70 years ago on 8 November 1st Canadian Army completed operations to clear and secure the banks of the Scheldt estuary, opening the logistically vital port of Antwerp to Allied shipping. The port itself had been liberated over two months earlier but it had taken tenacious fighting by Canadian, British, Polish and other Allied forces to secure its approaches. Canada’s toll for these operations amounted to 1,418 killed and 4,949 wounded, approximately fifty percent of the casualties suffered by Allied forces in the Battle of the Scheldt. 1st Canadian Army had seen hard fighting without much respite since its activation in July 1944 during the height of the Normandy battle. For its part, 3rd Canadian Division had landed at Juno Beach on D-Day.
After this draining victory, securing the Allies an important logistical hub and taking over 40 thousand German prisoners, 1st Canadian Army was taken out of the line for a period of regeneration which lasted until February 1945. The CBC’s senior war correspondent, Matthew Halton, decided to take the opportunity to reflect on his pilgrimage to the Canadian memorial at what is now Canadian National Vimy Memorial Park. He had visited the Vimy Memorial in September 1944, after he had witnessed the destruction of German forces at Falaise and the great advance following the Normandy breakout.
The following is a link to a CBC Archives recording of his reflections on Remembrance Day in 1944, as that “hard and cruel war [drew] slowly towards its bitter end.” Halton laments the mass destruction and death of two generations. He notes the terrible duality of war, that “splendid things come out of war, but war is a thing to be ashamed of,” and urges us to “not break the faith.” So far we haven’t, at least in terms of world war scale, and I’d like to believe that remembrance has something to do with that.
I encourage you to listen with an open mind and an open heart. I listen to this clip every November 11th. In it I find a profound understanding for the meaning of Remembrance Day, when the “tides of memory come in.” Enjoy and Lest We Forget.