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THE HIGHLAND LIGHT INFANTRY OF CANADA

 

 

Cap badge of the H.L.I. of Canada


Shouldertitle of the H.L.I. of Canada


MacKenzie Tartan of the H.L.I. of Canada


The Regimental History of the H.L.I. of Canada,
from which quotes will be used below here, on this page,
with additions from "Proud Heritage, Vol4", the Regimental history of the Sister regiment:
The "Imperial" Highland Light Infantry
(from Scotland)

The Highland Light Infantry of Canada was allied to the Highland light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment) of Scotland. They were initially kitted with a green glengarry, trews and scarlet doublet, but became kilted in 1935. Pipers and bandsmen in full dress wore a feather bonnet with red hackle, a black horsehair sporran with three short white tassels, MacKenzie hosetops for the pipers and red and white for the regiment, and a blue balmoral bonnet with a diced border, green tourie and red and white hackle.

Defence not Defiance
Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada, 1941
"Not in Canada in those early days was there need for recruiting parades and posters, the blood stirring music of bands, or frenetic speeches to rouse a false patriotism. The word went out... 'the H.L.I. is mobilizing'... and the response to the word was so overwhelming that mobilization was completed quietly, efficiently, and with record-making speed... It was mobilization of a citizen army, of men and youths who flocked to the Colours, not with any false idea about the glamour of war, but with a true ideal as their spur. They mobilized for defence, not defiance. "
Many were already in the militia before The Regiment was ordered to mobilize in May of 1940, while others flocked to the recruiting drive afterwards, coming from such nearby communities as Preston, Hespeler, Ayr and Breslau. Although the city of Kitchener had its own militia regiment, The Scots Fusiliers, they were yet to receive mobilization orders from Ottawa, which meant that a flood of militiamen from the Scots Fusiliers were requesting transfers to the nearby Highland Light Infantry in Galt. This was no problem for the HLI's recruiting office; their orders were to recruit enough to fill a standard Canadian Active Service Force (C.A.S.F.) Battalion of no less than 800 soldiers. Once they had recruited over 1,000 volunteers, The First Battalion of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada shipped out to Stratford for basic training.

Shake out, then ship out
It was not until January P, 1941 that the First Battalion shipped out of the province to join the gathering of fledgling military personnel, as they moved off by train first to Quebec City then Debert Camp, Nova Scotia. It was there they became part of the new 3rd. Division, which was made up of nine battalions exactly like them. For five months they soldiered, then were given a final leave of three weeks before leaving for Great Britain. By train the men of Waterloo County arrived back home so that families and loved ones could be together. Sadly, for many it would be the last time.


Troopship S.S. Strathmore

Troopship S.S. Strathmore
Gross Registered Tonnage - 23,428 tons
Length x Width - 665 feet x 82 feet
Builder and Year of Build - Vickers-Armstrongs of Barrow - 1935
First Class + Tourist Accommodation - 445 + 665 persons : Total 1,110 passengers

The Strathmore was requisitioned for use as a troopship, as were all the 'Straths' . She saw service in most theatres of war in a rather similar manner to the Strathnaver and Strathaird. One of her many voyages found her in March 1941 a member of a vast convoy to the Middle East. There were 23 troopships in all, including all the five 'Straths', the Viceroy of India, four orient liners and ships of the Royal Mail, Cunard,Union castle, CPR together with Dutch and French Liners. P & O were thus well presented.

Gourock, Scotland July 1941
As the S.S. Strathmore came into sight of Scotland, soldiers filled the decks to watch the land slowly loom closer. After a monotonous trip across the Atlantic, everyone was anxious to touch solid ground, especially those who didn't handle the churning of the ocean well. The port of Gourock had always been a busy place for ocean going vessels. Since the war, though, its traffic increased significantly.
Gently the ship coasted in the final yards for docking. On shore, a gathering of curious Scottish folk watched the Canadians arrive, and an army pipe and drums band began to play while people on both the boat and the shore smiled across the water. The band continued to play merrily as the men disembarked from the Strathmore, onto Scottish soil. It was The Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow) Regiment, their official sister regiment; providing their overseas kin with a red carpet welcome to Great Britain, and of course, the war. Over the time spent training on the island, the officers of The City of Glasgow Regiment would go out of their way to establish healthy relations, Chuck Campbell recalled the gatherings: "A lot of us didn't drink or smoke... this surprised a lot of them, I remember one of them said, you call yourselves highlanders?"

Bare Bones:
The anatomy of a 1941 infantry battalion
Like every Canadian unit to arrive in Britain, the H.L.I of C was an essentially bare bones organization. They had stepped off the SS Strathmore with little more than themselves, some personal equipment, and a .303 Lee Enfield rifle. Before they could serve in any useful capacity, they had to undergo the metamorphosis from being a simple gathering of riflemen into a modern infantry battalion.
Back at Debert Camp, the manoeuvres contained so many notional factors and equipment that, in hindsight after years of training in Britain, seemed like children's games: "... on this attack, there would be mortars suppressing the enemy position ...you'd have carriers to tow field guns up after consolidation ... notional tank support... notional artillery support...”
All of the equipment they had been told of was about to become an organic part of the H.L.I; the latest anti-tank guns, mortars, heavy machineguns, tracked vehicles, trucks, and jeeps were just a few of the items which transformed the simple gathering of riflemen into a formidable fighting machine.
Qualifying courses were taught mainly by the British on how to use every new item. For weeks or more at a time, soldiers and officers alike would depart from the HLI’s lodgings to take special training courses; after which platoons, each of which were much larger than they would invariably become part of the new the average rifle platoon of 36 men and each providing a specific role: "Combat Support Company".


