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The Regimental History reports that once in Germany the regiment's role was to make fast progress towards the Bremen - Hamburg road prior to advancing on both those cities. They mention "an exciting night dash" to Halverde "much to the surprise of a party of forty Germans who were sleeping peacefully in the village"; meeting a "well-dug defensive position" south of Neuenkirchen; and after crossing the Weser at Rethem, making contact with "fanatical fighters from the 2nd Marine Division" who were "to cause us considerable trouble in the days ahead".

They made steady progress, taking guns and prisoners on the way, and finally entered Bremen on 25 April. The regiment were moved eastwards to Oldendorf, then, on 4 May, they crossed the Elbe to Bergdorf and were "due to assist in the assault on Hamburg". It never came: "momentous events were happening fast" and "at 0800 hrs. on 5 May all fighting on the front of 21st Army Group ceased." On 9 May the regiment "moved through Hamburg north to the town of Uetersen, where our occupational role was to commence".

Recaptured Sherman tank

Another photograph from Jim's collection; location: somewhere in Europe. He wrote on the back

"Sherman Tank Mk IV- recaptured from Jerry. Note his temporary swastika on turret - in white."

I have included some longer extracts than usual from the next few letters as they describe Jim's experiences and observations during his time driving through Germany up to VE day. Sometimes his impressions of wartime Germany are an interesting contrast to his views of the occupied countries he had passed through since D-Day.

B.L.A. Germany, 14 April 1945

“Woman Dear, Your letters of the 6th, 8th and 10th arrived in quick succession for which many thanks. It’s good to hear so often from you. I’m sitting in an armchair in a nice room of a Jerry farmhouse. It’s being used as an Office but being a privileged person I’m using it also. It’s possible that a snag has arisen because an important looking Major has just walked in saying – Don’t bother to stand up sgt-major’ (he doesn’t know this mob or he wouldn’t have said it) and wanted to know if he (the S.M.) had requisitioned the property, or an officer. It bodes ill as I suppose he wants it himself… Ah! The mystery is explained – the Major was the Military Governor and he wanted the sgt. major to empty one of the rooms because it belongs to the burgomaster who, if he got annoyed, could make the Mil. Gov’s job more difficult than it is.”

“This war of movement is impossible to understand. One can travel forty fifty sixty miles without seeing a soul or hearing a sound then suddenly come across loads of activity, guns walloping etc. On one occasion this morning a big 210 mm shell landed from nowhere about 300 yds from the road down which we were travelling, just one and no more. Jerries are everywhere, in barns, ditches, farms, singly or in little groups and mostly give up without any effort. Lots of blokes have gone for a stroll in the evening and come back with two or three bedraggled specimens.”

About the civilians, he wrote “in the main they mind their own business and seem glad that it is all over for them”, and on the same theme:

“As I’ve said before the vast majority appear only too eager to be friendly if encouraged in any way. Outwardly at least they seem glad that the Gestapo and S.S. are gone who – they say – treated them as badly as any of the Dutch and Belgians were treated if they disobeyed. It is difficult to know what to believe.”

“The whole country seems to swarm with foreign workers. Russians, Poles, Czechs, Serbs, French, Dutch, Belgians, Yugoslavs, Finns, Norwegians, Rumanians, Italians, Danes, Lats, everyone from everywhere. Our last farm for example housed three Germans and ten Russians, the one before six Germans and four Dutch, some farms have no Deutchers at all being run entirely by foreign labour.”

“The Jerry manpower has been combed out with Teutonic thoroughness. The native population is nearly 100% female – only an odd man is seen and he probably has hopped off home from the Volksturm. I’ve no doubt whatever that there are many ex-members of the Wehrmacht posing as foreign workers of whom hundreds are tramping the roads. Many are half dressed in Jerry uniform still, and just sidle past you – very reminiscent of the collapse of Italy, only there it was thousands.”

