On 12 September 1944, First Canadian Army received orders to clear the areas north and south of the Scheldt so that the port of Antwerp could be open to Allied shipping. The 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Divisions were at that moment clearing the Channel ports of Boulogne and Calais. The 4th Armour Division had the task of containing German forces on the south bank of the Scheldt, roughly delineated by the Leopold Canal running from the North Sea west of the town of Knocke to the Braakman estuary west of Antwerp. The area was known as the Breskens Pocket.
On 2 October, the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade led by the Canadian Scottish Regiment and the Regina Rifle Regiment assaulted over the Leopold Canal. The attack started at 0630 hours and by 0640 hours, sappers of the 16th Field Company had laid a kapok bridge in front of the Canadian Scottish lines. In a strange twist of fate, the first men to cross the bridge were four German soldiers wanting to surrender. This act did in no way foretell the intensity of the battle that would follow over the next three days. While most of the infantry were able to use assault boats during the first night of the battle and a Class 12 raft had also been built, the one kapok bridge was the only reliable crossing during that time. The infantry on the far bank withstood counter-attacks and artillery fire for days with no armoured support. Resupply and casualty evacuation relied heavily on maintaining the bridge.
Carl Oscar Overby was born in Reeder, North Dakota to Norwegian immigrant parents, Otto and Ragna. His family soon moved to Watson, SK and then to Harperville, MB when he was three years old where his family farmed. He completed Grade VII at age fifteen and a few years later started working as a carpenter when he could.
Oscar joined the Canadian Army in June 1940 at Number 10 Depot in Winnipeg, MB. He was initially assigned to the artillery but by July he was in at the Engineer Training Centre in Camp Petawawa, ON and by March 1941 and by May of that year in the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Engineers and where he qualified as Carpenter Group B in October. What followed would have been a series of individual and unit training activities as he awaited transfer to an active field company. He received a good conduct badge in June 1942. He was appointed Lance Corporal in April 1944 and qualified as Carpenter Group C. He was sent to Normandy as a reinforcement and joined the 16th Field Company during the Battle of Caen on 14 July 1944. He was promoted to Corporal in January 1945 and appointed Lance Sergeant in February.
By the spring of 1945, the 16th Field Company in support of the 3rd Canadian Division was in Germany in the area of Emmerich on the Rhine River. Their task was the final clearance of German Forces from Northeastern Holland. For the Engineers, that involved large mobility tasks including bridging and route repair by Army Troops engineers and Divisional Engineers continued to provide close support to the infantry brigades moving north through Holland towards the North Sea. During the night of 1 April 1945, while supporting infantry at the front, Lance Sergeant Carl Oscar Overby and Sapper Maurice Clouâtre were killed. Interestingly, his official record records him as still being a United States citizen although he had spent almost all of his life in Canada. The two soldiers are buried in the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery near Nijmegen in Holland.
See also: A/Cpl George Roy Wilson, MM
At the Leopold Canal on 9 October 1944, Lance-Corporal Overby was a member of the crew detailed to maintain the Kapok bridge which was to be used for the crossing of troops and material required to reinforce and supply the 1st Canadian Scottish Battalion in their very shallow bridgehead. Very heavy concentrations of German mortar and shell fire severed the decking panels of the bridge which commenced to drift apart. Without hesitation Lance-Corporal Overby and Corporal Wilson ran to the middle of the bridge, stopped it from drifting, and under the most intense shelling, effected the necessary repairs.
The unflinching devotion to duty of both these Non-Commissioned Officers at this crucial period not only heartened the troops to cross the canal but ensured the continuous crossing of personnel and stores, and thus the complete success of the battalion operations.