Thursday, May 1, 2008

Image:Ltspkr.pngWalcheren is a former island in the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands at the mouth of the Scheldt estuary. It lies between the Oosterschelde in the north and the Westerschelde in the south and is roughly the shape of a rhombus. The two sides on the side of the North Sea consist of dunes; the rest of its coastline is made up of dykes. Middelburg ("Middleborough") lies at its centre; this city is the provincial capital and Vlissingen 9 km to the south is the main harbour. The third municipality is Veere.
Originally, Walcheren was an island, but polders and a dam across the Sloe strait have connected it to the (former) island of Zuid-Beveland, which in turn has been connected to the North Brabant mainland.

Already in Roman days, the island was the point of departure for ships going to England and it had a temple of the goddess Nehalennia who was popular with those who wished to brave the waters of the North Sea. The Romans called it "Wallacra". Walcheren was the seat of the Danish Viking Harald, who conquered the present Netherlands together with his compatriate Rorik (or Rurik) in the 9th century. One fringe theory has it that it was the island described by Ibn Rustah as the seat of the khagan of the Rus'.
Starting on July 30, 1809 a British armed force of 39,000 men landed on Walcheren, the Walcheren Campaign, with a view to assisting the Austrians in their war against Napoleon, and attacking the French fleet moored at Flushing (Vlissingen). The expedition was a disaster - the Austrians had already been defeated at the Battle of Wagram and were suing for peace, the French fleet had moved to Antwerp, and the British lost over 4,000 men to a disease called "Walcheren Fever", thought to be a combination of malaria and typhus. The force was withdrawn in December.
During World War II, the area was fought over in 1940 by Dutch and German troops. The area was again contested in 1944 during the Battle of the Scheldt in the Battle of Walcheren Island. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division cleared South Beveland to the east and approached the island on 31 October 1944. The plan was to cross the Slooe Channel, but leading troops of the 5th Canadian Brigade found that assault boats were useless in the deep much of the channel. The only route open was the 40 metre wide Walcheren Causeway, a mile-long land bridge from South Beveland to the Island. The Canadian Black Watch sent a company across on the evening of 31 October but were stopped. The Calgary Highlanders sent two companies over in succession, the second attack opening up a bridgehead on the island. The Highlanders were eventually thrown back, having lost 64 killed and wounded. Le Regiment de Maisonneuve relieved them on the causeway, followed by the Glasgow Highlanders of the British Army. Meanwhile, on November 1, 1944, the British Special Service Brigade landed on the western end of the island in order to silence the German coastal batteries looking out over the Scheldt, which was the key opening shipping lanes to Antwerp. The amphibious assault (Operation Infatuate) proved a success and by November 8 all German resistance on the island had been overrun.

No comments: