Whichever route brought you to Vlissingen, from the outskirts of the town follow signs for Centrum. There are also signs for the Arsenaal, which stands alongside the old harbour close to the start point of your visit. There is plenty of street parking close to the harbour controlled by parking meters. Typically parking costs about 0.9 Euros (about 50 pence) an hour. Three or four hours should cover your visit to the town.
To start your tour of Flushing you need to locate Bellamypark, an open space in the centre of the old town overlooking the original harbour. The park is sign posted from many different locations and all the locals know it as the focal point of their town. The town has a one way system, which leads through the park and down to the harbour. Many of the streets around the old part of the town have on street parking, costing around one Euro an hour.
The Breskens Ferry
Until the end of 2002, visitors to Flushing made use of a regular car ferry. However, the completion of a new road tunnel under the River Schelde has made the crossing obsolescent. A smaller ferry, catering for foot passengers and cyclists, has replaced the service between Breksens and Flushing. The round trip takes about forty minutes (return cost about £1.50 in 2002). If time permits it is well worth making the trip, if only for spectacular views of the estuary and Walcheren. To locate the ferry follow signs for the railway station. There is ample parking nearby; the access to the ferry is opposite the station entrance.
Flushing seafront in November 1944. Hans Houterman
Once onboard the ferry there is a little time to study the docks from the port side. Needless to say, the area has been considerably modernised, however, the layout of the keys has hardly changed since Scottish troops fought a running battle through the maze of quay side buildings and bunkers.
As the ferry swings out of the docks, it is possible to make out the remains of a bunker to the left of the entrance, the only coastal casemate to survive. Just beyond the bunker, partially obscured trees and undergrowth is Fort Rammekens. The Germans sited a gun battery, codenamed W6, on the roof of the fort to protect the harbour entrance.
From the ferry it is possible to obtain a unique view of the town, Uncle Beach was just to the right of the windmill, a prominent landmark during the landing. The entrance to the harbour and the old town also can be seen, overshadowed by the modern flats.
Breskens harbour is little more than two breakwaters, very much as it was in 1944. During the hours leading up to the assault, the area was a hive of activity as 4 Commando filed onto their landing craft.
While approaching Breskens there is time to briefly consider the fighting that went on the south side of the River Scheldt.
The Breskens Pocket
By 1944 the Germans had fortified Breskens and the area to the south. Recognising the importance of the port of Antwerp, Hitler was determined to deny its use from the Allies for as long as possible. Using the natural defence line of the Leopold Canal, which runs in an arc some ten miles inland, they had created a formidable defensive position. The area was cut off in September 1944, following the collapse of the Fifteenth German Army. From then on the Allies referred to the area as the Breskens Pocket. The Germans gave it a more sinister name, Festung Schelde-Süd, the South Scheldt Fortress. Many retreating units made their way through Breskens, escaping via Walcheren to the Dutch mainland. However, the 64th Infantry Division (many of the men were veterans of the Russian Front, recalled from leave) remained behind, with orders to hold the south bank of the River Scheldt.
Although 64th Division was cut off with no hope of escape, it showed no signs of surrender. Hitler’s order to flood the area to aid defence had been carried out to the word, turning the area either side of the canal into a morass. What little land remained above water was littered with mines, while the flooded fields provided no cover from an alert enemy sniper or machine-gun post. It was going to be a bitter contest of wills.
On the morning of 6 October, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, launched assault boats across the Leopold Canal south of Eede. Although flame-throwing Bren-carriers managed to subdue the Germans, the Canadians became pinned to the canal bank. They were trapped, unable to link up the two small footholds on the canal bank. For the next forty-eight hours the Canadians tried to find a way through the maze of dikes, half wading, half swimming to make progress. On 9 October, the engineers finally bridged the canal bringing some hope to the troops trapped on the far bank.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant-General Simmonds had been looking for a way to outflank the position. During the early hours of the 9th, the 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade managed to cross the Savojaardsplaat inlet on the east side of the pocket. Within a few hours, it had formed a bridgehead behind the German lines. For six days, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division fought a ferocious battle in appalling weather conditions. Eventually on 13 October the first Canadian troops entered Eede, only 1,000 metres from the Leopold Canal, the first dry land the men had seen for days. The following day Major-General Knut Eberding issued a severe warning to his men. Any man seen surrendering would be considered a deserter, and in Eberding’s own words:
In cases where the names of deserters are ascertained these will be made known to the civilian population at home and their next of kin will be looked upon as enemies of the German people.
