after I recovered from my illness, one morning the rumour spread,
“The guards have left.” We tumbled out of our squalid
huts and, true enough, for the first time in memory there was no
armed guard in the lookout box above the wire. We went absolutely
wild, whooping and shouting with glee. People poured out of the
compounds to the spine road and soon a party had scaled the wire
and was on the outside road. It was short-lived, for suddenly shots
were fired and down that very road came a mobile column of German
soldiers. The Commander lined a machine gun up for a burst but the
escapees were up and over the wire like monkeys back into the camp.
We knew only too well what a short fuse the German army had. Only
two days before, some deranged soul had made a run at the main gate,
of all places, and had been shot dead. We stayed in groups by our
huts, and many army groups with guns passed the camp, but no tanks.
Later that day a cheer went up as the first Russian tanks appeared.
They paused at the camp and their officers came into camp and immediately
sorted out the Russian section. Rumour had it that they were immediately
armed and sent to the front, but who knows what happened. There
was no communication at that time; they just swept past the camp
but left guards at the still locked gates. However, in some of the
compounds, some of the ‘kriegies’ tunnelled through
the wire and made their escape. This was known to the Russians,
as some were picked up, and the word came from our seniors that
we had to stay put for the present because anyone found outside
could be easily shot or sent to refugee compounds without identification.
The Russians had a big identity parade, interviewing us all separately.
Mike Bzowy was very useful to them as an interpreter.
They were originally using a French-speaking Russian and a French-English
German. He was able to speak Russian and several other languages
too. After several days of this work he was talking to one of the
Russian ladies, and she said that they were so pleased with him
and they were short of his skills so he was going to be greatly
honoured by being sent back to Russia to help with interpreting.
He exclaimed to her how pleased he was with this honour, hurriedly
came back to the gang, shaved his moustache, changed his clothes
and buried himself among his comrades.
The Russians had several attempts to find him without success. Meanwhile,
the days dragged on. Many ‘kriegies’ took a chance and
escaped through the wire, but my gang were not tempted, as we were
quite a long way from the American lines and had heard it was a
frontier not easy to cross. Meanwhile, we moved around the camp
freely and sampled various empty huts as being preferable to sleeping
on the floor. One night was sufficient for us in the guards’
quarters though. The bunks were comfortable enough but
we were bitten badly by bedbugs, so left there hurriedly. I used
to mooch around the garages, with my fascination for all things
mechanical. There were no-goers though. The Russians had played
bumper cars with everything they could find. They were very backward
Mongolian types. The smart units were only used as spearheads and
the rubbish came along behind. We saw them with looted cars and
even push bikes. They had no idea of how to ride or drive and gave
no thought to life or limb, speeding down the road outside the camp
and going full pelt into trees or water towers. They also tried
to loot our quarters, and actually took several rings and watches.
On complaining to one of the officers, some of the men pointed out
one of the looters. The officer found he had about six watches round
his arm. He gave them back to the complainers, drew out his revolver
and shot the little Mongolian dead on the spot. True!! His pals
just picked him up and carried him off.
I, at last, found a comfortable billet near the garage section of
the guards’ compound. Brownie and Denny and the gang were
all around the area. Some of the more adventurous went out of the
camp foraging for food. One lot brought a complete cow in, so we
boiled stew in buckets. At last, around the 18th or 19th May, the
US lorries were allowed back in our zone, and eventually it came
to our turn to ride on the lorries to freedom. The high point was
at a river crossing, the Elbe, where there was a long wait and then,
when 20 Russians crossed to the Russian sector, 20 of us were allowed
to cross to the American side. Another lorry journey and we ended
up in Luftwaffe camp near Halle. There we had washing facilities,
the old Luftwaffe barracks and, best of all, a big American cookhouse
and dining halls where we could eat ourselves sick (and many did).
Such luxuries as tinned American fruit and cream, white bread, roasts
and sausages: to us it was heaven. We also had fun whilst we stayed
there. Rooting around the hangars full of planes and engines, three
of us found a complete field Leterprinter set and we rigged it between
two rooms of the barrack block, where we typed messages to each
other by wire. We also found a complete amphibious VW car and we
toyed with the idea of driving back to the Channel ports with it,
as it would have managed to cross the rivers where most of the bridges
were down. But such ideas went out of the window when the Dakotas
started flying groups of us to Brussels. I had a last good root
around the Luftwaffe offices and liberated a Nazi cap badge - I
left the cap - a typewriter and a target .22 rifle. (I have no idea
what happened to the badge - last seen in Beamish.)
got to Brussels in a very bouncy Dakota, two of the ‘kriegies’
on each side of me were sick as dogs, which did not impress me much
about travel in a Dakota. I forgot to mention I had a couple of
traumatic experiences whilst in Halle, and I was lucky to have good
mates like Brownie and Denny. I woke up one morning completely out
of it, I was convinced I could only eat if I got a coupon to exchange
for the meal and was full of other fancies. Thank goodness they
went along with me and did not pooh pooh my ideas, but just gradually
talked me back to normality. I had another blackout on the train
to home from the reception camp and worried my parents very badly
as I did not turn up when expected. That time I came around in York.
I must have got off the train when I saw the sign. To this day I
don’t know what happened between then and eventually coming
round in York town with all my bags and baggage, including the typewriter.
The next clear memory is getting off the bus in Beamish and struggling
down the road to ‘The Poplars’ and my tearful welcome.
I never saw any of my dear pals again. Denny was shipped back to
Australia quite quickly. Brownie Masdin and Ed Downing wrote to
me from London and I went down and met them in the West End and
we all got very drunk, too drunk even to say all we wanted to say
to each other. They were going back to Canada the next day. The
little Welsh lad, Derek Lewis, came up to Beamish and stayed with
me during my leave, he was going to leave the Air Force and emigrate
to Canada, where he had relatives. I had 6 weeks’ leave, then
a week in rehab camp at Stamford Bridge before being posted near
home at Woolsington Airport. There I got a cushy job in the transport
section, which lasted until they closed the station early in 1946.
From there I was sent to Tern Hill MU near Market Drayton, from
where I was eventually demobbed in October 1946. So that was the
end of my Air Force career. I was, by then, a Warrant Officer (T)
with more than 6 years’ service. I was awarded 39-45 Star
Aircrew Star with France and Germany Clasp and the two normal service