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Part Four - Through Germany


We crossed the Rhine and entered Germany. The first thing that struck me as we passed through the towns and villages was the impression of space and cleanliness of it imparted. At first (although it was obvious there was a war on) we didn’t see a great deal of damage in the countryside we travelled through. This altered, however, when, after travelling south for quite a distance we swung to the east and entered a much more populated area. This was the RHUR. We saw a tremendous amount of bomb damage or/and shell damage as we pushed through ESSEN, DORTMUND, then to HAMM.  

The road was a major one, an autobahn I think anyway. We had one overnight stop at a town I can’t remember the name of. This again was a clean spacious town with no slums anywhere. It seems the Germans must have had a high standard of living, in these parts anyway. We were now travelling north east and we finally arrived at our destination. It was a place called BAD-OYENHAUSEN which was situated not far from the towns of HERFORD, MINDEN and HANNOVER (all of which we visited later on).  

Our new regiment was the 176/146 H.A.A., however, I never saw another A.A. gun, it was indeed deployed exclusively for occupational police duty.  

We found BAD-OYENHAUSEN to be a most beautiful town, a Spa! There was no apparent evidence of war-damage at all and it was in fact what you would expect a Spa to be like, beautiful gardens, trees, clean, no slums, middle class looking houses etc. We were received by our new “Hosts” in a large building which was to be our billet until we had been “sorted out”. We were ushered into the main hall of this building where we joined other men from other units. We laid our kit on the floor and there were so many of us it was bloody cramped, this was where we were to live and sleep (thankfully for just a short time).  

The next morning, by which time we had got reasonably organised, we were “welcomed” by our new C/O and after the usual “bullshit”, about discipline etc, he finally arrived at telling us our role and why we were here. He told us that HERFORD and BAD-OYENHAUSEN had been chosen to be the base for A.G.H.Q. (Army Group Headquarters) and that we were here to assist in clearing large areas of the town for the latter purpose. Some areas had already been cleared and we would be billeted in selected “cleared” houses in a couple of days. He then gave us the “guff” about our relations with the German people. We were to be smartly turned out at all times. There was to be no fraternisation. We would at all times carry our rifles and be alert to danger etc etc!  

Most of the day after this we spent generally getting settled in and getting to know one another, it was very unsettling after leaving all your old mates, then overnight finding yourselves with complete strangers. Still, we were all in the same boat and at least we had the knowledge that JERRY was on the brink of defeat – that helped our moral.  

True to our new C/O’s word, the next day we were re-billeted in houses. Now this was OK, the houses were in a cleared residential area in a middle class district (well off I would say). There were two of us to each room and I was with a bloke who was a policeman in “real life” in Manchester. The houses were just as the owners had left them, carpets, utensils, everything, I suspect, except as much of the necessities of life that they could have loaded on to their hand carts etc before they were turfed out.  

We all had a look in the other houses in the street and they were all furnished beautifully, but then came the surprise. Most of the houses had basement rooms and without exception all of the basements were crammed full of goods that were not the normal volume of what a family would possess. They were just like small warehouses. Dinner services, tea services, trays, silver plate and other items too numerous to mention, all piled up almost to ceiling height. In our particular house there was a downstairs room which was locked, and being human and curious, we “unlocked” it!  

Inside it was crammed with paintings, cameras, several revolvers, and other objet d’art. Again, being human, we helped ourselves to a camera each and a couple of more “trinkets”. I bet there was thousands of pounds worth of loot in there, but who’s loot? Our first impression was that it was “war loot” from various countries the Germans had overrun, and that this town, being mainly composed of well off people, may also have had a high proportion of army officers. This led us to wondering if this was why this area had been chosen to be “cleared” for A.G.H.Q.? – we never did know. Later on we had another theory which I will explain later.                

New from  here on 29 September 2014:

In our “bed-sitter” there was even a record player and records! – we used to play it most nights and I still remember the tunes to this day. My new mate turned out to be quite a decent chap and that helped a lot.  

My first duty in this new role was one which I really hated every minute of and was thankful it covered only a short period, I think they “spread it around” a bit so you only had one period each.  