Eberding’s words struck deep into the hearts of his men and at each dike or strong point, the Canadians were forced to kill or overrun their adversaries. Finally on the morning of 21 October, Breskens was in reach. Following concentrated artillery bombardments, bombing and close support by rocket-firing Typhoons, the first Canadian troops entered Breskens. They found a smoking ruin manned by a few dazed survivors; the rest had withdrawn to new positions.
Cornered and running low on ammunition, Eberding’s men fought on to the last. Some fought on for another four days in Fort Frederik Hedrik, an ancient coastal defensive work to the north-west of Breskens. On the morning of the 26th, fifty dazed prisoners finally gave themselves up. With the southern coast of the estuary cleared, the engineers could now work on clearing Breskens harbour in preparation for Operation INFATUATE.
Even so, the battle for the pocket was far from over. A few Germans were pushed into a tiny pocket east of Breskens, and eventually on 1 November, a subdued Major-General Eberding was finally captured. Fighting also continued around Retranchment and Sluis until finally, on 3 November General Simmonds could announce that the pocket was cleared. Over 12,500 prisoners were finally counted. An operation expected to last four days had taken over four weeks to complete.
The return journey across the estuary follows the same route the commandos and Scots took, turning close to the shore to make its way into the docks. There is also ample time to study the coastline north of Flushing. If the visibility is allows it is possible to see Westkapelle Lighthouse the focal point of Operation INFATUATE II.
Flushing, the view from the Breskens Ferry.
Walking Tour 1
Flushing: The landing - 30 minutes
Starting from Bellamy Park, (1) walk onto the small promontory, separating the two harbours. The De Ruyter statue stands high up on the promontory to the right. The Arsenal, (Arsenaal in Dutch) a large brick built building once used as a German barracks, overlooks the harbour; ironically it has now used as a children’s activity centre. At the end of the promontory (2) climb the steps onto the small swing bridges to cross the entrance of the harbour. If the swing bridges are closed, or steps present a problem, follow the perimeter of the harbour to the entrance of the Arsenal.
Once on the foreshore, head east towards Oranje Molen (3), the Orange Windmill. On a clear day it is possible to see Breskens across the estuary, meanwhile the streets behind the dike, code named ‘Seaford’, were cleared by the first troops ashore. The windmill was a useful landmark, guiding the landing craft onto Uncle Beach. An entrance to a pillbox can be found on the seaward side of the windmill, built into the seawall. The pillbox has been made safe in recent years and plans have been muted to turn it into a small museum in the near future.
The bunker at the foot of the Oranje Molen; the Orange Mill.
Looking west along Uncle Beach, the beach ran in line with the windmill in 1944. See pages 47 and 100.
Continue east along the dike to the site of Uncle Beach. Unfortunately, the area has changed a great deal since the war; improvement works have changed the alignment of the seawall, burying the original foreshore beneath the dike. In 1944 the beach consisted of a small inlet sheltered by two promontories and although it was the ideal place to land, Keepforce’s assessment shows what the Commandos faced:
Obstacles consisting of three rows of stakes possibly mined, then a ditch anti-tank, then three rows of steel rails set in concrete at the top of a steep bank. Possibility of the beach having been sown with anti-personal and anti-tank mines.
Make your way down one of the paths to 4 Commando’s memorial (4) behind the dike. The statue forms the centrepiece of a small park and a plaque dedicated to the men of the 52nd (Lowland) Division stands alongside. Three battalions of 155 Brigade came ashore at Uncle beach on 1 November.
The old harbour, ‘Brighton’ pillbox forced 4 Commando to head into the town.
