Belgium’s King and Queen were present at Terneuzen in the Dutch province of Zeeland yesterday to take part in the commemoration of the Battle of the Scheldt, which started 75 years ago.
The battle was led by the First Canadian Army supported by British and Polish troops as well as Dutch and Belgian forces. Their aim was to clear the German army from the banks of the river Scheldt, to allow access to the port of Antwerp, to supply the city and Allied troops in the interior. The fighting lasted until November 1944 when it was ultimately successful, though with the loss of 13,000 men.
Heading the commemorations was the Dutch King Willem-Alexander, joined by prime minister Mark Rutte. The celebrations included concerts, speeches and a mobile exhibition on the history of military engineering. The battle had included the deliberate flooding by the Allies of the island of Walcheren, which was help by the Germans allowing them to control the entry to the Scheldt estuary. After the battle was over, the clean-up of the island had to begin.
King Philippe, accompanied by Queen Mathilde, paid tribute to veterans of the battle, including a French paratrooper and the grandson of a British pilot. The Belgian navy frigate Louise Marie took part in a sail-by of 12 naval vessels on the river. A new monument was unveiled, and King Willem-Alexander rang the bell-buoy that had been used at the time to signal that the heavily-mined water was now safe for the passage of supply ships.
Prime minister Rutte, in his speech, paid tribute to the various Allied nations who had taken part in the battle for the liberation of the Netherlands. “I wonder if we realise fully how exceptional it is to live in a country where there has been no war and no threat of war for 75 years,” he said.