Scottish Lion On Patrol Ch 15
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ANNA HOEVE
AND HOUT BLERICK

Map 11

Go east out of Sevenum, being careful how you drive round the sharp corners when you leave the centre of that small town. Cross the railway line and go on between the straggling farms until you come to the wide main road which runs south to Blerick, parallel with the Maas. Turn right here, and drive a short way towards Blerick. Then turn right again, this time on to a track between fields without fence or hedge. (You may have to do some adroit steering along here : there used to be a soft patch.) Turn left and bump along another track towards Blerick again. Soon you will come to Anna Hoeve. The country is flat, this country beside the Maas, and if it is winter you will find it dreary. Just beyond the long bulk of Anna Hoeve, and on the far side of the Blerick road, the sombre woods seem to be frowning at you. On the farms the few buildings rise, austerely angular, from the winter drabness of the level, hedgeless fields. Such a farm is Anna Hoeve. Until December 22nd it was the head-quarters of the three reconnaissance squadrons in turn as, week about and under brigade command, they guarded a long stretch of the Maas while the rest of the regiment was out of action.

It was really too long a front to be guarded adequately by one squadron. It stretched from just south of Grubbenvorst to just north of Blerick, and it was a good half-an-hour's walk from the northernmost troop headquarters—a wooden bungalow in a clearing—to the southernmost a house just off the Blerick road,

beyond the broad stream which the Royal Engineers had bridged and the railway bridge which the retreating Germans had reduced to lumps of masonry. And walk it was in the day time, at least along that part of the main road where vehicles could easily be seen by the enemy watching from Venlo. A railway the one whose bridge had collapsed runs roughly parallel with the road and the river, between them. To reach the Maas from Anna Hoeve you must cross fields, then the main road, then open scrubby country, then the railway, a strip of meadow, a tongue of wood and another road, which runs beside the river. Down towards Blerick the main road and the railway run side by side. From slit trenches, from the houses at the southern tip of the tongue of wood, from the house perched above the railway cutting, the squadron look-outs spied all day on the Germans across the 150 yards of water, and watched the distant white vertical trails which showed where rockets were being fired at Antwerp. The Germans looked out from similar hiding places on the other side. Sometimes their shells shrieked over, ripping into the woods. Some-times, on cloudy days, their new jet fighters swooped over, streaking ahead of their sound, too fast for the Bofors gunners who were staying at squadron head-quarters. Nights were tense. Look-outs were replaced by listening posts close to the river. Ears were strained for the sound of a German patrol coming across by boat ; eyes peered into the darkness until familiar bushes became crouching men. It was not the policy to cross to the German side, but the German patrols crossed frequently at night and slipped easily through the thin screen of outposts. Capt Kemsley, Sgt Sheppard, Cpl Russell and Cpl Stevenson, looking for a fault in the field telephone line down the Blerick road one night, found a cut in the cable that was obviously intentional : the patrol had even crossed the main road and gone into the woods to the west to bazooka vehicles of the Middlesex Regiment parked at a farm

not far south of Anna Hoeve. The C Squadron troop nearest Blerick found a German outpost of one man on the west bank of the river. His relief was overdue, and he was a not unwilling prisoner.

In the early part of the time on the Maas it was impossible to drive all the way down the Blerick road because the stream south of Anna Hoeve had not yet been given a bridge to replace the one which the Germans had destroyed. It was at this time that a Dutch-man arrived one night at an A Squadron post, saying that his wife was about to give birth to a baby some-where on the bank of the Maas. So Lieut Ray Parker set out with a small party on the midwifery expedition which he describes

The Dutchman had arrived at Dalton's troop position just north of mine. Dalton passed him over to me, and it was arranged that an ambulance should come down behind the wood which was my troop location. The ambulance arrived with Sgt James, the squadron signals sergeant, and we set out on foot Sgt James, Sgt Williams, the Dutchman and myself. We took a stretcher with us.

The Dutchman could not speak a word of English, and I was suspicious. As we went along in single file I had my hand not far from my pistol if it were a trap, he was certainly going first. We clambered over the tree thrown over the stream, scrambled over the wreck of the railway embankment and went along a very quiet path to a silent battered farmhouse within fifty yards of the Maas. Still suspicious, I left Sgt Williams outside with his Tommy gun while I followed the Dutchman into the house. The only habitable place was the cellar, and there, sure enough, was the woman, lying on filthy bed linen.

Much relieved, I called the whole party in, and the patient, thinking no doubt that I was the doctor, promptly displayed the affected parts. I felt bound to attempt to judge how long we had. There were

obvious signs of an approaching birth, but I felt that we had at least an hour, so I decided to carry her back.

