So – it was another party in the mess and a farewell to 4 Div – my home for the past few years. However, it was time for a change – and it would be a new experience helping to organize a brand new unit.
The first couple of days were strange. Jack and I were the only Q people on hand.We had practically no equipment, but we were issued with one vehicle. Unfortunately, it was not the 3-ton truck we needed, but a small Humber Scout Car. There was very little space inside and not much flat surface on the outside.
When we drew our first load of equipment, we had to steal a couple of drums of cable and tie everything to the outside of the car. Jack stood with his head out the turret and directed me as I drove.’ My vision of the road was very limited as the tied-on equipment almost covered the wind screen. However, we made it back OK.
A few days later, we began to get reinforcements and lots of equipment and we left for Germany to start our tour of duty there. We ended up in what used to be a German Luftwaffe camp on the shores of Bad Zwischenahn, about two or three miles north of the town of the same name. Our nearest city was Oldenburg – and due north from there was Wilhelmshaven. Head quarters for the Division was in the town of Zwischenahn.
The camp was well set up – although it needed a fair amount of cleaning up, and repairs to bomb damage. There were huts for the men – a good mess hall and kitchen for the men’s mess – a reasonable parade square – an air raid shelter which we used for a gasoline storage depot, two nice houses for the Officers’ Mess and the Sgts’ mess – a good building for Stores – and a guard room.
We were no long part of the 2nd Canadian Corps. We now came under the command of the 30th British Corps. Everything was done “limey-wise”. In addition, of course, we were back under the English Peace Time Accounting procedure – no longer the Field Accounting we had become accustomed to.
In Peace Time Accounting, for example, if a truck was involved in an accident and became a write-off, we had to obtain an accident report form, the findings of a Court of Enquiry, a detailed list of the necessary repairs, and send it all to the Depot. In time, if all was approved, we got an order to pick a replacement. Then we had to check it over – and sign a receipt for all the equipment on it – number of gas cans, tarp, shovel, etc. etc.
In Field Accounting, we had an Establishment of the number of trucks of each size and kind to which we were entitled. Every night, we sent a wireless message to HQ showing how many we had. For example, if we were entitled to 220 three-ton trucks and lost a couple (through accident or battle casualty or being stolen or whatever) we simply showed 218 and next morning two new trucks would arrive. No receipts were required. The new system took a bit of getting used to.
Not only were the procedures more stringent and bureaucratic – but supplies were short – and many items were unavailable. One item that caused a lot of trouble was gasoline. Our infantry were conducting sweeps. They would set up a line of bren gun carriers around a village and conduct a house-to-house search for weapons and ammunition. The gasoline supply was so short, we sometimes had to gas up half of the carriers required for a sweep and and tow the remainder to their appointed spots. The troops back in Holland had all the gas they needed – running recreational trips to Paris or wherever they wanted to send a group on leave.
Our Field Artillery Regiment – supposedly equipped with 25-pounder guns had nothing larger than .303 Enfield rifles. And yet, back in Holland, many Artillery Regiments had already turned in their guns preparatory to going home and you could see rows of 25-pounders lined up in fields – as far as the eye could see – hundreds of them.
In our own unit, our cable troop couldn’t get enough drums of cable or telegraph poles to do their job – we were short of parts to repair wireless sets – clothing was in really short supply. Then I suddenly had a brain wave. My old Unit – 4 Armd Div Sigs – were still in Holland waiting to go home – and were still on field accounting. So, I grabbed a jeep and drove back the hundred and fifty miles or so to visit them. One of my old SQs – Peter Jorgenson – had taken over from me as RQ. They had all the supplies they could ever require and could get anything else they wanted. We set up a scheme to help us out in Germany.