There was a large civic building (rather imposing) in the middle of the town, probably the town hall, set back slightly from the road with a long forecourt in front. The regiment had “collared” this building and were using it as R.H.Q. My name appeared on the Battery orders for guard duty. It was, however, no ordinary guard duty.  

It was a round the clock duty where the guard was mounted with full ceremony and also was changed with full ceremony. It was done in full view of the German people and the worst bit of all was that when you were doing your “stint” you had to slope arms every so often and march slowly back and forth, then non-stop stand easy, then repeat the process. Every time an officer walked by you had to present arms!, two bloody hours of this at a time, just to impress the Jerries.  

The first time I did my “stint” I felt like a right bloody twit. Bull-shitted up to the eyeballs, I eyed the German people as they walked by, I thanked my lucky stars that they didn’t stop and stare, but they kind of glanced at me and one or two said something to the other and a half grin floated across their faces; Boy was I glad when this phase was over. On reflection afterwards I often thought that really we were in a bit of a dangerous position. The war wasn’t over, people had been turned out of their homes and this was Germany. What if somebody (perhaps who had lost someone in the war) decided to have a “pot” at us, and then disappear? We were sitting targets after all, still thankfully that didn’t happen.  

My next period of duty was to help guard a large cleared housing area which was in blocks (like you get in England). We went about in pairs, for obvious reasons, and were allocated one block to each pair. We were to roam about and keep our eyes open for prowlers, looters, or anything that might arise of a more serious nature. Our “block” turned out to be nearly all detached houses of quality. This must have been a town of really well to do people.  

On our rounds we really did keep a sharp lookout, it was all quiet and peaceful and we did not see one German. That made us even more cautious. Most of the houses were easily entered and my mate and I did have a look inside a few of them (one went inside while the other kept watch). Again these houses were beautifully furnished with thick carpets and although the occupants had obviously taken as much with them as they could, you could move in and everything you would need was there.  

They were spotlessly clean and tidy. One house had a beautiful piano in the music room, with a piano light and music books still there. It was in a way rather pathetic. I even had a quiet play on this piano. We did not, however, see any “loot” (or whatever) in excess like we did in our billet houses.  

We carried on this particular duty for a few days more. At times it was “uncanny”, here we were in the middle of a large residential area, with large detached houses and well maintained gardens (the house had only just been “cleared”) and yet there was not a soul about except us. It was completely dead and quiet. However, this was from our point of view far better than that bullshit guard duty. I would add that all during this duty we had our rifles with us, loaded with the safety catch on, as we did in future assignments. This we were ordered to do.  

We were now in early May, and we heard that BREMEN was in British hands (about a week earlier) and that the area around LUBECK (near the Baltic Sea) was on the brink of capitulation. In other words, Germany was almost on the point of surrender. This was great news.  

The next day we were relieved of our present duty, which was immediately replaced with (for me anyway) a much more harrowing one. A lorry picked us up early morning and we were driven to the top of a hill on a main, tree-lined road leading out of the town, but still in the residential area. At a vantage point a road block was set up. This time there was quite a number of us, armed and ready. We were briefed as to what we were to do. We were told that other residential areas of the town had been cleared by our regiment and that the ex-residents of these areas were being “evacuated” from the town this very day.  

They would be taking with them only as much of their belongings as they could using whatever means were available to them. They would have no help from us. We were to search the carts, barrows, prams etc when they reached our road block and confiscate any item that they were forbidden to take, such as weapons, cameras etc.  

We were given a list of the items. We took up our positions and waited. Our sergeant, who was named BANKS, was a Geordie, and he was built like a tank, shortish but very broad and tough, with a voice to match. He was however, in my opinion, quite a decent sort of chap, his bark was worse than his bite. A few officers were hanging about, it was a beautiful sunny morning.  

Soon, coming slowly up the gentle slope of the hill they started coming, whole families of them, men, women and kids. Some were pushing hand-carts, some with bicycles, prams, some just carrying belongings. The carts etc were all loaded with as much as they could cram on them. It was to me one of the most pathetic sights I have ever seen. Some women seemed to be on the verge of tears. This was a refugee column in reverse, as seen so many times on cinema newsreels, in newspaper photographs, of the long columns of refugees from POLAND and other countries. Here was I, at this roadblock, doing it for real, only the refugees were Germans.  