“There is also no doubt that in the farms, smaller towns and villages, the people are only just beginning to feel the war. They are all well-dressed and well fed and I’ve yet to see a woman who isn’t wearing good quality fully fashioned silk stockings even to clean out the pig sties and milk the cows. It is all loot from other countries – I’m sure of it. There are thousands of bicycles and three out of every four if examined bear a Dutch, French or Belgian name – the same with radios and prams. Near the Dutch border our tanks took a large castle-type mansion complete with moat. Every room – and they were numerous and large – was stacked to the roof with linen of all kinds, tablecloths, sheets, etc. still in their cellophane wrappings and all from Holland. There were thousands of pairs of silk stockings in boxes of 20 from France, cases of solid silver cutlery and tableware from Holland, radios, radiograms, gramophones and a bewildering variety of everything. Not all of it was there when they left either.”

“We have passed several labour camps for foreign workers – forbidding looking places, and one P.O.W. camp for Yugoslav Officers. The prisoners, now released, were lining the road and punctiliously saluting every lorry as it passed. It was amusing to be saluted by colonels and even generals – there were 250 generals there alone and we returned the salutes gravely. When we stopped they would move up to the lorries with quiet military bearing, nod gravely and say ‘Hullo – thank you’. Many were crippled by insufficiently attended to wounds of five years ago often aggravated apparently by frostbite.”

B.L.A. Germany, 18 April 1945

“It’s another lovely day and I’m writing this propped up against a wire fence which runs round an orchard. The trees are budding vigorously and all is ‘just the job’. A few yards away on my left is a small concrete hut with two windows and a door. It is one of the emergency dwellings erected by the Third Reich to house refugees and now gives shelter to about fifteen persons from E. Prussia. They’ll never see E. Prussia again but I don’t know if they know that or not. I’ve noticed a subtle change in the Jerry attitude towards us as we move more and more into the centre of Germany. Near the frontiers they were scared and disposed to friendliness, here they are surly and just ignore us completely – maybe they’ve realised we’re harmless enough, I don’t know. Damn! Orders to move again have just come through and now I must go and pack the wagon – it’s always the same these days – always moving or on the verge of it.”

19th April “It’s 3 pm and I’ve been busy all morning. The lorry develops into a junk heap if one isn’t very careful. I’ve also done a bit of chasing around for new machine-guns as the tanks are using them up as quickly as their ammo. The Browning is not a patch on the Beza for wear – a few belts of 225 and she’s red hot, the rifling tears from the barrel and usually ends up with the cover blowing out or some similar mishap occurring. The resistance here is fanatical if not numerically strong and it’s surprising how a few hundred men armed with bazookas and M-Gs can hold up a couple of hundred tanks – at a price of course.”

“We saw some of the price paid a few farms back lying all over the place – all young lads below twenty years old, officers as well. We buried several of them but the next day the civilians appeared and under the direction of a young woman dug them all up again and buried them in a common grave which they dug at the edge of a wood.”

“Their supporting artillery we found two or three miles farther on – six 75 mm horse drawn – the horses were dead in the shafts and the men in the fields…”

On a lighter note Jim wrote the following:

“By the way I forgot to tell you that the Army sent me a beautiful registered parcel about a fortnight ago. It was all sewn up in cloth and sealed with large lumps of sealing wax bearing governmental stamps. It had come from Childwall Hall, Liverpool and contained lots of official forms telling me that herewithin was my Personal Kit returned ex-hospital in N. Africa and would I check, sign receipt and return immediately to War Office. The parcel contained one Army sock (dirty), one glove (right-hand and ex Tiger Rand), one old undervest (originally issued as gun rags in Sicily), one pair Jerry cordueroy (can’t spell it) breeches (belonging to Cpl Mac) and that’s all.”

“It’s possible that the sock was mine – the rest certainly was not. What an Army!”

The hospital stay mentioned would have been in December 1943, just before Jim was shipped back to England to rejoin his regiment who were being prepared for D-Day, so it had taken some fifteen months for the system to deliver his supposed Personal Kit to him.