Left:  The H.L.I. of Canada pipe band, with A. Corstorphine as Pipe major. In the background one of the bikes used later for the Normandy invasion.
(Photograph courtesy of H.L.I. veteran Mr. Harris.) Right: Pipe Major Art Corstorphine, relaxing with some H.L.I. of C. officers, in England.

Billets at Bognor Regis November
1941-May 1942
Once equipped, the first task of the H.L.I. was to defend the island of Great Britain from invasion. Most British units by this time were fighting abroad which meant the Canadians were the backbone of defence against any possible invasion. They first garrisoned at Camberley on 21 October 1941, but were only there for a month. On 30 November they moved to the English south coastal town of Bognor Regis and there they would stay until May 1942. Here the H.L.I. were able to mingle with the population, and, even though the enemy occupied coast of France was visible, they lived as close to being regular citizens as could be expected.
Many an English family opened their doors to allow these Canadian men in their homes, their worldly belongings in canvas bag sagging over their shoulders. A civilized existence in a home meant a bed with sheets and other luxuries for these soldiers used to living under canvas or their ground sheets up to this point, while officers stayed in the local hotel on the beachfront. Here was the first decent opportunity for the men to have a life on their time off, when the training was over, the lads were given a night to their own devices. Of course, this usually meant straight to the pub, where the small beachfront establishments would quickly fill with bustling young Canadians.


Scotland 1942, in front of an old castle which served as a headquarters for commando training. This picture is from the HLI's first trip to The Highlands.
Left to right are Lieutenants Bill Roelofson of Kitchener (holding a set of bagpipes), Chuck Campbell, Gait, Doug Barrie, Waterloo, and Sgt. A. Houghton.

Invasion training begins 2 September,
1943 Cissbury Camp
By late 1943 the H.L.I. were taking part in large scale amphibious landing exercises, complete with air and naval support. Once it became obvious their time was coming, the restlessness was replaced by professionalism. As the men were issued their new Mark 3 "turtle" helmets, unique from units outside of 3rd Division, the rumour mill churned:
"We'll be part of the invasion spearhead " officers supposed, "we'll fight into a bridgehead, then be relieved and sent back to England because casualties will be heavy. "
As he rolled out of his cot in the morning, Lieutenant Charles Campbell's tent flap was parted open by a duty corporal, who told him he must be ready to move to Scotland in one hour's time.
"What do I bring? "
"Take what You'd bring to combat, " the corporal replied before dropping back the tent flap and briskly moving on to the next officer's tent.
The following day marked the beginning of the H.L.I.'s second trip to Scotland, without including their arrival from Canada by ship to the port of Gourock. Their last visit was over a year previous and the commando style training they partook in was easily the toughest they had ever done to date.

Beach assault training
The scenario was always the same: the H.L.I., as part of the 9th Brigade, would conduct an amphibious assault on an "enemy held" beach front village. With the support of air and sea power, the ground troops would destroy all resistance before taking on a defensive posture in expectance of an enemy counter-attack. Reinforcements would be on the way to push the advance inland. The troops are twenty yards from the beach when their landing craft stop and the ramps drop. Like ants from a matchbox, they swarm out and over the beach, quickly taking advantage of any cover available. There is almost no pause as they, in small groups, use fire and movement to capture the enemy buildings and trenches.
 


Captain Jock Anderson talking to a drummer of the H.L.I. of Canada's
pipe band, who is holding a rope tension snare drum.

Enter "Genial" Jock
Bournemouth, 1943
Twenty nine year-old Captain Jock Anderson was as Scottish as one could be; provided that Scotsman didn't smoke or drink. He was a kilt wearing, bagpipe playing, born in Edinburgh man who had in recent years immigrated to Canada. Jock's life was only just taking off when the war broke out; not only had he recently graduated from the University of Toronto, but he was also married and his wife expecting a first child. Not all educated volunteers shared the same reasoning or desire to be an officer, Jock was by no means a military man, as was the case with most volunteers. He fit in with the vast group of male citizens who thought simply that if the country was at war, he'd get in the fight and do his bit. So, with his mind made up that he would enlist, he reported to the 48°' Highlanders downtown Toronto armoury. However, his education meant that the recruiters were obligated to make him something other than an infantry private. They first began paper work to make him a naval officer, but eventually he ended up as part of land forces. After completing a basic training course in England, Captain Jock Anderson was finally attached to an infantry regiment, and a highland one at that. He introduced to the officers ... as their new padre.

