th, 44 Brigade, with the regiment under its command, had the task of clearing from the line of the Courtrai-Bossuyt canal northward to the main Olsene-Audenarde road. B Squadron went first. Squadron headquarters became worried by the slowness of the advance, but it was discovered that this slowness was caused by the hundreds of Germans coming from all sides to surrender. All semblance of order in the German ranks had vanished. Those who were not trying to surrender were trying, with anything that had wheels, to find a way back to the Fatherland by trial and error. They must have got tired of the errors. After a separate organisation had been set up to deal with the prisoners, B Squadron's patrols made good progress through this flat country, which seemed to be an unending mixture of market gardens and suburbs with garish brick houses. Armoured cars met the 7th Armoured Division near Ghent, but the B Squadron troop on the right encountered more resistance in Deerlyck, and Lieut L. Bray was wounded in a skirmish beyond Hadebeke. B Squadron reported that the bridges over the Lys between Courtrai and Dentze had been destroyed, and that enemy were seen at several places on the north bank.

C Squadron, on B Squadron's right, found British soldiers who had been taken along as prisoners in the German retreat. One of them was Trooper Dennis, a former member of the regiment. He had been captured while on patrol after being posted to another reconnaissance regiment. C Squadron had news of him when a patrol was stopped by a Belgian and led to a house in which two R.A.S.C. men were hiding; after being marched for four days and nights with little rest they had escaped from their captors in the confusion of the retreat. Dennis, they said, had been with them, but they had had to leave him some miles away. Major Mills went to look for him. As he drove up to the house Dennis limped out. "Hello, sir, I'm glad you've come. I've been here a week," he said.

That night the regiment harboured at Oyke. On the way to Oyke (a drive through joyful crowds whose flags were now displayed without fear of a return of the enemy) Lieut Isaac, leading R.H.Q., looked down from his light reconnaissance car into a pair of eyes peering cautiously over the edge of a ditch. They belonged to a little, bewildered Russian. The Germans had captured him, put him into German uniform and told him to drive an Army waggon. He washed dishes gladly at R.H.Q. for a day or two, then went back to the prisoner-of-war cages.

At this time the Scottish Division was ordered to take over the bridgehead in which the 50th Northumbrian Division was fighting hard across the Albert Canal south of Gheel. To do this a journey of about 90 miles had to be made, and it was on the evening of September 12th that the first of the Scottish Division's infantry, the Cameronians, went into the bridgehead. On September l0th the regiment drove from Oyke to Breendonck, a small town on the main road between Brussels and Antwerp. To the regiment Breendonck is memorable for its brewery, its dance and its concentration camp, or what had been its concentration camp. In the brewery R.H.Q. was quartered. The dance was given that evening by the townspeople - thrilled with new-found liberty - in honour of the regiment. The congestion at Hampden Park when Scotland meets the ancient enemy has never been greater than the crush in the little dance hall. The dancing, in the Belgian style, was vigorous. It was the regiment's first night "off the leash" since landing in Normandy, and it was the townspeople's first opportunity to celebrate liberation in such fashion, and everybody was flushed, perspiring and happy.

The concentration camp in Breendonck had been established by the Germans; now it contained those of the guard who had not been swift enough to get away and an increasing number of people said to be collaborators, the women with their heads shaved as a mark of their disgrace. Outside the camp hundreds of Belgians shouted, danced, sang and shook their fists at those within.

The division's knowledge of what was happening in the Albert Canal area was scanty, so A Squadron patrols went out from Breendonck on September 11th in search of information. The report sent to divisional headquarters that night contained the following facts: that the bridges over the canal were demolished and no other crossing places had been found; that the 61st Reconnaissance Regiment was south of Herenthals, and the 4th Welch at Larrenburg; and that enemy were seen north of the canal at Schaats, Herenthals, Diestenberg, Vierseldijk and Massenhoven. Positions of bridges standing on Petite Nethe and La Nethe were given. Divisional headquarters were informed that the general impression was that the enemy was not holding the canal in great strength.

At Breendonck, A Squadron had the misfortune to lose Lieut Higgs, who was injured in a motor accident.

