The unveiling of a memorial tablet for the Suffolk Regiment
57th Anniversary Visit - Belgium and Holland 20th-23rd September 2001
A Report by Major John Fisher-Hoch
(from Britannia and Castle Newsletter December 2002 No. 97)
This anniversary visit was to be special. The townsfolk of Hamont (now Hamont-Achel) in Belgium intended to commemorate their liberation in 1944 by unveiling a memorial plaque to 1 Suffolk and a Colour party with drummers from 1 R Anglian would honour and share the occasion
Brigadier Deller and Burgomaster Meeuwissen
On Thursday 20th September our coach party of forty-eight including fourteen "D" Day veterans assembled at Cambridge, Bury and Ipswich under the genial eye of Captain Frank Matthews and his wife. A dawn start for some with secure parking and a welcome at the TA centres.
Joined at Harwich by the Royal Anglians from Pirbright, we boarded a Stena ferry for a comfortable crossing to the Hook of Holland. After a slow drive round Rotterdam and via Eindhoven, we arrived at Weert in Holland to be welcomed by Colonel Pat Macdonald and his wife, and Mr Trevor Lewis at the Hotel Golden Tulip. Some had enjoyed its five star quality previously and were already anticipating its six star breakfast. Trevor, one of our regular supporters, had continued to visit Hamont after the war and, knowing many local people over the years, had become involved in the memorial presentation.
A guided tour
In the afternoon we moved by coach to Hamont in Belgium to De Posthoorn, a large public building which was to be the venue for the reception and supper. Guides escorted us to the Town Museum and afterwards to view a reconstructed section of a WW 1 Frontier Fence.
The Town Museum is housed in a small chateau which in 1944 was HQ 2nd British Army (General Sir Miles Dempsey). Models, pictures and hundreds of articles from diggings illustrated the archaeology of the region. The final show cases are devoted to First and Second World War military items. The final touch is a life-sized soldier in battledress with Suffolk badges and flashes, yet another compliment to the Battalion and its part in the liberation.
The lenght of WW1 Frontier Fence (electrified) was erected in a nearby wood. It consisted of two five-strand wire fences about ten feet apart with down the middle another five-strand fence which was electrified (3,000 volts). After the German invasion they hermetically sealed the border to prevent all contact with the free Netherlands. The hated barrier became known as the "electric fence". Many still tried to cross the border with information or join the Allied armies but many never made it. The fence was inaugurated on 6 May 2000 by Hamont-Achel as a lasting memorial to Belgian frontline soldiers fighting on the IJzer from 1914-18 and the victims of the fence.
The time had now arrived for the Hamont parade.
20 september 1944 "German prisoners - stadswaag" B101166
21st September 1944: Crossing the Belgium Dutch border at Hamont
Tanks carrying Infantry move up towards the border
(Photo B 10162 Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, London)
After "D" Day, the break out and the bloody battles at the Chateau and Tinchebray, the advance through France and Belgium continued. 3 Div's task was to cross the defended Meuse-Escaut canal and take Hamont and Weert. E. Yorks with 1 Suffolk in support was ordered to cross the canal and occupy the wooded marshy ground beyond. This they did and at 0400 hrs on 20th September 1944, in darkness and heavy mist, the Battalion moved forward. The advance was uninterrupted and the town occupied. There was a good deal of shooting and eventually 60 prisoners including 3 NCOs were prised out of their hiding places. During the Battalion's short stay the people's enthusiasm was beyond belief. Belgian flags and national colours appeared everywhere, the soldiers were loaded with peaches, apples and pears and the carriers garlanded with flowers.
Casualties were Private Leonard Hollis and Arthur Robinson. Leonard Hollis is now buried in Heverlee War Cemetery and Arthur Robinson in Leopoldsburg War Cemetery.
Trefor Lewis uit Zuid-Wales tijdens een bezoek aan het Grevenbroek Museum
Parade and unveilung of the tablet
The whole proceedings had been organised by the Adjutant Major of the Belgian Territorial Regiment Lancers, who also acted as Master of Ceremonies. The GOC 1st Armoured Division, Belgian Army and the British Ambassador were unable to attend due to the international "situation". This meant our President, Brigadier Bill Deller, was senior military officer on parade and, very appropriately, the Military Attaché, Colonel Simon Porter, Royal Anglian Regiment represented the British Ambassador. The other central figures of the day were the Mayor of Hamont and the Chairman of the Belgian War Veterans. Later, these VIPs were called upon to inspect the parade, make speeces and lay wreathes, and Major Stan Bullock was nominated to lay the wreath on behalf of the Royal Anglian Regiment.
