Mike Strachan’s e-mail journal — Entry #23, from Netherlands
Received 14 May 2008
Travels for May 13/08 — Kortrijk (Belgium)-Oostburg (Netherlands/Holland*)
Early in the morning the streets are already cleaned — free of all the debris left by the flea market people and partygoers. The crews must have worked all night.
My original plan was to go to Bergen-Op-Zoom and visit places from there, but there must be a convention there or something as there are no hotel rooms at economical prices. My backup plan is to go to Oostburg, in the very southwest part of Holland.
Oostburg was the very first town in Holland to be liberated by the QOR (and the Chaudiere regiment), in late October 1944, and I want to find a man in Oostburg who has a museum of Canadian war memorabilia.
Unfortunately there is no train service to Oostburg, nor to nearby Breskins or Terneuzen. This part of Holland is isolated from the main part of Holland by the Belgian border and the river Schelde. The alternative is to take the train to Bruges and then a bus or taxi or both. I choose the train to Bruges, and there is a man on the train in the next seat who is also going there, and he points me to the bus station nearby the train station.
Bus 42 goes to Oostburg for €2.50, and it takes one hour. I am sorry to leave Belgium as I can go anywhere by train after 9 AM for €4, return. I didn't have to rent a car for the whole time I was here.
Oostburg is a nice small town, and the tourist information desk is in the cinema lobby. The woman there tells me about a B&B and two hotels, but she says I had better visit Breskins today by bus as the Dutch bus drivers are on strike tomorrow and the next day. My lucky day! She also contacts Mr. Erik Adriaansen who has the small museum here, and I can visit him tonight at 8PM.
There's no sign of a B&B where I looked, but it would have been next to a construction site anyway, so I check into the less expensive hotel (€45 including breakfast). I wonder what I had got myself into when I saw the room, but it comfortable and fine.
Then back to the bus stop to catch the bus to Breskins, and the trip takes 15 minutes (€2.50). Breskens is on the south shore of the Westerschelde, the large estuary of the river Schelde. It was near here that the battle of the Breskins Pocket started in October 1944. Oostberg was the first town taken, then Breskins. The German army retreated across the Westerschelde to South Beveland and Walcheren Islands.
Breskens is a small town with a port for commercial boats and pleasure craft, plus a separate harbour for the ferry to Vlissingen. A walk along the harbour gets me some photos from an observation platform, of working boats and sailboats, and of the ferry. At the terminal I get a copy of the ferry schedule, as I plan to leave tomorrow, bus strike or no bus strike.
At 8 PM I walk the short distance to the museum where am greeted by Connea and Erik Andersen. Erik has been collecting WW2 memorabilia since he was young, and the museum has very good displays of uniforms, weapons, photographs, and descriptions from both the Canadian and German armies.
The whole theme of the museum is Operation Switchback, the name given to the battle of the Breskens Pocket. After visiting the museum next to their house, we have tea at the kitchen table and talk about photos I have brought for him, the events of the war, and the purpose of my trip. I am surprised it is 10:30 PM when I say farewell.
Back at the hotel it's the usual nighttime routine.
* From 1806 to 1810, Holland was a vassal state of Napoleonic France. In that period, it was a kingdom ruled by Napoleon's brother. Other than that, "Holland" signifies one of the original seven nations that joined together to form the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. Holland was the area now covered by the provinces Noord- and Zuid-Holland. However, Dutch people themselves often use the word Holland when referring to Netherlands.
Editor’s note: Mike recommends without reservation The Guns of Victory — A Soldier’s Eye View, Belgium, Holland, and Germany, 1944-45 as one of the very best Canadian histories of this period of the war. It’s the third volume of the trilogy George G. Blackburn, who was a forward artillery observer throughout the war.