Saturday, 6 November 2010

October 1944 -

So now 185 Brigade came out of the "Pine" for a rest and we exchanged places with the KSLI who were in a position half a mile North East of Venray in the area of the Reservoirs. Our role here was to find out by offensive patrolling all we could about enemy dispositions and habits so that when the attack on this sector was resumed, all available information would be on hand.


We soon found, however, that the Boche on this front was comparatively quiet, content to sit and nurse the wounds he had recently sustained.

Shelling and mortaring - little by day generally rose to a crescendo between 1700 and 2100 hrs though casualties - including the death of our second Dutch Interpreter just attached to us - were very light.

The whole Battalion was well dug in and most people had sufficient respect for the Nebelwerfer and its sister mortars to take no chances with it. Meanwhile by night patrols, mainly listening and reconnaissance patrols, we gradually, built up a picture of the enemy dispositions and strength and our knowledge was amplified by deserters who came in by twos and threes within a few days of our taking over this position.

Efforts were made after careful reconnaissance to capture a prisoner but these were frustrated by the increasing lightness of the nights, and by the fact that the German sentries located by a reconnaissance patrol one night, could not be spotted on the night when the fighting patrol went out.

Life in this position was quiet but it was also boring because double guards had to be maintained by night and section sentries by day: vigilance had to be thoroughly maintained. In order to permit of the maximum rest possible twelve men per company in turn spent 48 hours at A Echelon at St Anthonis - some eight miles away - and in HQ and 8 Companies, specialist platoons were kept at minimum strength, commensurate with maximum security, while the balance lived at A Echelon. Back in St Anthonis there were films and many were able to visit the Divisional Club in Helmond. A smaller number went to Brussels for 48 hours, priority in this scheme being given to those who had fought with the Battalion since D Day. By this means the discomfort and tedium of living for long periods in slit trenches was mitigated and by the end of October nearly every man had enjoyed some break from the monotonous routine of "Slitters".

Most of us would in retrospect agree with Andrew Marrell's description of Holland, even though we might not now subscribe to his opinion of its people. He called it "Vomit of the Sea, given to the Dutch by just propriety."

The weather was indeed the principal bogey of the month and for the first time we obtained an inkling of what a Dutch winter means. Holland is a damp country and the flooding of its multiplicity of rivers and streams, imposed a check upon operations in the field.

So, taken as a whole, this period was for the Battalion one of comparative inertia. But as in music, the rest is often more significant than the chord that precedes it, so in the life of a fighting Battalion, relaxation and the pauses for rebuilding its structure are often more significant than the stress and strain of action, which is more spectacular and more memorable.

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