Inside Afghanistan: Life and the art of the barter

From the Legion Magazine.

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Inside Afghanistan: Life and the art of the barter

Inside Afghanistan: Life and the art of the barter

Story and photography by Stephen J. Thorne

Over the course of three Canadian army tours in their parched and war-ravaged homeland, Alex Watson came to know and respect the long-suffering Afghan people for their courage, resilience, devotion and unfailing courtesy. As a CiMiC (civilian-military co-operation) officer and later as a company commander attached to an Afghan National Army battalion, Watson became intimately acquainted with the citizens and culture Canadian troops were sent to protect.


2019 Wall Calendars
Juno Beach Centre launches dog tag campaign

Juno Beach Centre launches dog tag campaign

The Juno Beach Centre in Courseulles-sur-Mer, France, has launched a fundraising campaign featuring dog tags to commemorate the 5,500 Canadians killed in action during the Battle of Normandy in 1944. The money will support commemoration and educational activities as the centre marks the 75th anniversary of the landing in 2019.


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October 31, 1944
Clearing the Scheldt

Overnight on Oct. 31, 1944, Canadian troops fought to establish a foothold on Walcheren Island, the last obstacle to opening the port of Antwerp, Belgium, to Allied shipping.

The Allied invasion moved so quickly that by September, supplies had become a problem. What could be delivered through Allied-held ports or by air was insufficient to support an invasion of Germany.

Antwerp, about 100 kilometres inland on the Scheldt River, was in Allied hands and could handle 1,000 ships at a time, but the Germans commanded the river approaches in the Netherlands. The First Canadian Army was tasked with liberating the Scheldt, supported by British and Polish troops.

The gruelling campaign began on Oct. 2 to clear the Breskens Pocket and Leopold Canal and secure the islands on the river delta. At month’s end, the final task was to capture Walcheren Island, accessible only over a long and well-defended causeway where an anti-tank gun fired at troops trying to cross on foot.

In the late evening of Oct. 31, the Black Watch and Calgary Highlanders tried to cross, but were driven back with heavy casualties. In their second foray, the Highlanders inched across, overtook a German roadblock and established a bridgehead.

Troops fanned out from the foothold. When all officers of one company were killed or wounded, staff officer Major George Hees (later Minister of Veterans Affairs) volunteered to take over, staying in place even after being wounded in the arm. “It took a lot of guts for a guy who had never been in action to go into a hell-hole like that one,” the Highlanders’ commander Lieutenant-Colonel Ross Ellis said later.

Sergeant Emile Laloge earned the Distinguished Conduct Medal for picking up German grenades and throwing them back and taking over weapons of wounded and dead comrades and turning them on the enemy.

When two Le Régiment de Maisonneuve platoons took over the bridgehead, “It was like entering a giant blast furnace stoked with fireworks,” wrote one commander quoted on Zigzagging forward, his platoon came under fire of a 20-millimetre gun and took shelter in a ditch, where “we shivered from cold and exhaustion, in waist-deep water.” Private J.C. Carrière earned the Military Medal by taking out the gun with an infantry anti-tank weapon.

Learning that no relief would come, the platoon had to retreat. “It was…every man for himself…in broad daylight, along the railroad bank from which the enemy could lob grenades and snipers, across the open field, had a clear view of moving targets,” wrote the commander.

Continuous fierce fighting put the island into Allied hands on Nov. 8. Antwerp opened to Allied shipping on Nov. 28, after clearing of obstacles and booby traps left by the Germans.



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