It was a frightful job to get her up the stairs. They were too narrow for us to bring her up on the stretcher, and she had to walk with what help we could give. Once on level ground she rode safely on the stretcher, making so much noise that if a German patrol had been about we would have been even more unhappy. How-ever, things went well until we reached the blown railway embankment. It was hard enough to get her over the rubble, but the main difficulty was the stream. We could not carry her across the tree on the stretcher, so there was nothing left but to let her more or less walk over. One of the sergeants crossed first and held the tree steady on that side and the other sergeant held it on the other side while I went over with the woman clinging to me as best she could. And how heavy a pregnant woman is !

Once across the stream it was plain sailing on to the ambulance and off to hospital. The baby was born about two hours later.

The days and nights on the Maas were a busy time for the regiment's signallers. Field telephone lines had to be laid alongside track and wood and road to connect all the posts with the switchboard manned night and day in the front room of Anna Hoeve, from which other lines went back to brigade headquarters in Sevenum and north to whichever battalion of the 3rd British Division was in Grubbenvorst. At any time of the day, along the Blerick road or on either side of it, you might have come across a small party, perhaps with jeep, perhaps without, but certainly with drums of cable, " Don Five ", borrowed ladder, pliers and spades, working under the direction of one of the three squadron signals sergeants James, Sheppard and Dutch or Capt Kemsley, Sgt Davidson or Cpl Stevenson from R.H.Q. The work was made harder by the fact that

the regiment's official equipment, bristling with wire-less, contained little for line communication five field telephones, to be exact. However, past scroungings and current borrowings provided enough equipment to make the improvisation of the rest worth while. (The regiment had a good friend in Jim Shields, the Royal Signals quartermaster.) The lines to some positions being under observation, could be laid only after these mere is the signals officer's account of one of these nocturnal expeditions :

In the back room of Anna Hoeve Major Gordon spread his maps among the litter of kit, and thought about the German patrols. He decided to set a trap for them by- putting a night post in some buildings near the river, on the far side of the tongue of wood. That meant joining a line to the line which already ran beside the wood to the houses at the southern end, and taking the new line along the path which cut through the wood, then across the road and into the buildings. It was a job for darkness. At dusk off went Lieut Peterson with his then to occupy the post, and off went Cpl Stevenson with me to lay the line.' As we crossed the railway one of the Middlesex at the post there warned us : " Mind our trip wires across the track when you come back." We thanked him and went on, The path through the wood was not long, but the wood in the dark was through it without comforting. I went through the other,without lingering, pistol in one hand, cable in the Stevie paying out the line from the edge wood behind me. When I returned he was joining the lines, and not to be seen in the darkness. Neither could, find the other until one of us hit on the idea of softly whistling morse. Glad to have the job done, We hurried back towards the railway. It was not until I walked clean through it that I remembered the Middlesex trip wire, but whatever flare or infernal machine was .attached failed to go off. Next day, back in my billet at R.H.Q., I received from Templeman asomewhat dramatic welcome : " Whew ! If anything had happened to you out there it would have been on my head. I forgot to tell you that I took the ammo out of your pistol in case the kids here got hold of it." But I was never much of a shot, anyway.

On December 9th the regiment, except for the squadron at Anna Hoeve, went from the Sevenum area to Lierop, near Zomeren and close enough to Helmond. to compensate for the fact that quarters were mainly barns and hay lofts disposed along muddy tracks. The Maas squadron and the rest of the regiment were now .in quite different worlds : the one looking out across a deserted river for glimpses of a hidden enemy ; the other well out of range of German guns and near a canal which was soon to be crowded with cheerful Dutch skaters. After calling for the dispatches at the Lierop tailor's shop in which L/Cpl Holderness had neatly spread his signals office (who will forget the jolly, friendly young people there ?), Tpr Merryman or Tpr Yount would set off in the hard-worked signals jeep on a daily round which covered nearly fifty miles, through Asten, Meijel, Panningen (divisional head-quarters), Masbree and Sevenum to Anna Hoeve, and back again. The arrival of the signals jeep bringing the mail was always a great moment of the day at Anna Hoeve.

Field Marshal Montgomery visited the division again on December 13th and presented medal ribbons,
twelve to members of the regiment. " In this fighting no division has done better, and it is a first class show "
he said. He gave details of the leave scheme which was soon to be started. In the regiment the colonel drew
names from a hat to decide the order in which people should go. Everybody was agog. The names of
Capt Liddell and Sgt Gilbert came out first and second. It was decided to replace the Anna Hoeve squadron
with infantry in order to have more men on this long stretch of the Maas, and the regiment was ordered to
take over another part of the front—at Hout Blerick, a mile south of Blerick—on December zznd. On the night before the change the A Squadron position at the southern end of the tongue of wood was rushed by a strong German patrol, which clattered off jubilantly down the river road with nine prisoners. The Royal Scots Fusiliers relieved A Squadron on the afternoon of December zznd, and the same day C Squadron went into Hout Blerick, taking over from the King's Own Scottish Borderers.

