Peace in Europe

 

Peace in Europe

 

News of VE day, 8th May 1945, arrived but instructions for no celebrations. We had orders on 7th May from Division not to take any offensive fire so, while our guns were in position on the 8th when we received news that all troops had surrendered, I was sitting on a 5-bar gate 200 yards behind Battery Gun positions thinking to myself “what am I going to do now?” It was a great anti-climax. Having been active so long in a Regimental role I felt lost. Obviously there were feelings of relief as well, since the danger was over, but it was all very unreal. We had instructions about non-fraternisation. It was forbidden to be familiar with the Germans, just polite but no friendship.

I recollect that within days we had a new Commanding Officer, Wyldbore-Smith, who was the epitome of the ultra efficient Artillery officer. We occupied the German barracks at Elze toward the Elbe, very good billets. There were a lot of unbroken German grey horses which delighted the new Colonel who indulged in breaking them in himself. I did some horse-riding and enjoyed it, even managing a little jumping.

One amusing incident at this time was when the Adjutant and I decided to go to the barbers for a shave. After great courtesy and clicking of heels we sat down and felt this was the ultimate challenge to let a German with an open blade shave us!

One seldom saw a male not severely handicapped as they had suffered tremendous casualties, particularly on the Eastern Front and there was a feeling of relief among the German population that it was all over.

We now settled into a role, quite alien to us and not pleasant, of keeping order in the area because the German industry had relied so much on forced labour. Many displaced persons, some from Western Europe, but mainly from Eastern Europe, had been in forced labour and were now roaming the country seeking revenge and settling feuds between themselves with murder quite common. The M.P. Regiment actually had two chaps killed by these displaced persons.

I distinctly remember going into a farm with these people and a German frau was so petrified of the occupying troops that she locked herself in an inner room. When we entered, we found that she had committed suicide. She had expected us to act badly: this was a great shock to the system.

This was the unpleasant side of our immediate occupational role. With so many wandering displaced persons, the principal role of the Regiment was to round them up. Camps were established for them and we had to sort out all the disputes.

There was, however, an enjoyable side too. The Colonel, being a keen horseman, organised Point to Point Meetings. 21st Army Group Headquarters was not far from us and we were invited over to a Race Meeting he had organised. At the end of the day we sent one guest Naval Officer back wearing army uniform! Next day a message was received from the General commanding the 21st Army Group himself which was not complementary! On another occasion I was woken by my Batman with the news that my trousers were flying from the Regimental flagpole! Our spirits were kept up by entertainment and a fair amount of drinking.

The question of de-mobilisation and the possible training of chaps for civilian life was taken up and I remember that a Divisional college, “Wyvern College”, was formed on 30th June. I was involved possibly because I had taken the opportunity to study part of my Board of Trade exams in Belgium during the war at Bourg Léopold. As Regimental Education Officer, I had to sort out the chaps’ intentions and the possibility of admitting them to the college. It was purely an administrative role, finding out the requirements of the courses people would like.

1st June 1945, I received the results of my exams and discovered I had passed three out of the five. Generally, it was banking, accountancy and surveying exams that were taken as it was anticipated there would be a shortage of such qualified people so if one had started exams before the war you were allowed to sit them overseas.

 

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