In February, 1945, I was stationed with an R.C.A.F. Unit in Peterborough, England, at which time I was selected to serve with the Allied Control Commission (Air) and I proceeded to London in March to attend a four week course, the aim of which was to prepare the candidates with a knowledge of the historical and psychological foundations of Germany, the German Airforce organization and methods of disarmament and control with particular attention paid to the attitude to be adopted by disarmament personnel towards the military and civil population of Germany once victory was attained. I completed the course in April and on May l2th, 1945 I was flown to Airport B 106 at Enschede, Holland. I was the first Canadian Airforce personnel to arrive and was then transported to Delden, Holland, to await the arrival of the advance party. Delden was at that time the headquarters of General Crerar. I stayed at Delden until May 25th, 1945, on which day a convoy of 4 vehicles left for Germany. Squadron Leader Ted Aplin was in charge of our small party and our destination was Celle, Germany. On crossing the Dutch-German frontier into Germany, I felt that I was entering a land of the dead - the same feeling that I had when I went into Germany the first time when my destination was Meppen. As we traveled further into Germany, we became oblivious to the tremendous damage in the towns, countless blown bridges, etc., but noticed with very profound interest the attitude and reactions of the former "super race". "When passing us or other Allied troops, they either looked to the ground, sideways or straight ahead. Some just stood at the side of the road, watching in a sort of a stupor while endless streams of Army vehicles of all types and descriptions rolled by. "Could this really be happening to us?" was what their stunned expressions seemed to say. However, there were a few whose hostile looks betrayed their emotions and made me realize that I was in Germany and not just passing through some town that had been struck by a hurricane or some other act of nature. In contrast to the bombed, flattened towns we passed through were the quiet little villages (Dorfs) that were entirely untouched by the bombings of the R.A.F. and the smashing advance of the Allied armies. Here one got a picture of the Germany that you read about in Travel Magazine or the National Geographic. Narrow cobblestone streets, rows of gabled cottages with date marks of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Hausfraus sweeping the front of their cottages with long handled twig brooms so intently that one would think their very life depended on sweeping away every particle of dirt and dust. Then there were the many Gasthauses, at least two to every block, advertising the particular brand of beer which was the specialty. Driving over the many detours and pot-holed roads we had covered thus far certainly contributed greatly to an insatiable thirst and the very sight of these "pubs" didn't help matters any. However, the non-fraternization regulation was enforced so it would have been impossible to take advantage of the pubs, even if they had been open for business. Driving through the towns also produced a bit of nostalgia for Squadron Leader Aplin insofar as the youngsters were concerned. There they were, fresh, clear-eyed little boys and girls, Maedchen with their gaily colored aprons and blouses, clear complexions, beautiful blue eyes and angelic expressions, not forgetting the typical blond hair, and the boys, sturdy, sun-tanned individuals. Yet, according to General Montgomery's regulations, we were forbidden to speak or to have anything to do with them. This did not bother me in the slightest, although I felt it was a ridiculous policy but to Squadron Leader Aplin the sight of these children reminded him of his own youngsters and he remarked how he would feel if the boot was on the other foot. I cannot say that I did not agree with his point of view insofar as non-fraternization with the youngsters was concerned. The non-fraternization regulations were in part: "you must not have anything whatsoever to do with German nationals and this includes smiling or speaking or giving gum or chocolate, etc. to any child regardless of age". As concerned, this is absolutely correct, but I certainly cannot see what good effect such an order would have on a three or four year old child who doesn't know what the hell its all about anyway. As a matter of fact, the only possible reaction that he or she at that age would get would be to look on anybody in an Allied uniform as something very closely associated with the devil himself and in time would hate all englishman, Canadian or whatever. Not a very good way of re-educating the future German nation to our way of life in my opinion. However, orders are orders, and I don't feel like spending a couple of years in "the digger" for giving little three-year-old Gretels a piece of chocolate even though she might remember when she became a little older that one of these english "schweinhunds" was nice to her one day and maybe wonder why she should hate them like her big brother- probably did when he was a Hitler Jugend leader told her that she should.
