World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                                           Jack Davis

The Way Back Home – Part 1

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Jack Davis, Stephen Davis, Whinston Churchill, Nelly Goss
Background to story: Civilian Force

 


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Jack Davis and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.


The Way Back Home – Part 1

By
Jack Davis

‘The Way Back Home’ is the war memories of Jack Davis. Jack’s son Stephen Davis has added the Quotations from Churchill’s speeches.

The memories of his friend, and member of the F.F.I. the French underground movement, Nelly Goss were told to Jack Davis on the understanding that Nelly and he never spoke of them ever again.

England - Whither Goest Thou?

Events Unfold and Churchill Speaks

April 03, 1936
The dear desire of all the peoples, is to avoid another horrible war in which their lives and homes will be destroyed or ruined, and such civilisation as we have been able to achieve, reduced to primordial pulp and squalor. Never till now were great communities afforded such ample means of measuring their approaching agony. Never have they seemed less capable of taking effective measures to prevent it. They can yet feel themselves slipping, sinking, rolling backward to the age when "....the earth was void and darkness moved upon the face of the waters."

Manchester, May 09, 1938
...People in this country, after all we have gone through, do not mean to be drawn into another terrible war...

March 24, 1939
If the Nazi Dictator had the time to study English history he would see that on more than one famous occasion, this island had lost great military advantages in Europe by its intense reluctance to be involved in Continental struggles, and yet in the end, led the way to victory ...how could Louis XIV believe that the England which had tamely watched his occupation of all the Belgian fortresses in 1701 would reach a long arm to strangle his armies on the Danube in 1704?

September 03, 1939 House of Commons on the day war was declared
In this solemn hour it is a consolation to recall and to dwell upon our repeated efforts for peace. All have been ill-starred, but all have been faithful and sincere. This is of the highest moral value - and not only moral value, but practical value at the present time, because the wholehearted concurrence of scores of millions of men and women, whose co-operation is indispensable, and whose comradeship and brotherhood are, indispensable, is the only foundation upon which the trial and tribulation of modern war can be endured and surmounted. Outside, the storms of war may blow and the lands may be lashed with the fury of its gales. Our hands may be active but our consciences are at rest.

Winston Churchill, October 01, 1939
Directions have been given by the Government to prepare for a war of at least three years. It was for Hitler to say when the war would begin; but it is not for him or for his successors to say when it will end. It began when he wanted it, and it will end only when we are convinced that he has had enough.

Manchester, January 27, 1940
Come then let us to the task, to the battle, to the toil - each to our part, each to our station. Fill the armies, rule the air, pour out the munitions, strangle the U-boats, sweep the mines, plough the land, build the ships, guard the streets, succour the wounded, uplift the downcast, and honour the brave. Let us go forward together in all parts of the Empire, in all parts of the island. There is not a week, not a day, nor an hour to lose.

House of Commons, May 13, 1940
I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is your policy? I will say: it is to wage war by sea, land, and air with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is your aim? I can answer in one word: Victory - victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be: for without victory, there is no survival.

House of Commons, June 04, 1940
We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the streets, we shall fight in the hills: we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a-large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the old.

House of Commons, June 04, 1940 - after Dunkirk
I will pay tribute to these young airmen. May it not also be that the cause of civilisation itself will be defended by the skill and devotion of a few thousand airmen. There never had been, I suppose, in all the world, in all the history of war, such an opportunity for youth. The Knights of the Round Table, the Crusaders, all fall back into the past: not only distant but prosaic; these young men, going forth every morn to guard their native land and all that we stand for, holding in their hands these instruments of colossal sand shattering power, of whom it may be said that, "Every morn brought forth a noble chance and every chance brought forth a noble knight," deserve-our gratitude, as do all of the brave men who, in so many ways and on so many occasions, are ready, and continue ready, to give life and all for their native land.

Broadcasting, June 17, 1940
We have become the sole champions now in arms to defend the world cause. We shall do our best to be worthy of this high honour.

Broadcasting on June 18, 1940
I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

Speaking to the House of Commons August 20, 1940
The gratitude of every home in our island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

Broadcasting to France October 21, 1940
Good night then, sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come. Brightly will it shine on the brave and the true, kindly upon all who suffer for the cause, glorious upon the tombs of heroes. Thus will shine the dawn. Vive la France! Long live also the forward march of the common people in all the lands towards their just and true inheritance, and towards the broader and fuller age.

Broadcasting on February 09, 194I
President Roosevelt, in a letter of introduction to me, wrote out a verse, in his own handwriting, from Longfellow, in which he said, "applies to you people as it does to us."
Here is the verse:
Sail on, O Ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears, with all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!
What is the answer that I shall give, in your name? Here is the answer that I will give to President Roosevelt: Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith, and your blessing, and under Providence, all will be well.
We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down.
Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.

Broadcasting on May 07, 1941
It is a year almost to the day since men of all parties joined hands together to fight this business to the end. When I look back on the perils, which have been overcome, upon the great mountain waves through which the gallant ship has driven, I feel sure we have no need to fear the tempest. Let it roar, and let it rage! We shall come through!

Speaking at a Dominions Conference in London June 12, 1941
Hitler may turn and trample this way and that through tortured Europe. He may spread his course far and wide, and carry his curse with him; he may break into Africa or into Asia. But it is here, in this island fortress that he will have to reckon in the end. We shall strive to resist by land and sea. We shall be on his track wherever he goes. Our air power will continue to teach the German homeland that war is not all loot and triumph.
This then is the message which we send forth today to all the States and nations bound or free, to all men in all the lands who care for freedom's cause, to our allies and well wishers in Europe, to our American friends and helpers drawing ever closer in their might across the ocean: this is the message - Lift up your hearts. All will come right. Out of the depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind.

Speaking in Ottawa December 30, 1941
We did not make this war, we did not seek it. We did all we could to avoid it. We did too much to avoid it. We went so far at times in trying to avoid it as to be almost destroyed by it when it broke upon us. But that dangerous corner has been turned, and with every month and every year that passes, we shall confront the evil-doers with weapons as plentiful, as sharp, and as destructive as those with which they have sought to establish their hateful domination. I should like to point out to you that we have not at any time asked for any mitigation in the fury or malice of the enemy. The peoples of the British Empire may love peace. They do not seek the lands or wealth of any country, but they are a tough and hardy lot. We have not journeyed all this way across the centuries, across the mountains, across the prairies, because we are made of sugar candy.
The French Government had at their own suggestion, solemnly bound themselves with us not to make a separate peace, but their generals misled them. When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, "In three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken."
Some chicken - some neck!

Speaking in London March 26, 1942
We must confront our perils and trials with that national unity which cannot be broken, and a national force which is inexhaustible: We must confront them with resilience and ingenuity which are fearless, and above all with that inflexible will-power to endure and yet to dare for which our island race has long been renowned. Thus, and thus alone, can we be worthy champions of that grand alliance of nearly thirty States and nations which without our resistance would never have come into being, but which now has only to march on together until tyranny is trampled down.

Speaking in London November 10, 1942
...We have not entered this war for profit or expansion, but only for honour and to do our duty in defending the right. Let me, however, make this clear, in case there should be any mistake about it in any quarter. We mean to hold our own...
Here we are, and here we stand.

