No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jess dear, I know you will be wondering why I have been so silent lately: I imagine that this will be your first letter from me for three or four days… and in the meantime you will have been very worried. I reproach myself for causing you needless worry, my dear… but recent circumstances have made letter-writing impossible. I seem to have been thwarted every time I have attempted to write… but just now, conditions are much better and I hope to be able to compensate for my recent neglect.
As usual, I cannot say anything about my immediate whereabouts… but I can say that there is no reason at all for you to be anxious or worried on my account. I am still living a life of comparative safety… And, in case it affords you some sort of grim satisfaction, I can tell you that my present home was occupied by a fairly prosperous German family about twelve hours before we entered it. They were simply given a few hours to clear themselves out ‘lock, stock and barrel’ in order to provide a comfortable billet for British troops… And so, at least one German family has had a taste of what compulsory ejection feels like. It is no longer the Nazi fiends who are ejecting harmless citizens:- it is their willing slaves who have become the victims… and I don’t think they like it… not that their dislike matters a damn!
It was the major who originally “reccied” this town for us… and it was he who decided that his squadron would live in the best available houses… whether they were occupied by Herrenvolk or not. And it was he who told the same Herrenvolk what to do with themselves!! His account of his negotiations for our billet was rather amusing… amusing, that is, when you bear in mind that the people we are dealing with are members of the nation which has been responsible for such untold misery and brutality during the last few years. This is something which I personally have to be reminding myself of constantly… to avoid allowing sentimentality to outweigh my reason.
The acquisition of a house for the officers’ mess seemed to cause the major the most satisfaction. He saw a really fine house… very large and modern, with well-kept garden etc., and obviously the property of a man of means… perhaps a Nazi official or sympathiser. He entered the place without ceremony, and was accosted by the owner… “a snivelling, fat-arsed, greasy looking Bosch.” The latter attempted to argue… and thereby made a big blunder. The major admitted that had the fellow been less obstinate and overbearing, he would have been allowed to remain in his house: it was really too big and palatial for a few officers. But he annoyed the major, and thereby lost his home… temporarily, at any rate.
For our sergeants’ mess we have a large house too… complete with garden, carriage drive, all modern conveniences etc. It is fully furnished, and includes a well-stocked library of modern German books… And that means literature by the ton eulogising the Nazi party and the thugs who rule it… Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Streichen, Ley etc. etc. To see the extent and lavishness of the books issued about these creatures fairly makes one gasp: it is amazing. I had no idea that propaganda could ever be necessary to such an enormous extent. Or maybe it wasn’t really necessary: perhaps these Germans preferred this type of literature: it may have lessened their inferiority complex, to be constantly reminded of the greatness of their Fuehrer and the Fatherland!
I have spent some time looking through a few of these books, and am struck by the undoubted industry and ingenuity of the Nazis. They have undertaken some enormous constructional schemes, from road-building to gun-making. Every large scheme, every industry which has assisted to create the “new Germany”, seems to have a staff of resident photographers who have faithfully recorded every successive stage of each particular job… and their work has ultimately appeared in beautifully illustrated volumes… volumes which carefully and systematically convince the reader of the glory of the Fuehrer… and the power of his party, the N.S.D.A.P. There is something sickeningly repetitive about all these books, but I don’t suppose the German mind would appreciate that. They must have become intoxicated with propaganda.
As I look through the pages of these books, I see evidence of how the German army of the Third Reich was formed… Of how the youth of the country were regimented into working parties at a time when Germany was forbidden to have arms or an army. Of how they were taught elaborate parade discipline, and ‘rifle drill’ with spades. Of enormous roads being built, the Autobahn… Of ‘gliding’ schools where future pilots were trained under the disguise of an innocent ‘sport’. It is an impressive record of a colossal achievement. And then I lift my eyes and glance through the window of my temporary home… And this book-world of achievement vanishes. I see a part of a war-damaged German town: there are a few civilians about… some wheeling handcarts, or perambulators or bicycles, carrying pitiful remnants of their worldly possessions. They look harmless and docile… but I know they were some of those who were crazed with joy not so long ago when Europe was within their power: when England was the favourite target for their Luftwaffe.