1944, 3 June
Anticipation again mounted when they were given notice to move by 2230 hours that evening. After donning their full battle gear, issue of ammunition, checking and re-checking their weapons and equipment, they were told the move was postponed until at least 0400 the next morning. "Sea stores" were issued in the meantime. These consisted of one "Bag, Vomit," sea sick pills (which would not work adequately for most), one "Mae West" (a type of life preserver) and lastly the handy "Tommy cooker" was received with favour by the men.
"This is it" Commanders cleared their throats for the most important set of orders they had ever given to date: "Good day, men, I know the past while has been difficult, but I now have our orders; THIS IS IT." The operation was called Overlord.

 


Left: The H.L.I. of C. load onto Landing Craft, Infantry, Large at Southhampton, 4 June 1944.
Right: Camouflage netting conceals the contents of these landing craft in Southampton harbour.

4 June 0300 hours
"This is definitely the real thing" Heavily burdened with equipment, they moved to the nearby port of Southampton. A rifleman's battle load was crushing. In addition to weapons and ammunition there were rations, shovels, picks, personal gear, and even extra rounds for the two-inch mortars. Magazines for the Bren machmeguns were spread out amongst all. They also carried bicycles to take ashore, which would be used to keep up with the mechanized units.

5 June
The following day arrived with renewed assurance from the officers that they were going to invade.
Between 1300 and 1400 hours, the Highland Light Infantry of Canada's flotilla of four Landing Craft, Infantry, Large and a special craft for the Bren carriers slipped away from the harbour quietly with no fanfare with the exception of a few dock workers waving them off; while one of the pipers played "Road to the Isles."
 

Mealtime for infantrymen of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada (with bikes) on board a landing craft, en route to France on D-Day.

D Day
6 June, 1944 0400 hours
The inky blackness shrouding the English Channel erupts with light and thunder as the invasion fire plan initiates with a massive naval shelling. Fighter-bombers are on their way by first light and this combination amounts to a preparatory bombardment the likes of which history has never before witnessed. From the decks of their landing craft, officers had a grandstand view of the fireworks, their confidence boosted by such a display of firepower.



The H.L.I. of C. at Bernières Sur-Mer, disembarking with their bicycles

The H.L.I, with 9th. Brigade, was supposed to land on code name Nan Red beach right behind the first wave of attackers, but instead were redirected to Nan White after chugging in circles for hours. White beach was the town of Bernières- sur-Mer, and on this beach the H.L.I arrived late in the morning, just after 1100 hours.
The Queen's Own Rifles from Toronto had captured this beach at a loss of over 100 casualties. As the HLI's craft approached, bodies of dead Q.O.R.'s bounced and skidded along the hulls, but the invaders could not pause to pick up the dead. Two sailors of each landing craft jumped down into the corpse strewn water and waded to the shore, holding on to separate ropes so that their craft may be steadied for disembarkation. With that done, the troops grabbed their bikes off the decks and descended into some four to five feet of water.
Gathering in Bernières, the H.L.I expected to mount their bicycles and follow behind a rapid advance of tanks and mounted infantry. But instead, they spread out and waited while the tanks attempted to knock out hidden field guns which had already hit three of their own M-10 self propelled guns. Meanwhile, the citizens of Bernières were out of their homes, thanking soldiers with offerings of wine and milk. It was late in the afternoon when the advance got under way, and the H.L.I mounted their bikes and headed for Form Up Point Elder, which was in fact the village of BenySur-Mer, arriving by 1915 hours.
Moving as fast as they dared, all Canadian units pressed towards their D Day objective, Carpiquet airfield. The North Nova Scotia Highlanders and tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers led the way for the 9th "Highland Brigade", clearing out pockets of resistance and suffering only a few casualties from constant mortar tire and sniper's bullets.

3. Le Buissance and Bloody Buron

8 June-8 July 1944

Hell's Corners is just down the road After the catastrophic ambush on D Day plus-one, which saw the North Novas and Sherbrooke Fusiliers suffer the loss of nearly half their men and tanks, the 9th Brigade holed up the twin villages of Le Buissance and Villons le Buissance. The HLI's allotted position would face the town of Buron, and it became clear that eventually they would come to terms with the enemy there; however the more immediate task was to dig in while Pioneer Platoon was set to work clearing their surroundings of mines. Padre Jock Anderson received his initiation of combat at Le Buissance as much as any rifleman. For him, it meant a body wrapped in a blanket and a standard military burial, after which the corpse is lowered into a temporary three-foot grave, adequately marked to facilitate recovery later.

The tragedy of Caen

By 2200 hours, the city of Caen's north end was being obliterated by Lancaster heavy bombers, killing hundreds of French citizens and very few German soldiers. The reasons for doing this would be defended by the Generals for years after, but it was clear for those who witnessed the aftermath that the bombing of Caen was nothing short of criminal.

From their slit trenches, any Canadian, British or German soldier could see the monumental firestorm consuming the ancient city. Airplanes continued to drop bombs well after Caen was surely already flattened. The resonant vibrations from these explosions traveled through the ground and under the feet of soldiers, as bits of dirt dislodged from the trench walls and cascaded onto army boots before settling on the earthen floor.

8 July

Morning, just before 0500, every soldier was in a two man slit trench, waiting for the guns to open up and the order to move to the assembly area. In these trenches, they squatted down on their haunches or sat with their knees tucked in on the dirt floor. It was uncomfortable to stand when loaded down with Bren magazines, hand grenades, hanging bandoliers and shovels. The combined weight pulled at the shoulders and dug into the backs of necks. It was a last chance for a smoke, even though you weren't supposed to. You could cover up when lighting it, then share the cigarette with your trench partner, passing it back and forth without being seen.

