No. 7925934. Sgt. Greenwood, R.T.
9th Battn. R.T.R.
Jessie Mine: I can now tell you about our journey across the Rhine. Before the actual crossing, I remember passing through the German towns of Udem and Marienburg (Marienbaum). The former had been literally wiped out by bombing. I don’t think there was a whole building left in the town: it was more or less a conglomeration of rubble – heaps and bits of furniture and domestic appliances, although there were a few smoke-blackened walls still standing. And over-all lay that depressing smell of decay… a pungent, musty odour as though the air had become filled with the dust of age-old debris. This peculiar smell is a characteristic feature of all war-destroyed buildings. Marienburg was not as badly damaged as Udem, but it had been badly knocked about by artillery, and I think most of the houses were damaged. The place was completely deserted, although I suppose there were a few human wretches still living their animal-like existence in cellars. It is not pleasant to see a completely deserted town: the evidence of former human habitiation… and happiness… stands out grimly against the ugly background of wreckage. To me, the sight of children’s toys lying scattered about the roadways is the most depressing sight. An occasional dead body helps to remind me of the utter beastliness of war.
We crossed the river at Rees… some miles north of Wezel. It took us several hours to travel the last few miles to the bridge owing to the enormous number of vehicles on the road: we formed a small part of an enormous queue of vehicles many miles in length… and all depending upon that narrow and frail-looking Bailey bridge for our crossing. The countryside for several miles west of the river was perfectly flat and obviously a rich agricultural area. From a scenic point of view, it was uninteresting… but to we soldiers there was some interest in the sight of wrecked enemy vehicles and war weapons scattered about the fields: there were, too, many relics of the vast smoke-screen which covered the 2nd Army front during the few days prior to the original Rhine crossing.
As we neared the river, and the ruins of Rees became plainly visible, I looked in vain for any evidence of the river itself… the formidable Rhine. Had I not known from my map that the river lay between my vehicle and Rees on the far bank, I would have wagered that it was non-existent. there was no sign of any valley in the conventional sense… nothing but a flat expanse of fields and a few trees. A very tame approach indeed. The proverbial beauty of the river has no connection with the Rees area… that was obvious. Ultimately, I noticed the funnel of a small steamer about two hundred yards to the right. It appeared to be sticking up from a field… but must have actually been in the water – perhaps grounded on the bank. Shortly after, and about a hundred yards ahead, I saw the river… spanned by two bailey bridges each supported by closely spaced pontoons. The river was disappointing: it was probably less than 200 yards wide… smooth flowing between its uninteresting shallow banks.
We crossed easily enough… and on the far side entered immediately the ruins of Rees… another lifeless mass of rubble and roofless walls. Beyond Rees, the country was again flat and uninteresting… with the usual masses of wreckage on the roadside, mostly burned-out enemy vehicles. We passed occasional groups of civilians, many of them pushing the inevitable pram and wheelbarrow laden with domestic items… and so to Bocholt. This was once a fair sized town, but now… it is no longer a town. I experienced a grim sense of satisfaction from the sight of the place… not from the ruins alone, but from the sight of civilians groping and grubbing amongst the heaps of rubbish that once were homes. Here indeed the war in all its horror had reached the German people. This time it was not the French, the Belgians or the Dutch who were the victims:- these were German civilians. And yet, how strangely similar was their behaviour to that of their former victims. Here was the same desolation, the same dejected and bewildered people, the same handcarts, barrows, prams, cycles… laden with the same household necessities. And their pitiful scratching at the surface of the huge masses of debris I had seen before – so often. There was no sign of hostility in this place. The few people we saw were too intent upon their immediate job to worry about a few tanks.
From Bocholt, we turned north, and eventually crossed the Dutch border… much to our relief. Here we are among friends and could once again relax and enjoy the friendly greetings of the civilians. We harboured at Winterswijk in Holland… and from there I cannot go further just now.
I don’t seem to have much more to say just now, darling. I am still enjoying a fairly trouble-free existence, and these local civilians are not causing any bother. I would rather not be living amongst them of course, but we have no choice in the matter.
Au revoir, dear Jess… I will be with you again tomorrow.
Good night, my love
Always and forever