Canadian historians of the Second World War have long been interested in a strategic debate that has waged since 1944: should the Allies have exploited the success of the capture of Antwerp, then the largest port in Northwest Europe, by clearing its western approaches; or should they have sought to “leap” the German defenses along the Rhine, in the ill-fated Operation “Market Garden.”
All Canadian writers on the issue are agreed that the decision to go ahead with “Market Garden” held important consequences for the soldiers of First Canadian Army. As British and American forces turned northeast of Antwerp in the first weeks of September, the Canadians, already committed to opening the Channel ports, were given the additional task of clearing the approaches to the city—the shores of the Scheldt estuary.
The intense fighting in the areas surrounding Antwerp through September and October 1944 reflected the importance the Germans gave to denying the Allies use of the port. Victory in the Battle of the Scheldt, fought from 1 October to 8 November 1944, came at a cost of 6,367 Canadians killed, wounded, or missing.
Many of those killed through this time rest at the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery just east of the city of Bergen-op-Zoom in West Brabant. Any Canadian visitor to the site must be struck by the care still given to each white grave. For fifty years, local citizens of the ancient walled city have tended the graves with extraordinary care. They have not forgotten their Canadian liberators, for their fates were bound together by the same strategic decisions. Indeed, for the people of Bergen-op-Zoom and the surrounding countryside, the months of September and October 1944 were marked by elation, despair, tragedy, courage-and finally triumph through liberation. The liberation seemed long in coming, for despite being only some 25 kilometres north of Antwerp, which fell on 4 September, the city’s Canadian liberators did not occupy its centrum until 27 October 1944. What follows is the story of the liberation of West Brabant from both a Canadian and Dutch perspective. It seeks ultimately to examine how the circumstances of war so strongly bound the Dutch citizens of West Brabant to their Canadian liberators.
Hayes, Geoffrey "“Where are our Liberators?”: The Canadian Liberation of West Brabant, 1944." Canadian Military History 4, 1 (1995)