Bob's Memoirs - 1940s - 5
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Leaving the autobahn at Langenhagen, where the airport is now, we turned south towards Hannover. Our journey ended at the barracks which are about four miles north of the city centre. On our first evening we were warned that it would be dangerous to leave the barracks because of the risk from 'Werewolf' terrorists. We were ordered to carry a rifle and five rounds of ammunition at all times. I was free that evening and I wanted to see the city, but I could get no one else interested because they said we had all come through the war safely and to take risks now was out of the question. I went alone, which still seems a pretty stupid thing to have done. It was the sort of act that in a short time can undo a whole lifetime of cowardice!

I set off for the main road which ran past a flower nursery with blue hydrangeas in row after row. I would have thought that food, and not flowers, would have been grown in every available space! At the main road, which I think was called Vahrenwalder Strasse, I waited for a tram. The first tram did not stop, but as it slowed the local people ran and boarded it. The next tram I would have to board while it was in motion, but I was handicapped by the rifle slung over my shoulder. I got no more than a toe hold on the step of the tram, when the sling at the butt end of the rifle caught in the brass rail that ran along the side of the doors. I was unable to move, and by now the tram was moving fast, but I was saved by my ex-enemies who leaned out and pulled me aboard. Everyone laughed at my predicament, and the only thing to do then was to laugh with them, shake hands, and thank them. So I'm afraid I had very quickly broken the strict 'non-fraternise' orders, but I'm sure I wasn't the first or the last to discover that they were impossible orders to carry out.

As I got to know Hannover I found it was an interesting city. It had many links with the British royal family. I was able to stroll in the Georgengarten and to see the Guelph Palace which is now the university. Guelph is the name of our Royals before they changed it to Windsor. At the royal theatre, in the Herrenhausen Gardens, I saw a performance of Carmen in German. This was the smallest theatre I have ever visited. The military took over the leisure facilities on the north bank of the Maschsee Lake which was a good place to spend time when we were off duty. It was a very hot summer and my memories all seem to be of drinking and eating ice-creams. The main building there now is a gambling casino.

There was however a lot of work to do. Allied POW's of all nations and races came to us. Some were a problem because of languages. I remember a lot of Chinese who had been taken prisoner when their British registered ships had been torpedoed. We had heard reports about German concentration camps and we were prepared for the worst when we were about to receive a contingent of Palestinian Jews who had been captured in North Africa, but they were all fit and well because they had been treated as British prisoners. Most of our 'clients' were men who were keen to get back to the UK as soon as possible.

Pages 2 & 3 of my army pay book.
Pages 2 & 3 of my army pay book.

On the 6th August 1945 an atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and on the 9th a second bomb destroyed Nagasaki. The deaths and injuries that were caused was just awful, but resulted in Japan surrendering on the 14th. I was relieved because I feared I would be sent to fight the Japanese. My AB64 (Pay Book) carried the ominous words "Far East" but now it looked as if I would be spared.

I had now completed six months duty overseas and I got leave on the 5th September and travelled by train from Hannover to The Hook of Holland. We passed through Arnhem and saw bits of aircraft still in tree tops and farms where the fuselages of Horsa gliders had been cut into sections and were now used as chicken coops. I lost one day of my leave because a very severe thunder storm stopped the ferry service from The Hook to Harwich.

Una and I spent time together in Wilford and in Watford. I believe we visited my Aunt Daisy and Uncle Pat at their cottage at Mastin Moor in Derbyshire. We also spent time with Una's sister Eva and her young sons Roger and Martin. At the Theatre Royal in Nottingham we saw the opera La Boheme.

After I had returned from leave the unit's role was again changed. It was becoming obvious that with the large numbers of men in the forces in North Germany that an easier route was needed for leave personnel, and also to cope with demobilization. Cuxhaven and Hull were chosen as the ports and we moved into the barracks near Cuxhaven which were no longer needed by the Kriegsmarine. There were three main barrack blocks, and from my room I could look over the Seedeich to the estuary of the River Elbe. In the distance I could see the Kügelbake which was a huge wooden structure built as a navigation aid to shipping. By getting onto the Flak tower on the roof I could see the Dühnen beach, the North Sea and on the horizon the island of Neuwerk.

Locals told us how the American army decided to capture the island of Neuwerk and how they had refused the offer of the horse drawn vehicle which crosses the sands at low tide. The Americans said that a Jeep could go anywhere a horse and cart could go. They had to be rescued by the Germans and the Jeep was swept away by the sea! I didn't laugh because I remembered my encounter with the tram in Hannover.

As a tribute to the British forces the Swedish Lloyd Line placed two ships, The Brittania and The Suisse, at the disposal of the War Office. These ships were quite luxurious and we were, quite rightly, not allowed to go aboard with boots on. We were amazed to see white linen table cloths and even bowls of sugar when Britain was severely rationed. It was the only time I can remember when officers and men ate together. Later a newer and bigger ship The Prinz Eugen was also in service.

While they waited for a ship it was necessary to find food, entertainment, accommodation and transport for hundreds of men. This service was then repeated for the men returning from leave until they were put aboard trucks to return to their units.

Me at the Cuxhaven Control Centre board. May 1946. Me with Ron and Ken Smith. Cuxhaven 1946.
Me at the Cuxhaven Control Centre board. May 1946.
Me with Ron and Ken Smith. Cuxhaven 1946.

Ron and Ken Smith, who came from Luton, and I were chosen to man the Control Centre. A small number of Royal Navy personnel were attached to 126 Transit Camp in Cuxhaven, and Leading Seaman 'Gibbie' Gibbs was also with us in the Control Centre. We had no training and learned as we went along. We had a wooden building in the centre of the barracks, which was heated by a single coke stove. A glazed lookout tower, which I designed, was built on the roof from which, with the aid of a public address system, we were able to direct troops. We also had a turntable to play music over the system. One person had to be on duty at all times with another on standby. Ron and Ken were identical twins and it was not always easy to tell who was on duty!

We had a fleet of TCVs (troop carrying vehicles) and a company of ex Wehrmacht drivers all in smart field grey battle dress uniforms. The TCVs travelled between our control centre and the docks. The docks were guarded by German police and they would sometimes stop our empty trucks, so on occasions it was my turn to ride on the leading vehicle to make sure they got through. Each day we said how many trucks we would need at what time and where, and it was the duty of Herr Grabe the leader of the drivers to issue orders. All the drivers called him 'Leutnant' but on one occasion when I inadvertently used this title I was reprimanded by a nosey officer who, I guess, thought I had 'gone native'! The transport unit also had a 15cwt truck which Ron, Ken and I were able to use as our unofficial transport around Cuxhaven.

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