We arrived at Bienfeld at about 1:00 o'clock and decided we should halt and have our dinner. We picked a little clearing just outside the town, took the rations off the tender and Rostock, the self appointed chef went to work. While we were eating a couple of young German boys stopped by the side of the road and watched us and by the time we finished the meal there were over a dozen Germans of all ages also standing and watching. We were all a bit concerned about our audience at first, but it became quite obvious from the look on their faces that they were all damn hungry and were just waiting for us to leave in the hope that we might leave something behind. I got a definite satisfaction out of their hunger and when we were finished and packing the utensils back in the tender, a couple of the boys tossed the Germans what was left of the butter, canned milk, etc. When I noticed this I told them to cease and even if we have to throw it away, the Germans were definitely not to have any of the food. After all, why should we be feeding these people and on top of that it was contrary to the non-fraternization regulations. Naturally, my name immediately became mud with everyone concerned and at this point Squadron Leader Aplin appeared on the scene, rescinded my order and told me that inasmuch as they are Germans, it is still a greater sin to waste the food. I had to agree with that and on thinking it over when we resumed the journey I realized what a damn fool I was. At Bad Oyenhausen after losing our way and driving around in circles for half an hour, we finally found, with the aid of a Negro-American soldier, the correct road that lead to Hitler's Super Reich Autobahn. We followed this for the remainder of the afternoon, and apart from a few filled in bomb craters and numerous blown bridges, one could see that it was a masterpiece of road engineering and if used along the right lines and built for the right purpose which it was not, it could have been something the Germans could well have been proud of. After circling Hanover, we left the Autobahn, there was the sign we were looking for: "84 Group (Main) Celle, 60Km. An hour later we entered the town that was to be our new home. Of all the typical German towns that we had passed through thus far, Celle had been all surpassed for quaintness and picturesqueness. We followed the signed route through the town, stopping once at the R.A.F. information post to make sure we were on the right track, crossed over the one and only Bailey bridge in town and it was here we saw the sign Belsen, 40 Km. It is very hard to explain the strange feeling that came over me. Now I was in Hitler's Germany good and proper, and with my weapon and my uniform had as much power and authority over that German over there as any Gestapo Agent ever had and here I was of the Jewish faith, a non-Aryan, who not long ago according to that same German standing over there should be in Belsen or in some other concentration camp and be exterminated along with the rest of the six million already murdered.
We continued on to the village of Grosse Hehlen, a suburb of Celle, and five minutes later there we were at the tented city, built, owned and operated by the Canadians of 84 Group and were we glad to see them. After getting the office tender into position it was about 7:00 o'clock and our thoughts turned to food. I rounded up my friend George MacMurray, had supper and then to Tent 21-Row 4 which I was to share with George and Lou Driedger. Being a tent-mate of a hospital assistant certainly had its advantages, because when I came back after supper my bed was made, or rather my Paliasse was made up and lo and behold with nice white, clean sheets. The first in six weeks. The next couple of weeks were spend erecting tents, tearing down tents, and going crazy trying to put the Central Registry and the Orderly Room into some kind of shape. It was at this time that we all realized what kind of an organization we really were, and believe me, with 150 men feeling the same way towards their superiors, plus the fact that 95% of them had never left the shores of Canada, or for that matter their own back yards before, it was a pretty tough job for anyone to get the slightest semblance of work out of any of them. Here was 'the situation: approximately 125 men, average age about 25 years, suddenly posted overseas when the war was nearly over, given no idea what they were going to do other than that they would be ultimately shipped to Germany and to stay for maybe a year. No doubt that added color and a sort of spirit of adventure which over- rode the grimness of being split up from their wives, sweethearts, etc., but from the moment they hit Kenley, England on that cold, bleak, April night, they all realized that here was the worst bit of human planning they had every seen or been a part of. However, I am sure they all felt that during their four weeks prepatory period in England mentioned previously could not possibly continue and that things surely would turn out for the better when the they reached the Continent of Europe. I have accounted for what transpired with the advance party from the time they left England until they finally arrived at Camp Schewen on the 20th of May. At least I and the other 50 N.C.O.'s on the staff had volunteered, had had a course in London and had had overseas service. This really made us aware of the job we had to do, even though we weren't being employed as we had been told we would and in that way I felt my being here was not a waste of time, that I was doing a job and that I must disregard the fact that my superiors were here not through patriotic reasons but strictly because of their financial gain. It was a hell of a pill for all of us to swallow, that after talking and talking about it we convinced ourselves that as soon as instructions and policy finally came from a higher level, the wheels of disarmament would finally begin turning. The weeks rolled by and things still remained chaotic, a handful of us were working, the remainder had nothing to do but lay around in the sun, go swimming, barter cigarettes on the black market which brings up an interesting point to be discussed later. Also, a few whose will power and ideas of continence were very poor, made the acquaintance of some of the village frauleins. They were sticking their necks out for a Court Martial but I guess they figured a little female companionship was worth the risk. Fortunately they were Canadians and therefore smart and none were ever caught. One might gather from all this that here is the perfect vacation: swimming, sunbathing, acquiring great quantities of loot for practically nothing, and love affairs with virile, healthy, blond German frauleins. However, such is not the case and with a little explanation my meaning will be clear. Most of the fellows like myself, have some job to return to and have just been waiting for the day when the war would be over and we would be back at our jobs. Then there were the others who have no jobs or want to change from their present line to something else. Well, if this Roman Holiday was to last maybe six months or so, o.k., lets take advantage of a good thing - but, this little effort is expected to last two years! Thats what the Intelligence Officer told us last week when the "tin gods" decided they had better appease the airmen and try and convince them that they had an important job to do. It goes without saying that any fellow with a spark of ambition would not be content to fritter away two good years laying in the sun. And thats why the morale was so low.
