Fusiliers' finest hour

Hefin Hughes reports

"IT STICKS in my mind, after all these years, the sight of the Dutch inhabitants, close to starvation, slicing pieces of meat off horses killed in the bombardment."
Darrel Jones, a pay sergeant for D Troop, 381 Battery, Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1944, was pensive as he recounted memories of one of the regiment's most brilliant engagements.
"It's odd that Arnhem, a spectacular military failure, is almost a household word but other vastly more successful battles remain largely forgotten - except by those who were there," said Darrel, 78, of Bryn Marl Road, Mochdre.
Darrel served at 's-Hertogenbosch, a town in south western Holland, the scene of a fierce three-day battle which began on October 24, 50 years ago.
Last week, the Dutch town was the scene of an emotional reunion of surviving veterans of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, including Mr Jones.
"There was no fluke, no enemy blunders, no quick capitulation," he said of the fierce resistance put up by the Germans.
"The town was heavily defended by about 12.000 of the enemy, including four battalions of the experienced German 712th division with tanks and self-propelled guns. They fought tooth and nail for every street."
Mr Jones, who has been treasurer to the Royal British Legion Club, Colwyn Bay, for 41 years, joined up in July, 1940, but did not see close action until June, 1944. From then on, he saw little else.
"I saw the city of Caen in Normandy literally reduced to rubble. Over the next couple of months, we fought our way east and saw the terrible slaughter of some of the best elements of the German Army in the notorious 'Falaise Pocket'.
"My unit, which was part of a Welsh light anti-aircraft regiment, had little respite until the failure of the Arnhem mission, Operation Market Garden, in September," he said.
Then came what many regard as the Royal Welsh Fusiliers' finest hour.
The port of Antwerp had fallen to the 2nd Canadian Corps and it was essential for the security of their northern flank that 's-Hertogenbosch be taken.
Sergeant Jones - 'twenty seven' (his last two numbers) to his friends - was stationed in a makeshift HQ a couple of hundred yards from the battle.
"Our troop's Bofors 40mm AA guns were being used low trajectory as light artillery," he recalled.
"Our HQ had quite a few near misses - we never knew what to expect. A lot of the action took place in the dark and there was a great deal of confusion, but by the morning of the 27th, it seemed to be all over barring the mopping up.
"Captain Donald Lever and my close friend, Troop Sergeant Major Syd Affleck, went to gather information and round up prisoners.
"At noon, just as the town was finally liberated, we heard that both had been killed by Spandau machine gun fire.
"It was a terrible blow," recalled Darrel, who was with the detail that carried his comrades' bodies to Oss cemetery.
"I later had the sad task of taking Captain Lever's personal effects to his mother and father," he added.
Back at home in Mochdre after last week's reunion, Darrel admitted he was "overwhelmed" by the rapturous welcome given to the veterans by the Dutch.
"Each town virtually adopts the units that liberated them. Nothing was too good for us," he said.
"When we protested at the kindness, they said we could never imagine the horror of occupation or the joy of liberation.
"The crowd waiting for the procession was six deep on both sides of the road, flowers were pressed on us from all sides and we were constantly stopped for our autographs.
"Their generosity was truly moving."
Joining the veterans in Holland were serving troops of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, Royal Welch Fusiliers.
They included Lieutenant Phill Houghton, 28, of Glan Conwy and Sgt Garry Donnelly, 27, of Llandudno.
Side-by-side, the veterans and their modern counterparts watched in hushed silence as the Fusiliers memorial was unveiled to commemorate those who fell in the battle.
It stands on the spot where, 50 years ago, the men of the 1/5th Royal Welch Fusiliers forced the Germans from their last line of defence on the western edge of the town.

North Wales Weekly News, thursday 10 november 1994