How, I thought, could we search all these carts etc? How could we be thorough with a column of people that stretched almost out of sight down the road? Quite frankly we couldn’t! We had a quick look, went through the motions, and then passed them on. We didn’t see many signs of defiance or anger; they all seemed resigned to what they must do.  

The only real hatred I saw came from some youths who stood watching. They were obviously Hitler Youth Movement, they were all blond, big built, with scout-like shorts, which made them look like men dressed up as boys. But there was real hate in their faces. These had been endoctrined in the NAZI movement. There were quite a few returned stares from our men, I can tell you, to these merchants!  

We continued with this harrowing task through the morning, during which another event occurred that made this day so etched in my memory.

New from here on 20 October 2014: 

Over the “grapevine” came the news that Germany had surrendered – THE WAR WAS OVER – at least the campaign in North West Europe was anyway.  

We received the news with joy, although there was no wild cheering or anything like that, just a few quiet “hoorays”, laughs and an undercurrent of relief, that’s all. Then we quietly got on with the job in hand. The date was May 5th 1945, just a few days before my 20th birthday! As the day wore on the line of carts, prams, bikes etc thinned out until at last it was done.  

We were then transported back to our billets and I wasn’t sorry to have that part of my Army days behind me. Needless to say we spent most of the evening relaxing, discussing the end of hostilities and reflecting on the past months; also thanking our blessings that we had made it so far and thoughts for all the poor devils who hadn’t. Then it was “kip” and on to another day.  

Two days later we were again paraded in the early morning and were given details of our next duty. This time we were to be taken to another part of BAD OYENHAUSEN and our job was to search houses in which German families were still living. On arrival at our starting point (accompanied by the redoubtable Sergeant Banks) we found we were in an older part of the town. The houses were older and we got the impression that this was the “real” BAD OYENHAUSEN.  

Here there was not the feeling of space (more like the older parts of RAUNDS in a way), but again there were no slums, all the houses were well maintained, clean and neat. The roads were narrower and there wasn’t the uniformity of the laid out modern residential area where our billets were. The roads were not straight, unexpected little bends around which were revealed a variety of individual houses, both detached and non-detached, with interesting German architectural features.

Most were built almost to the pavement with just a small forecourt in front. Again we were given a list of items that were to be confiscated which included cameras and guns. A squad of us entered our first house which was a rather lovely old building built on a slight incline. Inside it turned out to be a warm, cosy place, homely and tastefully furnished. It appeared to us that the German family were expecting us. There were seven or eight people there, probably grandmother, father, daughters and grand-children. There were no young men at all, I expect they were all away serving in the forces. They received us with smiles, the two daughters anyway!, but we could sense an underlying tension.  

We were given a room each to search by Sgt Banks. I had never done anything like this before and I did not relish the job. I entered what appeared to be the sitting room and were followed by the two older people and a couple of the kids. None of us were alone in a room at anytime. Although we had won the war and the Germans were our enemies I must admit that standing here, in this room, with what appeared to be an ordinary close-knit family, I felt terrible, as if I was violating their home.  

The expressions on the German faces told all, gone were the smiles, they were now replaced with pathetic worry. Their eyes followed my every move. When I reached a large sideboard, which had a number of drawers, they came closer to me. I slid the drawers back and inside were all sorts of items of personal belongings. In one drawer there was a small box-type camera, together with small photographs which were obviously family snapshots; the older lady, almost with tears in her eyes (and voice), tried to make me understand that these were treasured personal things.  

I was, to be truthful, relieved when at that point Sgt Banks looked in the door and in his sharp-loud voice asked “Anything in here Summers?” I just hadn’t the heart to deprive the old lady of her camera so I just answered “Nothing here Sarge”. “Come on then, let’s get going” he replied. As I left the room I caught the eyes of the lady and they had an unspoken expression of gratitude in them.  

We searched a number of houses during the day and although I gradually became more hardened to the job, it wasn’t easy to connect these people with the war somehow, the kids, little kids who didn’t understand that it was all about, how could we not feel pity for them? What happened to these families afterwards I no not know, but I hope they were among those who were allowed to remain in their houses.  