On September 12th, while A Squadron continued to reconnoitre, the regiment went on to Vorst, a village two miles south of the Albert Canal. Entering the bridgehead that evening, the Cameronians confirmed that the opposition on the perimeter was determined, and the regiment's orders for the following day were to make a detailed reconnaissance of the canal area. Next day, however, the infantry found that they were opposed only by rear guards, while the early-morning reports of B and C Squadron patrols also indicated a withdrawal from the canal line. The chase was on again; A and B Squadrons hurried over the only bridge and headed for the Junction (Meuse-Escaut) Canal, between five and seven miles away.

A Squadron patrols, on the left, were not hindered until they drew near to the bridge north of Gheel and the bridge on the main road to Rethy. Then they met slight resistance on the near bank, and came under heavy fire from the far bank. They reported that both bridges were demolished.

B Squadron, on the right, made for the town of Moll and the Donck bridge two miles beyond, which air reconnaissance had reported to be still standing. The main road between Gheel and Moll was cratered; the squadron went south of it. At two o'clock in the afternoon the leading patrol was halted in the centre of Moll, where two cars were knocked out in an action
commemorated by a scar on the face of the town clock. Sgt Maxfield, Sgt Litton, Tpr Marshall, Tpr Sarl and Tpr Ritchie were wounded. The 2nd Gordon Highlanders came up and cleared the town after sharp fighting with the German rearguard. Behind the Gordon Highlanders were the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, mounted on the tanks of the City of London Yeomanry in readiness for a dash to the Donck bridge. At half-past three a loud explosion in the north was heard; at half-past six it was confirmed that the bridge had been blown up.

On the Junction Canal the Germans made a stand, and for a week the 15th Scottish Division-first 44 Brigade and afterwards 227 Brigade-had some of its hardest and most costly fighting to preserve the small bridgehead which the 8th Royal Scots seized across the canal north of Gheel on the night of September 13th. On the same night the 6th King's Own Scottish Borderers also crossed, near the Rethy bridge, but they had to withdraw because the Germans flooded the area by manipulating the lock gates. The regiment stayed south of the canal, quartered among the hospitable people of Meerhout and Moll, and patrolling the factories, straggling suburbs, woods and marshes in the canal area to prevent German infiltration. The difference between doing a little peaceful shopping in Moll, or sipping a light beer in one of its cafes, and watching for a marauding German patrol, or listening for the sudden scream of a shell in a deserted canal factory, was only half an hour's walk along a very ordinary looking, straight suburban road. On the night of September 15th, Lieut Michael Morris, of C Squadron, with two sergeants, led the way for the 2nd Gordon Highlanders, who tried to cross the canal by lock gates two miles west of the Donck bridge in order to draw off some of the great pressure by the Hermann Goering troops on the bridgehead. The Gordon Highlanders were pinned down by machine gun fire, and the attempt failed.

That day Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery had visited the Scottish Division and presented medal ribbons. "I hope," he said, "that you will tell your folk at home that I came here today and told you that the 15th Scottish Division had done magnificently." The regiment provided the guard of honour, commanded by Captain L. T. Ford, and was complimented by Major General Barber on its smartness and bearing.

On September 17th C Squadron relieved the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the Donck bridge area. It was eerily quiet there, among the back gardens, deserted except for a few forlorn hens, and among the empty, echoing factories with their machinery dusty and idle, and among the woods. Intermittently shells shattered the quietness. From the factory at the Donck bridge the Germans could be seen on the other bank, fewer than fifty yards away. That day eyes looked up to watch the Dakotas and Stirlings and gliders flying to Arnhem, and good wishes went with them through the puffs of anti-aircraft shells ahead. In the afternoon, C Squadron headquarters defeated Moll at football. It was an exciting game, and the score was broadcast at intervals to the patrols watching the canal.

By day C Squadron assault troop, supported by machine gunners of the Middlesex Regiment, made a strong point in one of the factories. At night the troop withdrew to houses nearer to Moll. On September 18th a strong enemy patrol crossed the canal and captured two assault troop men who were guarding one of the approaches to the factory. The close nature of the country made it impossible to guarantee against surprise, and the Germans on the other side of the canal were able, enterprising soldiers. The possibility of a German crossing which would be more than a patrol led to the placing of the 8th Royal Scots, two companies of the Middlesex Regiment (machine guns and mortars) and artillery under the colonel's command, but no attack came.