On one knee, the rifle sections waited in arrowhead formations; just as in training. Last minutes were spent adjusting kit, and talking to the man to the right and left while section commanders and platoon sergeants made visits to their men, reassuring them and inspecting gear. Each NCO and officer also carried a curette of morphine to administer to the wounded, with the instructions to write "M" on the casualty so that medics did not mistake the comatose wounded for dead.

"Now boys, we're gonna charge!"

"C" Company's advance was no less harrowing. When the order to advance was given, Piper Sagan of the pipes and drums band defiantly stood up at the very front of the company, clutching not a weapon, but his beloved bagpipes instead. In amazement, George Mummery of #13 Platoon watched him breath air into his instrument, which made a droning sound as he did so. But Piper Sagan never got a chance to play; George: "he took about two steps before he got it. " (Sagan survived his wound and the war, and lived more than 50 years after.)

When George's platoon commander, Lieutenant McCormick, ordered #13 Platoon to advance, they barely started moving before being forced to the ground by machinegun fire. Pressing as close to the earth as possible, streams of bullets could be heard buzzing inches overtop, like a nest of angry hornets. Eager to push forward, McCormick rose up from the ground and called out to his platoon, "Now boys, we're gonna charge! "

In disbelief the platoon just watched him as he tried to coerce his men onto their feet; bullets hit the spade of his shovel with a pang beside his head, and while he called out, George Mummery saw him shot through his body and both eyes. After he dropped backwards, lying dead on the ground, the platoon crawled the distance to Buron. (After the battle, Padre Jock said "I knew he'd do something like that. ")

Padre Jock Anderson was still at work. Even when all of the wounded were evacuated to the advance aid station, he had the task of collecting the dead. He and his driver, Albert Mitchell of Galt, used standard issue military grey blankets to wrap the bodies in, picking them up from the collection of corpses and carefully preparing them for a standard military burial under the cover of an apple orchard. Each body was a man Jock had known, had spoken to, had offered encouragement to when they confessed their fears.

"Every man has his breaking point, " Jock said, recollecting the terrible task which haunted him for the rest of his life.

He began to feel annoyance with Mitch, who was a furniture upholsterer in Galt. It seemed as though he was applying his old trade as he carefully wrapped each corpse into a neat and proper package.

"MITCH, can't you work any. faster?" Jock snapped. Without looking up from his work, Private Albert Mitchell responded to the padre, "They gave their lives and now this is the least I can do. "

Jock felt ashamed and fell silent as he worked for the rest of the time until they ran out of blankets. He drove on his own back to the rear echelon to get more, but they were also out; so he drove onwards to 3rd Division's facility. It was there he became furious with an ignorant store-man:

"The store-man says to me, 'you've had enough blankets already,' that's when I started to become upset, I was yelling and I broke down and started to cry. "

The colonel commanding the facility had Jock put under with a sedative, and hours later he woke up laying on a stretcher, wrapped in a blanket with a medic's tag attached which read: "Battle fatigue. Return to England. "

Jock sat up, ripped the tag off, and stood up. Shaking off the effects of the sedative, he left the aid station and managed to return to the H.L.I within the hour.

When Lt. Campbell and Major Edwards arrived for orders, it was approaching 0200 hours. No one had slept for almost 24 hours and hadn't slept properly for more than that. Geordie Edwards was both furious and grief stricken. He had been left behind as an LOB and let his colleagues go without him into a meat grinder until Smokey Griffiths was wounded, after which Geordie took command. When Brigadier Cunningham told the assembled officers that they would not stop before going into Caen, Major Edwards became outraged, as well were the other battalion commanders. Chuck Campbell:

"They said, 'we're going into Caen ', and he (Edwards) said, 'With what? We don't have anyone left! "'

No one was the same after Buron. They would forever after belong to a class of humans separate from the rest of society; those who would be spared the horror of battle could never be expected to understand. But the war would not stop for them on this day to mourn the loss of comrades; not even a brief ceremony to recognize what had happened on the 8"' of July, 1944 to the Highland Light Infantry of Canada. No matter how justified the war was, there could never be glory in it; even when every man fought so heroically. It was simply a terrible job which had to be done because there was no other choice.

Sixty two dead and 262 wounded (many of whom would later die), which left roughly half of them standing. Like the thousands of other battles that took place in Europe, Buron was the epitome of war; and when it ended there was nothing but the living history, told by survivors. As the troops marched on to Caen, they left behind an orchard filled with rows of rifles stuck bayonet first into freshly churned earth, crowned with a dead man's helmet.

With rifles slung they marched down the road like zombies and eventually one could not look back to see Buron anymore. For the ragged survivors, it became merely a memory; a window of time and space to peer into a piece of man made hell which tore an enormous empty void in the soul.


Private R.O. Potter of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada repairing his bicycle, France, 20 June 1944.

4. The Cost of Liberation

More than 24 hours of hellish combat had gone by, and sleep was the only thing any soldier wanted. But instead, after scarcely having enough time to bury their dead comrades, the H.L.I were given marching orders; Caen was to be occupied by nightfall.