The days passed in a similar fashion, patrol duty, guard duty etc, but the evenings were the worst. We weren’t allowed to fraternise with the German people and therefore there was nowhere to go as far as entertainment was concerned. There was no NAAFI or anything like that here, because we were here so early nothing had been organised as yet. So we used to mooch about as far as we were allowed and in daylight.  

They had numerous allotment-type gardens here and we used to watch the women (there were hardly any young men here at all) hoeing and weeding the vegetable plots. The rest of our time we spent in our billet, reading, writing home, anything to pass the time away.  

The Regiment then held a full ceremonial Thanksgiving Service in the beautiful BAD OYENHAUSEN church. We were paraded and inspected, bullshitted up to the hilt, in full view of the Germans, and then marched through the town.  

On arrival at the church we were each given a lovely little booklet of the service, which had all the 2nd Armies shoulder flash badges of the various Divisions, Regiments, Corps etc reproduced in full colour on the front. The words inside read “Second Army Thanksgiving Service, On Conclusion Of The Campaign In North-West Europe, 6th June 1944 to 5th May 1945”. I still have this today. The church was absolutely packed with troops and was a very memorable occasion.     

I have a letter written home to Mother from here dated 24th May 1945 and I have noticed that the censorship of letters had been stopped; I even told Ma where we were. It was just around this time that we were taken on some kind of detail to the nearby town of MINDEN and on a similar duty we also visited HANNOVER. Both of these were very interesting towns and we enjoyed marvellous rolling countryside on the journey to them, but, of course, we couldn’t enjoy ourselves because of the “No Fraternisation” rule!  

Shortly after this we were told that our job here in BAD OYENHAUSEN was finished and that we had helped pave the way for others to follow. Looking back on our stay here many questions I asked myself remained unanswered. We were told nothing, and to this day I think about them:  

Were the wicked Germans ever allowed to go back to their homes? Were they compensated? Where did they go? Why Them? Was the “loot” I have mentioned from overrun countries returned? Or was it that which was “confiscated” in the searches by our troops and stored in our billet houses awaiting collection? Where were the German families in the column of people we searched, with their pathetic carts, bikes, prams etc, going? To a reception camp? To relations?  

All these and many other unanswered questions remained in my mind. All I did know was that this town, together with HERFORD, was the A.G.H.Q. I often thought to myself that had we lost the war, the situation here in reverse could well have been RAUNDS!  


New from here on 6 November 2014:

Just days later we were again in convoy, this time heading for a town near LUBECK called TIMONDORFERSTRAND. It was overlooking LUBECK BAY, which itself opened out into the BALTIC SEA and was almost “touching” the EAST GERMANY border and about 160 miles north east of BAD OYENHAUSEN as the crow flies.  

We passed through MINDON, HANOVER, but this time there were no cheers or waves of greeting, just a few glances; then on through quite beautiful countryside to CELLE. We had a long halt on a tree lined road on the outskirts of this place during which we did manage a few words with some local people.  

Now CELLE had a notorious concentration camp within its boundaries, the scene of some brutal atrocities. During our conversation with the German people they were at pains to tell us (without us initiating the subject) that they had no knowledge of these horrible crimes. In broken English they told us that they knew the place, they knew something was going on there, but that was all they knew. Such, they said, was the shroud of secrecy surrounding the camp.  

I must admit that almost without exception we believed them. I can’t put the reason why we believed them down on paper except to say that sometimes you instinctively know when people are telling the truth and this was the case here. These people were not NAZIS, we knew!  

After a leg stretch and a bite to eat we moved on, passing through ULZEN, and then LUNEBURGE. Now we were starting on one of the stretches of our journey that will be forever etched in my memory. We neared a place called HARBURG, which was really part of HAMBURG. Now the scene changed. As we entered HARBURG, through to the eastern area of the great city of HAMBURG, came scenes of devastation such as I had never seen before, or since.  

The part of this great seaport that we passed through was literally a colossal heap of rubble. There wasn’t a building standing, just a part of one here and there. It was just as though a devastating earthquake had hit it, leaving an odd skeleton of a block of flats, or warehouses, or whatever, just enough to enable it to be recognised as a city.  