From the memorial head back towards the centre of the town, along Commandoweg, (Landingstraat is also nearby). Continue past the old Arsenal, on the right hand, and along Graavestraat, the route used by the commandos as they raced towards the town centre. A machine-gun post, next to De Ruyter’s statue, opened fire across the harbour, forcing the lead troop to turn into Walstraat. Follow their tracks, taking the first left into Nieuwstraat. The street has changed little since the war and it is quite easy to visualise the commandos moving forward at the double. Bellamypark at the top of the street marks the end of the first walk around the town.
As the lead troops cleared the buildings around the park, those following headed down the streets on the far side. Heavy fighting took place in the area overlooked by the modern flats and the area had to be completely rebuilt after the war. The flats run along the seafront and their predecessors were used as naval barracks during the war.
Walking Tour 2
Flushing: The battle continues - 60 minutes
Bellamypark provides the starting point for the next tour of the town. Take the narrow street at the north-east corner of the park, Kerkstraat, heading for the church tower. St Jacob’s Church witnessed a moving memorial service on 11 November 1944. Several hundred soldiers and locals gathered together to remember those killed during the liberation of the island. The church still acts as the focal point for commemorative services and each anniversary pipe bands gather in the town to entertain the crowds of veterans and locals who gather to enjoy the spectacle.
Keeping to the left of the church head through the shops along Vrouwestraat and after a short distance, turn left into Walstraat. The shops lining the main street have been completely rebuilt, although many of the side streets look as they did in 1944. There are a wide selection of shops, cafes and restaurants in this part of the town, and it is an ideal place to purchase postcards or snacks.
Continue to the end of Walstraat, past the charming water feature, to Betje Wolfplein crossroads. (1) The junction was code named ‘Bexhill’, were some of the fiercest fighting took place. Although many of the buildings around the crossroads have changed, it is possible to follow the battle for this important road junction. ‘Dover’, the pillbox that caused so many casualties, was at the end of the road to the left, Coosje Buskenstraat. In 1944 the gates of the De Schelde Shipyard stood on the site of the large retail store to the right. A machine-gun post along Aagje Dekenstraat prevented any movement down in that direction.
Looking west from ‘Bexhill’ along Goosje Buskenstraat.
Aagje Dekenstraat runs east from ‘Bexhill’ crossroads.
A few commandos managed to cross the junction before daylight on 1 November 1944 and they were able to prevent German reinforcements entering the town. The sounds of battle quickly alerted the German posts covering the junction, preventing any more troops crossing. The following morning the 5th KOSBs crossed the junction in force at first light, covered by smoke. As the Scots progressed into the New Town, hundreds of civilians crossed Aagje Dekenstraat in the opposite direction into the shipyard where waiting soldiers escorted them to safety.
The view north from ‘Bexhill’, otherwise known as Hellfire Corner.
Cross over the junction and head straight forward along Badhuisstraat, following the route of the 5th KOSBs. Mortar fire targeted the forming up area as they prepared to clear the streets to the right, code named ‘Grouse’, ‘Pike’ and ‘Partridge’ and in spite of heavy casualties, the Scots set about their task. The area east of Badhuisstraat suffered a great deal of damage during the battle and had to be completely rebuilt after the war.
The Royal Scots were pinned down on the embankment, with Germans to their front and rear.
Continue along the tree-lined avenue, known as ‘Cod’, passing the defunct town hall on the right.
On the night of 2 November 1944 the 7/9th Royal Scots advanced along Badhuisstraat heading for the Grand Hotel Britannia. The lead elements came under machine-gun fire from the water tower along the road, on the left (2). After clearing the tower, the Royal Scots were forced to take cover while they were subjected to ‘friendly fire’. By the time the bombardment finished the flood waters had risen to alarming depths.
The Royal Scots ran across the road under fire to reach the back of the hotel.
Go straight across the crossroads past the foot of the water tower, heading along the tree lined avenue. The floods continued to rise as the Royal Scots made their way forward and at times the soldiers were chest deep in freezing sea water. Although the Scots headed right along Vrydomweg, our route is straight on. Follow the road, Burgemeester van Woelderenlaan, turning right at the foot an impressive flight of steps (3) and continue along the foot of embankment. The hotels lining the sea front can be seen to your left above the trees.