These people would now like to be friendly with us. They don’t like ‘non-fraternisation’… We don’t like it either, but it is a stern necessity and probably the only way to convince the Germans that they are now despised by decent people. I see something else through my window… a sight more gratifying than anything else on this continent just now: it is the seemingly endless procession of British army lorries heading westwards… packed solidly with German prisoners. Tens of thousands of these dejected and dirty Herrenvolk have passed by within a few days. And how different they look by comparison with the arrogant, jack-booted treacherous looking specimens who adorn the pages of my book. What has happened to them? Where are the blond giants, the rows of medals, the shining jack-boots, the smart uniforms, the swaggering manner? Are these the Herrenvolk? It seems incredible. It is incredible. But is it true. Our civilisation was almost lost to this miserable horde and their sub-human masters. I wonder if we in Britain have learned our lesson. The Russians have… and I believe the Dutch have… and the French. But have we? Maybe there has been insufficient suffering in Britain.
The other day, the military authorities received a complaint from a civilian: the civilian’s daughter, it seems, was being pestered by three Polish soldiers… and it was hoped that action would be taken before the daughter was raped. The Polish unit to which the soldiers belonged had already established a reputation for rape… yes, in spite of non-fraternisation. The Polish commanding officer was approached… and what did he do? He simply reminded the authorities that he himself had lost his entire family and livelihood because of the Germans: that most of his soldiers had lost their homes and loved ones: that many of them had sisters and wives and sweethearts who had been raped and then murdered by the Germans. His men were comparatively decent about it: they only raped… they didn’t murder. And there the matter was dropped!! We British soldiers have no such monstrous and bitter memories: and so we cannot hate with the same intensity. I cannot say that this is a pity… but it is something we must always bear in mind before we pass judgment upon these Polish men.
This is a strange life, Jess. I feel thoroughly incompetent for the part I have to play:- and yet, I must do it… there is no alternative. You see, we are no longer “liberators”: we have become conquerors. And it is a good deal more difficult to behave and conduct oneself as a conqueror, than as a liberator. In the latter case, one can behave naturally and accept the gratitude and hospitality of the liberated people without restraint. It has, in fact, been one of the pleasanter aspects of this war to make friends with the foreigners who were our allies. Wherever we have been in France and Belgium and Holland, we have been acclaimed by huge crowds, and the friendly greetings have often compensated for the awful ordeals of battle. But in German territory, the situation is vastly different. Once across the frontier, we cease to regard civilians as normal mortals: we have to behave towards them more as automatons than men. And the change-over is not easy, especially when it necessitates a rigid suppression of one’s normal instincts. It is not easy, for instance, to ignore a friendly greeting from a little child… or to refuse a cigarette to a destitute tramp… or to withhold assistance to a very old lady struggling painfully along between the shafts of a handcart overladen with personal property. But we have to face these things: to relax even a little would be like the thin end of a wedge.
Nothing is done to discourage us from behaving towards German civilians as their soldiers behaved towards civilians in the occupied territories, with the exception that brutality is forbidden. What I mean is that we have to be strict and severe and stand no nonsense whatsoever. And it is particularly necessary for us to ensure that the laws promulgated by the Allied Military Government are adhered to. Curfew, for instance, is one of the things that we insist upon. It is bad enough for us to have to live in this conquered territory: it would be a good deal worse if every civilian were allowed the freedom of the streets after dark: potential assassins would no doubt be glad of the opportunity to commit a murder or two. Only last night, the curfew afforded us a bit of amusement. Two middle aged women were seen on the street by one of our sentries about three minutes after curfew-hour (9.30 pm. at present.) He immediately ‘arrested’ them and brought them along for interrogation. But they didn’t come silently: they simply howled like children. And for fully fifteen minutes we had these two weeping women outside the mess. Presumably they thought we were going to shoot them… But ultimately we let them off with a caution: I think the caution was somewhat emphasized by our interpreter (a Dutch lad with no love for Germans). Anyhow, they ran away like blazes when freed… much to the disgust of our sentry who had to escort them home.
It is a horrible business having to treat human beings in this manner, especially women, but it is not really our fault. We cannot differentiate between ‘good’ Germans and bad ones, so we have to regard all of them as potential evil-doers:- and there are many who would do evil to we British soldiers as you can imagine.
I must leave you now, dear… but let me thank you first for four letters I have received during the last two days. The latest arrived this afternoon, and brought me the very welcome news about Barry. (…)
Good night, my darling.