However, my position is very different from that of the other fellows. Outside of being purely disgusted with the attitudes of our senior officers and the apparent importance of a job that was not being done, I was definitely enjoying my presence in Germany and could see a very interesting time ahead of me for even two years and had many reasons for feeling this way. Here I am, only 21, and fortunately not afflicted with the pangs of homesickness as so many of my comrades suffered from and in the best possible position to see for myself if I made any attempt to do so, events and conditions that the whole world was getting second hand via. the radio and the press.
I took a great interest in the Germans and their attitudes towards the occupation forces. They were still bowing and scraping, dotting their hats and saluting every private just to be sure of not making any mistakes but were definitely amazed and I am sure could not under- stand why we were not allowed to have anything to do with them. The frauleins took definite advantage of this order and saw only the wonderful opportunity of "getting even". They would go for a stroll where they knew Allied soldiers would be, such as the park, the river, and appear as vivacious and desirable as they possibly could. They knew if a soldier was caught talking or even smiling at them it would mean a heavy fine or imprisonment for the soldier involved. It is said that what you can't have you want most and in this case it sure was true. However plenty of fellows were foolish enough to let their emotions get the better of their judgment and conscience and ended up in trouble. Our own troops were smart since they never seemed to be caught. The two theatres in town were originally put into operation and opened up for the troops. George MacMurray and I went down and while standing in the inevitable queue, I saw just what kind of a perverted sense of humour some English soldiers have, to say nothing of our own airmen. We were lined up on one side of the street and on the other side were dozens of displaced persons, mostly Jews evacuated from Belsen because of the typhus epidemic, waiting and watching for a soldier to throw a cigarette butt away and then dash after it. If a cigarette has that hold on a person - O.K. - but I cannot see any civilized person getting such satisfaction and enjoyment out of purposely tossing a butt into a dirty gutter or down a shallow drain so that the poor displaced persons must fish for it. I couldn't see myself even giving a butt to them so I just didn't smoke when they were around. However, after a couple of weeks I got used to having about three men or children scramble after my cigarette butt. After the show that night we went for a stroll in the park and were approached by two men who asked for a cigarette. They both looked definitely Jewish but according to the regulations I asked them for their identity cards and they both turned out to be Polish refugees. We gave them each a couple of cigarettes and then one who spoke a little english mentioned that he had been in Belsen, and that it was "nicht gut." We walked on and I remember George saying; "You know, that the trouble with these guys, they immediately tell you that they've been in Belsen and they expect you to empty your pockets." I was coming to the conclusion that George had a mean tongue, but this statement was the payoff and I told him so on no uncertain terms. This was the first time we had ever had an argument, but certainly our friendship was not quite the same from that point onwards. George meant no harm by the remark I am sure, but he simply was a man who had contempt for anyone who capitalized on his misery, whether past or present. I thought it was a pretty narrow-minded point of view in the case of these people and I told him so.
The black market on cigarettes is really booming. Most of the deals are being made with the Yugoslavian displaced persons who are camped down the road. Our boys are acquiring articles worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars for practically nothing. Not being much of a businessman, plus the fact that I have been smoking most the cigarettes I get, is putting me in the position of an onlooker. Here are the latest black market quotations:
Camera: (Zeiss,Leica or Agfa) from 500 to 1500 cigarettes
Watches: 500 to 800 cigarettes
Binoculars: 300 to 500 cigarettes
Silk: 10 cigarettes per metre
Jewellery and precious stones: 100 to 500 cigarettes
Of course, in addition to the above, you can get all kinds of Nazi souvenirs such as swords, swastikas, flags, etc., etc., etc. Where the Yugoslavians get their stock, no one knows, but there have been many cases of German homes being raided so that is the answer I guess.
