Oct. 21-Dec. 9, 1944: A lengthy interruption

It has been a lengthy interruption in Doc Alexander’s story brought on by a whole host of life stuff: new home, new city, job search, courses … and on it goes it seems. In that time we’ve missed the Battle of the Scheldt and Walcheren Island, the fight to take the Breskens Pocket and beginning of the liberation of Holland. But as of today, Dec. 9, Alex and his 6th Field Dressing Station, is in Zielst, Holland, staying with a Dutch family and preparing for Christmas and up to his old tricks. He sent one of his officers home to England for Christmas without permission from the Army, writing,”If he gets caught I will lose my head, as I let him go without a pass — but hope it will work out alright.”

Doc Alexander and one of his officers have a laugh at Hitler's expense in April 1945. They found the photo in a convent. The sign in the background points in the direction of the 6 FDS (6th Field Dressing Station), which he commands.

Doc Alexander and one of his officers have a laugh at Hitler’s expense in April 1945. They found the photo in a convent. The sign in the background points in the direction of the 6 FDS (6th Field Dressing Station), which he commands.

Oct. 21 – Fairly busy today but not rushing. I went into Bruges this morning to interview Lt. Col. Ord D.M.O. of the S.S. Brigade about future operations in which we are playing a small part. While there, I bought some little souvenirs to send home. Do not expect to move from this spot for about two weeks.

Oct. 22 – Sunday John Holman and Gordie Johnson dropped in for a visit today. George McEarry had brought me a bunch of fresh orders in the morning.

Oct. 23 — Still fairly busy.  DADMS — 3rd Div. in today — after which I went to Ghent to Corps H.Q. A lot of activity, our role rather vague, but in some way linked up with invasion of Flushing.

Oct. 24 — Tommy Twiddle, Ronnie, Gordie and I went up into Holland in a Recce. Crossed the Leopold Canal then to Vatervlet, Ijzendijke and northwest to Schoondijke. The country is flooded, and the towns are all blown to pieces. We then went north east to the shore of the Schelde and went along the dykes to Doofplaat. I have not seen so much destruction in this war as there is in this little part of Holland south of the Schelde. Tomorrow my light section moves to Ostend and we are being relieved here by 5 FDS. We will probably be going to Ostend too, to receive casualties from the attack on Flushing.

Oct. 25 — Brig. Farmer arrived and left some orders which resulted in absolute confusion. Light section under Hans Geggie moved to Ostend. 5th FDS under Tommy Gibson relieved us here. In the afternoon Dibb and I drove to Bruges guiding Paul Carson and small staff in 60 cwt. followed by two ambulances. I went to AS H.Q. then went on to Ostend — left the second detachment with the first and arranged for Hans to move up the coast the following day. I then visited 105 Br. Gen. Hosp. and arranged for reception of casualties — then home. We are all packed, relieved of duty and waiting for further instructions. There is an Army show in Town — think I will go tomorrow if we are still here.

Oct. 27 — We are still sitting waiting for some one to make up their minds. Pretty grim. Last night we — Tommy Gibson and I attended an Army show in Town. Met Lloyd Muter of Calgary there. After the show we went out and had a beef steak. It is getting pretty cold around here. Visit by Col. Playfair, after which I took a very wet trip to Ghent to Corps H.Q. No satisfaction though.

Oct. 28 — Moved to a small port Town just outside Ostend, right at the harbor. Not badly located. Tomorrow will be busy establishing a Receiving Station.

Oct. 29 — Very busy today — have erected canvas after clearing a space on the wharf. Have hauled gravel and have completely organized the show. Tomorrow we will equip it fully, and from Tuesday night on — we man it completely. Today visited 105 British Hosp. and Commando H.Q. in Bruges establishing an evacuation line. By tomorrow night everything will be set.  The Unit are all most comfortably situated in parts of Town which are not knocked down. I have a very nice room and am getting a stove in tomorrow.

