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The Walcheren Failure, Part II

Widespread fever followed military sloth, writes Antony Brett-James, and the fiasco on Walcheren brought down the tottering British Government.

Those who went into flushing were appalled by the damage. Nearly every house had been hit, 247 were uninhabitable, and forty-nine utterly ruined. A dozen warehouses had been wrecked in the bombardment. Two churches, the Oostkerk and the Franschekerk, had been badly hit, and one of them burnt to the ground; the other would have done the same but for the firefighting efforts of its parishioners.

The Town Hall, with pictures, relics of Dutch naval heroes, and a fine library, had been gutted, only the outer walls remaining. After Captain Neil Douglas of the Cameron Highlanders had made his way into the town on August 16th, he noted: “Some entire streets were destroyed and the Houses having fallen inwards and being blackened with the Smoak looked like a place that had long been in Ruins.”

People told of shot dancing like hail in the streets, of tiles and glass rattling down, of women and children sheltering in cellars. An Englishman named Freeman had lost his wife and son when a shell burst in his cellar, also injuring his grandchild and the wife of a French officer billeted on him. Another man’s wife had gone raving mad after shells had torn through her house.

In a billiard room near the beach half a dozen large shot that had crashed inside from the naval bombardment had been piled as a curiosity, while in one room of a cheesemonger’s house no less than four holes had been made, one ball ripping through an old-fashioned clock and another smashing a fine oak table.

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