Mile after mile as we wended our way through the rubble lined stretch it was the same. Incredibly, there were people walking about who actually seemed to be going somewhere, it almost made the scene unreal. There must have been a terrible loss of life here. Our massed air-raids and our ground forces certainly repaid the Germans in full for Hitler’s raids on our great cities. But it showed us the absolute futility of war, and the senseless slaughter or was, a war in this case that was triggered off by an ideological miscreant who unfortunately possessed the brilliance and persuasive powers to delude millions of people into thinking he was right.  

As we watched the city gradually fade into the distance I knew that each and everyone of us would never forget it.  

We were now on the road to LUBECK and when we were just a short distance from the city we made camp. We pulled off the road into a field and erected tents. The cookhouse wallers got to work on their mobile kitchens (Boy was I hungry!) and before long we were in a reasonable state of comfort, but absolutely shagged out. It can be very tiring sitting in the back of a bumpy lorry all day, then having to pitch camp, make your bed, wash, shave etc.  

There were about eight of us in our tent, we all slept on the floor and our “beds” were touching. After a meal (again, bless our cook) we just flopped out and were away. I pitied the poor buggers who were detached for guard duty! I have a snapshot of us in this tent and it does bring back memories. We only stayed here just one night and I suspect the only reason we stopped anyway was to give us a chance to get smartened up a bit, and to be more refreshed when we reached our destination, and thus present a better image to the German people when we arrived.  

We set off early the next morning and passed through LUBECK. Now this really was an old town, like a step back in time. The old buildings were full of character and interest and contrasted sharply with the “garden” like BAD OYENHAUSEN. As we wended our way through some rather narrow streets we saw some bomb damage, but after the destruction we had seen at HAMBURG, it was something of an anti-climax. Of course, in other parts of the city it may have been a different story.  

Shortly afterwards we arrived at our destination – TIMONDORFERSTRAND – which we found to be a town with similar characteristics to BAD OYENHAUSEN. It was also a seaside town overlooking LUBECK BAY, and at first sight appeared to be a very pleasant place. We were again billeted in a residential area, in a block of middle class, mainly detached houses, which had been taken over by us.  

There were some beautiful gardens around us, and lovely orchards and trees abounded. All the gardens were beautifully kept and had the “natural” look, not straight and formal. Thus, our first reaction was one of relief, after all, what a change from living in a bloody dugout!  

The house which I shared with a couple more chaps was detached, with a delightful garden and a large wooden chalet type out-building in it amongst the fruit trees. The house was well furnished and had a good kitchen, but we only used it to make a brew now and then, our battery cookhouse was situated in a large house at the end of the street.  

“Our” house didn’t contain anything that was of any value to us (except to sit on!), but the wooden chalet out-building had an upper attic kind of room, come store-place, and this we found to be crammed with various items. Most was household stuff, tablecloths, trinkets, pictures, ornaments etc. However, I found an Iron Cross, together with a German Army watch, which had what appeared to be an officer’s name engraved inside the back cover. I admit I kept them, if I hadn’t someone else would have, the only excuse I can offer is that I didn’t ask to come here, and THEY started the bloody war!  

These items again made we wonder if the area was one which had a high percentage of German officers etc living in it, and (I asked myself) was this the reason why they were turfed out, rather than non-military families?  

The town itself was in deed very nice, just like any rather quiet, reserved, seaside town in England. The sea-shore and beach were marvellous; you could paddle out for quite a distance at the right tide without getting your knees wet. There were many more civilians on the streets (in daytime that is!) than there were in BAD OYENHAUSEN and we didn’t take much notice of them, nor they us.  

In our cookhouse one or two German soldiers were “employed”, helping out with fatigues etc (still wearing their old green army dress) and we used to give them the odd fag or two. We also saw a sprinkling of Russian soldiers here, they looked a bit unkempt, but perhaps the poor buggers had “been through it!” This then was the general situation we were to be in for several weeks.

New from here on 21 November 2014:

As soon as we were settled in and organised we were paraded and told that our duties were as before, normal guard duty but in the main policing the town and in particular our immediate area. We were issued with special armbands in order to identify us to the Germans as such. There was to be no more “house clearing” and for us the only difference was that the area patrols would be constant, 24 hours a day, which meant we would in turn be on a rota for all night and early morning duty as well.  