Oct. 30 — Very busy all day erecting canvas and locating stoves and stove pipes. We are situated right at the top of the ramp in Ostend Harbour. Visited the big bug in Town today. Another day and we will be pretty well set up.

Oct. 31 — Putting the finishing touches on and will move every available man out tonight at 6 p.m. It is going to be a miserable place but will probably not last long. At last we are here. The tents are in a U-shape right on the tip of the pier. My caravan is in the hollow of the U. Our set up is heated by stoves sunk into the ground. We have cleared a parking place for ambulances. The cook house is in an old shed and the men are sleeping — some in the shed and some in tents. The boats have loaded and pulled out. Many, many boats with all sorts of equipment and hundreds of commandos. They will attack Walcheren Island tomorrow. Our light section is going in on the attack in Flushing. We are here to evacuate all casualties coming back. Ostend Harbour is badly knocked to pieces but tonight it is all lit up and a regular beehive of activity. The purpose of this raid is to clear the road to Antwerp as a port. It will only take a few days I think to finish the job — then I don’t know what comes next.

Nov. 1/44 — At 5 p.m. — the first of the casualties returned. Up to midnight we handled three hundred and twenty five and ten dead. The attack on Flushing has been a big success, very few casualties. Tomorrow we expect a lot of army and a lot of dead. The old Unit is clicking like a clock. We had a few in during the night.

Nov. 2 — One boat load brought in one hundred and seventy eight casualties and about four hundred prisoners. We used the prisoners for stretcher bearers and are holding fifty for that purpose. We have now at noon handled five hundred wounded and twenty four dead. we are expecting a lot in this afternoon. The boats are not able to land, so casualties are coming back in very small numbers. The Navy have lost heavily — 60 % of naval craft employed have been lost. Only one large boat load of Army casualties have returned.

Nov. 3 — Several boats have returned which could not land on the other side due to heavy shell fire. The news from the island is good but we cannot trace casualties, so we are standing to. A bunch of vessels just returned which could not get on shore at all. 5 p.m. — just received word that Breskens is open so believe we are finished. Will have to remain open until further orders though. Very cold here today. Apparently things are going well on the island.

Nov. 4 — Still waiting. We have sent a bunch of medical supplies over by boat and have sent a truckload to Breskens. I do not think any more will be coming in here so hope to move soon. Tonight the Light Section returned from Flusing. They had quite an experience and were lucky in that they suffered no casualties.

Nov. 5 — We tore down all our tents etc. and moved from the Pier back to our H.Q. at Bredene. I had a case of the flu I guess, so I went right to bed.

Nov. 6 — Got called to go over to Ostend and pick up Athol Gordon and take him to Corps H.Q. in Ghent. Have to return tomorrow to get our definite movement orders. During the day and night, one hundred and seventy cases were evacuated to Ostend.

Nov. 7 — Gordie and I returned to Ghent and found that we were attached to Army and would remain in Ostend until Walcheren and South Beveland are completely cleared up. Very cold trip in the open jeep.

Nov. 8 — Still waiting. Navy informs us that no more will be coming. DDMS of 52 British Div. arrived today to find out the picture. We will probably be here a few days more. Have killed seven geese and have enough canned chicken to put on a feed for the boys on Nov 11th. Will also have rum issue and some cigarettes and chocolate to give out.

Nov. 9 — Very cold and raw. Twenty four bodies washed ashore today. We are burying them. We are waiting patiently for word to move. In the meantime we are making ourselves comfortable. Dibb, Antoni, Paul, Ronnie and I went by ambulance in to Ostend to see Richard Green in Bernard Shaw’s play “Arms and the Man.” We enjoyed it very much too. Orders just came in for our return to Eecloo tomorrow. We got back to the convent.

Nov. 10 — Arrived safely back in Eecloo and were greeted as long lost children. We are all settled down again as before. I have a stove in my room and am real comfortable. Tomorrow is our Armistice celebration. We have a picture show in the evening and should have a very good time. No order yet as to our future role.