A couple of days later, I went back, taking a small convoy of three or four empty three-ton trucks with me. When we arrived, Jorgenson had everything ready for us – and we loaded one truck completely full of cans of gasoline – and in the others, we put loads of cable and telephone poles – a load of Canadian-issue clothing and anything else they had that we could use. It worked so well, we repeated it three or four times until they had next to nothing to return when they had to pack to go home – and we had the best-equipped stock of stores in the Division. Most particularly, the gas supply – we converted an air raid shelter into a gasoline storage depot – and it was so full of cans you could hardly get in.
Getting a new camp set up takes a great deal of time and effort – and we spent several weeks working 12 to 14-hour days – 7 days a week. Jack and I were both tired out and decided we had earned a break. Brussels was a popular spot for some recreation – it had two large hotels set up as Leave Centers – one for Officers and one for Senior NCOs and WOs. We wanted to go at the same time and stay in the same hotel so I picked up a new tunic, had three pips sewn on the epaulets to make me a Captain and we had a very enjoyable couple of days looking around the city and seeing the points of interest -and, mainly, just getting away from the camp routine.
A short while afterwards, during another trip to 4 Div Signals for supplies, I got together with my brother, Bob, and invited him to come to Germany for a few days and see what life was like in the Occupation Force. He said he would like to, and he got a five-day pass starting right away. We took off – Bob in the jeep with me – and when we got away from camp I got him to change from his tunic to one with Sergeants’ stripes so I could arrange good accommodation for him as a visiting senior NCO.
The quarters we had were formerly used by Luftwaffe officers. It was a two-story brick building with four small apartments – each with a separate entrance, a small room, washroom and kitchen downstairs, and two bedrooms and a bath upstairs. I gave Bob his own room and bath upstairs and I used the downstairs room.
I don’t know how much of this “rank switching” went on – but my old unit of 4 Div Signals did it up very nicely. They were stationed in Hilversum in Holland. The town had one building set up as a recreational center for officers and another one for WOs and Sergeants. Apparently, the Officers Center was pretty stuffy and no fun at all – while the Sgt/WO center was a lot of fun. Several of the officers much preferred the Sgt’s center so they arranged a supply of NCO tunics for the officers so they could “switch hotels”.
Bob and I had an enjoyable holiday. We drove up to Wilhelmshaven and looked at the German naval base and a couple of huge sailing ships that they had used in training some of their sailors. The city had been bombed almost into extinction. Close to our camp was the airfield with the remnants of some of their planes. Surprisingly enough, on one of the runways were a couple of their one-man submarines parked on trailers. They were very interesting to see. There was a theatre in Oldenburg, and we drove in and saw a stage show. We couldn’t understand a word that was said, but the chorus girls were a sight to behold!
Other than that, we had a good opportunity to sit around socializing in the Mess. We had a good stock in the bar at all times. All in all, we had a real good visit. On the last day of his pass, we went into the Clothing Stores and got him fixed up with all the new clothing he could use. Then we loaded up a jeep and drove back to his camp – taking it easy and seeing some more of the countryside as we drove.
I recall a bit of a “flap” shortly after Bob went back. We had a regular weekly trip to Brussels – it was called the “Beer Run”. The Officers Mess, the Sgts Mess and the men’s canteen – all sold beer which we bought by the barrel from a brewery in Brussels. That was the authorized official purpose for the trip. Unofficially, we made it an occasion for our lads to have a 48-hour pass to Brussels. One of my new SQs was in line to take the next beer run – they always got an early start – leaving about 5.30 a.m. The evening before, the truck (a ten ton Mack) was parked at the edge of the parade square ready for next morning – the supply of empty beer barrels all nicely loaded , covered by a tarp and roped in place. At seven the next morning, I was walking over to the Men’s’ Mess to ensure everything was in order – and there, by the parade square was the ten-ton Mack with the tarp still over the barrels – and being guarded by four Military Police. It was a while before I could get the story of what was going on… It appears that a gang from the Division were arranging to get hold of confiscated German civilian cars – when the beer-run truck took off and cleared the camp, they would stop the truck – pretend to the driver that this was official business – load the car on the truck and cover it with a tarp – and continue on to Brussels where a gang would take the car away and sell it. Apparently, they did not do much with anything less expensive than a Mercedes Benz and such like. I guess that someone became nervous – told the story to the Military Police – and they stopped the truck shortly after the vehicle was loaded. My SQ must have been cut in for a slice of the action – he was under arrest. A lot of people were rushing around and rumors were spreading and then, all of a sudden, nothing more was said about it. It seems that some of the people involved were from Divisional Headquarters – a couple of them being very senior officers – and they had everything squashed. It bothered me quite a bit though to know that one of my senior NCOs could not be trusted and it didn’t take too long to have him transferred out of our unit and sent home.
By mid summer, we were all set up and opportunities for leave were becoming more frequent so Fin Dempsey and I arranged to get 10-day passes for England. Except for the short visit with my brother and the 48-hour pass that Jack Bridges and I had to Brussels this would be the first leave that either Fin or I had been able to get in over a year. We checked our Pay Books and found we were really well off. I wrote to Rhea Reycroft and arranged to meet her in London and maybe she could bring a friend along to keep Fin company.
While we were on leave in London, the Japs surrendered, so Fin and I were in Trafalgar Square for VJ day. What a “circus” that was. The place was absolutely packed with people, everyone laughing, dancing and singing, and kissing every girl in sight – a marvelous time was had by all.
I remember one day, one of us arranged to meet a couple of girls for lunch and the other arranged to meet two other girls for dinner and dancing. The luncheon date lasted a bit too long and we would have to rush to meet our dinner dates on time . We managed to find a cab and took off. The taxi was making good time when suddenly, the driver jammed on his brakes, stopped dead, and sat behind the wheel with his right hand raising his cap. Watching the time so closely, we tried to get him to move on – to no avail. After a while, he replaced his cap and continued on his way. Apparently, the car that had crossed in front of us bore Her Majesty the Queen, but we were so preoccupied we didn’t see her. We got to our meeting place five minutes late and found our dates waiting for us.
We had a most enjoyable leave and on the last day we had something less than the equivalent of $5.00 Canadian funds. It didn’t matter. We had only to report to the station, and transportation and some sort of meal would be provided by the Army. However, when we got to Trafalgar station there was a sign on the office wall ‘Storms on the Channel – all leaves extended 48 hours’. I don’t know how we did it, but we managed to survive on our Five Dollars, living much more modestly than we had for the previous ten days.
About this time, I received news that my mother was very ill and not expected to live. I applied for compassionate leave to return to Canada.
While I was waiting for my leave to be issued, a really bright light appeared on the horizon. To assist with the administrative work at Divisional Headquarters, a draft of eighteen girls of the CWAC (Canadian Women’s Army Corps) arrived. What a treat it was to hear a Canadian girl’s accent. The only problem was there were 18 girls to 16,000 Canadian men.
The President of the Mess Committee of the Sgt’s Mess was Sgt. Mjr. Newman. One of the best things he ever did in his term as President was arrange for the Canadian girls to come to a party at our Mess. It was on November 10th. I was busy in the office when the girls arrived and when I got to the Mess, every one was buzzing around the girls. I spotted the prettiest one of the group sitting by herself, while one of the boys went to the bar to get her a drink. I’m not much good at this sort of thing, but I took a deep breath and went over and introduced myself. She told me her name was Willy – actually Stella Wilson, in full. I somehow got rid of the Sgt. and we talked and danced all evening. I couldn’t believe my luck! The party was really terrific (at least as far as I was concerned! ) Transportation had been arranged to return the girls to their quarters and I got in the HUP (Heavy Utility Personnel) with them to make sure Willy got home safely.
