C Sqdn, 9th Battn R.T.R.
Jessie Mine: I have got a bit of a worry off my mind today… and am so relieved that – well – I don’t know what to say… but I could easily hug you to death if you were here now-!
It’s nothing really… but I will tell you… I think I told you on my leave that I had had “indigestion” for a long time… and that it started whilst I was in Paris. In other words, I have had this dull gnawing pain in my ‘innards’ for about three months… But just lately… since I was on leave – it seems to have become more violent. It became worse, in fact, during my return journey from leave. I was bothered… so I went to see the M.O. last week… and he said I would have to see a specialist, and have an X.Ray. Hells Bells!! This was awful. I saw the M.O. again yesterday, and he gave me the necessary papers and authority to see the medical specialist at Brunswick today. And so I have been to Brunswick – a 25 mile journey from here.
I went to a former German hospital – newly built and splendidly equipped: we have simply commandeered it, lock stock and barrel. Soon after 2.0pm, I went before the doctor, a Lt. Col – and there were three other doctors in the room, all captains. The colonel questioned me for fully fifteen minutes… and I had to tell him my life story, from the health point of view: he made notes all the time. After the questioning, I had to strip to the waist, and lie on a bed – and then one of the captains started working on me… and after ten minutes of pummelling and prodding and poking and sounding… well, I was fed up. Meanwhile, the others just watched: I felt like a bloody guinea pig.
And then it was the colonel’s turn. He was obviously the expert and seemed much more methodical… but he too gave me a damn good thumping… apart from slamming my knees with a hammer – and nearly rupturing my solar plexus. After this lot, I was allowed to stagger from the bed and re-dress. And then I left the room whilst they had a conference…
Fifteen minutes later, the colonel came out and informed me that I had nothing to worry about: he was convinced that the pain was due to muscular strain and that it would probably disappear in a few weeks. Gosh! I was relieved: I have a horror of hospitals… and dread the thoughts of being retained in an army hospital. I thanked the colonel for his assurance. And then he told me that, as I had made the special journey to the hospital, he intended to have an X Ray photograph of my chest and abdomen to enable him to send a comprehensive report to our unit M.O… So I next went up to the X Ray room – stripped to my waist again – and the ‘photo was taken and developed in about 10 minutes. I left the hospital a little later – feeling a damn sight happier than when I entered. My driver had begun to wonder whether I had been slammed on the operating table – he had been waiting two hours-! We didn’t waste any time getting away: it is nice to be driving away from hospital-!
I didn’t see a lot of Brunswick today, darling… but what I did see was mostly ruins. It seems to be another of those cities, like Hanover, which have been just battered to pieces from the air. The hospital is away in the eastern suburbs, and has escaped damage, but it was rather difficult to reach the place owing to the bombed roadways and numerous detours through rubble-lined alleyways.
Between the village (Ringelheim) and Brunswick, there are a number of camps built by the Germans to accommodate their ‘slave workers’. Jess – the mere sight of these places makes me shudder. They stand today as grim reminders of what the Nazis meant by their ‘new order’. They were, literally, the beginnings of their plans to enslave Europe… to conscript countless hordes of human beings to slave for the ‘fatherland’ – with the Herrenvolk enjoying all the privileges and luxuries of civilisation. Fortunately, these camps are material structures: they actually exist, proclaiming to the world the hideous reason for their existence. The Germans cannot deny their existence: they cannot deny the enslavement of Poles and Russians by the million: they cannot accuse us of having ‘invented’ another atrocity story.
But these camps now have a vastly different meaning for the Germans. From being the wretched ghettoes for their helpless victims, they have become centres of organised robbery, rape, looting and murder. The former slaves are now technically ‘free’ – and they are having their revenge… in spite of Amgot and our attempts to maintain law and order. It is because of this lawlessness that we have been drafted here… more or less to protect the life and property of our erstwhile enemies. It is a damnable situation… and it is not easy to form a definite opinion. It may be asked whether we have an obligation to enforce the law: to stop these former slaves from resorting to jungle law. And I think the answer must be Yes… But if you were asked whether the army had any right to expose your husband to possible death at the hands of those desperadoes, whilst doing his duty in defending Germans and saving them from their own folly, would your answer still be ‘Yes’? That seems to be the position – except that there are few instances of British soldiers having been killed. It appears that the Poles, the worst offenders, are very careful to avoid shedding British blood… but they think nothing of killing Germans.
