Pays-Bas / Monument

The final battle, heavy losses




The last serious battle of the Queens Own Rifles of Canada took place on 16 April 1945 near Wons and Hayum. Nowhere in Friesland did the Canadians lose so many people at once. A monument in Wons and a plaque in Sneek recall the sacrifices made by this infantry unit.

By 16 April 1945, large parts of Friesland had been liberated. In the western and south-western parts of the province, that was not yet the case. Several thousand German soldiers had gathered in the Frisian port towns and around the Afsluitdijk. They were trying to make the crossing to North Holland, which was still firmly in German hands. 

The Canadians wanted to prevent the Germans from increasing their numbers further in North Holland. Partly for this reason, they launched an attack on the head of the Afsluitdijk on 16 April. The infantry of Queens Own Rifles of Canada was one of the units involved. On 16 April, they set off from Bolsward towards the Afsluitdijk, supported by tanks from the Sherbrooke Fusiliers.  

In the open Frisian landscape, the Canadians on the road were very visible and thus vulnerable. Just before a bridge near Hayum, the Germans opened fire. Canadian Orville Cook was in one of the front vehicles. He wrote the following about what happened next: 

"I first sat on the right, but later went to the left compartment of our carrier. That was my luck. In the battle with the Germans that followed, I was the only one who was not hit. They let us come a long way and landed three shots. Smoke was coming out of the right compartment of my carrier. I jumped out and ran to the other side to get the sergeant out and how I managed that, I don't remember. I laid him on the road. The driver was the next one I took out and laid down on the road. I gave them both morphine and gave them a cigarette.  

The sergeant said: go back and tell A company where the fire is and make sure they get those jerry (German) bastards for this one. The soldiers in the forward carrier were dead instantly." 
The Germans had several pieces of anti-aircraft artillery concealed on the west side of the bridge. The lightly armoured carriers were no match for the 20 mm. and 40 mm. shells. In the forward vehicle, Alexander Cockburn, Walter Leslie Jackson, Gordon William Ouderkirk, Harry Horace Pennell and Walter Samuel White were killed. Furthermore, on the Canadian side, several people were also injured, including the men in Orville Cook's vehicle. 

Almost immediately after it became clear where the German artillery was positioned, the Queens of Own Rifles, together with some tanks of the Sherbrooke Fusiliers, finally quashed the German resistance. The remaining defenders eventually surrendered.   

The battles near Wons and Pingjum would be the last places where soldiers of the Queens Own Rifles of Canada died. It was therefore the explicit wish of the veterans to place their monument in Wons. On this Honour Roll are the names of their comrades who lost their lives from D-Day to liberation.