#Story - Belgium

The Polar Bears liberate Rijkevorsel

By the end of September 1944, the Allies had liberated much of Belgium. But in the north of the country, German troops still held out for a while. They dug in behind the Dessel-Turnhout-Schoten canal. This put Rijkevorsel right on the front line.

The liberation of the region began on the night of 24-25 September at the Sint-Jozef Rijkevorsel lock. That night it was pitch dark and raining cats and dogs. The British 49th Infantry Division - nicknamed the Polar Bears ¬- was able to cross the canal undetected thanks to the bad weather.

The German soldiers on the northern canal bank were taken completely by surprise. 90 of them were taken prisoner of war in the early morning of 25 September. But the German troops reorganised and launched a counterattack. The fighting in the centre of Rijkevorsel was fierce. 17 civilians, 53 Polar Bears and one Canadian were killed and the church of Rijkevorsel went up in flames. After several days of fighting, Rijkevorsel was liberated and Allied troops advanced towards Merksplas and Beerse.

Polar Bears

The soldiers of the British 49th Infantry Division wore a distinctive badge: a stylised polar bear on an ice floe. The division was therefore nicknamed Polar Bears. The emblem referred to its stationing in Iceland early in World War II. The Polar Bears played an important role in the liberation of the North Kempen.

The Plum Bridge of Saint Joseph

www.rijkevorsel.be, www.kempen.be

Cycling routes

Tourism Province of Antwerp has created liberation routes along the cycle junction network. Cycle and walk past the places where it all happened, for example monuments, military cemeteries and crash sites. For the liberation routes, go to fietsroutes.provincieantwerpen.be