Stop 250 metres from the steps, where Bakkersdorplaan joins from the right. The Grand Hotel Britannia is at the top of the embankment, and the Royal Scots approached their objective through the houses, stumbling on a pillbox at the foot of the slope. Although the bunker was taken following a brief fire-fight, the noise alerted the Germans guarding the hotel. Under fire, the Royals ran forward to take cover in the dead ground at the foot of the slope.
Climb the steps to the top of the embankment and the Grand Britannia Hotel is directly in front (4). There have been considerable changes in this area; the original building was badly damaged during the battle and the replacement building is scheduled for demolition.
Lieutenants George and Cameron led two parties across the road through a gauntlet of fire to reach the hotel while the rest of the battalion remained pinned down on the embankment. After a time, the building was set on fire, forcing the Royal Scots to seek refuge in the network of trenches lining the road. A flak cannon on the roof of the German headquarters (the hotel south of the Britannia) was silenced when Lieutenant Beveridge scaled the outer wall of the building. Oberst Reinhardt and his staff were eventually discovered in an underground bunker. The Royal Scots charged the hotel buildings after their leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Melvill, fell wounded; over 600 Germans capitulated in the face of the frenzied assault.
Turning right walk along the rear of several hotels until you reach the promenade. If time permits you may wish to head towards the German bunker on the seafront, to take in views of the Scheide. The walk back to the old town gives time to reflect on the events that took place in Flushing back in November 1944.
Flushing seafront in 2002, compare with the scene on page 48.
Ahead, approximately 600 metres away, a tall steel obelisk stands at the end of Coosje Buskenstraat on the site of ‘Dover’ pillbox. From the foot of the tower it is possible to see how important the position was, dominating the both the seafront and Bexhill junction. 4 Commando fought tenaciously to reach the bunker, ‘mouseholing’ along either side of Coosje Buskenstraat.
Continue along the sea wall to a defensive work from a different era. The Martello tower, a watchtower from the renaissance era, has stood guard over the estuary for more than three hundred years; it now provides cover for a restaurant. The original flats opposite the tower were the German barracks code named ‘Worthing’; ‘Hove’ was a little further along, where the promenade turns east.
‘Dover’ pillbox dominated Goosje Buskenstraat.
Admiral De Ruyter’s memorial.
A memorial to one of Walcheren’s heroes stands at the end of the promenade. In June 1667 De Rutyer led the Dutch fleet up the River Thames and over the course of three days his men burnt a large number of capital warships, crippling the English Navy. De Rutyer led his victorious fleet back to Amsterdam with two capital ships in tow. In Evelyn’s words: ‘a dreadful spectacle as ever Englishmen saw and a dishonour never to be wiped off!’ The attack placed London in a state of panic, and within weeks the England had signed the Peace of Breda.
Return to your vehicle to visit the rest of the island.
The road to Dishoek
Follow the one way system around Bellamypark, and leave the park via Spuistraat and the opposite end to the harbour. Drive straight ahead at the traffic lights, crossing Coosje Buskenstraat. Turn left at the crossroads on to Badhuisstraat, by the water-tower and follow the road as it swings right at the foot of the ornamental steps. Head along Burgemeester van Woelderenlaan behind the Britannia hotel and continue straight on at the traffic lights.
After a mile go straight on at the roundabout. Two bunkers in the fields, right of the road, give some idea how formidable the German defensive positions were. These specimens were rendered useless by the flooding. W4, the last bastion of defence on this part of the island, once stood on the high dunes to the left. It fell to 47 Royal Marine Commando on 3 November, finally linking the Flushing and Westkapelle beachheads.
Turn left, sign posted for Dishoek, following the road as it turns sharp right at the foot of the dunes. At the far end of the village, there is a large car park on the right, Your stay in Dishoek will only be short, so in quiet times you may wish to find a free place to park.
W11, the Dishoek Battery – 20 minutes
The road turns sharp left a few yards beyond the entrance to the car park, in front of a cycle hire shop. Follow the steep path to the top of the dunes and at the top, when the sea comes into view, take the path to the left. After a short distance take the short flight of steps on the right.