The next day was Armistice Day so, of course, we had a Church Parade. We marched into the church in Zwischenahn and Willy was there! When the service was over I made my way to her side and invited her to our Mess for dinner. She accepted and I arranged to pick her up at her quarters. The parade was called and we marched back to camp. That afternoon, I sat and chatted with Willy in the bay window of the mess lounge. Later, I asked her if she would like to play a game of Cribbage. She didn’t know the game so we played two hands “face up” and then we tried it “face down”. I’ll be darned if she didn’t double-skunk me! (And she has been doing it ever since).
For the next two or three weeks, I did my best to get together with Willy as often as I possibly could. We met in the Mess, we had little parties in my Quarters with Fin Dempsey and Fuzzy Newman, and on at least one occasion, I got Joe Stonefish – the Sgt. Cook in charge of the Men’s Mess – to scrounge up enough supplies to make us a cake. I did everything I could, well aware of the ratio of Canadian male troops to Canadian girls – just about exactly 1,000 to 1. (I recall a CSM from the Engineers was causing me some concern.) We went to see a stage show at a theater in Oldenberg. We drove out to Jever during Willy’s lunch break where I understood we could get lady’s shoes. I don’t recall whether we got the shoes or not – but I do remember, on the way back, someone had fallen a tree across the road. Stella was Secretary to Major General Chris Volkes (the commander of all Canadian Troops in the Occupation Force) and was slated to record the GOC’s Conference that afternoon. We managed to jump the tree with the HUP and got her back to Headquarters on time. Things like that were worrisome – you were never sure whether the fallen tree was an accident or had been done on purpose. At that time, in Germany, we were always armed when walking out. Although I don’t think Willy realized it, I carried a 9mm Browning on my belt and a small pistol in a shoulder holster.
We had a very enjoyable weekend when we made up a party with some of our lads and three or four of Willy’s friends and drove to Holland to visit my old 4 Div Sgts. Mess. We had a party in their Mess that evening and toured Holland the next morning, returning to Camp in the evening.
Several of the members of my Mess were dating CWAC girls and phoning them from time to time. The switchboard was a manual one, manned by linesmen from our own unit. It became obvious that they were listening in on our conversations. To put an end to that, we arranged to lay a private telephone line from our Quarters to the CWAC quarters.
I recall one evening when I was driving Willy back to her billets from our Mess. It was a cold evening and the jeep had no side curtains so I gave Willy one of the fur vests that we had for linesmen. I picked out a nice one, almost completely white, with a few black and brown spots. We were driving along the highway when we ran into a police check. A Provost flagged me down, walked over to the Jeep and started to ball me out for carrying a civilian in an army vehicle, especially a German girl. He started on with this when Willy asked, in a sweet and very Canadian voice, “Do I really look like a German girl?” With the rabbit skin vest over her tunic, it was easy to make a mistake, but when he heard her voice and looked to see who he was talking to, he was one very embarrassed and flustered Provost!
Somewhere around the first of December, I began to get worried because my application for compassionate leave had been sent in three or four months before and it could be coming through very shortly. That would leave me back in Canada and Stella in Germany. We might never meet one another again! That didn’t bear thinking about so, in spite of the fact that we had known each other for such a short time, I wound up my courage and proposed. I walked around in a fog for the next couple of days waiting for her answer. Finally she decided. She said, “yes!”
We decided to wait and be married after we returned to Canada. Stella applied for compassionate leave to go back to Canada so we would arrive there close to the same time and not be separated by several thousands of miles. Later, we wished we had decided to be married in Germany. The G.O.C. would have given the bride away and with that in our favor, I’m sure we would have had no trouble arranging a pass and transportation for a couple of weeks’ honeymoon in Brussels, Paris and the Alps, and who knows where else.
The Sgts’ mess immediately arranged an Engagement Party for us – and it was quite an occasion. They decorated the recreation hall with streamers, lights and posters. There was food, music and dancing. The tables were covered with white linen table cloths and each table held a candle. All the senior NCOs and Officers were there. They presented us with a bottle of champagne but the padre was especially partial to champagne and polished off half of it himself.