Zero hour! It had begun - the invasion! London had given the word and Churchill declared that if England, indeed if a free world was to survive then the beast would have to be bearded in his own den. The BBC pledged information and hourly bulletins crackled through many a cunningly concealed radio as a glimmer of hope, a lifeline, to those now lying under the jackboot of Germany.

The occupied countries listened in fearful anticipation. How would it all end and to who would the laurels of victory go?

02:15am, 6th June 1944. Silence was no more! The incessant drone of aircraft engines announced clouds of parachutists dropping out of the night and the air was thick as guns and cannon, spitting cordite and belching smoke, flame and metal venomously spoke of a battle for space. Sea vessels of all shapes and sizes heaved as they disgorged men, machines and supplies to a first precarious foothold. Overhead, fighter planes screamed defiance. Bombs blasted the earth apart. Chaos was king! What, if anything passed through the mind at this time? Who would see tomorrow? How many would live to reminisce? Only time would tell. Meanwhile the urgency of establishment and consolidation was essential.

Dawn dragged on into daylight and the invasion was leaving its mark. On the ground, the scars of forced entry into France and the man and machine which were to go no further. Overhead the screech and trail of the fighter plane dogfight and the heavy grind of the laden bomber's engines. The stench of explosive lingered in the nostrils. The clamour of landing still clanged in the ear, and now, facing away from the sea, the eye was drawn inland to where the menace really was.

Men and machines scattered inland towards predetermined positions and, not surprisingly, in the confusion, some became separated from their units and now had to proceed as best they could; my group was such.

We congregated in the best cover available - under trees next to a small field. A short distance away, a few cottages overlooked a stream, where we observed passing troops taking the advantage of a swift "face wash" and whilst the senior rank of our group consulted together as to which way to go, two of us decided to, join the melee. We did, and were shocked to find that upon return to the field, the place was deserted. Now what? Bit of a daft thing to do, wasn't it? So what happens now?

The area was a moving mass of troops and vehicles and my newfound friend (Dick by name) and I discussed how best to "catch up." We eventually saw the funny side and, with an infectious grin, Dick said, "Before we can think straight, a cup of tea is called for."

Before leaving England, each of us was issued with a small square box inside which were emergency rations, consisting of a square of porridge oatmeal, a few biscuits, some sugar, a packet of sweets and a bar of chocolate, two OXO cubes and a couple of squares of compressed tea and dried milk. The question now was how much we ought to consume (after all, they were EMERGENCY rations) so we decided - one square of my tea, and two of Dick's biscuits. Thus fortified, we considered our next course of action and reluctantly decided to split up for the time being. He was to stay put in case our unit returned for some reason, and I was to "have a look around". At least we knew where each other was, when and if we made contact. So, off I went.

Which way now and by what route? Take care. Watch out! Is that "one of ours" and “who's that over there? It looks innocent enough, but wait - is it friend or enemy agent? And what of the unseen? Could it be a sniper's bullet or concealed mine?”

Laden with packs and loaded rifle, dripping perspiration, boot-encased feet becoming sorer by the minute, I pursued my elusive unit along the dusty road into the distant gloom.
As time passed I became anxious as to my whereabouts, and as I contemplated, a bullet whined past my head. I immediately dropped to the ground. Where on earth did that come from and who fired the shot? I waited with bated breath. It seemed an age; all was quiet. I raised my head and carefully looked around. No one in sight except, in the near distance, a woman. Could it be her? I thought not, and as I glanced away, a second bullet rudely interrupted my thoughts. I challenged, with rifle at the ready, and she disappeared into the woods. A mystery!

Keep going! I talked to myself in an attempt to keep calm and reassure myself that soon, I would be with my unit and, three miles on (and it seemed like thirty), I came upon crossroads and heaved a sigh of relief at the sight of British MP's who, after questions and answers, pointed me up the road and eventually into a noisy farmyard full of filthy but friendly faces. My unit at last! And how welcome the question, "Where on earth have YOU been?" There was, for the moment, no plan for the unit to move out and, having assured Dick that I would return to where we had parted company, I set off to find him again - somewhat of a daunting experience as daylight was beginning to fade and, as before, extreme caution was called for.

It seemed a bit odd - me going one way and troops and tanks going the other, but nevertheless, I was comforted by the fact that in the immediate area there were "more of us than them!" The sky was almost on fire with shell bursts and the clatter of gunfire never ceased. Aircraft roared overhead and, on the ground, there were the wrecks of those, which were to fly no more.

Eventually, as daylight finally disappeared, I came upon Dick, as he sat, greatcoat draped around his shoulders, within the glow of a little stick fire. He was relieved to see me, but all the same, I observed him to be low in spirit, somewhat surprising in view of my good news. "What's up?" I asked. "Too late now to start back. We'll have to wait till morning and I don't fancy the idea of kipping here for the night - a bit too open - planes and bombs flying about and snipers snooping around." Nevertheless, we decided to stay until early the following morning - try and get SOME sleep - and we agreed to take turns "on watch."

The only covering we had was our ground sheets, so we fixed them with twigs, over our blankets and lay underneath the 'sheet' still wearing our greatcoats. Our packs served as pillows. Dick's was first watch. For the first ten minutes or so, I slept soundly - until a violent explosion! We sprang to our feet in fright, and, as we looked upward, observed a bomber (ours or theirs we didn't know) hopelessly on fire and seemingly heading in our direction. "RUN," we yelled at each other, and made a dash for it - into a cornfield as it happened. The plane came down and pitched on to its side, soon becoming a charred wreck (we assume the crew baled out.).

The next terrifying experience was when, soon afterwards, another plane (could have been the one which shot down the bomber) strafed the ground with gunfire. No further sleep that night for me, albeit Dick eventually "got his head down" for a while. At dawn, using all available cover, as Dick and I set off to rejoin our unit we suddenly stopped at the sound of approaching motors and slipped into a ditch. Now what? Was it theirs or ours? They were ours and we needed no second invitation to "jump on".

Welcome as it was, our transport was far from comfortable. We juddered across ploughed fields, negotiated bomb craters and slid along roads churned into quagmires by advancing tanks, passing through villages where the Cross of Lorraine hung limply from battered windows. Eventually we arrived at our destination, where, with our colleagues, for the first of what would seem a thousand times, we "dug-in". Daylight gave way to darkness. Sleep? The elusive pleasure of rest? As Juliet said of Romeo, "Wherefore art thou?" Both night and day, the air was almost metallic with bomb, shell and gunfire as the enemy attacked allied positions. His decree? Thus far and no further! He simply could not allow the precarious foothold to become an established bridgehead, and the allies must not be allowed another step forward or the further turn of a wheel.

Early one morning the order came - "Move out" (destination not notified) and, three days later, we arrived at the small Port of En Bassin (Normandy), which, until that particular morning had been occupied by German forces and which was to play a vital part in the battles for Bayeux, Caen, the Falaise Gap and the Argennes. France waited with bated breath. Would the Germans give ground? The answer to that question came on the day that French, American, British and Russian flags hung in victory from the buildings of Bayeux. The ensuing battles raged, first one way and then another, as one side gained and then lost the advantage. Slow but sure and notwithstanding heavy losses, the Allies inched towards the Falaise gap, the gateway to Belgium, beyond which was laid the heart of Germany.

