C Sqdn, 9th Battn R.T.R.
Jess – My Sweetheart: I can’t recall having told you anything about our new accommodation or this locality. I must at least say something about it. Firstly, the village of Ringelheim: it is quite a small place about the size of Prestbury, with agriculture as the main industry… But, unlike Prestbury, it has a ‘schloss’, and has therefore been the country residence of some baron or other… And the schloss – as you may have guessed – is the new home for the squadron. (Click here to see a contemporary post card of the schloss, annotated on the reverse side by RTG)
Now I don’t know whether you have any mental pictures of German castles, but presume you have – perhaps the conventional turretted and spired mass of stonework, standing high up on some rocky pinnacle, and completely inaccessible except by one particular road. I believe there are such schlosses – in the Rhineland or Valhalla or some place – but I haven’t seen one yet. And our newly acquired specimen in Ringelheim is nothing like the fairy-tale pattern. It is old: it is large: it is very strongly built… but it is one of the ugliest and most depressing places I have ever lived in. I don’t know when it was last inhabited by civilians… but it has obviously been used by the German army for some time during this war, so the interior cannot now be the same as it was originally. Even so, the people who lived in it must have been darned tough to survive amidst so much gloom and cold stonework. It is lousy with cold stone floors, high Gothic archways, long and ugly corridors, and whitewashed walls. The whole place resembles a glorified cow-shed on an enormous scale… and I mean enormous. The main corridor on the first floor is almost as long as the roadway from our house to Chester Rd, and damned near as wide: two large lorries could easily drive along it side by side. And off this corridor are many rooms – some very large, others comparatively small, but all lousy and cold… These rooms were, presumably bedrooms at one time: Heaven knows how they were heated in the winter – there are no signs of fireplaces. At present our men are sleeping in these rooms, but will be moving out in a day or so.
So far as room is concerned, it would be possible to accommodate an entire battalion in the schloss – but much of it is remaining empty. Apart from the men’s sleeping quarters, we are only using it for stores, guardroom, offices etc. Both the officers’ and sergeants’ mess’s are located in civvy premises in the village – well away from the gloomy schloss. This is, seemingly, an unfair practice – but conforms with usual army procedure – viz… sergeants and officers live ‘separately’ – so as to avoid any chance of the ‘lower’ ranks becoming too familiar.
It is ironical that we have so much room at our disposal… and yet plan to use even less of it. The men are already fed up with their quarters – much to the major’s amazement!- and want to transfer to, of all things, a wooden hut structure added to the main building by the Germans. I don’t blame the lads: schlosses may be damned fine for barons – but civilised beings crave for something a little more human:- something less like a prison. And so, tomorrow, the transfer will be carried out… so leaving the castle empty apart from cookhouse, stores, guardroom and offices. I should mention that the whole place is fitted up with electric light and running water… and lavatories – so it has been slightly civilised.
The countryside is fairly pleasant on the whole… undulating and well cultivated – with occasional glimpses of higher hills in the distance. In actual fact, we are situated on the north western fringe of the Hartz Mountains… and I believe there is some very lovely mountain scenery within about ten miles of Ringelheim. I may get a chance to see some of it – if I’m lucky.
I don’t suppose our atlas will help you to find Ringelheim, but – if you’re interested – you may find the small town of Salzgitter which lies about three miles to the east of Ringelheim… or perhaps you will have to be content with knowing that we are roughly 20 miles west of Brunswick. Our surroundings are not entirely unspoiled. For one thing, there are the fairly numerous settlements populated by the D.P.’s. These settlements are ugly clusters of wooden shacks – more like large gypsy camps than anything else. Some of them are in the open country, but mostly they lie on the fringe of the villages and towns. At one place about 6 miles from here – along the Brunswick Road – there is a really huge D.P. camp, probably occupying a few square miles. Adjoining it is the sprawling mass of a very large factory – the Hermann Goering Steel Works. The latter is part of a powerful steel group with which Goering became associated, and was built in open country to enable the factory lay-out to be well scattered – presumably as a precaution against aerial bombardment. The factory – or group of factories really – is a hideous blot upon the landscape and is not improved by the neighbouring D.P. camp. There are tall chimneys by the dozen, gasometers, steel foundries, workshops and goodness knows what else. It must have cost millions. And the D.P.’s-? They were imported, mostly from Poland – and set to work in the steel mills etc. literally slaving for the master race. I can’t help wondering what the ordinary German people really thought about all this. They knew it was going on alright: did they derive any pleasure from having so many slaves in their midst? I suppose some of them did. But I’ll bet even the most gloomy of them failed to anticipate or foresee the day when the ‘slaves’ would be ‘free’, and able to exact some measure of revenge for their suffering.
I have today seen the official account of crimes committed by D.P.’s in our area during the last week in September. There are fifty one separate crimes enumerated, committed almost entirely by Poles. Out of upwards of one hundred ‘criminals’ listed, there are only two Russians, one Lithuanian, and two Dutchmen: the rest are Poles. But, in fairness to the Poles, I must emphasize that the D.P.’s in the area are almost entirely Polish. So the figures must not be regarded as proof of the greater criminal tendency among Poles than, say, Russians. I have no doubt that the Russians and Lithuanians and Rumanians and Dutch etc. are just as troublesome wherever they happen to be concentrated.
These crimes are mainly theft… but there are a few “embezzlement” cases, a few “assault and robbery” and one or two “theft with violence”. On four occasions too, there was robbery by armed bandits, and two “highway robbery”. The principle items stolen include bicycles, chickens, rabbits, pigs, cows, sheep, watches, and food cards: only one radio set and one motor cycle. Quite a queer mixture, in fact. It’s a crazy world alright-!!
And that reminds me that some of we fellows will be crazy before long… if something doesn’t happen to our major. I think he’s trying to drive us all nuts… or perhaps it would be more true to say that he is hoping to reap the honour and glory of doing a good job of work – after imposing upon his men duties requiring at least four times the available labour. But he won’t get away with it: its just “not on”, as Ronnie would say-!
I will tell you more about our activities later… Can’t do it now, dear – am too sleepy. ‘Tis very very late.
Goodnight, my love – my Jess