Nov. 11 — Our celebration was very quiet but very successful.

Nov. 12 — Went to Church this a.m. Nothing doing at all. Simply waiting.

Nov. 13 — Lt. Col. Tuffy Tunan and Maj. Bill Slack arrived from Army with the information that we are moving up to Eindhoven in Holland to open up an Advanced Surgical Centre and Air Evacuation Cushion. I accompanied them back to Ghent but no definite date has yet been given. On leaving the building I met Bert Little who is assistant Field Cashier. He was our paymaster in the Calgarys when we came over.

Nov. 14 — Sister Gerard and Mother Superior visited me during the evening last night. Today has been cold and damp. No further word of moving. Chas. Ross dropped in for a few minutes today.

Nov. 15 — Grand picture show here last night. “Russia Calls.” Went to H.Q. in Ghent this A.M. for movement orders. None available yet. Padre Walker left us today to take up his duties with the South Sask. Regiment.

Nov. 16 — Ronnie and I spent last evening playing Crib. This waiting is getting on our nerves. No sign of any movement yet, so we just sit and wait. Ronnie and I went down town and had a grand dinner, pork chops with eggs and fried potatoes. Just waiting for the 9 P.M. news now.

Nov. 17 — Col. McFarlane, Col. Montgomery and Lt. Col. Ross paid us a visit. It is a terribly wet and cold day.

Nov. 18 — Went to Army H.Q. in Ghent and found our orders to move waiting for us. I am leaving with an advance party at 1 P.M. The Unit will leave tomorrow morning at 7 A.M. 9:30 P.M., Mac, Gordie and I in my Jeep, followed by my caravan with L/Cpl Flint, S/Sgt Howell, and Fred Hyman, followed by one M.A.C. ambulance with Sgt. Beatey, Davis, Weis and one river left Eecloo at 1 P.M. and arrived at Zielst six kilometres from Eindhoven at 5:30. We went to the air field and finally found one officer and two men of 5 F.D.S. in our Advance Party. The building was given a terrible name, but after working all evening, we are at last set up and will have a good set up. We passed through Ghent, Antwerp, Turnhout, Westinalle, Aestmalle and into Zielst. We crossed the Dutch border a few miles east of Turnhout.

Nov. 19 — Ronnie arrived with six truck at 12 noon by 3 p.m. all were here. We are very busy fixing up broken windows etc.

Nov. 20 — Gordie and I drove up to Corps H.Q. at Nijmegen today. Four nursing sisters will arrive tonight and an F.S.U. tomorrow morning. The nursing sisters — Miss Bright, Thompson from Saskatoon, Miss England from Calgary and Miss Vincent from Winnipeg. I have found real billets for everybody and a wonderful mess. I now have the best billet I have ever had.

Nov. 21 — Vic Railton, Pat Robertson and 6th F.S.U. arrived today. I am now in my new billet and very comfortable.

Nov. 22 — Went to airdrome this morning and accompanied Williams and M.C.O. to 79th Gen. Hospital to a British Medical conference. This was in Eindhoven. Returned home and hustled up the gang on getting the hospital ready. Hauled straw etc. Now have forty cases waiting air evacuation in A.M.

Nov. 23 — Very busy today. We have admitted and sent by Ambulance and loaded on aeroplanes for Brussels. We have fifty nine waiting for evacuation in the morning.

Nov. 24 — Very rainy and wet. We admitted some cases and evacuated about sixty by air to both England and Brussels. Was working on the Air Field a great part of the day. It is partially under water and very muddy. Brig. Poirret, Col. McFarlane and Col. Ross called again this afternoon. Had a visit from Johnnie and Harold again this evening. Now to bed.

Nov. 25 — Another very wet day, nothing unusual. Lt. Col. Forbes of North Nova Scotias spent the day with us and will fly to England tomorrow. Paul Carson, Cpl. Austin and Conrad went north to establish a RAP at 205 RMC.