It is a pity that these slaves cannot be returned to their own countries: it would make things much easier for the armies of occupation. The people themselves seem anxious to go. At the entrances to all Polish camps are huge boards bearing the notice “We demand to be returned immediately to Free Poland”. But these boards are now weather-beaten and tattered, so the ‘immediate’ demand has proved useless. Meanwhile, the ‘slaves’ are living on German rations and being officially cared for by the German authorities – under supervision, of course. But German rations are pretty grim… and I imagine the Poles are sick of being starved. And so they make a habit of carrying out raids on German civilian houses and farms – always at night, and usually around two or three o/c in the mornings. The other night, a German farmer lost two cows, and reported his loss to the authorities. The cows were never found – but two complete hides were discovered next day in one of the Polish camps. Last night, two Poles, armed with pistols, held up some German civilians on a country road, and stole a bicycle, and all valuables including money, jewellery, cigarettes, coats etc. It will be almost impossible to find the culprits because there are dozens of Polish camps in this area – and their inhabitants, being “free”, are not obliged to account for their movements.
The question of arms is a problem. The Poles have many weapons – seized from the Germans at the time of the German collapse, and before Amgot and the army had time to take control. These arms have not been surrendered by the Poles, but have been retained illegally and are kept in various hide-outs in the countryside and woods. They are gradually being found, of course, sometimes on the Poles themselves, but it will take a long time to find all of them. Meanwhile, they are a potential menace to everyone – particularly Germans.
I am told that German girls and young women have a horror of even being looked at by a Pole – they are so afraid of being raped. This is a dreadful situation, Jess, and no matter how one attempts to reason the thing out from both sides, I cannot see how such bestiality can be condoned – in spite of the past. After all, the United Nations claim to have fought for civilisation and for human decency… and we profess to be attempting to re-educate the Germans into our way of life. But the Poles belong to the ‘United Nations’:- perhaps this is unfortunate… they seem to have their own ideas of human decency. It is a messy problem.
The squadron have officially started patrolling the area from this morning. We are maintaining a 24 hour patrol system, and this has proved to be a difficult matter to organise. In fact, I shouldn’t be surprised if the whole scheme results in complete chaos in a few days. The patrol ‘sections’ – there are three of them – have a three day rota comprising one day patrol, one night patrol, one day and night ‘stand to’ and one day off. They are thus losing one night’s sleep in three, with the possibility of being called out for ‘action’ on one of the two remaining nights. To my mind, this is asking far too much of fellows who have done their share in winning the war.
Since V.E. day, we have had a very easy time… rightly so in my opinion. But now, we have gone far to the other extreme, and the conditions have become similar to active service. It is not good enough, no matter how one looks at it. Anyhow – I don’t think it will last: the men won’t stand it. In a way, I am lucky because I do not go out on patrols – thanks to the transport job – but those of us who are left behind in H.Q. section will not have much spare time. We are so short of men to provide the patrol sections that there are no ‘reserves’ whatsoever, and so the H.Q. staff are having to do much extra work.
In my case, besides the transport job, I find that I now have to act as permanent orderly sergeant… in itself, one of the lousiest and most mithering jobs in the unit. I will have a lance-corporal to help me, but the job is my responsibility and is bound to take up plenty of time. I am not complaining about my individual case. I prefer the two jobs to patrolling and losing half my sleep… but I can’t help feeling that we are being compelled to suffer needless hardship – and that is why we have all started to object. Yes, already it has been made pretty plain to the officers that we are being treated as bloody fools. But so far, the major has shewn no evidence of agreeing with us. He is a comparative newcomer to the unit, and was put in charge of ‘C’ squadron when Major Holden was transferred to Battalion second in command whilst I was in Paris. He appears to be anxious to ‘make a good show’… and has already appealed to all of us to “play ball with him”. If he’s not careful, he’ll find that the ball has become damned hard before long.
And now, my love – I must leave you. It is bed-time… Dream-time, I hope…
I send you all my love – with as much as you can spare of it for Barry.