The Gheel bridgehead had served its purpose as a diversion from the Second Army's main thrust towards Arnhem, and on September 20th the division was ordered to withdraw from the bridgehead, hand over the rest of the area to the 7th Armoured Division and go into Holland on the following day. On the last day in Belgium Lieut-Colonel Grant Peterkin received immediate posting instructions to go to the 43rd Wessex Division as G.S.O. I. He addressed the squadrons and issued the following Special Order of the Day:

"Today I have been ordered to relinquish command of the Regiment and return to the Staff.  In this my final order I wish to thank all ranks for their very real and loyal cooperation and help which have always been extended to me, and to wish you good-bye and good luck. To me fell the honour to reform, train for Active Service and lead into action the 15th (Scottish) Reconnaissance Regiment. We have now reasonable excuse to consider ourselves the best regiment in a very fine Division. Much of this is due to the fact that we have been a happy family in which everyone did his best, and it has been easy through all your efforts to achieve success.  We have had our trials and tribulations, but when the time for judgment came we were able to show to all and sundry how well we could do.  I shall never forget the many very happy days we have spent together, nor shall I ever forget the Regiment. I shall follow your future achievements in war and peace with undiminished interest. That every one of you will give to my successor the same co-operation and willing assistance I am certain. Continue to work and play with the same cheerfulness and determination, and let everyone ensure that he never sullies the name of this Regiment that I look upon as mine.  It is a sad day for me, but your continued  success will help to soften the blow.  Good luck to each one of you, both in the remain ing days of the war and in the difficult days of the  peace to follow."

 B Squadron remained in Moll with 44 Brigade until the 7th Armoured Division had completed its occupation of the area, but at first light on September 21st the rest of the regiment began its drive to Holland. In the centre of Moll, on this cold, misty morning, Lieut-Colonel Grant Peterkin took the salute from his regiment for the last time and wished it luck as the long line of vehicles headed for a new country. Everybody was sorry to say "Goodbye" to that tall figure in the mist "the old man".

He had given the regiment its character, its spirit and its methods. His enthusiasm was infectious, and he had the knack of getting the best out of everyone. On the cloth model at Felton he had plumbed the depths of his officers' ignorance, but in such a skillful and delightful way that they had left each exercise brimming with new knowledge and confidence. He may not have known that there was almost violence in the sergeants' mess over the vexed question of whether the porridge should contain sugar or salt, but in those days of training there was very little which escaped his eye or inquisitive cane - certainly not the Nissen hut full of snoring officers "whose batmen hadn't called them for P. T." At sport, the regiment's teams were always spurred to greater efforts by the presence of the colonel, racing up and down the touchline with brandished cane.

Battle increased the regiment's admiration of a leader whose appreciations were accurate and decisions swift, who appeared among the forward troops when things were at their "stickiest", and who had a racy way of keeping everybody "in the picture" . Just as his cane had poked into every corner of the regiment in training, so his jeep, with shining Reconnaissance Corps badge, waving aerial and the good-natured Corporal Ridge, bustled into every corner of the regiment in action. It was always a welcome sight.

After Lieut-Colonel Grant Peterkin had left, it was learned that he had been awarded the D.S.O. for the way in which he led the regiment in France and Belgium. From G.S.O. I of the Wessex Division he was posted to command the 1st Gordon Highlanders in the 51st Highland Division, and in that command won an immediate award of a bar to the D.S.O. in the fighting between the Maas and the Rhine. He was wounded in the assault across the Rhine. Later he was given command of a brigade in the Highland Division.

In the reorganisation which resulted from the colonel's posting Major Smith became commanding officer, Major MacDiarmid second-in-command, Lieut Blount captain and adjutant, Capt Liddell second-in-command of C Squadron, Capt Ford officer commanding Headquarter Squadron and Major Gaddum officer commanding A Squadron.  For his courage in leading patrols in the Avelghem area and on the Junction Canal Sgt S. Kirrage, of C Squadron, was awarded the Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm.


 

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