< 'On Patrol to Middelburg' by Joe Brown - Fragment 8 >

On the evening of November 4, our newly-appointed C.O. (he was previously Second-in-Command of the Battalion), was ordered by the Brigade Commander to stand-by to lead a white-flag party to negotiate the surrender of the German garrison in Middelburg. The next morning I went with him to join the Brigadier to observe the 4 KOSB advancing up both banks of the canal towards Middelburg, the capital of Walcheren. Although the German garrison in Middelburg was being shelled, the advance was extremely difficult with a large number of concrete positions to be overcome.


The Brigadier thought the possibility of heavy casualties could be avoided and decided to send a patrol consisting of the Brigade Liaison Officer with myself and the Reconnaissance Officer of "A" Squadron 11th Royal Tank Regiment (which provided the Buffaloes: amphibious tracked vehicles) to reconnoitre a route to the west towards the main road leading in to the north of Middelburg and determine whether it was possible for a battalion transported in Buffaloes to get into a position to attack Middelburg from the north. We set off in a Buffalo at about 1445 hours, and it became quickly evident that the difficulties that would be encountered by the patrol were the heavy level of flood water surrounding the approaches to Middelburg as well as the extensive minefields and numerous anti-landing devices. These devices consisted of wooden stakes with explosive charges placed above the flood-level and were interconnected by wires and named by the Dutch Resistance as 'Rommel asparagus' after Field-Marshal Rommel who had ordered them to be erected. Initially the progress was slow but we reached Koudekerke, some four kilometres south-west of Middelburg, without encountering enemy resistance. After taking time to explore the approaches to the north of Middelburg, the failing light made us decide to return and report to the Brigade Commander that it would be possible in daylight for an infantry force in Buffalos to move with careful navigation through the various hazards to reach the outskirts of Middelburg and be in a position to attack.
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On the way back we ran into difficulties at about 17.50 hours when the Buffalo, manoeuvring to avoid 'Rommel asparagus', got one of its tracks jammed on a concrete bridge that was totally submerged and unseen under the grubby flood water. A motor-cycle was jettisoned along with other heavy 'non-essentials' but this did not help to dislodge and re-float the Buffalo and we remained stuck on the bridge. The Dutch Resistance had contacted our patrol when it first entered Koudekerke and now they again came to our assistance, rowing out to rescue both the Brigade L.O. and myself. We explained to the Resistance that we needed to get back to Flushing as quickly as possible and although they readily agreed to guide us, they advised we would have to wait for first light to avoid the heavy tidal surge of flood water returning to the sea through the breached sea wall as the nearest crossing point was very close to the gap.

We sheltered in different houses and I shall always remember the kind and warm welcome extended to me. After receiving hospitality I was shown to a bedroom at the top of the house and experienced a few hours rest in the luxury of white sheets! Two Resistance men called for us in the last hours of the night's darkness and we set off on what proved to be a most hazardous journey. They had made the crossing before and knew how to attempt it, directing our efforts in handling and positioning large lengths of wood which enabled us to reach an area of submerged ground that the four of us could just about manage to stand and at that stage we were half-way across the gap. We stood there for a moment to draw breath, clutching one another to keep balance as the tidal waters swept past us; if we had slipped we would surely have been swept into the Scheldt Estuary! With anxiety we viewed the distance still to be crossed but under the leadership and skill of our two friends of the Dutch Resistance and deft use of those valuable logs -- we made it!
Met dank aan Doeke Roos Jr. voor het interview



The Brigade Commander issued orders for "A" Company of the 7th/9th RS and a machine-gun platoon of the 7th Manchester Regiment to be transported in Buffaloes and following the route taken by our patrol they had to get into position at the rear of Middelburg ready to attack. They surprised the German garrison and sent a 'white flag' party accompanied by a Norwegian officer as interpreter. They negotiated the surrender, General Daser handing over his pistol along with his Chief-of Staff's map-case showing all the German troop positions on Walcheren. Later OC "A" Company thoughtfully and kindly presented the map-case to me as a remembrance of my part in the patrol. Our force of eleven Buffaloes moved into the main square of Middelburg and orders given to the German officers to bring their men into the square and pile their armaments. We had taken 2,000 prisoners with a force of 140 men. As the Germans began to realise this there was signs of unrest but we kept this subdued during the hours of darkness by four machine-guns of the 7th Manchester Regiment sited in the corners of the square. Sadly during the advance over the route the patrol had taken, one Buffalo struck a mine which killed one man and wounded another.

It is ironic that we were trained for mountain warfare and fought our first battle up to our chest in sea water! We were proud and pleased that at long last we had made a contribution by our part in the liberation of the Scheldt Estuary, regarded as "a victory of the first importance". "Flushing" was awarded as a Battle Honour and proudly takes its place with the Honours of The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment), Britain’s oldest infantry regiment raised in 1633.

It is a remarkable coincidence, subsequently discovered, that the route taken by myself and the Brigade L.O. as we waded our way back from Koudekerke to Flushing, was the same route taken by the 3rd Battalion The Royal Scots when they were part of an expedition force under Lord Chatham. In 1809 when Napoleon was seeking to bring the Austrians to a decisive battle on the Danube, the Austrians urged Britain to try and prevent the French from moving reinforcements to the Danube. The British Government decided the best way to help was to send an expedition force to hold down the considerable French forces in the Scheldt Estuary. The 3rd RS landed at Domburg on Walcheren on 30 July 1809, advanced to Koudekerke and became involved in the siege of Flushing.
Met dank aan Doeke Roos Jr. voor het interview



Voor Mr. Brown’s volledig W.O.2 verhaal verwijs ik u naar zijn site (lawlerbrown.com).


Postscript ::


Deputy Lieutenant of the County of West Midlands