The landscape was mutilated. Tanks littered the plains, dwellings and other buildings were completely destroyed under incessant bombardment and people sought refuge - any refuge from the onslaught. But of course one must never forget the vital work of the F.F.I., the French underground movement, members of which were in every town and village. Much had been done by this secret organisation to hinder the enemy and undermine German morale, by sabotage and the passing of information. Had it not been for such, the more difficult would have been the battle against the evil of Nazi Germany.

On high ground, overlooking a sleepy little town was a Chateau - an idyllic spot - peace and tranquillity. But not today, or yesterday, or even the week before! The place had been a battlefield as the Allies fought their way into the enemy stronghold and the chateau was now but a suggestion of its former grandeur. Down in the-town, whilst some people remained and refused to move from what had been their homes, many-others, now refugees trudged away in silence. The area was now an allied "transit camp" where men fed and slept prior to moving forward and through which supplies and ammunition were funnelled to the battlefront. This was Argennes, beyond which lay the gateway into Belgium.

As we moved around the town, the locals were undoubtedly pleased to see us. We exchanged the inevitable "Bonjours" and "Bonsoirs" (that being the extent of our French language ability) and in time, faces became familiar as kindness and hospitality were extended to the "friendly invaders". Whilst here, we met Madame "No Name" (she never told us), dark featured, perhaps of gypsy blood, stern but kind and although resources were frugal, one day she invited my mate Taffy and me to lunch. Her home had unfortunately been destroyed during the advance, yet she was neither angry nor bitter. She considered the loss a worthy price to be paid for the end of German occupation. In her plight she had wondered how and where to find shelter for herself and young son and daughter. Why did she not turn the goats out of the shed and live in it herself. What a thought! But then again, at least they had what she had not - a roof over their heads.

Not without difficulty and hard work, the goat shed was cleaned out and she salvaged what she could of her home. Curtains were hung around the walls, a small bedraggled sideboard installed with a single bed for herself, whilst the hayloft became the children’s' bedroom. A small wood-fired stove served for both cooking and heating. She was rather proud of the transformation. This now was "home" and here it was-that Taffy and I "enjoyed” bread and goat's cheese with Madame No Name and her children, laughing as we did, at each other's attempts to communicate in either "pigeon" French or English.

We were billeted at the chateau, the home of Monsieur and Madame Hommais. They had, of course, known better times, but they also were hospitable and were quietly pleased to have the English as their guests - more so, because previously they too had been subjected to the arrogant German occupation. The enemy ideal for the officers and serving as a good “look-out”, being on high ground had commandeered the building.

Not until later, as they recounted their tale, did we learn that they and their son Jaques (along with Madame "No Name") were members of the F.F.I. As with all resistance workers, secrecy was vital. Passwords/coloured hankies/coloured pieces of paper - all were part and parcel of communication.

Gunfire, planes and bombs announced another day. Minds were quickly concentrated and all eyes turned to observe the direction from whence the attack came. Standing by Madame Hommais was a German officer. She remarked, "The English guns seem to be accurate." "Yes," he replied, "but I hope their bombs are off target." "C'est le guerre," "she responded. "How lightly Madame speaks. Are you not afraid?" "Why should I be? I have no fear of death. My peace with God is made. But what about you, Meine Herr, are you not afraid? What, I wonder, will happen to you!”

The German officer stared her in the face for a moment, and then turned away in silence.
That evening there was a knock at the door and as Madame Hommais went to investigate, an observant German curiously followed. "Oui" he heard her say. "My husband is feeling much better today, merci," and she moved away from the door. "Who WAS that?" she was asked. "And what did they want?" She remained silent. He insisted. "ANSWER me!" "Only someone enquiring about my husband's health," she said. "I don't believe you. It's been obvious you're up to something." "I tell you again," she said, "My friend asked after my husband." "LIAR! We have been watching you. We suspect you're a member of the F.F.I." Madame Hommais nervously left the room. "Sleep well, Meine Herr - if you can!"

She now knew the utmost caution to be more than necessary and, later that day as she walked to the butcher's for provisions, she happened to see, reflected in a shop window, that same German, following and observing her every move. That night, Madame Hommais stood by a small window at the head of the stairs out of which she could see planes sweeping in with their cargo of destruction. German defence batteries blasted their response, and she observed one bomber hit by a shell and its wing set on fire.
The crew apparently thought urgent evacuation necessary and parachutes began to blossom beneath the stricken plane.

"Santa Maria," she whispered, "keep them safe." "I THOUGHT so! Now I AM sure! You ARE one of them!" She was startled by the voice out of the darkness behind her. "Why should I NOT pray for the inhabitants of my own village?” "It is not for those you pray, but for those cursed English pilots. You will live to regret your actions, Madame. I will see to that. And we will speak again - be assured!"

He disappeared, as his attention was quickly drawn to the disturbance of downstairs where, by the sound of the commotion, his colleagues were undoubtedly in some disarray.

Madame took a back stair and called her son, Jaques. "Quick," she said, "An English crew has just baled out over there," She pointed to where she thought they may have landed. "I am being watched. If you love France go and try to find them. Take them to where you used to play with your friends when you were little, but be very careful. Be brave. Speak to no one, I tell you, no one, whether they be German or French." Jaques was frightened, but nevertheless, dodging this way and that, keeping out of sight as much as he could, he went as directed and arrived at a cornfield, where he stopped and listened. His young frame quivered as his heart pounded within him! He heard whispered, voices; English so he thought, and before he could make a further move, someone from behind, reinforced his question with a pistol to Jaques's back. "Who are YOU and where have you come from?" "Over there," Jaques pointed. "I am French and I was sent to help you. Germans are not far away and you must hide, quickly. Trust me."

Having no idea as to the layout, the crew had little option but to follow the lad at a reasonable distance, and warily, in case they were led into a trap.

By a circuitous route, and after what seemed an age, the group eventually stopped and Jaques motioned with his hand towards a cave on the hillside amidst some still standing trees. "Stay there until later. One of us will return with food and directions. Meanwhile, for you to know us we must have a signal," - and he whistled.

The six-crew members were fed and watered for two days and on the third, they were wished "bon voyage" as they began the dangerous trek back towards allied lines, where ground troops battled their way forward. Meanwhile, in the village, Monsieur Lechere, the local doctor, had been arrested, having been betrayed to the German authorities by one of his own patients. How true to say that in those days no one was to be trusted, not even one's own countrymen, and many good and loyal French folk were lost by treachery.

The officer in charge of the German unit was to be recalled to Berlin as a result of derogatory reports as to his efficiency and suitability for this command post. Herr Hauptman had recently arrived to replace him and the relationship between the two men was somewhat frosty. The former was aware of the recent escape of the bomber crew and was angered, firstly, by what he considered German incompetence, and, secondly, by the infuriating exploits of the F.F.I. Now he determined, an example must be made of Monsieur Lechare for the "benefit" of all. According to later reports, the utmost pressure was exerted in an attempt to extract information from the doctor, yet he remained firm and refused to yield, as a consequence of which Herr Hauptman became so exasperated, that he ordered the man's immediate execution.