While reconnaissance units probed forward, the weary H.L.I formed up by company, filing on both sides of the road. There was no need to spread out in the fields in arrowhead formation, the North Novas had bounded past them right after the capture of Buron, which had made them subject to the same intense shelling for most of their advance into Franqueville. Snipers, machinegun posts and mines were hampering advances by the 9th Brigade, which was led by the S.D.G.'s, who had captured Authie the day before with considerably light resistance offered.

As they entered what was left of Caen, it became obvious that the soldiers who fought were not the only ones suffering. Two nights previous they had heard and seen the bombardment of the ancient city, it was presumed that at least German army formations were being targeted. But this was no surgical operation. Caen was simply carpet bombed, and soon they realized that virtually no Germans were in the city itself, just innocent civilians.

Caen was reduced to a heap of smoldering rubble, with the living French civilians trying to rescue people trapped in collapsed buildings, pick up the dead, and salvage what they could. With their homes destroyed, they were now refugees in their own city.

A citizen of Caen described seeing the first allied troops arrive:

"At 2:30 p.m., at last, the first Canadians reached the Place Fontette, advancing as skirmishers, hugging the walls, rifles and Tommy guns at the ready. All Caen was in the streets to greet them. These are the Canadians, of all the allies the closest to us ... the joy is great and yet restrained, people forget the Calvary that we have been undergoing since the sixth of June. "

"Flowers and good wishes strewn everywhere, " the H.L.I War Diary states, "these people were really pleased to see us. "


H/Captain John M. Anderson, Chaplain of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, talking with Private Lawrence Herbert in his trench near Caen, France, 15 July 1944.

14-16 July

After marching to the north end of Caen and once again occupying the grounds of a seminary, the H.L.I was given 48 hours rest, as was the entire 3rd Division. The Canadian 2nd Division had landed and now took over the front lines so that the 3rd could lick its wounds.

Hot showers and a new change of underwear and socks were gratefully received; the old ones being tossed into one large hole and burned! Under a brilliant hot sun, they washed the rest of their clothes, and while these dried on improvised clothes lines, laid down for precious undisturbed sleep. After a hot meal the troops were treated to movies under a canvas tent, courtesy of the Salvation Army, and even an issue of beer and liquor. Being as it was the first official issue of alcohol, it meant the troops had not officially dabbled in the local cider, calvados.

The battle for Caen continues "At 0410 hrs we were in position at MR (Map reference) 069715. The brigade and supporting arms lined the west bank of the river ORNE and dug slits in its ant infested soil. At 0540 our morale was raised by one of the greatest air assaults of this war  1000 Lancasters commenced dropping them on VAUCELLE. At 0645 hrs. the medium bombers started their attack on the enemy gun area. " - War Diary.

0820 hours

With other units leading the attack, the H LI's crossing of the Orne River at 0820 hours was uneventful, walking over a double "Bailey Bridge" dubbed "Winston" and "Churchill" by the British engineers who constructed it. After crossing, they turned south towards the industrial sector of Caen known as Faubourge de Vaucelle. On their left, as they walked, was the impressive sight of dozens of tattered glider aircraft which marked where the British 6th Airborne Division had landed the night before D Day.

 


The pipe Band playing in battledress after the liberation of Caen, France 1944
 

20 July

As they approached the fortress of Boulogne, resistance was expected at some point, it was just a matter of where and when. Earlier that day, the North Novas came under machinegun fire from a road block not far from the HLI.

Leaving the town of Samer gave way to more beautiful French coastal countryside; to their front, a bank of sand dunes straddling the road came into view as they advanced.

It is possible they heard it first; a muffled concussion sound, like a car door being slammed in the distance, thunk. If so, there may have been a momentary pause before reacting to the unmistakable sound of an eight centimetre mortar tiring. From this distance, the flight time could be greater than ten seconds before the first round hit; but the enemy machineguns would open up the moment their quarry started to take defensive measures against an ambush. The bulk of the section was able to take cover in the ditch on their side of the road, but on the other side, Cpl. Banks and Major Sim were hit almost immediately.

Both bodies of Major Sim and Cpl. Banks were on the opposite side of a road raked by fire, there was no chance of extricating them until the enemy were dealt with.

When Doug Barrie's team had arrived with the trapped section, but not the two casualties, Padre Jock Anderson decided to mount a Bren carrier himself, bringing with him a large Red Cross flag which was prominently displayed as they drove to the scene of the ambush. Although the Geneva Convention prohibits firing at the Red Cross, the padre came under fire and had to retreat empty handed.

Night patrol

That night, The Regiment spread out into an all around defence, each company using what cover was available; a patch of bush, a portion of high ground, or sometimes the ditch along the side of the road would have to do.

Mist Covered Mountains

7 September

Although Major Gord Sim's body was recovered by a patrol, Cpl. Banks body had to be dropped when hidden enemy began firing on them.

It was getting late in the day, but an early summer evening provided enough light for the burial party. From the safety of the battalion's perimeter they set off with the body of Major Sim to a church cemetery in a nearby village named Condette.