There is a useful orientation platform at the top and it stands at the centre of the Dishoek Battery. On a clear day it is possible to see Zoutelande and Westkapelle to the north west and Flushing to the south east and on 2 November 47 Commando advanced towards the battery from the direction of Zoutelande.
The commandos were hemmed in by water on both sides limiting the marines to a frontal attack. Their first attack took the dune to the north, where there is now a small lighthouse tower. 47 Commando were pinned down for several hours as they tried to cross the gully in front, suffering heavy casualties. A final charge after dusk managed to capture many of the casemates but Lieutenant-Colonel Phillips was forced to order a withdrawal, having lost so many officers and men. 47 Commando renewed the advance the following morning, crossing the gully and clearing the battery.
Return to the foot of the dunes and head back into the village. Turn left onto the footpath in front of the cycle shop to visit Dishoek church (a white square building, almost Middle Eastern in appearance). The church is only a short distance away, on the right, and simple plaque by the door lists 47 Commando’s roll of honour.
Return to your vehicle and retrace your route through the village, turning left onto Zwaanweg. After half a mile, turn right at the roundabout sign posted Koudekerke. Turn left at the T junction another half a mile further on and as you head towards Zoutelande take note of the bunkers. Turn sharp left in front of the dunes, at the far end of the village; the church is on the left and there is limited parking nearby.
Zoutelande was liberated at 11:00am on 2 November by A Troop of 48 Commando and a plaque on the church wall remembers the occasion. As Captain Daniel Flunder celebrated with the mayor, a misguided shell from HMS Erebus crashed through the roof of the church. The second memorial remembers those who died during the period of occupation; the inscription reads ‘out of the darkest valley into the light’. On 5 November 1944 48 and 47 Commandos joined the local population in service of thanksgiving in the ruined church.
Climb the steps opposite the church to visit the sea front. In 1944 the commandos cleared the bunkers which lined the beach, eventually establishing a position on the high dunes to the south. Head along the promenade towards the dunes to visit a new museum (it is only open Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, but still worth a visit if closed). Two small German bunkers have been restored and the first is located on the inland face of the dike behind Hotel Tien Torens. Examples of German beach obstacles guard the entrance and the bunker has been equipped as it was during the war and there are numerous photographs depicting life in Zoutelande between 1940 and 1944. Follow the path behind the accommodation bunker to reach the second bunker on the highest dune. The observation dome could see for miles around and you can still see other large bunkers hidden in the undergrowth on the slopes below it.
Entrance to the Bunker Museum.
Looking north west from the second of the museum’s bunkers.
The twin lighthouse towers, close to the site of the Dishoek battery, can be seen to the south-east, but much nearer, (difficult to see with the naked eye, barely accessible and hard to find) a solitary cross stands on top of a high dune. It remembers six local men executed for sabotage in that isolated place back in September 1944.
As you return to your car you can see Westkapelle along the coast to the north west. You may wish to take advantage of the shops and cafés along the high street; a small supermarket sells most types of provisions.
Westkapelle Lighthouse and Cemetery
Return to main road, turning left for Westkapelle and as the road winds its way behind the dunes Westkapelle lighthouse can be seen ahead on the horizon. At the foot of the lighthouse, where the main road turns sharp left into the village, turn right (actually heading straight ahead) onto the side road. Park on the right a few yards from the junction. A simple cross stands at the centre of a semicircle of graves behind the lighthouse. The small cemetery remembers the inhabitants of Westkapelle killed during the Allied bombing and the battle that followed.
175 civilians perished, forty-seven of them trapped by rising floodwater in the ruins of De Roos Molen (Rose Mill). Mr and Mrs Theune, the elderly couple who owned the mill are buried near the foot of the cross. Entire families were lost in the tragedy and forty-three children who died in the flooding are buried alongside their parents. A memorial stone remembers sixteen men, women and children whose bodies were never found.