So it was that as the hour approached midnight, two crisp shots were heard, then a third, and Monsieur Lechare slumped to the ground. His lifeless body was found by two of his friends at sunrise the next morning.

The allied attack intensified and the sound of heavy gunfire, planes and bomb blasts shattered the air, both day and night. The German response was now becoming desperate and they retaliated with venom. Could they hold their ground, and how far away were the attacking ground troops? Belgium lay beyond this place, and beyond that - Germany. This was, for them, a watershed. A decision would soon have to be made as to the next move, fight on and stay to the bitter end, or retreat, a thought hostile to the German mind!

Meanwhile, the brutal murder of Doctor Lechere had only served to stiffen the resolve of the faceless F.F.I. and that, along with the relentless allied bombardment, certainly was an encouragement for-other folk, hitherto passive, even timid, to join forces with the small number of patriots who had, for so long, struggled against the odds for freedom. They harassed the Germans at all times and by any available means, and life for the aggressor in the area became somewhat precarious as the unseen resistance left its mark of disapproval. The Germans were by now decidedly fidgety, concluded discretion to be the better part of valour. Their position seemed untenable and the order was eventually given to move out. However, during the ensuing chaos of preparing men and materials for urgent evacuation, Madame Hommais was horrified to see her home being ransacked by the departing soldiers. What a shambles! Wardrobes, drawers and cupboards were ripped open and the contents scattered over the floor. Germans were scrabbling over her belongings - fur coats, jewellery, silverware - grabbing anything and everything they thought portable and of value. She shouted them to stop and was shoved aside as she tried to intervene. "You German pigs!" she screamed. "You forcefully occupy my home and now…” Words failed as her voice choked and she stood, reduced to tears, whilst the soldiers, prior to an urgent retreat towards Brussels, went on with their filthy work.

Two days later, in, the name of freedom, the allied forces swept in and reclaimed the Argennes. Now that German occupation was at an end, the occupants of the area sought to reorganise themselves, rebuild shattered lives and resume something of a normal existence under the protective canopy of the Liberator. Madame Hommais had invited Taffy and me to lunch and, as we were about to leave, the local priest called. His name was Monsieur Le Cure. He said that after Mass the following day, he and others were to place wreaths on unmarked graves, which held five unknown allied airmen. "They were brought down over there." He pointed in the general direction of the plane crash. "The Germans ordered us to leave the bodies where they lay and said that any attempt to bury them would result in reprisals. How could we obey? How could we be so inhuman? So one night, whilst some of us made a distraction, others managed to dig graves and laid the men to rest. Needless to say the Germans were furious and offered rewards for information, but to no avail.

”I now come to ask for your help. Tomorrow morning we go to honour these men and the many others who gave their lives to liberate us and we ask you, as an Englishman, to represent all the soldiers and say a few words at the graveside. Also bring your friends. It is our wish!"

I returned to my billet in an anxious state of mind and lay awake that night wondering, "Why me?" and, "What am I to say?" I felt I could not face the ordeal and wished I could withdraw. I voiced my concerns to Taffy and he quite simply said, "You must do as they ask, for remember, you are privileged to represent their families back home."

The following morning Monsieur Le Cure came. "Are you ready?" he asked. I nodded, still wondering how to face the ordeal ahead. We walked in silence to the far end of the town where a large group of people was assembled, and as we drew near, some folk saluted whilst others raised their hats in meaningful gesture. We were welcomed into the home of a family outside and inside of which wreaths, flowers and crosses were placed. This, we were told, was the home of members of the French underground movement. We were shown into a back room where, carefully placed on a small, white cloth covered table, was a soldier's "tin hat" and two large wreaths of flowers. Three candles burned brightly within brass candlesticks. The priest picked up one wreath, of red roses, and gave it to me, saying, “I remember the red rose is the national flower of England." The other wreath, of laurel and white chrysanthemums, he handed to my mate Taffy. We followed him out of doors to the waiting group of people and stood between two elderly Frenchmen. Monsieur Le Cure touched my shoulder and said, "No - you and your friend must head the procession. You are closer to the dead soldiers than we are. They are your people. I, the Burgermaster and the others will follow." We then took our place and all proceeded, back from whence we came, down leafy lanes and into the fields beyond.

The scene here was utter carnage and walking became difficult. Bomb craters and mountains of earth impeded our progress and the tools of war lay scattered everywhere. Two six inch guns, now silent, still pointed skywards amidst the remains of others which had been blown apart in the battle, service caps and helmets could be seen and here and there were bullet riddled water bottles. There were trenches and dugouts. Planes lay "up-ended", crumpled and burned out and, as we passed by, Monsieur Le Cure pointed to one particular aircraft. "That was where the airmen's charred bodies were found, by a farmer's boy."

The horror of war!

We slowly moved forward,, to where uneven ground and long grass gave way to a more pastoral scene and, a little later, the priest said, "Look to the right. There are your dead." I looked, and observed five graves, each marked with a simple wooden cross. Everyone stopped short of the graves and Taffy and I stepped forward to lay our wreaths. What a pitiful sight - five brave men in five graves, alone. But no, a solitary blackbird announced that he was keeping watch. I laid my wreath on no particular grave because all were one and as we stood, I could not but be reminded of the poem by Rupert Brooke in which he wrote, "………breathes here a man with soul so dead, who never to himself has said, there is some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England."

As I pondered, people began to file slowly past, each placing their simple tribute of flowers upon the graves. They then re-assembled, the priest gave a brief summary of relevant events and began to pray, "Ave Maria, mater et ami...” He then motioned to me and I stood, with him at my side to translate, and nervously began to speak the words that had been racing through my mind. The date was November 11, 1944 and the following is a summary of what was said at the time: "I am privileged to be with you today and am overwhelmed by your expressions of sympathy, care and concern for those of our comrades who died in the battle for freedom, and on behalf of the families and friends of these five men, I can, very inadequately, but offer our sincere and grateful thanks. The cost thus far in human life has been great; nevertheless the fight must and will continue until ultimate victory is accomplished.

”You, indeed all the people of France, have responded to the call. Under German occupation you have endured hardship and repression unknown to us in England. You have lived under the German jackboot and you have experienced its ruthless tyranny. You also know what it is to lose friend and family. We thank you for joining with us against tyranny.

”I speak for all my comrades when I also say that we have been moved by the kindness, generosity and hospitality you and your nation have shown in the face of so much adversity. Today, I have seen the impossible. We came to France as strangers and we move on as friends. Thank you for joining with us in the fight. Thank you again. And now, on behalf of King George, our Parliament, the workers and women at home I say, VIVE LA FRANCE!"

(Note: I have no reason to doubt that to this day, the people of Argennes continue to maintain the five graves as they promised.)

By this time the German forces were staggering under the allied onslaught. Slowly and painfully they backed off and gave more ground. The freedom of France, being bought at such cost of human life, peered over a distant horizon. Perhaps at this point a mention of whom I would term a second "Jeanne d'Arc" would not go amiss.