Captain Jock Anderson had selected this spot from his map, and in the empty village the jeep parked, after which the funeral party unloaded the body, which was neatly wrapped in a standard grey military blanket on a stretcher. Through a typical high old wall surrounding the church grounds the small procession made their way; there was Jock, Doug Barrie, a piper and four soldiers carrying the stretcher as pallbearers.

By the ancient wall a spot was picked to dig, and it was quiet as they did so, just the sound of shovels churning the earth. Then, Simmy's body was carefully lowered into the shallow grave dug to military standards, to facilitated later recovery, and Jock completed the service. The piper then played a lament which echoed beyond the church grounds and the empty village, while the burial party listened in silence. Long shadows of a late summer day cast over old gravestones, and a newly placed wooden cross. The tune was called Mist Covered Mountains; it was the fulfillment of a request Gord had made to Jock:

"...he said, `I'm either going to get the Victoria Cross or I'm going to die; and I think I'm going to die. So when they bury me, I'd like them to play Mist Covered Mountains. "'

"I marked it on the map where he was buried, " Jock explained, "and showed it to the CO ... and he says, `Padre! What are you doing? We haven't cleared that place yet!"'

It is a depressing affair that the body of Cpl. Banks was left behind as the HLI moved to new positions in the forests surrounding Mont Lambert, just outside of Boulogne. The S.D.G.s, who took over in this area, reported the Free French spotted Germans in the cover of night booby trapping his body; a common practice.


3rd.  Div. infantry in action. There are less soldiers wearing the D Day "Turtle” helmets in late war pictures of 3rd. Division.
The others, wearing regular "Tommy" helmets, are replacements.

General Simonds plans Operation Wellhit; (the capture of Boulogne)

Canadian Operation Wellhit was dubbed and preparations began in the beginning of the month of September. Its objective was to capture of the coastal city of Boulogne using 3rd Division, after which the allies would use its port immediately, as the flow of supplies from Normandy was too slow.

By 8 September, Medium bombers were dropping their payloads onto Boulogne, even though the civilian population was for the most part still in the area. It was, like the bombing of Caen, not the precursor to a large scale attack either (although Montgomery and Eisenhower had wanted the attack to go in by this date), it was instead all part of another meticulous plan created by Canadian General Simonds (who was a protege of Montgomery). These plans were the product of his retreats to his caravan and chain smoking until a solution was formulated and orders written. Like the numerous failed attacks in the Normandy and Falaise region, Simonds was heavily criticized for again taking too long to send his troops in.

Meanwhile, the HLI had opportunity to rest under the cover of the Foret de Boulogne. Although they altered their positions several times to accommodate the massing of 3~d Division, their stay was comfortable enough. The Salvation Army, (or "Sally Anne") set up a movie screen and projector in a local school (formerly used as a German headquarters) for the troop's pleasure, inside of which many of them had sleeping quarters; "This place is just like a hotel, " a soldier commented. The glorious rest went on for over a week, which served opportunity to write letters, sleep and even 72hour leave passes were allowed in small numbers, (the leave centre was a hotel complex on the Normandy coast, several hours drive from the Boulogne area).

Cap Gris Nez

"We were later warned to be ready to move by 0900 hrs of the 24th to the CAP GRIZ NEZ area, " the War Diary records, "Preparations were set in motion and the battalion again settled in for the night. The following day's march in the pouring rain was described as "extremely miserable " as they arrived and set about occupying the local area.

Their task here was to capture the huge coastal guns which existed on Gris Nez (which translates to "Big Nose"), a large outcropping of land which the Germans built giant guns on to interdict allied shipping and to harass the port of Dover.

Described later as "skilful and inexpensive" the capture of Cap Gris Nez was necessary to clear the way for shipping traffic. The HLI honoured the town of Dover, England, by having the captured Nazi standard and sword of the Gris Nez battery sent to them as a gift "... in appreciation of the way they stood up under four years of shelling from these huge guns. "

Rest and Relaxation

The following few days were invested in rest and relaxation for the troops. Seventy two-hour leave passed were granted to go to the leave centre, and trips to the Vimy Ridge memorial took place. Bill Marshall was greeted back by peers who were curious to know how the social scene in England's hot spots was:

"England is apparently still the same although there is a shortage of Canadians according to the London girls.

"The Vimy trip turned out to be a real drunk-fest," Charlie Bradley wrote, "It was a real blow-out that night. It was pretty lonely for the truck drivers, going back; most of the outfit was asleep in the back of the truck. The guys who had to stay behind must have had a hell of a time unloading the guys. Did we ever feel bad the next day! "


H.L.I. troops wait for the order to advance somewhere near Breskens, Holland.

6. The Scheldt and The Waal Flats

The Dutch port of Antwerp was North West Europe's largest, and had been in allied hands since early September. However, the entrance to this port was an estuary known as The Scheldt. Without its capture, Antwerp could not be used.

The estuary's defence consisted of one fortress on Walcheren Island, and another on the mainland at Breskens. It was the mainland which would be the concern of 9th Brigade. Peter Dewind; Dutch Underground hero Thanks to an extremely brave and strong Dutch Underground fighter named Peter Dewind, the 9th Brigade received invaluable intelligence which they would exploit to full advantage.