Remembering those who died during the occupation
4 Special Service Brigade
Landings at Westkapelle – 45 minutes
Return to your car and find a safe place to turn round. Turn right at the main road and follow the tree-lined avenue through the village. The bombing and subsequent floods completely destroyed Westkapelle and it took many years to rebuild the village. A plaque on the village hall, laid by T Force’s commanding officer Commander Pugsley, commemorates the regeneration works. Continue along the main street and follow it as it turns right at the foot of the dike, there is a small car park a short distance along the road. (1)
Climb the steps to the top of the dike and make your way to the Sherman tank. The tank stands on the site of Hedrik Mill, destroyed in the bombing raids. Rose Mill, where forty-three people drowned, stood at the foot of the dike.
The memorial (2) is a good place to study how Operation INFATUATE II developed. Bombing created a large gap in the dunes and the line of the original dike juts out into the sea, pointing towards the radar station. Red Beach was immediately north of the memorial.
The first wave of 41 Commando managed to land on the beach, occupying the crest of the dike. W15 battery, a line of casements lining the top of the dike, was half a mile north of the memorial. British engineers destroyed the bunkers after the battle. The guns initially engaged the landing craft of the Support Squadron, as they drew fire from the landing craft. 41 Commando advanced along the foot of the dike once the village had been cleared, capturing the battery.
The majority of the landing craft came ashore on White Beach. After sailing through the gap the rest of 41 Commando, followed by 10 Commando, landed on the northern flank of the dike. They advanced into the village heading for the lighthouse, while tanks climbed onto the dike to give supporting fire. 48 Commando beached on the southern flank of the gap, in front of the Radar Station.
Westkapelle’s memorial to the landings on 1 November
There are two ways of getting to the radar station on the opposite side of the gap. Either take the wooden walkway across the beach, or follow the wide promenade that loops behind the new section of dike.
Two memorials, remembering the Support Squadron and 4 Special Service Brigade, stand close to the radar station (3). Green Beach, the area used to land supplies, was to the south. If you are feeling energetic, it is well worth climbing the steps behind the radar station to visit a useful orientation table,(4) affording astounding views of the landing beaches. After clearing the bunkers covering the beaches, 48 Commando headed south, past Green Beach, towards W13 Battery.
Follow the path running behind the new dike to return to your vehicle. After the war, Dutch engineers closed the gap with block ships, forming a new sea wall on the inland side. As you walk back along the dike, take time to reflect on the devastation caused and the sacrifices made by civilians and soldiers during the autumn of 1944.
Domburg - 45 minutes
Head north on the main road behind the dike, Domburg is four miles away. 41 Commando trudged along the dunes on the afternoon of 1 November, heading for the Domburg battery. The bunkers disappeared many years ago and the site is now occupied by golf links, (many of the shell craters made by the Bombardment Squadron were turned into bunkers). Continue into Domburg along Schelpweg following the one way system through the village, as the road turns right, following the signpost for Centre. You can leave you vehicle in the car park behind the Tourist Information Centre on the left.
Turning left onto the main road, take the first left, Stationstraat; Domburg church is at the end. Turn right and walk along the main street, through the busy shopping centre.
41 Commando entered Domburg late on 1 November but it was unable to secure the village before 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando arrived the following day. The arrival of Major Pocock and his four remaining tanks turned the tide and by nightfall on 2 November Domburg was clear.
Domburg’s water tower still bears its scars from the battle.
Turn left onto Badstraat at the crossroads, behind the Bad Hotel; the sea front is a few minutes walk away.
On the promenade, take note of the small memorial dedicated to the Belgian troop of 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando to the left. Turning right, head along the path towards the water tower. The damage made by Pocock’s tanks can be clearly seen. If time permits, the walk along the front is well worth making. It is possible to locate the position of W18, the flak position taken by 41 Commando. It stood on the highest dune, half a mile east of the village. The bunkers were demolished years ago but there are traces of concrete and brick scattered around the location. The walk to W18 allows time to study the terrain east of Domburg. While 41 Commando moved cautiously along the exposed dunes, 10 Commando fought its way through the woods.
Exposed dunes and thick woods in the Black Hut area
Return along the sea front and through Domburg to your vehicle.