Maybe not enough has been recorded as to the service accomplished by those ordinary French folk, those brave souls, who, with no self regard, became "The Resistance" and my tale would certainly not be complete without an introduction to a young girl named Nellie Gosse, who became, and remains to this day, both "French sister" and family friend. She lived, with her widowed mother, in the sleepy little hamlet of Quittebeouf, which, having been unable to withstand German occupation now lived in abject misery. Freedom was history. Night curfew was the order and anyone, particularly women and girls were subject to insult, assault and, in some cases, brutality. Nellie, aged eighteen, having been forcefully removed from home, now lay in a filthy prison in Rouen. Her crime? Sheltering some allied airmen! Some would have given up hope, but hers was far from dead. She resolved to help in the liberation of her beloved France - but how, as yet, she knew not.

It all began when, at the close of a long and dismal day, outside Quittebeouf, Nellie heard the unmistakable cough, of damaged and dying aircraft engines. A bomber, not German she observed, struggled into view. Unable to maintain height, the pilot's only option was to put it down. The plane came to a juddering halt and the crew slid out, one by one. Good! No one had seen them - yet! Now what? Get away from the plane! Which direction? Where are the Germans? Can't be far away! Must have heard us come in! As the crew hurriedly pondered on their situation, and not without confusion, they saw a girl beckoning them.

They gingerly moved forward and, after a few whispered words of introduction, being satisfied as to the mysterious appearance of this friendly French girl, allowed themselves to be led, under as much cover as possible, to Nellie's little abode where Madame Gosse, after almost collapsing with shock at the sight, hid the men some distance away as best both she and Nellie could. Fourteen anxious days and nights followed. It was too quiet. Where ARE the Germans? They must be around SOMEWHERE. They probably started from the plane and widening the search. Can't hang around. Got to make a move!

During the penultimate night, Nellie, clad in dark cape with hood, crept out, as she had done for the past two weeks, and quietly went to where the men were hidden - in her hands, the small bag of very simple provisions, spared from a very ill-stocked kitchen. "Mama has sent food and drink,” she whispered, "be quick to eat for soon it is day and will be dangerous. Tonight you come my house for wash and hot soup and then I tell you my plan for you go away. Au revoir." And she was gone!

That final night found weary and anxious airmen at her house. After a swift wash in hot water and devouring the promised soup, food and drink, enough for six days with care, were handed to a few very grateful foreigners, along with instructions on the best way to proceed hence. Nellie and her mother then bade a final "au revoir et bon voyage" and the men slipped away into the night. How the news later came was a mystery, but Nellie and her mother joyfully heard that the English aircrew had reached British lines.

Three days after the men had left, the little household lay asleep. It was very early in the morning. Mama stirred. “What was that?” Her question was soon answered. "Open the door or we break it down." Her heart pounded. She slipped on her dressing gown and approached the door. More curses! The next thing, she was shoved to one side as two Germans barged into the house. "Are you Nellie Gosse?" "No, I am her mother." "Then get her" came the reply. The poor woman stood there horrified! How did they know? Who was the collaborator? What treacherous mind had betrayed them? "Get her you old dolt!" the words came again. "Pardon me", Madame Gosse replied, "It is not good to disturb my daughter's rest". This infuriated the intruders, and one made to go upstairs but Mama sprang to the entrance and barred the way. "One moment, my daughter's room is private." Thereupon, Madame called to her daughter, and, a few moments later, a sleepy eyed 18 year old, the colour drained from her cheeks, stood before them trembling, and shivering in her night attire. She told herself that for her mother's sake she must pull herself together. "Ave Maria," she prayed, "please help me.”

"Are you Nellie Gosse?" "Yes," she replied, "please take a chair." "No" was the reply, "soldiers of the Fuhrer never sit." The dreaded question then came. "Where are the airmen?" She laughed nervously. "Airmen? I have not seen any airmen." "Then you are telling lies, my pretty girl. We know that men came to your house. Your neighbour has given us information. Who were they? Tell us the truth now. The Fuhrer does not forget those who work for him. Speak or you will come with us." "I tell you again," Nellie replied, "I have not seen any airmen." "In that case, you WILL come with us, and we promise, you will tell us, later!"

At that, with little time to dress, and with her cape around her, she was bundled outside into the waiting vehicle and driven away. Madame Gosse, numbed in horrified silence, knew not whither.

ROUEN. Swastika flags drooped from the large building. This was Gestapo headquarters. The German vehicle, drew up and Nellie was ushered forward, her two man escort on either side. A brief word with the guards, nazi salutes and the little party passed through the gate. They proceeded, with repeated, "Heil Hitlers," under close scrutiny by more guards, until they reached a door marked "Der grosse Herr Kommandant", where the men hesitated, for a moment. They knocked on the door and went in, with Nellie before them.

"Heil Hitler!” The escort clicked heels as they raised arms and voices in nazi salute.
The Kommandant glared at the intrusion from behind his desk. "Heil Hitler," came the staccato response. Words were exchanged. He then raised himself, moved towards Nellie and stood before her. Into her face he barked again. "Heil Hitler!" No response! He became agitated. "YOU” (She winced as he jabbed her with his stick) “why do you not salute our beloved leader? Her reply was swift and sure. "I respect the name of all good men except that of him who calls himself the Fuhrer." "You insolent woman! Be careful what you say. Before you leave this room you will bless the name of our great leader." "Never will it be said of me" she cried. At this Herr Kommandant motioned her escort to stand aside. "In that case perhaps a little chastisement may be necessary?" He questioned the prisoner as to her name, her family, her home, her associates and her activities of the past few weeks.

Her "crime", now being a "German subject" was to help the enemy of the Third Reich.
"If you tell us where the English are hiding, you will be of assistance to the Fatherland, and you may go, but if not…!" The unfinished sentence bore the strong hint of unpleasantness.
At this, Nellie's young heart swelled with emotion. "I am free French! YOU invaded and now occupy MY country. The German nation is nothing to me - the German people of no consequence, and I refuse to acknowledge the Austrian, this self styled Fuhrer of yours. Vive le Generale de Gaulle! Vive La France!"

She remembered no more for a brutal hand rendered her unconscious. At dawn the following day, a weight of depression and deep foreboding lay on the prisoner. Her eyes were blackened her lips swollen and her tired and bruised body found no comfort on the stone floor of the place into which she was flung after the "interview" the previous day.
How long she lay unattended she neither knew nor cared when suddenly, the sound of boots, a key grated in the lock of the door and in came a guard bearing not a large jug of cold water. "That is for washing and drinking today." Expecting some hint of remorse or pity from this man she asked, "Will I be allowed to go home? My Mama is alone and I am all she has." "I do not care to question the orders of my superiors," was the contemptuous reply, "and it is forbidden to speak to political prisoners."

Poor girl. She sank to her knees and wept in despair. Someone speaking awakened her. "You go to see, the Kommandant." She smoothed her hair, arranged her clothing and replied, "I am ready." She was ushered before the Kommandant, who, to Nellie's great surprise, appeared to be most civil. "Good morning," he said, "please sit. I am sorry that regulations do not permit me to give you a bed, but if you are a good girl, you soon may be sleeping in your own room. Come now, let us go over the talk we had yesterday. We must both be patient. Let us speak to each other as friends. Now then, where were we?

”I remember. I asked you to tell me where the airmen were hiding and you refused. Is that right?" "No" she replied, "I did not have the opportunity to answer. You or one of your men hit me. I will, however, answer now. You will not find the English. They escaped and reached their lines a few days ago."