Nov. 26 — Went to Nijmegen to Corp H.Q. — had lunch there then went to Osste over the Canal on a ferry and visited Paul and his boys. They were O.K., so Gordie and I drove a new way home via Hertogenbosch, Eindhoven and Zielst. Found Maj Ed Walstein from 6th Gen. visiting the Unit, also Maj Stone, senior Padre of 2nd Div. Nothing much happening. Believe we will be here until New Years.

Nov. 27 — NCOs and Nurses held a musical evening here tonight. We had a lot of fun — very few casualties coming through.

Nov. 28 — Very cold and wet. The Dutch people are having music this evening. Had a very nice musical evening at home. About supper time Col. Sinclair, acting DDMS Army dropped in for a few minutes.

Nov. 29 — Visited a Corps Medical meeting at Grave, on the road to Nijmegen. Saw all the old boys and had a long talk with Clint Crawford. In the evening, went to the home across the road and played bridge.

Nov. 30 — A beautiful day, some casaulties are coming in. Have been out to the airport this morning. Miss England leaves this afternoon for 3CCS. Gordie Johnson, Avison and Reg Bridge dropped in for a visit. Gordie is going home to Canada pretty soon. This evening there was a party in my home — we all had a grand time.

Dec. 1//44 — More casualties in tonight, but still not very busy. It is very dark and drizzly out. Geo. just brought me in a cup of coffee. Last night at the party I used my Christmas cake from Scarboro Church. It certainly went over big too.

Dec. 2 — Ronnie and I went to visit the man across the road. Spent a very enjoyable evening. More casualties coming in.

Dec. 3 — A lot more casualties in today but still we are not busy. Xmas mail is coming in very well now. The weather has been much more pleasant in the last few days, but it is gradually getting colder. Expect to go to Ghent in the morning. A rather miserable trip.

Dec. 4 — Gordie, N/S Bright, Johnnie Wilburs went into Antwerp in my jeep. We went to 6th Gen. Hosp. when Johnnie had his dinner, then N/S Bright, Major Eddie Walstein and I went to the Officers Club at the Excelsior Hotel. In the afternoon we did our shopping and then returned home.

Dec. 5 — Santa Claus day. I am having Santa Claus with the family tonight. We have Xmas parcels piled all over the room and Joep and Johnnie are in the room busily wrapping parcels. I got things for each of then in Antwerp and am just as excited as they are. This is a wonderful place I am in — a real home away from home. Last night with the kids we played Bobbie’s poem of “Pooh”. N/S Murray and Bright came over today and packed my parcels for the folks. Everything looks real Christmasy. Last night the little boys put out their wooden shoes with the carrot in each for the White Horse and a piece of bread and a cigar for Santa Claus. This is the first real touch of home life I have had since leaving home and I love it. Jacsic has just gone out to escort Santa Claus and Black Jack who will come at 8 P.M. We are having a Unit dance tomorrow evening as well. In this part we have to make our own amusement, but I hope we spend the winter here, if we must stay overseas. Lt. Dibb flew to England today to visit his family. If he gets caught I will lose my head, as I let him go without a pass — but hope it will work out alright.

Dec. 7 — Well, Santa Claus eve is over. Both Santa Claus and Black Jack arrived and it was a lot of fun. The family gave me a lovely marble pair of book ends, and the house across the road an old typical china plate with a windmill on it. It was the nearest approach to home I have had since leaving. Tonight we have our dance. Whether it will be successful or not, I do not know.

Dec. 8 — The dance is over and has been a huge success, calling for a repeat next Thursday. There was a very large crowd and everything hit on all fours.

Dec. 9 — The Catholic Church has opposed the dances and there is a wee bit of of friction, but it will straighten out O.K. We held an impromptu farewell for Tony tonight. He is leaving us to go to a recce Btn — and we do not feel very happy about it.

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About Rob Alexander

I am a writer, photographer and historian and the author of The History of Canmore, published by Summerthought Publishing of Banff, AB.

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