8 October

Loaded 20 men per Buffalo, the battalion marshalled a column of some two dozen carriers at an assembly area just east of the coastal town of Oostakker. From here, under the cover of darkness, they were to enter the water and float down the winding Terneuzen Canal, arrive at Terneuzen, then get up on and cross a small portion of land which would technically be the start line. From there, dip back into the water, spread out into assault formations and cross the narrow Channel before hitting the beach. All this was to occur without the Germans knowing.


The Buffalo amphibious carrier was indispensable for the infantry dealing with the massive flooding across Holland.
A Bren carrier could fit perfectly squeezed into the Buffalo's hold.

Rest and Relaxation in Ghent 4 November

The War Diary:

"Bn. H.Q, Savan St. Ghent. 4-Nov-44 ... Ghent gave the 3th Div a great welcome -flowers, fruit, etc. The entire division is billeted in the city. Great kindness has been shown by the people of the city. " Four days of glorious rest lay ahead for the battalion, as well as for all of 3rd Division. Field Marshall Montgomery arrived and all regiments provided representatives to receive praise.

Ghent was as close to a holiday as could be expected under the circumstances. Both the officers and sergeants held separate dances, accompanied by civilians and nurses. The War Diary:

"Conduct of the troops is excellent... The odd `rear area warrior' has been straightened out on a few details regarding life at the front but nothing violent has occurred. It is hard to credit but each man has a better billet than the other. This is tribute to the hospitality of GHENT. " But by 9 November, the R&R was over and it was time to get back to the war. The War Diary:

"Morale is a notch lower than during our stay in GHENT. It is hard to be dragged from riches to rags in so short a time. "


"B" Company, H.L. I. of Canada Universal Carrier,

Speldrop, Germany, 24 March 1945. (L-R): Company Sergeant-Major R.E. Bryant, Private L.J. Mullin and Private T.C. Galbraith.

The Waal Flats November 1944-February 1945

One hundred and twenty five miles from Ghent, the H.L.I travelled to the Dutch-German border by November 11th, relieving the American 3rd Battalion of the 505 th. Parachute Infantry. Through Antwerp's underground tunnel and then through Eindhoven, the road move by vehicle went smoothly, perhaps even more so for the H.L.I than with other units since the H.L.I used their wireless sets, not having been informed, apparently, that the 9th. Brigade was to move under strict radio silence.

On a ridge between Nijmegen and Arnhem they took up positions, once again in the cold, wet earth. Living quarters were dug into the ground, like badgers or moles, and torn portions of nylon fabric (from the derelict gliders of the American airborne) provided a roof for the dugouts.

Mine tape was strung out between positions, white fabric strands sagging slightly at waist level between six-foot pickets. These strands marked gaps where soldiers could safely travel. The Americans before had laid mines all around without marking the fields, so engineers had to clear many mines to avoid a senseless casualty. At night, soldiers on sentry would walk carefully, one hand tracking along the length of tape as they went; stepping on an allied mine would be a lousy way to finish the war.

To their front was a depressing no man's land of shell craters and water, the derelict gliders interspersed throughout this landscape, as well as the odd war-torn house or barn.

The months in The Waal Flats were to be a tedious, cold, and miserable experience. No advances would be made by the Highland Brigade until the new offensive in February.

Not all of the time was spent in the frozen earth of the exposed Waal Flats. There were rotations of battalions over weeks to occupy each other's positions, some of which were more comfortable than others. One battalion in the 3rd Division at a time would be held back for rest and retraining, and to serve as divisional reserve. An institution in Nijmegen served as the rest area, where movies put on by the Sally Anne and better food existed. However, much of the Dutch population was starving. Charles Bradley:

"There wasn't much food for the Dutch people. The kids used to come around at meal time and beg for food, carrying little pots. If there was any food left in the cooker, they would get fed. "

First Canadian Regiment to cross the Rhine

The Regiment had moved back to the Reichswald Forest area near the city of Cleve and was static after the battle for the Hammerbruck Feature. Troops dug in with the rest of the 3rd Division, short leave passes were allowed for men to go back to Nijmegen. The rest in Cleve was enhanced by the presence of the Salvation Army, who, being ubiquitously equipped with movie projectors and reels of movies, would set up a tarpaulin tent (dubbed "The Highland Hut" by its 9th Brigade patrons) while sporadic incoming artillery fire let everyone present know there was still fight left in the Germans.

There was a training syllabus to prepare for the next operation, the crossing of the Rhine; where fanatical resistance was expected. Range work with the various weapons was conducted, as well as house clearing drill practiced in the ruins of Cleve (the city was for the most part demolished). Retraining was important even for the experienced men, but the green replacements would need it the most; by this time, soldiers who had been in the war since D Day were the minority.

As the leadership were issued orders, new maps of the Arnhem and Wesel areas, as well as various air photos, the allied intent for the massive assault across the Rhine could be appreciated. The Americans would cross on the south (right) end, the British on the north (left), while the Canadian 1St Army had a breakout role. But the 3rd Canadian Division was lent to the British to beef up their attack. For the H.L.I, they would go in with the Scottish 154th Brigade which consisted of 1st and 7th Black Watch Battalions and 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. As part of the 51St Highland Division, this army of Highlanders were tasked with establishing a bridgehead on the German side of the Rhine; the villages of Speldrop and Bienen among the initial objectives. The H.L.I of C would be the first Canadian unit across the Rhine.