Black Hut – 30 minutes
Turning left out of the car park, follow the one way system through Domburg. After a short distance the main road turns sharp left, then right onto Domburgseweg, in front of Bad Hotel. The road heads east through the woods to Oostkapelle, two miles away. Turn left into Waterstraat in front of Oostkapelle church and after a quarter of a mile, bear left into Duinstraat at a mini-roundabout. Head north through the woods cleared by 10 (Inter-Allied) Commando, holiday homes now line the road. There is a small car park at the foot of the dunes. Note that the area is a nature reserve, so keep to the marked paths.
Follow the footpath onto the dunes, to the site of Black Hut (a café now stands on the beach). The entire north coast of the island can be seen from the top of the dike, starting with Domburg water tower to the west. While 41 Commando advanced along the dunes supported by two Shermans, the Belgian and Norwegian troops of 10 Commando fought snipers in the woods. W19 battery stood on the dunes to the east. As the commandos closed in most of the garrison fled into the woods.
After studying the landscape, return to your car.
Heading back into Oostkapelle, bear left at the mini roundabout and follow the road out of the village. Serooskerke is two miles further on. If time permits, turn left half a mile beyond the village, heading north to Vrouwenpolder. Otherwise continue south towards Middelburg; the Abbey Tower makes an ideal landmark.
As you approach the village, prepare to turn left heading for the centre. There is a small memorial stone at the centre of a small green behind the church; it remembers the liberation of the village. The plaque depicts a hand strangling the German eagle and it was originally set above the door of the German headquarters. The stone was relocated in its current setting when the house was demolished in the 1970’s. The local German officer surrendered with 900 men on the morning of 8 November, bringing the battle for the island to an end.
Return to the junction south of Serooskerke, following signs for Middelburg. The town is only four miles from Vrouwenpolder.
Vrowenpolder’s liberation memorial.
Middelburg – 30 minutes
There are a multitude of one way streets and pedestrian precincts in Middelburg but the town centre is fairly small and easy to find your way around on foot. Car parks, costing less than one Euro an hour or about 50p, surround the town.
Head for the fifteenth century town hall in the main square. There is a market on most days but on 6 November 1944, the square witnessed one of the most peculiar episodes of the Second World War.
Around 4:30pm in the afternoon, eight Buffaloes roared into the square and before long dozens of Germans began to crowd around the small number of Royal Scots, eager to surrender. The Germans thought that large armoured force had entered the town and by nightfall hundreds had congregated in the square. The Scots positioned a Buffalo at each corner of the square and members of the Dutch underground soon joined them on guard duty.
With your back to the town hall, take the street called Lange Deflt, in the far left corner. Damplien, the second square where several hundred German prisoners gathered, is at the end. Follow the buildings on the right hand side as you enter the square. A pair of white buildings numbered 6 and 8 Dam face the bandstand, and housed the German headquarters. Major Johnson negotiated the surrender of the town inside with the uncompromising General Daser. There is a small plaque on the wall commemorating the liberation of the town.
No 6 and No 8 Dam, General Daser’s headquarters See page 141.
Retracing across the square you can either return to the town hall or visit the magnificent twelfth century Abbey, with its museum of local history. The Abbey tower, known as Lange Jan (Long John), rises 300 feet above the town.
Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery
Many of the war graves from Operation INFATUATE were originally dotted around Walcheren, close to where the men had died. However, after the war the Commonwealth War Graves Commission decided to concentrate dozens of burial grounds and isolated graves around Zeeland into a central location. The decision meant that the Commission could maintain the graves at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, many graves had to be moved considerable distances from their original location, including those who died on Walcheren. The cemetery was built at Bergen-op-Zoom, a central location linked by road and rail to the ports. Although a handful of casualties from the Support Squadron are buried at Bergen, many of the bodies were transported back to Ostend and buried in the communal cemetery. The soldiers with no known grave are remembered on memorials scattered far and wide. Missing Naval personnel are remembered on the Royal Naval memorials at their respective bases of Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. The small number of missing Army personnel are remembered on the Groesbeek Memorial, east of Nijmegen.
To reach Bergen, take the A58 motorway from Middelburg or Vlissingen. The cemetery is a straightforward drive of forty miles and the journey should take approximately forty-five minutes. After bypassing Goes, the motorway passes beneath the Zuid Beveland Canal. Leave the A58 two miles after Bergen-op-Zoom, at Junction 26 (sign posted for Heerle). Turn left at the top of the slip road heading for Bergen-op-Zoom and after a few hundred metres turn left at the T-Junction, again following signs for Bergen-op-Zoom and Heerle. The road runs parallel with the motorway, bypassing a petrol station on the left after half a mile. The war cemetery stands among the trees to the right, half a mile further on.
Nearly 1,300 graves stand together in the peaceful woodland setting and half belong to airmen shot down over Zeeland and the surrounding provinces between 1944 and 1945. They were originally buried close to the crash site, either in a field or local cemetery. Flight Lieutenant Patrick Garland is buried in the first row of Plot IV. He died on New Year’s Day 1945, the eldest of four pilot officer brothers killed on active service. His youngest brother, twenty-one year old Flying Officer Donald Garland VC, was killed in May 1940 leading a flying mission to destroy a vital bridge over the Albert Canal during the German Blitzkrieg.
The graves relating to Operation INFATUATE are scattered around the cemetery, intermingled with graves belonging to men killed during the liberation of South Beveland. The majority of the Walcheren graves can be found in Plot V and VI, just in front of the Cross of Sacrifice, others can be found in Plots XV, XVI and XXI beyond the pergolas. A shelter stands at the far end from the gate, where it is possible to sit and read the register or fill in the visitor’s book.
The battlefield cemetery at ‘Uncle’ Beach. H Houterman
Bergen-op-Zoom War Cemetery.
Major Derek de Stackpoole, killed during 48 Commando’s battle for W13 is buried in Plot VI, Row B. He was the son of the 5th Duke of Stackpoole of County Meath. Lieutenant David Winser, 48 Commando’s medical officer, is buried alongside. Winser had been a student at Corpus Christi College, Oxford before he joined the commandos, and rowed three times for his university. Nineteen-year-old Lieutenant Lindrea is buried close by. 41 Commando’s officers were originally buried in Domburg cemetery but their graves are now scattered. Major ‘Paddy’ Brind-Sheridan is buried in Plot V, Row C, while, Captain Peter Haydon, Y Troop’s commander, and Lieutenant John Holmes are buried together in Plot XV, Row B. Many of the Royal Scots killed during the attack on the Grand Hotel Britannia are buried together in Plot XXII. Major G Chater and Captain W Thompson are among them.
Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery is 200 metres to the west. Again there are around a 1,000 graves and as the name suggests, it is almost exclusively Canadian. The majority died in Operation VITALITY, the clearing of South Beveland.
After visiting the cemeteries, retrace your steps past the petrol station, and rejoin the A58 at Junction 26. Remember that the Dutch drive on the right and you need the first entrance onto the motorway, sign posted for Goes and Middelburg. There is time to reflect on the battle for the peninsula during the return journey to Walcheren. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division advanced north from Antwerp on 4 October 1944 and Allied commanders expected to reach Walcheren in less than four days. They were to be bitterly disappointed.
For two weeks the Canadians fought against a determined force of German paratroops among dikes and flooded fields as they tried to seal off the South Beveland peninsula. The battles for Hoogerheide and Woensdrecht at the neck of the peninsula were particularly bloody and it took until the end of the month to overcome their opponents. The route west along the peninsula was narrow and protected by strongly held positions and minefields. Armour was unable to advance leaving the Canadian infantry to fight on alone. The deadlock was finally broken when the 52nd (Lowland) Division carried out an amphibious landing at Hoedekenskerke outflanking strong positions along the Zuid Beveland Canal. As resistance collapsed, the Canadians swept through the town of Goes reaching the eastern edge of Walcheren. They were confronted with a narrow strip of land, the only way onto the island. For three days first the Canadians, then the Scots, fought a bitter battle to cross the Causeway. The deadlock was finally broken when Scottish troops crossed the mudflats surrounding the Sloe Channel at night. They eventually entered Middelburg during the early hours of 6 November, relieving the Royal Scots.