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Missing soldier reburied 55 years after death in Dutch meadow
Costly Battle of Kapelle Crossing back in the news
Tags: World War II
HARRIETSVILLE, Ontario - Most Dutchmen in their occupied territory at the time were unaware that Allied troops in the bitterly cold winter of 1944/5 for two months tried to dislodge a tenaciously held, German bridgehead on the south banks of a branch of the river Meuse. The conflict - very costly in casualties, especially for Allies - entered WWII history books as The Battle of the Kapelle Crossing (Kapelse Veer). It recently turned into a battle of wills between a Canadian Regiment and the department of Veteran Affairs, over attendance at a reburial of the remains of a January 1945 Canadian casualty. In the meantime, the mystery of Victor Howey's disappearance finally has been solved.
Several of Howey's relatives from Harrietsville, a rural community near the southwestern Ontario town of Aylmer, along with a party of 28 soldiers of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, attended the reburial in the Netherlands. The Canadian government refused to send a full honour guard to the Netherlands, leaving it up to a private foundation to fund the trip for 22 members of the regiment. The family members, a nephew and his two children, paid their own way.
Howey was killed during a January 26, 1945 Allied attempt to take the bridgehead and his body was left behind when Allied troops once more were forced to retreat. Before the Allies could trace their casualties, Dutch civilians already had buried the remains. With Dutch efforts currently in full swing to strengthen the dikes along the Bergen Meuse near Kapelle, excavators unearthed the remains of several soldiers, mostly German.
The Kapelle bridgehead, two ferry attendants' houses and trenches on the dike, allowed the Germans to firmly control the area from the elevated, nigh impenetrable position. The Allies were stymied in all their motorized attacks on the crossing. Attempts to outflank the Germans by moving in along the dike also proved fruitless. Several days after Howey died, a risky night-time attack by soldiers in canoes finally had success. However, the victory was bittersweet because by then the Germans - weakened by the repeated attacks - already had abandoned their stronghold shortly before.
Among the Allied casualties were many men from the southwest Ontario regiment along with British, American, and many Polish soldiers. After the Germans had capitulated in May 1945, it appeared from debriefings that German commander Student only was using the bridgehead to baptise elite units - they were regularly replaced with fresh soldiers - with enemy fire experience. Among soldiers of the Canadian regiments, the Kapelle battle long was a controversial issue. The bridgehead had no strategic value to the Allies but it did waste hundreds of lives, including Howey's.