The Royal Dutch Canadian Signal Company (Royal Canadian Signals Quarterly December 1951)

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The following article was published in the Royal Canadian Signals Quarterly December 1951.

The Royal Dutch Canadian Signal Company

An International Signal Unit That Helped To Win the War

By Lt-Col H.B. Dean, OBE, ED

Somewhere in the War Diary of the Chief Signal Officer's Branch of headquarters First Canadian Army will be found reference to the organization and accomplishments of the Royal Dutch Canadian Signal Company. A brief account, written from memory, of this unofficial unit may be of interest to signals readers.

In October, 1944, units of the First Canadian Army pushed forward into Netherlands Territory. Some time previously a request had been sent to the SHAEF Mission to the Netherlands, for the provision of a Netherlands PTT (the European post-telegraph-telephone organization) liaison officer. SHAEF agreed to provide this officer when it was possible to secure one through the liberation of the city of Breda. The Polish Armoured Division accomplished this task on October 29th. On that date Captain Hoftsmuller, DSO, who had distinguished himself as commander of a Netherlands destroyer fighting in the Royal Navy, selected Lieutenant C.J. Van Katwijk, a PTT official who had been an officer in the Netherlands Army. Van Katwijk performed valuable service with the CSO's Branch until the end of the war. There was little ceremony in his selection. He was taken from a group of men who were fighting the fire in the burning telephone exchange, sent home for his uniform, and within an hour he was on his way to Headquarters First Canadian Army.

Lt. Van Katwijk organized parties of PTT employees to assist First Canadian Army Signals in restoring sufficient civilian telephone facilities to meet the operational requirements of the Army and 85 Group, RAF. There were quite a few base and L of C troops in the Army Area, so locality exchanges were established at Roosendaal, Breda, Turnhout, Tilburg, Hertogenbosch and Nijmegen.

After the Rhine crossing on March 24th, Brigadier Bartlett, CSO of 30 (British) Corps, was carrying out a reconnaissance in the vicinity of Enschede. He was accompanied by two PTT employees. They had the misfortune to drive into a village which had not yet been cleared, and all three were captured. The two civilians were handed over to the Dutch SS who promptly shot them. One was killed but the other, although shot in the throat, feigned death and eventually made his way to safety. Brig. Bartlett was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in western Holland.

It seemed only fair that if PTT personnel were going to be employed by military formations they should be given military status. Accordingly a letter was sent by the CSO First Canadian Army, Brig. J.E. Genet, CBE, MC, through the proper channels to SHAEF Mission to the Netherlands, requesting authority to organize a Dutch Signal Company to be attached to First Canadian Army Signals. Anticipating a favourable reply from SHAEF, it was decided to form a company of approximately sixty, consisting of seven cable splicing teams (the number was limited by the quantity of kits available) and the balance central office technicians and a few essential administrative personnel.

There was no trouble securing recruits - - the main difficulty was keeping the establishment down to the proposed numbers. The company was outfitted and looked after very capably by First Canadian Army Signals, commanded by Lt-Col K.G. McCullagh, OBE. Apart from a sense of duty, the prospect of good food regularly supplied was the principal attraction. The men served throughout liberated Holland and relieved, to a certain extent, the heavy load being borne by the Canadian unit.

After the fighting ceased on May 8th, 1945, the PTT started to press for the return of the men to their civilian status. As this meant the return to meagre civilian rations, the men were by no means enthusiastic. Brig. Genet solved the problem by arranging a final parade of the unit at which he thanked the men for their services and announced the dissolution of the unit.

I do not know if authority from SHAEF for the organization of the unit was ever received. Certainly it had not arrived by the time the Royal Dutch Canadian Signal Company had done its valuable work and had been disbanded at the end of hostilities.