"Come, come now! Think of your mother! We know you are hiding them somewhere. Tell me the truth and I will allow you to return home." "I AM telling the truth," she replied.
The half- smile slipped from the Kommandant's face and his eyes narrowed. "Who helped you?" "No-one". "Do you mean to say that you alone are responsible for this action? What about your mother? Surely SHE was involved?" "I do not share my confidences. My mother knows nothing." "You must have friends in the F.F.I." "No, I am alone" "Where are their headquarters? Who are their members? Tell me!" "I know nothing."

The Kommandant spoke in low; but menacing tones. "My patience is fast running out, and I will not tolerate your, insolence. I repeat my questions. SPEAK!" "I am French. You invade MY country and expect me to HELP you? I owe no allegiance to Germany and I refuse to say anything more." "Madamoiselle Gosse, you will be GLAD to answer the questions I ask before you leave here. Rouen will bear bitter memories for you, be assured. Let me see you in more co-operative mood when next we meet." With that statement, the Kommandant dismissed Nellie and her guard. "Heil Hitler!"

For days Nellie remained in solitary confinement, her only visitor being the guard who brought food. Rats scurried across the floor and ran over her tired and bruised body as she lay asleep, and when she HAD a little respite, her thoughts turned to Normandy, home and mother. Mama! How IS she? Where is she NOW? Does she know where I am? Is she asking to see me? The thoughts tumbled through her troubled mind and as the days wore on, there was still no word. If only she could possess herself in patience. Her thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of Herr Kommandant who, on asking more questions received the same answers! Nellie asked if her mother had been to the prison. The Kommandant said not. "If she had been you would have been informed, because our wish really is to be kind to you."

Days dragged by and Nellie, in utter despair, still lay shivering - alone and friendless.

Twenty miles away was another scene. In the little house in Quittebeoef, a woman of forty-two years of age swayed back and forth in a rocking chair - Madame Gosse! Hands cover her drawn and anguished face and she sobs, "Why this torment? What have I done to deserve this? My only daughter taken by the Germans and I am not even allowed to see her - turned away from the prison door. Where are those who would help us? Why don't they come?"

Meanwhile, Nellie Gosse had been imprisoned for a number of weeks and the "interviews" she had dreaded ceased to worry her. The last beating drained all hope from her tortured mind and the feelings so acute in so young a girl were now dead. She had again been summoned to the questioner and, as before, had been "encouraged to change her story" after which she was bidden to return to her cell. The two warders saluted "Heil Hitler" and she tossed her head in defiance as she turned to go.

"Come back you French swine. You still refuse to acknowledge the Fuhrer!" "Why should I? I tell you again, I am French and owe no allegiance to Germany." "Salute your Fuhrer,” he ordered. "I will NOT!" The Kommandant was enraged and he signalled the guard. The next thing - oblivion! The butt of a rifle had hit Nellie in the head.

Unconsciousness took possession for some fifteen hours and when she eventually regained her senses, she prayed God to take her life. She was sickened and so alone. No friend had been to see her and even her mother had deserted her. Thirty-six hours elapsed and, at the dawning of another miserable day, her body ached and her mind was reeling; she drifted, she dreamed, voices, noise, a distant thud. Aircraft engines? Nearer? Louder?

Nellie woke with a start. WAS it a dream? She DID hear voices - loud and clear. Men were running around and vehicles, both lorries and tanks, were on the move. She DID hear aircraft engines, and the distant thud became sharper and nearer. Bombs began to fall and the unmistakable sound of gunfire could clearly be heard. Inside - pandemonium! Outside - the sound of battle. "Santa Maria. C'est 1'anglais?" She prayed.

Bombs continued to fall and Nellie, to no avail banged on her door in the vain hope that prisoners would be released. An almighty blast - the building shook! Nellie was terrified. "Must I now perish by the hands of those who would liberate France? And yet again she prayed for help - "Spare my life." Another explosion, and another, how long this went on she did not know - but a miracle happened. English and American voices, inside the building, looking, for the enemy and searching for the imprisoned.

"Anybody there?" She screamed her presence, "They must hear me. surely." They did - oxy-acetylene equipment burned its way through the metal door and Nellie fell into the arms of her liberator - into freedom. She reached the street in a daze and it was mayhem! Above, aircraft - fighter planes and bombers, on the ground, men, women, and children seeking some form of shelter. Hand to hand fighting - German forces against the Allies. What to do and where to go, she did not know. She turned, and took a last look at that grey, sombre building that had been her prison for so long. Suddenly, an ear splitting sound, as a stick of bombs flattened the place.

(Note: It was at-this time that Nellie and I first met. Transport homeward was arranged and a bicycle was "commandeered." Before we parted company we exchanged addresses and have maintained contact to this day. Her sad story was given on the strict understanding that, "never again was I to speak to her of the war."

Despite her experience, Nellie Gosse tirelessly continued her work against the German occupation. She later met and married an American serviceman, but sadly a German sniper, shot him. When hostilities ceased, she received the "Croix de Guerre" from the hand of President De Gaulle. She later married Maurice Weber, who himself had served his country and knew imprisonment at the hand of the German army.

Now that France was free, the Allies were able to concentrate fully on where the German jackboot still strutted across Belgium. Churchill had said, "The beast must be bearded in his own den," and the priority now was to drive him from whence he came, crush any and all resistance and completely destroy the tyranny that was Nazi Germany.

Areas of Belgium, with the-vital support of that country's Resistance (L'armee Blanc) had been liberated and our attacking forces swarmed inland towards Brussels in preparation for the ultimate assault upon the enemy, and for a time, our unit was stationed at a place called Frasnez Lez Bussinal where, as in France, we were privileged to be acquainted with and receive the hospitality of the local people. They, too, had shown great courage in the face of adversity and had experienced tremendous hardship under forced occupation.

One day I and a fellow soldier went for a stroll whilst off duty, became somewhat confused as to our route and, in "pigeon" French asked a lady and her husband, who were passing by, for the direction to our intended destination. We were surprised when we were answered in English and invited for coffee at their home before returning to barracks. Conversation was not difficult. Monsieur & Madame Titant enquired about England and our families and we, in turn, came to know, something of them. We also asked how they had coped under occupation (we could only imagine) and whilst they did not elaborate an answer, they nevertheless "volunteered" the following incident.

The Allies, in co-operation with the Belgian resistance movement had parachuted agents into the country for the purpose of gathering "ground" information. The Resistance was then to shepherd the men back towards allied lines. All went as planned, until, under increasing pressure, the Germans sought to strengthen an already weakened position and two men found it necessary to "sit tight" for a while. They sought help from L'armee Blanc and were sheltered by M et Mdme Titant in an unused loft within their home. The Germans meanwhile, and as always, were on the look out for enemy agents, and information, reached the Titant's and house-to-house searches were being made.

A swift decision was called for and the men upstairs were consulted. Twenty minutes later, two "women" came out of the back door and walked down the street with a peculiar gait. We found it difficult not to smile!' As for Brussels, the day of liberation did come - the allied forces descended and there was fierce fighting in the streets, German resistance crumbled and the flags of victory finally draped the buildings of Brussels. But at what cost!

