|Posted on February 20, 2017 at 6:25 AM|
Retired RAF Squadron Leader Chris Perkins MVO, from Kempshott, is himself a member of the Probus Club of Basingstoke the social organisation for retired professional and business managers. He gave a presentation to members about his recent activity tracing his old squadron's role in supporting the Allied Forces in their campaign to free Belgium and Holland from German occupation during WW2.
Based for many years at RAF Odiham, 33 Squadron is today more familiar to the residents of Basingstoke for flying the Puma troop carrying helicopter and Chinooks from other squadrons based at this station. However, during the Second World War it operated the Supermarine Spitfire in the ground attack role in the support of the army.
In the course of following the fortunes of both air and ground crews in their journey from the Normandy landings, Chris has uncovered an incredible story regarding a battle, almost completely overshadowed by the tragic events occurring at that time at Arnhem.
The Battle of the Scheldt was a military operation in northern Belgium and the south western Netherlands to secure the port of Antwerp, essential for allied re-supply use. The First Canadian Army was given the task of clearing the Scheldt area of German occupiers. Believing the retreating troops to be demoralised and lacking in fight, the initial attacks in September proved otherwise. Hitler had told every member of his forces dug in around the Scheldt estuary that they had to defend their positions to the last man and bullet. Their families would be held as retribution if they failed to do so.
Under the command of General Crerar, the First Canadian Army was international in character. In addition to Canadian infantry and armoured troops, it included the 1st British Corps, and the 1st Polish Armoured Division. At various times it also included American, Belgian, and Dutch units. The First Canadian Army in north western Europe during the final phases of the war was a powerful force, the largest army that had ever been under the control of a Canadian general. The strength of this army ranged from approximately 105,000 to 175,000 Canadian soldiers to anywhere from 200,000 to over 450,000 when including the soldiers from other nations. It was totally volunteer in nature.
The enemy opened the sea locks and flooded the whole countryside making what some historians considered to have been the most difficult battlefield of the Second World War. With flooded and muddy terrain and the tenacity of the well-fortified German defences made the Battle of the Scheldt especially gruelling and bloody. At the end of the five week offensive, the victorious First Canadian Army had taken 41,043 prisoners, but suffered 12,873 casualties (killed, wounded, or missing), 6,367 of whom were Canadians.
And what of 33 Squadron from RAF Odiham? At that time it was also an international unit and consisted of many volunteer pilots from around the world. The Spitfires were used to support the ground troops by attacking enemy positions. Unfortunately many pilots lost their lives. Chris located a number of these brave young airmen now resting in remote cemeteries. Two graves were for 22 years old New Zealander Warrant Officer George James Roney and that of Flt Lt Godfrey Argument a 23 years old Canadian.
WO George Roney took off at 15.00 on 6th October 1944 as part of a three Spitfire armed reconnaissance sortie. Good weather favoured the German air defence batteries and all three aircraft were shot down after encountering heavy flak. George went down with his Spitfire near the hamlet of Schoondjke. On 9th October 1944 his family received a “Missing on air operations” telegram. His remains were not recovered until 9th June 1948 as were his personal possessions which included a “penny” or tin whistle which he brought with him from the other side of the world as his family all played musical instruments. On 12th June 1948 WO George Roney was given a proper burial in the local cemetery where he is the only Commonwealth War Grave and has been adopted by children from the local school.
The “penny” whistle is now on display in a war museum in the Zeeland area of Holland.
Flight Sergeant George Roney New Zealand Air Force Promoted to Warrent Officer back from a sortie
Grave of WO George Roney Killed In Action 6 October 1944 age 22