To reach Hout Blerick from the west you drive straight on from Maasbree instead of turning left, which is the way to Sevenum. The road slopes gently down to the river, and near the river you turn off to the right to go into the village. That December it was advisable to turn right sooner and go the " back way ", along a bumpy track beside a wood, because the country near the river was under German observation. Hout Blerick was badly damaged and almost deserted—eerie as only an empty village in a grey December can be. Squadron headquarters were in the crypt of what remained of the church, and connected with the troop strongpoints by a complicated system of field telephones. The most unpopular position was 150 yards from the river, and could be relieved only at night. It was decided that the squadron at Hout Blerick should be reinforced by members of Headquarter Squadron.

The weather became colder and colder, and the rutted tracks like iron. The vehicles had anti-freeze in their radiators, but the engines had to be run at intervals during the night. In spite of many pre-cautions, some wireless batteries froze and burst. The canals froze. There was alarm lest the Maas itself should freeze. The long nights in the slit trenches were agony, and the rum ration the most precious thing in the world. At Lierop the smooth running of R.H.Q. depended on the Valor oil stoves, for which Sgt Davidson, the intelligence sergeant, was made responsible. A burnt out wick was a major crisis.

Sgt Davidson asked for a new one. All the Scot in the colonel was shocked. " Heavens man ! A wick should last two years. All the rooms in my house are heated by Valor stoves he chided. To which the harassed sergeant replied : " I'm sorry sir. In England we use electricity."

The approach of Christmas brought another crisis : a bomb fell on the Helmond hall which had been booked for A Squadron's Christmas dinner by Lieut Harry Whitham, who combined the manifold duties of P.M.C., entertainments officer and liaison officer with breezy efficiency. But in Harry Whitham the hour had found the man, and both A and B Squadrons had a gay Christmas Day in the town of their adoption, a day for which thanks were shared by the entertainments officer, the quartermaster, Lieut Hughes, and Major Kemp. Headquarter Squadron spent the day equally cheerfully in Lierop, where the sergeants ferried early-morning tea in jeeps and the sergeants' mess band entertained after dinner. The only musical instrument in the band was a cornet wielded by Sgt-Major Leslie Evans in a manner reminiscent of the buskers outside Blighty's public houses. The piece which proved most popular was " The Skater's Waltz ", possibly because it was the only recognisable one.

C Squadron was still at Hout Blerick. Its festival was postponed, but even at that desolate village there was something of the spirit of the season. On Christmas Eve the Germans decided to forego their routine 4 p.m. shelling, and that night, which was cold, clear and very still, sounds of festivity came from the far bank of the river. On a Christmas morning white with frost the only sound was a church bell across the Maas. The colonel came, and the padre, who con-ducted short services. At dusk the enemy deemed Christmas over and began shelling again. In the evening a " flap " was relayed to the squadron from " higher up " : German patrols were expected. A trap was laid ; all the way along the front a riotous party was simulated with singing, bagpipes, trumpets and flares, which masked a general stand-to. No patrols came. Relieved by B Squadron on December 28th, C Squadron swept into Helmond two days later for its belated Christmas party, recounted by Capt Liddell :

The entertainments officer had done us proud. The party was in a Helmond cafe which looked more like a church inside, with its gallery and organ. It was so large that the whole squadron was able to sit together while officers and sergeants rushed hither and thither as waiters. Everything went off with a bang, , including the electric organ, which was most popular. We started it with the help of the proprietor. Then he disappeared, and we could not get it stopped. Brigadier Cumming-Bruce, who had come along from 44 Brigade, did his best to compete with it for a while, but we had to fetch the proprietor and ask him " for Pete's sake " to turn it off. Major MacDiarmid, representing the colonel, also spoke a few words in his own inimitable way. Then the squadron got down to the serious business of the day.

The Q department had managed to procure real English beer. There was not much, but a " hell brew " was also ladled out, and soon some wonderful acrobatic feats were being performed. Nobody knows how Sgt M got up to the statue twenty feet above the floor. How he got down again without breaking his neck is an even bigger mystery.

Then we had Trooper F, " Geordie ", loud in his praises of Lieut R. Using the adjective which in the Army meant everything except what it really meant, he declared Lieut R. to be the best officer of all the officers. The other officers were not quite certain how to take this, but that mattered not one whit to Trooper F., who proceeded to take them in turn and deliver a short homily on their characters—in most cases a very accurate sort of thumb-nail sketch.

