Submitted by: Bob Wright, The Linc Well Bugle
The connection between the Regiment and Bergen op Zoom is easier to understand this year. In May, members of this generation of Lincs participated in the re-interment of Private Albert Laubenstein at the Canadian War Cemetery at Bergen op Zoom. To the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, Bergen op Zoom is more than a World War II battle. It is more than a grateful city in the Netherlands liberated by the Regiment, and it is even more than the immaculately-kept cemetery where almost 1,000 Canadians, including Private Laubanstein, rest.
To understand what Bergen op Zoom means to the Regiment, you have to remember their challenges and sacrifices during World War II. When the Regiment moved into Bergen op Zoom on the evening of 27 October 1944, they had been continuously in combat for 88 days. 153 of their closest friends, many of whom had been with them since 1939 or 1940, were dead. 580 more had been wounded or were now prisoners of war.
It had been a very long road to war for The Lincoln and Welland Regiment and prolonged assignments in Camp Niagara, Nanaimo, Newfoundland, and England were not what the young men had signed up for. When the Regiment came ashore in Normandy on D-Day +50, there were no longer any delusions of what awaited them; how-ever, the challenges and losses in the fall of 1944 were devastating by any measure.
The fighting in the days leading up to 27 October remained intense. Major Jim Dandy called 24 October the “worst day of his life”; a telling comment from a man almost killed at the peak of fighting at Kapelsche Veer. The roads leading to Bergen op Zoom were a parking lot of destroyed allied armour. However, on the night of the 27th, the Regiment exploited an opportunity and moved into Bergen op Zoom virtually unopposed. The troops were highly motivated by the icy rain and the opportunity to get inside and were welcomed with open arms.
Things continued to go well for the Regiment on the 28th, including their unlimited supply of alcohol. Captain Owen Lambert led a patrol of 12 men into the industrial part of the city. The patrol ultimately turned into an intense firefight, with the patrol becoming trapped in a stove factory. The patrol famously held out for 16 hours until support arrived, after Sergeant Charles Kipp slipped through the German lines and swam the canal to get help. Newspapers carried the story of the “13 Lost Men” and Lambert would receive the Military Cross for his actions. According to Lambert’s family, the highlight of Bergen op Zoom for Lambert was not the patrol, the soirée into the distillery, or any of the parties; it was a woman named “Kitty”, one of many romances that started in Bergen op Zoom.
The next few days included a Halloween party, good food, the adulation of a grateful population and roofs over the heads of very tired men. How-ever, the days in Bergen op Zoom were not without loss. Twenty-two year old Private Bill Roscoe, one of the originals from mobilization, who grew up at 96 Eastchester in St. Catharines, was killed by a sniper. He was one of 9 Lincs to die in Bergen op Zoom.
Bergen op Zoom was what these young men had signed up for and had sacrificed so much for. They liberated a city, freed some very grateful people, and were able to share the victory with them. It is not the only city they liberated or success they enjoyed, but it’s a shared memory between soldiers that has been fondly and proudly passed on to other generations of Lincs. The Regiment went back into action on 02 November and continued to fight until 05 May 1945. Along the way they would suffer the highest casualty rate in the 10th Canadian Infantry Brigade, sustaining more than 1,500, including over 350 fatalities.
This fall, The Lincoln and Welland Regiment Association once again hon-ours Bergen op Zoom an impressive 71 years after the liberation. That special day is one for all of us to remember that generation of Lincs from October 1944 when they enjoyed success in the midst of such sacrifice, not for themselves, but for their country.