Speldrop Farm 24 March

At 1730 the H.L.I went in full force; each company taking a sector of the village.


Officers of the H.L.I. of Canada at the Rhine River crossing, Speldrop, 24 March 1945.
(L-R): Captain J.A. Ferguson, Lieutenant E.R. Isnor, Captain D.A. Pearce

Wasp flame carriers moved up and began burning buildings to "A" Company's front. The night glowed furiously as the tiny village of Speldrop burned. It began to rain as the battalion was relieved to pick up its dead and wounded, and the Scottish carried on the advance. The battle of Speldrop Farm had cost approximately 13 dead and 23 wounded

War Correspondent Douglas Amaron of the Canadian Press submitted this article on 28 May:

"The H.L.I. was the first Canadian formation over the river and the advance party crossed about 90 minutes after the first wave of Scottish troops. `it was just an ordinary sail, 'said Capt. Jack Ferguson, of Galt, Ont., support company commander. The first attack made by the Galt unit was against Speldrop, two miles north of Rees, where two previous assaults by Scottish troops were beaten back, Speldrop's widely separated farmhouses provided the Germans with wide fields of fire and they had the approaches to the village covered with self-propelled guns. The Highlanders, who took 65 prisoners in this village, also relieved two platoons of the Scottish Black Watch, who had been sheltering in the cellars. "

Bienen

Only hours later, the HLI received instruction to go in the town of Bienen, where a repeat of the same situation was occurring.

The Argyll battalion had gone in and been counter-attacked in the same fashion as the Black Watch in Speldrop; this time the North Nova Scotians came to their aid, but the fighting was so heavy they could not complete the capture of Bienen, therefore the H.L.I was tasked to force out the last fanatical defenders. The evening was spent fighting through this town, and by the time they had forced out or killed the last of Bienen's defenders, The Regiment halted at its outskirts and was again relieved to pick up more of its casualties.


Dutch women
(one wearing national costume) and child watch of the H.L.I. of Canada's "C" Coy.
passing through Dalfsen, The Netherlands, on 13 April 1945.

The HLI of'C 1940-45 describes the final stages of the HLI's last battle on 7 April, in the town of Zutphen:

"In many cases the enemy groups would lie low while house clearing parties passed through or else infiltrated back in the darkness. In such a manner the battalion command post was cut off and surrounded by enemy for a time during the night. It was an uncomfortable situation, for the commanding officer and his staff as they were not able to make a move without drawing fire from machine guns and panzerfausts stationed in nearby windows. However, this situation was rectified when several parties arrived from the forward companies and the street was again cleared after some confused fighting. "

After this fighting, the regiment moved up north to Friesland, to liberate Leeuwarden and after this they did also move on to the "Afsluitdijk" to inspect the fortifications there and disarm the German prisoners there, and also make them clear their own mine fields.


Infantrymen of “B” Company, HLI of Canada, examining a German “dragon’s teeth” barrier near the Afsluitdijk across the Zuiderzee, Netherlands, 19 April 1945. (L-R): Lance-Corporal W.J. King, Privates J.A. Carr and W.G. Scott

April 15, 1945 Leeuwarden,

the Capital of Friesland, was liberated by the Third Canadian Infantry Division. The next day a Civic Reception, Liberation Parade and Concert on the “Nieuwe Stad” in town was organized where the combined Pipe Bands of the H.L.I. of Canada and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders played.



The combined Pipe bands of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada and The North Nova Scotia Highlanders arriving at the civic reception
Leeuwarden, Netherlands, 16 April 1945.

... on to the Concert on the “Nieuwe Stad”



... where some clever countering was to be exercised


 

They were to return to Leeuwarden a month later, on May 13, for a Thanksgiving Service in the “Grote Kerk”.
 

... on the Zuiderplein: parade and march through town afterwards.
 

The Duch civilians always had a great liking for the stirring sound of the bagpipes, and with the war over, a good Bar-B-Q was always enjoyed together



as were the sports events. Dutch women (in regional traditional dress) having tea with personnel of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division during the Division’s Sports Day, Hilversum, Netherlands, 14 June 1945
 


This is what the H.L.I. of Canada's collar badges looked like


Cambridge Armoury, Ainslie Street South, Galt, home of The Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada. They originated in Berlin, Ontario on 14 September 1866 as the 29th Waterloo Battalion of Infantry. It was redesignated the 29th Waterloo Regiment on 8 May 1900, then the 29th Regiment (Highland Light Infantry of Canada) on 15 April 1915, The Highland Light Infantry of Canada on 29 March 1920 the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry of Canada on 7 November 1940 and then The Highland Light Infantry of Canada on 1 May 1946. On 1 October 1954, The HLI of C was amalgamated with The Perth Regiment and renamed The Perth and Waterloo Regiment (Highland Light Infantry of Canada). On 1 April 1957, the two regiments ceased to be amalgamated and resumed their former designations. On 26 February 1965, it was amalgamated with The Scots Fusiliers of Canada and redesignated as The Highland Fusiliers of Canada'. The Regiment assumed the appellation "Royal" to become The Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada on 7 July 1998.