The hall was decorated by several posters, mainly by Lou Weekes who was a professional cartoonist on civvie street. One in particular caused a lot of laughs. (We brought it home with us and kept it for over 40 years before it disintegrated to dust.) The picture showed a girl in uniform seated on a sofa. A man, also in uniform, knelt on the floor beside her, with his hands raised as if in prayer saying “And, besides, I can offer you blankets, and uniforms and socks and boots and …. ” There was no doubting who the man was – he wore glasses, the hair on the back of his head was standing up – he had a mustache – and his uniform had all proper badges on it.
Within a couple of weeks, Stella’s compassionate leave came through and she got orders to return to England to join a draft for Canada. I had applied for compassionate leave about four months previously but had heard nothing of it as yet!
Things weren’t the same after Stella left. I heard that her draft was still in England, so I applied for a ten-day pass for England, hoping to spend a few days with her before she left. I got the pass, went back to the Hook of Holland, rode the ferry across the water, and took a train to London, arriving just as it was getting dark. Having no idea where Stella might be, I looked up her friend, Esther Tallon, who was stationed in London. Esther told me that Stella was in Aldershot (some 40 or 50 miles away) and was scheduled to leave that evening to board ship for home. We rented a taxi and Esther risked going AWOL to help me to find her.
We got to Aldershot, found the right barracks and arrived just as the parade was forming up to leave for the boat. We found Stella and had about 15 seconds to say hello – and goodbye – and away she went. Esther and I taxied back to London and Esther got into her quarters without getting caught. I still had nine and a half days left out of my ten-day pass but after paying off the taxi driver, I was broke. I bunked down somewhere that night and reported in to the station in the morning and headed back to Germany.
Christmas was upon us right away, with the usual Christmas Dinner traditions. A lot of effort was expended acquiring as much Christmas food as possible. The men’s mess was decorated with whatever Christmas ornaments and streamers we could find. Everybody wore his best uniform, and the men were served at table instead of in the usual cafeteria style. The big difference was that the meal was served and the cleaning up done by the officers, warrant officers, and senior NCOs. Dinner was concluded with a rum punch and Major Don Grant got the job of mixing up the punch. He tried to do a really good job, but I guess he tested and sampled the brew a little too often. By the time the punch was to be served, Don was fast asleep, sitting on a chair in a corner of the hall.
The new year got off to a fast start. One of my former drivers from 4th Div – Pete Cole – arranged to get transferred to a position with Military Government when the war was over. He was stationed in a small village about 25 miles away from our camp. He dropped in and invited Fin Dempsey and me to his New Years Eve party. Knowing Military Government people are never short of anything, we accepted gladly. It was a tremendous party – music, dancing, good food, and a very well-equipped bar. It must have been a real wing-ding – I was picked up by the Military Police well after curfew, strolling down the main street, singing “Should Aulde Acquaintance Be Forgot” and instead of wearing my battle dress tunic, I was decked out in evening dress.
Somehow, we got back from the party in one piece – got a few hours sleep and joined the other Senior NCO’s for the traditional couple of drinks in the Officers’ Mess, after which everybody from both messes went to the Sergeants’ Mess for a few more drinks.
All was going well – I was having a drink with Jack Bridges – and noticed Fin Dempsey and Danny Ball having a drink with the Colonel and the Adjutant. Danny appeared to have been celebrating quite a bit the previous evening and all of a sudden, he dropped his drink, passed out and fell flat on the floor. He was carried out and put to bed and the party went on, as scheduled. However, within 48 hours, Danny was on his way home to Canada. Our Colonel was adamant about not having any one on his staff who was unable to hold his liquor and behave properly.
There is a sad part to the story, though. Just a few days before this, Danny had received a “Dear John” letter from his wife. She had left him and gone to live with another man. We had all tried to help him to keep his spirits up – but he was very depressed. Being sent home was the last thing he needed or wanted at that point, but away he went. Later we had word that he went to his empty home and hung himself in a clothes closet.