by Bill McVean and Ken Holmes
We were pleased to recently receive a report from Bill McVean on his activities during the Battle of Arnhem Commemorations in September 2015. Bill McVean is a keen student of the WW II Arnhem battle and the part played by 23rd Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) in the 25/26 September 1944 evacuation of Allied paratroops at night and under heavy fire after Operation MARKET GARDEN.
There were several additional events this year relating to the Engineer aspects of this battle that added to the commemoration. Earlier this year the two surviving veterans of the 23rd Field Company, RCE at Arnhem, Gerry Gaudet and Don Somerville were awarded the Legion of Honour by the French Government for their work in the liberation of France. In addition, a suitable new home was found for another of the 1943 Evinrude 50 Horsepower outboard motors that propelled the Canadian Storm Boats that night during WW II on the Rhine River.
Operation MARKET GARDEN
It was some three and a half months since the Allied advance across Northwest Europe had begun with the Normandy Invasion. Starting on 17 September 1944 and over three days 10, 000 airborne troops of the British 1st Airborne Division landed on the north side of the Rhine River near Arnhem and Oosterbeek in The Netherlands with the objective of capturing the major road bridge over the Rhine River at Arnhem. With the bridge in Allied hands the British Army lead by the tanks of XXX Corps would be able to race into Germany ending the war by Christmas…..or so it was hoped.
The Battle of Arnhem/Oosterbeek was a terrible British defeat. At the conclusion of the battle with the majority of the division captured or killed only 2400 of the 10,000 airborne troops were eventually able to escape across the Rhine River to safety. The evacuation operation was code-named Operation BERLIN and was carried out by two Royal Engineer Field Companies ( 260th and 553rd Field Companies) and two Royal Canadian Engineer Companies ( 20th and 23rd Field Companies). Because of their assigned position opposite the bulk of the evacuees and because their equipment consisted of 20-foot Storm Boats powered by large outboard motors, the 23rd Field Company, RCE rescued over 90% of the evacuees.
Battle of Arnhem Commemorations September 2015
Although not attended by the same numbers as last year's 70th anniversary, the annual September Commemorations of the Battle of Arnhem still attracted thousands of people to the Saturday Parachute Drop at Ginkel Heath and the Sunday Memorial Service at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Oosterbeek.
The annual Saturday afternoon Service at the Engineers Memorial attracted hundreds of people. There is a growing interest and appreciation for what was accomplished in Operation BERLIN, the evacuation of the British 1st Airborne from Oosterbeek. Near Driel at the location where 23rd Field Company had carried their Storm Boats and Evinrude outboard motors up and over the twenty-foot high flood wall on their way to the Rhine, stands the Engineers' Memorial.
Bill has been trying to acquire significant artefacts of these Storm Boats and their outboard motors to help perpetuate the memory of this notable event in the history of the Royal Canadian Engineers.
As the Storm Boat, itself, was manufactured of wood and plywood, it is highly unlikely that any complete boat remains. The search for plans or any clue to the building of storm boats is an ongoing story. Researchers in the UK and Canada have only found one company in Britain that built the Storm Boats. This company only built equipment for the war effort but no related records appear to have survived. In Canada, during the war, many Bailey Bridge pontoons were built in Ontario at Penatang and Orillia. The pontoon involved similar construction to the Storm Boat and there is hope that some Storm Boats may have been built Canada. But any such documentation remains elusive.
The 1943 Evinrude 50 Horsepower outboard Model 8008 was used to power the Canadians storm boats that night on the Rhine. Based on a commercial item, it was very powerful at its time. Bill has had much better success in his search for the outboard motor. One of these motors of the exact make, model, and year will soon go on display at the National Liberation Museum in Groesbeek (about 25 km south of Arnhem). The Evinrude will be part of an exhibit about the Polish troops at Arnhem who were part of the British 1st Airborne Division. This is the third of the storm boat motors acquired by Bill McVean. The other motors are on display in the Canadian Military Museum at CFB Gagetown in Oromocto, NB and in the 2 Combat Engineer Regimental Headquarters building, the Neder Rhine Building, in CFB Petawawa, ON.