By this time everything was going with a swing, including some of the chairs, and the proprietor was beginning to look a bit pale. Sgt-Major Ward sized up the situation and decided that fresh air would be beneficial to the company, so everybody was turned out to cool down for a couple of hours before the dance, which started at seven o'clock. It was amazing, the difference those two hours made. A sober and respect-able, but cheerful, gathering welcomed the Dutch girls, who turned up in large numbers. The organ played again from time to time, and everybody had a grand time. One and all sang loudly the praises of the entertainments officer, and voted this one of the best, if not the best, Christmas in the Army.

The Tam O'Shanters, the division's concert party, played Dick Whittington magnificently in a long run at Zomeren, and a Dutch concert party came from Helmond to Lierop to entertain the regiment. This poem, written by one of the performers, was read with great feeling by its author :

TO OUR LIBERATORS

We sighed and sighed in slavery; we cursed the horrid Huns. Then after years of pining, hark ! The sound of saving guns ; Our trembling hearts cried out for joy in spite of bomb and shell, For was not Heaven coming after years and years of hell ?

We prayed and prayed, and Heaven made our faithful Friends break through.

They forced the enemy's strong defence ; they drove him on anew. And lo ! From every window burst our colours glad and free, Our long forbidden Orange shone : a sun of victory.

A little shy, we try and try to thank you, gallant Men Who came to bring us liberty and make us live again ;

Our Dutch is double Dutch to you, but may you understand The language of our children's kiss, the shake of grateful hand.

God speed you on your glorious way to Victory and Fame ; For ever in our history be praised your Army's name ; Hurray for glorious England, Wales and Bonnie Scotland too, For Irishman and for the States ; good luck to all of you !

In reply to this tribute the following poem was reproduced in a Helmond newspaper :

TO HELMOND

Our stay with you, so short has been but you have made us feel

t'was worth our while in freeing you from the yoke of the NAZIS heel.

From Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales we came to set you free,

and pressing forward we must go

to hasten VICTORY.

But we shall not forget you

and the kindness you have shown

in this small DUTCH town called HELMOND ; you have made us feel at home.

We hope that when this War is WON and free men have their say

we can return to visit you

for a peaceful holiday.

But meantime let us forge ahead until that day is near

when we can meet in quiet content and raise a hearty cheer.

FROM A SOLDIER.

On New Year's Day the Luftwaffe made its last really great gesture ; it was with surprise at first that members of the regiment saw black crosses on the wings above Lierop's roofs. But these fighters were not interested in Lierop. There was more activity in other parts of the division's area, and several of the attacking aircraft were shot down. Major MacDiarmid, on a journey back to R.H.Q., had to dive for a ditch.

On January 7th all the regiment that was in Lierop was inspected by Maj-Gen Barber on a snowy field, and marched to church behind a pipe band from the Lowland Brigade. The squadron watch on the Maas continued in the snow, and white overalls were issued.

There was one never-to-be-forgotten exchange when one of the squadron patrols returned on a freezing night :

Shivering sentry in slit trench (whispering) : "Who's that ?

Patrol leader (whispering) : " Who's that who said ` Who's that ? ' ?

Shivering sentry : " Who's -that -who -said -who's that-when-I-said-who's-that ?

On January 8th the regiment was ordered to provide a squadron as the division's mobile reserve, under command of a brigade group at Roggel, six miles south of Meijel, and the new system was that the squadrons spent a week in each position : Hout Blerick, Lierop, Roggel. R.H.Q. and A Echelon moved south over the slippery roads to a camp of huts—wooden, dishevelled and draughty—at De Heibloem. On January 20th the division was relieved by the 6th Airborne Division, fresh from the Ardennes, and the 1st Commando Brigade. Two days later the regiment, except for A Squadron (not yet relieved at Hout Blerick), drove to Boischot in Belgium. Never again was Helmond to be near. That was sad. But there was no grief in parting from the cold slit trenches by the Maas.

On November 29th, 1945, the Ost Brabant, the daily newspaper of Helmond, stated : " All British elite-troops have been stationed at Helmond between November and December, 1944, including the 15th Scottish Recce Regt (whom the Helmond people called their ` own army ') ".

On the Maas front Tpr S. D. Roberston was fatally wounded.

In Holland the regiment had been joined by three officers from the 59th Reconnaissance Regiment—Capt D. E. Jackson (to B Squadron), Capt G. B. Salmon (to C Squadron) and Lieut G. M. Paton (to B Squadron). Lieut P. G. Vroome also was posted to the regiment, and he went to C Squadron.

 


                                                

 

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