Berlin radio ceaselessly spat out threats of reprisal and "assured" the listener that whilst a battle had been won, the war was far from over. "German forces, having re-grouped would yet strike a fatal blow against the enemies of the Third Reich." Popaganda as to German successes and allied failures poured from the lips of "Lord Haw Haw."

The operations of L'Armee Blanc were restricted by day except in local factory sabotage, however during the hours of darkness, there were endless acts of defiance. Encouraged by radio broadcasts from London and armed with the knowledge that Brussels had fallen and the Allies were fast approaching Antwerp, the Resistance consistently harried and hindered the enemy as never before, with home-made bomb, kidnap, and assassination by strangulation, knife and bullet. For their part, German morale was low and opposition to the advancing forces became increasingly desperate. The allies knew that whilst Germany appeared to have no option but to back off to a defensive position, "the snake remained venomous" and must be utterly destroyed if Europe was again to taste the fruits of peace and freedom.

The next objective was Antwerp and men, machines and supplies were funnelled forward for the assault. This port bastion was so vital to the enemy and to lose that would be fatal to his cause, for the gateways north into Holland and west into Germany itself would be wide open. Slowly and painfully, fields, villages and towns were wrenched from German grip and land and buildings were laid waste as the battle burned its way towards Antwerp. How many more were to be made widows and orphans in this miserable war was impossible to say, how many more must die or be crippled before Belgium and Holland were freed and the German war machine obliterated, only time would tell. Nevertheless, the allied forces continued to grind remorselessly forward and Antwerp, at long last, rejoined the free world. Holland, too, urgently called for full membership of that August body.

Now all eyes were to focus upon Germany - the nest of iniquity. The knife was poised!

In an attempt to regain the initiative, however, the Germans produced another weapon of destruction, a missile of high explosive launched from German lines with fuel enough to reach allied positions. The menacing growl of its engine became well known as did the silence of sudden "cutout" when it's nose dipped and it plunged to the earth in devastation.

Perhaps in the early days of use it was a case of "trial and error" as some fell wide of target and doubtless the Germans were "fed" details by their own agents to adjust it's range and direction.

It was at Antwerp that we first experienced the terror of the flying bomb (later known as the "doodle-bug"). The crowded streets were blasted apart as one, then another dropped from the sky. Needless to say, many people, civilians and troops, were killed and scores were wounded. Berlin radio warned the allies that if they refused to leave Antwerp "the might of the Reich would be unleashed and bombs and rockets would completely destroy Antwerp, its port and its people."

The raids increased. The sky rained death and destruction and the situation was appalling. Ammunition dumps and supplies were destroyed, the civilian nerve was on a knife-edge and soldiers showed signs of strain. Go on we must, whatever the cost. The only hope is to return fire with more fire and blast the enemy into oblivion. He must surely know that his days are numbered. He must submit. Victory peered over a distant horizon but the question was, when would we see her face?

The enemy; having been forced to vacate Holland, retreated towards Germany, remorselessly followed by that great alliance of nations, whose vowed intent was, as Winston Churchill had previously declared, "......to beard the beast in his own den." Was now the time for the Third Reich, that once formidable war machine, finally to be obliterated?

Would we soon be freed from all the privations and dangers, which had been our lives for the past six years? Was the end now in sight? We knew very little, yet a message of hope now filtered through the ranks, but we dare not, must not, lose concentration and relax our grip. Hence we pursued the Germans along an abominable trail of death and devastation, past Baugen and Lyndale until we reached Goche. Into Germany at last!

The Royal Air Force, along with allied planes, had preceded ground forces and had blasted and broken the invincible body, and now the heart was to be ripped out. Signs of panic were m the Fatherland and there were rumours that the Nazi hierarchy was about to ask for peace. Soldiers of the Third Reich were beginning to surrender whilst, according to radio reports, London and Washington remained vague. White flags appeared - hung from ruined buildings and held in the hands of sullen faced citizens whilst weeping men and women called the "wrath of the gods" to fall on the now un-glorified head of Adolph Hitler, who had, according to some reports, now committed suicide. Meanwhile Berlin again threatened - but to no avail.

May 02, 1945. A German short wave radio broadcast was intercepted. "Dr Frank, minister of state for Bohemia and Moravia has issued the following order of the day. For us, the Fuhrer is not dead. The oath of allegiance we swore to him is from now on valid for every German to Admiral Donitz. We will stand at his side and obey his command. Everyone must do his duty. Long live the Nation."

There was the inescapable feeling that the war could not last much longer. One could almost "smell" victory and, in eager anticipation, we began to lay bets as to how long it would be before Germany finally surrendered. Our expectations were not unfounded as on May 09, 1945 we heard that both the English and American premiers were to issue a joint statement the following day. Was this IT? Could it be that no longer were we at war with Germany? WAS it peace? Surely it was too good to be true. Suddenly we felt desperately tired.

The next day our unit gathered around the radio, which had been placed outside the officers' quarters. We jostled for the best position and eagerly waited for it to crackle into life. At last- the inimitable voice of Winston Churchill, "Yesterday, May 09, 1945, at 02:41am, at General Eisenhower's headquarters, General Jodhl, the representative of the German High Command, and Grand Admiral Donitz, the designated head of the German state, signed an act of unconditional surrender of all German land, sea and air forces in Europe to the Allied expeditionary forces and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command.
Today this agreement will be ratified and confirmed in Berlin where Marshall Tedder, deputy supreme commander of the Allied expeditionary force and General Lattre De Tassigny will sign on behalf of General Eisenhower. Marshall Zhukov will sign on behalf of the Soviet High Command. The German representatives will be Field Marshall Keitel, Chief of the High Command, and the Commander in Chief of the German army, navy and air forces.

”Hostilities will end officially at one minute past midnight tonight, Tuesday 8th May, but in the interests of saving life, the ceasefire began yesterday to be sounded on all fronts, and our dear Channel Islands are also freed today. The Germans are still, in places, resisting the Russian troops but should they continue to do so after midnight, they will, of course, deprive themselves of the protection of the laws of war and will be attacked from all quarters by the allied troops.

”It is not surprising that on such long fronts and in the existing disorder of the enemy the commands of the German High Command should not in every case be obeyed immediately. This does not, in our opinion, with the best military advice at our disposal, constitute any reason for withholding from the nation the facts communicated to us by General Eisenhower of the unconditional surrender already signed at Rheims, nor should it prevent us from celebrating today, and tomorrow, Wednesday, as Victory in Europe days.

”Today, perhaps, we shall think mostly of ourselves. Tomorrow, we shall pay a particular tribute to our Russian comrades, whose prowess in the field has been one of the contributions to the general victory. The German war is therefore at an end. After years of intense preparations, Germany hurled herself on Poland at the beginning of September 1939, and in pursuance of our guarantee to Poland and in agreement with the French Republic, Great Britain, the British Empire and Commonwealth of nations, declared war upon this foul aggressor.

”After gallant France had been struck down we, from this island, and from our united Empire, maintained the struggle single handed for a whole year until we were joined by the military might of Soviet Russia and later by the overwhelming power and resources of the United States of America. Finally almost the whole world was combined against the evil-doers who are now prostrate before us. Our gratitude to our splendid allies goes forth from all our hearts in this island and throughout the British Empire.