Jim described his current billet, a modern cottage “built of a sort of coke breeze block”, and the couple who usually lived there.

B.L.A. Germany, 21 April 1945

“The inconsiderate 5.5s blew all his front end off and lifted off most of the roof. He has spent most of the day tiling it – it seems funny to see a bloke tiling a roof when all the front is a minus quantity. He is a railwayman and his eighteen-year-old son was bumped off by Joe Stalin on the Eastern Front. The wife bursts into tears occasionally at her sorry fate – she was crying because she sleeps in a cellar – we told her we slept there in ’40 and ’41. We’ve also had children killed, by bombs by the way. Fred enjoys rubbing one or two things into these people but they merely reiterate that Hitler is to blame and feel sorry for themselves.”

“I’m glad that Churchill has said that talk of V-day is premature. Many chaps coming back from leave are angry at their reception at Home nowadays. Now that the V1 and V2s are finished they say that Londoners are no longer interested and one is made to feel that one is only a nuisance on the trains etc. The newspapers too are irritating – one doesn’t want to be told that all is over bar the shouting and read of preparations for celebration, arrangements for dances, hotel bookings etc. when one is being shelled and mortared – the War out here is anything but over. As I write the Minnies are falling not so far ahead and there is I should say some very heavy bombing going on somewhere. This building shudders violently at intervals though the rumbles are a long way off. Probably our Heavies are at work again.”

“24th Fred is waiting to cut my hair with a pair of clippers but I’ve told him I must finish this first…”

“6 p.m. We’ve moved – I’ve had my hair cut with another pair of clippers and it proved a painful process – the simple effort of cutting before pulling hasn’t dawned on Fred yet I should say.”

"It was amusing a few nights ago to hear on the 9 pm News that the Luftwaffe was caput and that he was no longer even a trifling nuisance. We were in a cellar at the time and the Luftwaffe was putting up it’s finest show since Normandy. He wasn’t after us he was after a pontoon bridge nearby and he used everything including Ju 88s at rooftop level – daylight too. I thought the house would collapse under the blast and the radio was telling us he was finito at the same time. What a war!”

The Regimental History also sometimes commented on the reaction back home compared to their experiences on the ground. When they entered Bremen, expecting fierce resistance, they found only occasional snipers and "every now and then a salvo of shells crumped down on the city from the German guns to the north". However, "we were a little astonished that night to hear our attack described by the B.B.C. as the fiercest fighting that had occurred anywhere on the Allied front that week."

“Well sweetheart I must close now and do some paperwork. I’m doing the whole job again by the way – Mac has gone to H.Q. as Sergeant. I’ve a lot of odds and ends to make up – then for Leave. I should be leaving here about the 10th – 13th May – 48hrs to Calais and then we’re as good as home – just the job.”

B.L.A. Germany, 26 April 1945

“The enclosed may interest you – someone seems to have awakened to the fact that there are other units in the British Army other than the 7th and 11th Armoured Divs, the 15 and 51st Scottish Divs and the Canadians. My own crossing of the Rhine was not so well done as that of the mob in general. I lost the convoy in the dark, crossed by myself in a blue funk with a shower of explosive bullets round my ears from a Messerschmidt – he couldn’t hit a barn door thank God. Jerry was sending mines downstream in hundreds to blow the bridge and the infantry were on the bank with searchlights and machine guns blowing the damn’ things up – a nice time was had by all.”

Press cutting from Daily Dispatch

This was typed out by Jim himself and judging by the four question marks at the end of the second paragraph he had serious doubts regarding the accuracy of the account.

“I don’t know if I’ve told you before but I’m still looking for an autobahn or even a decent road – the average road here would disgrace even a third class category at Home. We definitely and without question have the finest roads of any country I’ve yet been in and I’ve been in a few now – next comes Italy then Holland.”