Vier van de bevrijders uit het Suffolk-Regiment voor de gedenkplaat aan het stadhuis: v.l.n.r. John Nunns, Trefor Lewis, Douglas Edis en Frank Varley.
20th September Liberated the village of Hamont, with a reception of villagers offering fruit and the Battalions vehicles are decked with flowers
The ceremony took place on the square in front of the imposing modern Town Hall. In an alcove on the left of the drive-in entrance, the veiled plaque was mounted and the Royal Anglian drummers, Drum Major Jimmy Self and L/Corporal Richie Phain, were standing by. At this stage the VIPs were with the Mayor in the Town Hall and the Royal Anglian Colour Party, Lieut. Mark Nicholas, CSM Rob Shaw and CSM Chris Tate were out of sight behind the entrance.
Around the square had gathered the townsfolk, Belgian patriotic organisations, members of the Resistance and the Belgian Battalion of Liberation, who had fought side-by-side with the Allies during the liberation.
The marchers had assembled at De Posthoorn and had fallen in. Leading was the Royal Brass Band, St Cecilia, Hamont. Behind came seven wreaths carried by two children each in single file. Next our Suffolk OCA Standard (Bury Branch) carried by Mr Derrick Johnson and our contingent, every old comrade regardless of service, able to march the distance! Stan Bullock was given the task of co-ordinating our efforts. Behind us was a party from the Territorial Army, Belgian Lancers.
We made it and our halt was commendable. Stan formed us into two extended ranks, making the most of our numbers with "D" Day veterans in front. Of these ten had been in Hamont on 20th September 1944 - Messrs. Doug Edis, Billy Edwards, John Fenn, Trevor Lewis, Lieut. John Perrett, George Rayson, Wally Rowe, Doug Russell, John Sear, Frank Varley. Once on parade, the VIPs took up their positions, the Royal Anglian Colour marched on and the national anthems of England and Belgium played.
The Colour was honoured and the parade inspected. Five speeches followed, translated to Dutch and English, commemorating the liberation of the region, specifically Hamont, by the Suffolk Regiment. An extract from one speech - "The admiration of the spirit of the English people and their general tolerance but also their steadfastness, firmness and resolve". And from Brigadier Bill Deller's speech - "The Regiment's pleasure at Hamont's splendid recognition of their liberation", and - "this will ensure that future generations with no knowledge of war in their own country will understand and appreciate why they are able to live in peace and freedom."
The Mayor and our President were called upon to unveil the plaque and the wreaths were individually placed, each carried by their two children and accompanied by the head of the organisation involved. Poppy wreaths were from the Suffolk Regiment, the Royal Anglian Regiment and the British Embassy.
Mr Trevor Lewis then recited the exhortation, the Last Post sounded, followed by the silence and Reveille. After a final speech of thanks to those who organised the parade, and all those who attended, the two national anthems were again played. The Colour marched off and the VIPs departed.
This concluded the parade and we were able to view the plaque and the wreaths as we made our way back to De Posthoorn for the reception and supper.
They Were There at Hamont, 20th September, 1944
L to R: Wally Rowe, Lieut John Perrett, Trevor Lewis, John Sears, Billy Edwards, Frank Varley, George Rayson John Fenn , Doug Russell and Doug Edis
Over a hundred assembled for the reception including all the VIPs and the representatives from the organisations on parade. Photographs, videos and interviews were recorded and it is hoped some of this material will come our way. We sat down at two large tables to enjoy an enormous two-course supper with wine and coffee. Speeches were exchanged and our President presented regimental ties to the Mayor, the Town Clerk and the Adjutant Major of Lancers as mementos of the occasion and tokens of honorary membership of the Regiment. This concluded a full and memorable day and we returned to Weert.
The president of the Grevenbroek Museum, Adriaan Claassen+ (r) and captain James Ashton, former conservator of RAF-Museum at Hendon - Londen.
21 september 2016
Mr. Cecil Deller visited the museum