There was a curfew in operation at this time, no Germans (except those with cards, doing essential work) were allowed on the streets from around 11 o’clock at night until 6 o’clock in the morning. When on night patrol my mate and I used to roam around the gardens, and as it was lovely summer weather and so quiet and peaceful, we found it not too bad at all, especially when the moon was out. We used to have the odd fag or two as well!  

After these night duties we had time off during the day and we used to do a bit of boating on the calm, shallow seashore. There were a lot of small boats lying around and we just used to get in one and away we went!  

Although we were not officially, as yet, allowed to fraternise with the Germans, gradually and discreetly we did and I think our officers and NCOs really turned a blind eye. For example, when we were off duty and it was getting near dark we used to wander about, around the square in the town centre, and we saw many a bar of chocolate and a few cigarettes change hands quickly in the hope of a return “favour”.  

There transactions took place between the more “randy” members of our mob and giggling German frauleins! How those German girls were received by their own country-folk (if found out) I don’t know, but as we all know, there is a stronger emotion than fighting wars, a long standing one!  

It was on one of these roam-abouts that my mate and I walked alongside a deserted office type building, single storey, but quite large. Peering through one of the windows we could see in this room piles of cards and office papers etc scattered about, some on the floor, others on tables. So, curiosity getting the better of us, we “gained” entry, and inside found scores of photographs of HITLER and his gang.  

As we were not really supposed to be here, and as we were not on duty, we grabbed a handful each and beat a hasty retreat! We found they were good photos, quite large and were part of a numbered series with printed details on the back. I still have them. My only regret is that I didn’t take a bit more time to see if I could have got hold of a complete set. I have often wondered since if the rest of the building was indeed where the photos were actually developed from master negatives.  

Even though I did not get a complete set I suspect that the photographs I have are quite rare and that they could be a collector’s item!  

It was now early July (1945) and I was just getting used to the idea of perhaps spending most of my remaining time in the army in the occupation force when on one sunny morning after first parade came the “bomb shell”!  

Two other chaps and myself (both about my age, 20 years) were told to report to the Battery Office immediately. The office was on the main street of the town and we had a longish walk to get there. This gave us time to wonder what the hell was up, what had we done? On arrival we were ushered into the Major’s office. He told us to stand easy and then said (and he didn’t beat about the bush!):  

“Well chaps, you have been placed on a draft to the BURMA theatre of operations. You have been chosen firstly because of your age and secondly because you volunteered for army service when you joined up. We are sorry to lose you. You will be leaving by lorry tomorrow and you are all excused all duty from now on to enable you to pack etc. I wish you all the best of luck in your future days”. Then he shook us by the hand and out we marched.  

We were absolutely dumbfounded. I hadn’t volunteered for service! The only explanation I could think of was that when I was interviewed prior to being called up, I was asked if I had a preference as to which branch of the army I wished to serve in. I told the interviewing officer that I preferred the Royal Artillery, did that mean in his eyes that I had volunteered?  

Still, that was it, we had to accept it and I immediately switched my thoughts to the excitement of 14 days disembarkation leave which we were told we would get immediately after arriving in England.  

The very next morning, complete with all our kit and relevant papers, we said farewell to all our mates and clambered aboard our lorry (at least we had plenty of room), there were only 3 of us. This time we had a bloody long journey ahead of us during which we had an overnight stop at some kind of army hostel to break it up. It was a journey in excess of 400 miles, a long distance in the back of a truck.

However, it was a journey which I personally enjoyed, thinking about that lovely long leave at the end of it.  

It was also very interesting, our driver had the worst job, at least we could look around, but he couldn’t and that poor bugger had to go back to Timondorfersstrand on his own, which meant that had would have driven 800 miles in all!  

We passed through (or skirted) BREMEN, ARNHEM, NIJMEGEN, TILBURG and on to ANTWERP. Apart from the overnight stop we had, we also had a few hours stay in ANTWERP. We had a good look around and what a busy place it was, but it showed signs of a terrible battering. However, the war over now and I expect that accounted for a rather happy atmosphere, I would have liked to have stayed longer.  

From here we travelled on through GHENT (another delightful old town) and then on to OSTEND, our final destination. It was also for us the end of a year that began on June 6th, 1944, an unforgettable year, with unforgettable friends, and a common shared experience.  

I will never forget those friends, especially from the old 103!