RHLI Returns to Antwerp Belgium
by Colonel James Forsyth CStJ, CD, Honorary Colonel, The RHLI
Photos by Gwen Forsyth
In September 1944, The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry as part of 4th Brigade, 2nd Canadian Infantry Division, took part in the liberation of Antwerp, Belgium. The RHLI was responsible for the capture and preservation of the vital harbour and dock facilities, badly needed to resupply the front lines. The supplies were still coming from Normandy and Cherbourg, nearly 500 km to the west, and were slow in arriving at the front. The capture of Antwerp would cut this resupply route by 400 km, and enable the Canadian and British armies to push on into Germany .
The RHLI with the assistance of the Belgium Resistance Army gained control over the harbour and dock area in heavy fighting, which lasted about a week. The RHLI then took part in the clearing of the approaches to Antwerp Harbour , which the German army still controlled. This action took another six weeks of heavy fighting, and it was November before the first ship was able to use the docks at Antwerp . The RHLI and Belgian Resistance Army losses were considerable.
It was therefore a great honour for the RHLI to be invited by the City of Antwerp to erect a Regimental Plaque on the harbour front to the memory of our soldiers who fought, and especially those who died, during the heavy fighting there in September 1944.
A group of 16 members of the RHLI Regimental family took part in the dedication of our plaque on the Steen in Antwerp on 5 September 2004. Included in the group were two soldiers of the RHLI who actually served and fought in the battle of 1944. They were Maj Charles Mackay and Pte Doug Shaunessy. Another veteran of the battle, CSM Doug Dolman, was to be with us also, but due to poor health was forced to withdraw just before the trip. The Minister of Veterans Affairs, The Honourable Albina Guarnieri, joined us for the activities in Antwerp and assisted us with the unveiling of our plaque along with the Mayor of Antwerp. Wreaths were laid at the plaque and speeches delivered by the Mayor of Antwerp and Minister thanking the RHLI for its service in 1944 and for returning to Antwerp to join the 60th Anniversary Celebration of Liberation.
The Belgians were very generous and hospitable in their welcome to us. We were received at a reception at City Hall and given reserved seats at a military tattoo in the square in front of City Hall. Special Commemorative Liberation Medals were presented to our veterans as well as to Shelagh Whitaker, LCol William Kedziora former CO RHLI, Capt (now Major) Stuart Chapman Chair of the RHLI Regimental Committee and Col James Forsyth, Honorary Colonel RHLI. The Minister of Veterans Affairs hosted a private dinner for us and again expressed her appreciation for our participation in Antwerp on this historic occasion, which added much to the friendship already existing between Belgium and Canada .
The RHLI Memorial Plaque is a permanent tribute to the Regiment and the absolutely vital role they played in liberating Antwerp , which facilitated the Allied advance over the Rhine .Click to view enlargened plaque details.
The people of Antwerp , in remembrance of the role played by the RHLI in their liberation under then Lieutenant-Colonel Denis Whitaker, unveiled this magnificent life-size statue of him in their town square.
As part of the trip, the RHLI placed a regimental plaque on the Sherman Tank at Courselles-sur-Mer. The tank, from the 1 st Hussars of London, was recovered from the English Channel off Juno Beach It is now a D-Day memorial and it has become a tradition for Canadian regiments to place a plaque on it.
Honorary Colonel Jim Forsyth thanks Antwerp City Council for their help with the RHLI plaque installation and their support to the RHLI over many years.
The Hon. Albina Guarnieri, Minister of Veterans Affairs, along with HCol Forsyth, Capt (now Major) Stu Chapman, former CO LCol Bill Kedziora and numerous civic dignitaries unveil the RHLI Memorial Plaque on the Antwerp waterfront.
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