”We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery and greed remains un-subdued. The injury she has inflicted on Great Britain, the United States of America and other countries, and her detestable cruelties call for justice and retribution. We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task both at home and abroad. Advance Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!"

In America a simultaneous statement was issued in Washington by President Truman. "...this is a solemn but glorious hour. My only wish is that Franklyn D Roosevelt had lived to witness this day. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of Freedom fly all over Europe."

Meanwhile, Admiral Donitz broadcast to the German people. The Nazi party has disappeared. There is no longer unity between State and Party. The foundations on which the German Reich was built are a thing of the past and with the occupation of Germany, power ".....has passed into the hands of the occupation forces. It depends on them whether I and the government formed by me will be able to continue in office. If I can be of any-assistance to the Fatherland by continuing in office I shall do so until the German people have a chance to express their will by appointing a head of state or until the occupation powers make it impossible for me to continue in office.

”We must be inspired to do our best in work and achievement, without which there can be no basis for a future life. We want to march along the road in unity and justice without which we cannot survive the hardships of the times to come."

What was our reaction to this astounding piece of news? Initially a subdued, even stunned, silence in what one might almost say a credibility gap. Churchill had been an inspiration to us all throughout the long, hard and bitter months of battle, as he comforted, coaxed and challenged, and now, was that same unmistakable voice really saying that the war was at an end - finished? This was what we had longed for, this was what we had fought for and yet, in that moment, the statement seemed incredible.

Then the whole place erupted in joyful celebration. Caps and hats were thrown into the air and we slapped each other on the back as the realisation finally hit us. It WAS true! We HAD finished the course! How long now before we headed home?

That night, before being overtaken by deep sleep, thoughts filtered through the mind - the dark days of 1939 and 1940, Dunkirk, when we stood alone, the capitulation of France, Belgium and Holland to a greater foe, the thousands who had fallen in the fight for freedom, the countless innocent who had perished in the fires of battle, the many patriots murdered by and under the Nazi regime.

One shuddered to think of what had been and also what might have been. One could not forget the sacrifices of the people back home for whilst we have been on the "sharp end", so have they and whatever has been accomplished is, in no small part, due to their endurance and wholehearted support. They "....surrendered their freedom to the War Effort." They produced guns and ammunition, planes and ships. They suffered deprivation, bombardment, death and destruction, they under-girded the man on the battlefield, in the air and on the seas.

But then more pleasant thoughts took over - England and home, parents, wives and families, green fields and flowers, quietness, peace, and the solitude of a country lane.
Deep sleep then intervened and took possession of a mind in turmoil and laid the body to rest. Some, however, would not or could not sleep as they either spent the night in reminiscent conversation or were "obliged" to mount the inevitable "guard".

Where to now, soldier? What happens next, pack up and go home? Hardly! Things to do! Still mount the guard, sniff out snipers, destroy the dumps, move supplies ...we yet have a long way to go before we can finally "hang up our boots". It seemed strange at first being in Germany at that particular time, "the calm after the storm" so to speak. However, not unexpectedly, there were the remaining pockets of resistance. In Churchill's words "...it is not surprising that on such long fronts and in the existing disorder of the enemy the commands of the German High Command should not in every case be obeyed immediately..."

In addition, according to Admiral Donitz, the Nazi party had "disappeared" and one interpretation of that comment was that anyone who WAS a member of The Party, remarkably WAS'NT on VE day. The problem was that no doubt there were those who still "followed the Fuhrer" (notwithstanding his suicide), had "gone underground" and were still dangerously at large in the community. Hence, caution was still vital and "mopping-up" procedures were very necessary.

Non-fraternisation with the civilian population was the order of the day. We were banned from even speaking to the locals. Although we understood the reason, we nevertheless found it difficult not to, particularly when surrounded by innocent children, whose tired eyes, gaunt little faces and thin bodies demanded SOME act of kindness or sign of friendship which only the callous and uncaring could ignore. It all seemed so ridiculous to see a baby in mother's arms, hand over a piece of chocolate and not to smile or speak to the child's parent. Here was "the tomorrow", the ones with whom our own children would no doubt have to deal in years to come and we could at least lay the first stone in "building for the future."

The way back home took me from whence I came, through Holland, into Belgium and then France. The scars of battle abounded - landscapes were mutilated, littered with the tools of war and dotted with hastily dug graves, buildings were flattened and fires still burned. The major difference was that now, I journeyed through seas of celebration, where flags festooned the buildings, people danced in the streets, parades and other festivities took place, and one could move forward without having to fight for every square inch of ground.

December 1945 - "......the tumult and the shouting died and the captains and the kings depart." The war is over, the victors and the vanquished take their place in history and a tired and battered Europe looks to a future of better things. No more the roar of cannons, the scream of bomb and aircraft engines. No more the tumult of battle. The dove of peace stretches her wings in preparation for flight and the olive branches, so cruelly ravaged by the fearful storm again begin to sprout. The sun, which veiled itself for six long years of winter, now shows its face and begins to warm a weary world.

As for me, I wish to forget my wanderings through a torn and bleeding Europe and as I now await release, time hangs heavy. I am preserved but as I look to home and loved ones I am ever mindful of the thousands who have fallen on the fields of battle, those whose final resting place is "some corner of a foreign field.”

" Will I, indeed can I, forget the sacrifice that has been made in the cause of freedom?” “What,” I wonder, “will the world now do with this gift, bought at such cost of human life? Will it be squandered in the name of selfish ambition or will it be preserved and treasured? Will nation speak peace unto nation or must human history continue to be catalogued with wars and rumours of wars?” Only time will tell. Meanwhile, "...lest we forget...!"

As I lift my head I can now clearly see the signpost, inscribed upon which are these four simple words, - THE WAY BACK HOME! Before the war it had seemed incredible that such terrors and slaughters ...could last ...After the first two years it was difficult to believe that they would ever end. We seemed separated from the old life by a measureless gulf. The adaptive genius of man had almost habituated him to the horrors of his new environment. Far away shone a pale star of hope and peace, but all around, the storm roared with unabated and indeed increasing fury.

The war stopped ...and the world lifted its head, surveyed the scene of ruin, and victors and vanquished alike drew breath. In a hundred laboratories, in a thousand arsenals, factories and bureaux, men pulled themselves up with a jerk and turned from the task in which they had been absorbed. Their projects were put aside unfinished, unexecuted; but their knowledge was preserved; their data, calculations and discoveries were hastily bundled together and docketed, "for future reference." We should stand-in malice to none, in greed for nothing but in defence of those causes ...we believe mean the honour and the happiness of men.

We must find the means and the method of working together (with all the) clamour and clatter of tongues. Peace will not be preserved by pious sentiments expressed in terms of platitudes or by official grimaces and diplomatic correctitude. There must be earnest thought, there must also be faithful perseverance and foresight. Above all, there must be the union of hearts based upon convictions and common ideals. (Winston Churchill.)

Whither to now, World?

Winston Churchill 1954
I have never accepted what many people have kindly said, namely that I inspired the nation. Their will was resolute and remorseless, and as it proved, unconquerable. It was the nation and the race dwelling all around the globe that had the lion's heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar!


Pr-BR