REMEMBRANCE: Old Sea Dog Richard returns to Walcheren for his comrades who never came home
- Credit: Archant
Old Sea Dog Richard Blyth has retraced his steps from 69 years ago when he was under fire during the Allied invasion of Holland.
He took a wreath of poppies with him last Thursday when he left his east London home in East Ham on his eighth remembrance trip for the comrades he lost in the Combined Operation in the Westerschelt Estuary to open Antwerp to Allied supplies.
It was the final push against Hitler’s Germany that led to victory and the end of the Second World War in Europe, he reminds you.
Richard, now 87, finds it difficult holding back tears when he remembers those comrades who didn’t make it.
“I survived and got married six years after the war ended,” Richard recalls. “I have a son and daughter, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
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“But many I served with didn’t make it. They didn’t have children and grandchildren like me because they made that final sacrifice.
“It was an honour to serve with them. That’s why I go back, as a homage. I carry a light for them.”
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Richard adjusted the poppy wreath on the living-room table of his first-floor flat in Flanders Road—a name reminiscent of battles of the earlier World War conflict—ready to take to Walcheren Island on the anniversary of the Westerschelt Estuary landings. He is now back to take part in this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony by the Royal British Legion.
But he feels the Royal Marines were never recognised for their vital role because of an earlier failure to capture Arnham in the push towards the Rhine.
“What the lads did never got the recognition for capturing Walcheren Island that they should have,” he says, wiping a tear from his eye.
“They took on the heavy German armaments that was way beyond our capabilities—but those marines stuck to it and got blown to bits.”
Richard, who was bombed out of his home in Canning Town during the Blitz four years earlier, now devotes his life to the memory of the comrades who fell at Walcheren in 1944.
“The Dutch people shake our hands, even those who weren’t born then,” he adds.
“Their gratitude goes down the years—70 years on, they still appreciate what we did.
“I feel proud about that, but sad when I think of those who never came back.”
The Walcheren landings were costly, but strategically speeded up Germany’s eventual collapse.
“That definitely shortened the war,” Richard insists. “The 300-mile supply line from Normandy was reduced after we destroyed the German batteries. I’m proud of that. It was a costly exercise, but necessary.”
The combined Army-Navy operation punched a big hole in Hitler’s heavily-garrisoned Atlantic Wall defences, followed by three weeks of mine-clearing in the Westerschelt Estuary that opened up the port of Antwerp to Allied military supplies for the final drive to the Rhine.
That operation in November, 1944, led to the collapse of Nazi Germany just five months later and the end of the Second World War in Europe.