The weather is still perfect and I am feeling 100%. This living outdoors is always good for the constitution, particularly now that our food is substantial.
Squadron leader Aplin went to Belsen Sunday and it certainly made an impression on him. I am beginning now to realize just what an outstanding person he is. We had a long talk that morning about the "Jewish question" and if every gentile person felt as he did, it would be a much happier world for everyone. We decided that as no one else was thinking about the welfare of the children at Belsen, other than feeding them 3 meagre meals a day, we would try and help them ourselves. I spoke to all the fellows in Mess today and asked them if they would contribute a chocolate bar from their rations once a week for the children at Belsen and they agreed. The following Sunday we had our first of many picnics. One hundred and fifty chocolate bars, sandwiches, milk and three trucks to convey them into the country for the afternoon. They had a magnificent time and we were sure that if we had gone there without the chocolate bars, etc. but just piled them into the trucks and dumped them into the nearest meadow, they would have enjoyed themselves every bit as much. They all showed the signs of just being liberated, i.e. pale, pinched faces, frail little bodies, all of them with their hair just growing back in. The older ones who had been at Auswitz had the inevitable numbers tattooed on their wrists. What memories these people must have.
A couple of weeks before we had gone down to Celle prison to see the Beasts of Belsen "on parade". They exercised for twenty minutes in the morning and afternoon, at which time a certain number of troops are allowed to "view" them. The matron in charge gave a running commentary regarding the crimes of each of them. They were all there except Kramer who was not allowed to exercise with the rest of them. They all looked like fiends and murderers, that is all except Irma Grese. The matron in charge wasn't around at the moment so I asked the chap next to me who said he had been down here before, what the charge was against that good-looking blond with the checkered skirt, "Oh her" he says, "she actually shouldn't be here, she was a switchboard operator, but because she was employed by the S. S., she is being held along with the rest of them. That Is her only crime." I was really amazed at the British authorities for keeping an innocent girl locked up with a bunch of murderers just because of having a job working switchboard at Belsen. However, when I picked up a paper three days later, I saw the same girl's picture and underneath was written: "Leader of the Women's S.. S. at Belsen." It turns out that she got more charges against her than any of the others, outside of Dr. Klein. Appearances certainly are deceiving.
Received a letter from my brother Joe today saying that he is now at Oldenburg, but expects to be pulling out in about a week. His letter was dated ten days previous. Our Wing headquarters is at Oldenburg so I arranged to make a legitimate trip to that city. When I arrived in Oldenburg, I located the depot where Joe said he was to be on duty and discovered that he had left two days before. I was really disappointed because he said after he leaves Oldenburg, his outfit will be pulling back to Holland and at that time I saw no way of getting down there. Anyway, I met an old friend from Calgary who was a Sergeant in the Artillery and had a pleasant time with him and his buddy. I stayed overnight in their billets and left for Celle the following morning. I made it back in five hours which was pretty good going.
The first leave allocations have finally come in - for Amsterdam. Since I had been observing the non-fraternization ban, I could hardly wait to get to Amsterdam and some female companionship. The beautiful German girls working our Mess as waitresses were not helping our morale any. So, after an uncomfortable fourteen hour truck journey, we finally arrived in Amsterdam and were taken to the Red Lion Hotel. What a change-- soft beds with sheets, hot and cold running water, telephones ( but we didn ' t know anyone to phone). After a wonderful dinner (it is amazing what a good cook can do with straight Army rations), we went downstairs to the bar, fortified fortified ourselves with a couple of glasses of gin, and set out to see what Amsterdam had to offer. According to the map supplied by the Canadian Army, there were clubs, cabarets, dances all over town, laid on especially for the troops, with entertainment assured. We went to a place called Polmans which was just across the street. Armed with a Dutch-English dictionary, we surveyed the assortment of Dutch girls who had volunteered to act as hostesses that night. We decided on two - one very good looking in a Dutch sort of way and the other not so bad. We both figured on dancing with the good-looker but I got there first and so began a beautiful friendship with Greet Van Lanser. Unfortunately she didn't speak a word of english and I don't speak dutch, so we had to depend upon George's girlfriend Corry who spoke a "leedle" english to translate when necessary, which was not too often. The girls became our companions for the entire three days, and we partook of movies, swimming, dancing and even horseback riding. Expenses for the whole time cost us 1,000 cigarettes a piece, which we sold on arrival at two guilder per cigarette.