C Sqdn, 9th Battn R.T.R.
Jess Darling: This is my last evening in this village: we are definitely moving tomorrow into an area which seems to be infested with “D.P’s”… principally Russians and Poles. I hope to tell you more about them later. A few members of the squadron departed today as an advance party… and I was amazed to see a number of apparently genuine farewells between our lads and the local civilians. Quite a number of women and girls were in tears – and at least one youngster – a toddler of about two and a half years howled solidly for nearly an hour. This child’s particular pal was one of our assistant cooks… and it was almost heartbreaking to see the efforts of the child to get aboard the lorry. As they drove off, the little fellow ran screaming into the roadway behind the lorry, regardless of a following vehicle. I picked him up… a tiny mass of sobbing humanity, and took him round to the cookhouse – and there was his mother, also in tears. She took the child from me – and I left them to console each other. Such incidents are disturbing… especially with those of us who try to maintain a polite but rigid ‘aloofness’ with the Germans.
I suppose there will be many more pathetic farewells tomorrow. After all, the squadron have been here for three months – more than long enough for the usual attachments to mature… But in spite of regrets caused by our departure, I feel certain that many of the villagers will be glad to see us go – particularly those who were ejected from their homes to provide accommodation for us. These ejected civilians have been very conspicuous today… hanging around outside their houses and watching us doing the preparatory loading on the vehicles. I’m sure most of them were merely there to see whether we removed any of their property from the houses. One woman managed, somehow, to enter one of the ground floor rooms of her house – and played steam because her radio had disappeared. She accused us of having pinched it. I don’t know how she behaved later when it was explained to her that all radio sets had been handed to the Burgermeister – for subsequent return to their owners.
This incident reminds me of a rather peculiar state of affairs concerning we tank men in Germany. It appears that we are not really welcome anywhere… until sufficient time has elapsed for us to demonstrate that we are not the brutes imagined. And for this doubtful reception, we are indebted to the German S.S. Panzer troops-! You have heard of S.S. troops: they were the elite of the German army – the cream of Hitler’s man-killing thugs: all hand-picked because of their fanaticism, and complete lack of morality (by our standards!). They were encouraged to regard the rest of mankind as inferior scum… and even the German people themselves came in for some of this contempt. And so, in Germany, a village or district considered itself very unlucky if it was chosen as a billeting area for S.S. troops.
Now most of the German “panzer” (tank) regiments consisted of these S.S. thugs… and so the German civilian gradually learned to associate tanks with brutality and arrogance – thanks to the bonny specimens who handled them. And not knowing anything about the composition of the British army, is it surprising that the average German villager is somewhat apprehensive when he learns that ‘panzer’ troops (British variety) are to be billeted upon him? Well… that appears to be the position, and so we have to live down, unconsciously, the bad reputation of the German people’s own soldiers before we can be trusted.
Incidentally, we once came across an identical state of affairs among the civilians of a Dutch town we visited. There too, the people had had a dose of German tank troops… and it took them a little time to accept us as civilised beings.
It’s funny… the Germans regarding us as thugs-!! I have been interrupted by a bunch of sergeants who have returned from Hanover after seeing a picture called “Since you Went Away”… And all of them were in tears during most of the film-! Some thugs-!
Speaking of films reminds me of one item of news on the radio this evening – it concerns the American film “Objective Burma” about which there has been some controversy lately. I see it has been withdrawn from circulation. I saw this film in Paris – and remember telling you how it gave the impression that the Yankee army had done all the fighting in Burma. It was an interesting picture and well produced – but I’m not really surprised that it has been withdrawn. After all, it wouldn’t have hurt the Yanks to pay at least some tribute to our 14th Army. They were often referred to as the “forgotten army”, and this picture is simply rubbing it in with a vengeance.
‘Tis late now, my love – and we have an early reveille tomorrow, altho’ we don’t depart until 9.0am. Hope to be able to tell you about our journey tomorrow evening.
Good night, Jessie Mine –