“At our last place – we are in one place no more than a night now – there was a woman of about 60 who came up to us with a grin and said ‘Eeee lads, but Ah wish Ah was going wit ye to mend f’yes’ in wide Lancashire. She had married a Jerry 40 years ago but hailed from the Manchester area. We asked her what the average German thought of the atrocities and she said ‘Lads, my signature is German but I’m British inside and I tell you they knew nothing of them except very vague rumours now and then – they don’t believe it even now – dismiss it as propaganda – we’ve been fed on that for years.’ Maybe she’s right, I don’t know, but I do know that they don’t seem impressed with the revelations at all and just shrug and grin when they see the pictures of it. For myself I do not grant them the benefit of the doubt.”

“I’ve just changed my clothes and put on a brand new battledress which I obtained from the S.Q.M.S. – I have influence you know, amongst the great men, even though I am a mere trooper – the Twins (me and Fred or Fred and I) are like the name of the mob – fixtures not to be moved (I’ve been offered – offered mark you – things by even the R.Q.M.S. in my time – what a man!). My other battledress was so indescribably filthy having been worn more or less day and night since Normandy that I couldn’t stick it any longer, it will be ‘slung'.”

“I’ve also got a new ‘at what I’ll come ‘ome in and another new battledress all covered with black rats and things.”

B.L.A. Germany, 1 May 1945

“Doubtless you are speculating with the rest of us as to whether anything will materialise from Himmler’s reported Peace Feelers. It seems a damn’ shame now that lads should still be killed and maimed for no reason whatever and it has all got to the senseless stage now. At the same time I can’t see that Himmler has anything to gain by surrender. Anyway by the time this reaches you, you will know pretty well whether or not it was all hot air.”

“I see no sign in anyone of any joy at the fact that the war will be ending in the nearish future. I think most men are too browned off to speculate and besides it is not unexpected – a fact that makes a big difference. Doubtless there will be a certain amount of jollification when it does happen.”

Jim must have lost track of the date at this point because he started the next page of the letter with “2nd April”.

“Had to pack up last night because the light did and tonight I’ve a list of Tanks' deficiencies to make out for Battalion. I think I’m being a stooge again, doing a full Corporal Tradesman job, his Assistant’s job and his driver’s job all by myself – a spare Driver Class III – that’s me. Maleesh – I can do it – I also do half the S.Q.M.S.’s work as well but he only wears three stripes and a crown. He couldn’t boil a kettle himself let alone struggle through a G1098-1000.”

B.L.A. Germany, 7 May 1945

“This is the second letter I’ve written in the last three days. The other one I didn’t post as it was outdated even as it was being written – events have moved rather quickly these last few days n’est-ce pas? Not that the long-awaited end has come unexpectedly, it had to come soon and we have known, even more so than those at Home, just how much and how soon it had to come – he was so hopelessly licked. Now that it is at last an accomplished fact, even if not yet officially announced, I can’t say I have any great feeling of elation – maybe I can’t quite realise it yet. The mob as a whole is I think of the same mind as myself. Essentially a combat crowd they suddenly find themselves with no one to fight – the tanks and trucks become instantly meaningless and look almost pathetic hedged off as they are now, down a street with white tape stretched across at each end to keep out any curious intruders. Temporarily, perhaps permanently, they are redundant. I cannot yet adjust to it – they’ve been my locus for five years.”

“There are German squaddies everywhere – walking hopelessly about – waiting I suppose to be taken P.O.W. by someone. It is a curious sight – the civilians take no notice of them at all and they go dumbly and obediently with the first squaddy who decides to run them in. Four tried to surrender to Alec Higgs yesterday as he was on his way to dinner mess tins in hand – he waved them on down the road and they turned away silently."

The final paragraph in the Regimental History reads as follows:

"We had come a long way. Egypt, Libya, Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany had been our battlefields, and on each one of them we had left some of our friends and companions. On 27 May the Regiment marched to church through the deserted streets of Uetersen to remember them."

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