Saturday, February 25, 2006

Life in wartime Austria

Photo shows: Ron and one of our captured German trucks at Ferndorf

My diaries still remind me of what it was like in Austria.

Sunday 1st. July 1945
Spent the greater part of the day in bed and didn't even bother to go to the canteen. Received parcel from home with usual cherry brandy.
Monday 2nd. July 1945
On stag and didn't it pour. I was on first relief and my 10 to 12 shift seemed to collect all the mist in the valley. Half the P.O.W. cage is under water. Snow on the nearby mountain peaks.
Tuesday 3rd. July 1945
Feeling the effects of last night's do. Corp' from N.Demob Unit is getting my films developed at Villach for me. "Sorcerers Apprentice" at canteen.
Wednesday 4th. July 1945
On stag for the umpteenth time. 2nd Relief and arranged my own beat. Quite a lot of fun watching 'Teds' ( Tedeschis, therefore Germans)negotiate 'bridge'.
Regimental Diaries:
July 8th Regiment moved to area GRAFENSTEIN coming under command 26th Armd Bde in the 6th Armd. Div. A and C Sqns now re-equipped with Staghound Armoured Cars and the Recce Tp with Greyhound Acs.
Monday 9th. July 1945
Arrived at Velden rest area on the Worthersee. Hotel Mosslacher is my billet and the food is first class. Had my first swim of the year.

Leave at Velden
After our spell of POW work finished I was sent on leave to Velden on Lake Worthersee, and this was a really first class holiday in beautiful surroundings. Apparently it had always been a well-known holiday resort and the large hotels were commandeered by the military authorities and turned into rest camps. The food was out of this world, or at least so it appeared to us at the time.
At the other end of the lake was Klagenfurt, and I can remember going by steamer to see a dazzling performance of" Die Fledermaus". On the way there and back we were entertained by an accordion band and there were coloured lights hanging from the rigging to complete the scene. The water was, as I remember, very cold, but the sun was hot and one could lay on the wooden planking that ran down to the lake's edge and up to the hotel terrace.

Thursday 19th. July 1945
After a good day's work on the Staghound went with George to hear a Beethoven recital by Klagenfurt Symphony Orchestra. Hewitt, Lt.Richey and Porter left for Burma.
Friday 20th. July 1945
Painting has started on the Staghounds. Sgt.E.... slightly stinko all this morning.
Inoculation parade but I was not due, Touch Wood.
Saturday 21st. July 1945
My Staghound has gone to H.Q. for wireless installation and so I did no work this morning. Warned by Sgt.Metcalfe for advance party tomorrow morning.
Regimental Diaries:
21st July Major JG Vauhn assumed command of Rgt. The CO went on leave to the UK
Sunday 22nd. July 1945
Left Grafenstein about one'ish and proceeded in Regimental convoy to Trieben where we were treated more as liberators than conquerors. Billet in Gasthos.

On returning back to Ferndorf we pulled up stakes and moved on to Trieben. Here by comparison with the POW cage, we had a cushy job and were able to take it easy. The village was positioned at the bottom of a mountain pass and the squadron's task was to set up road blocks to catch escaping vehicles, and at the same time to set up a traffic system that allowed vehicles to travel only one way at a time through the narrow road.

Tuesday 24th. July 1945
Have been put in charge of a large billet which is for 3,4,5 and H.Q. troops. Was shown Hager and his son, the local Hitler Youth Fuhrer!

Amongst our duties in this area were going out various patrols to pick up known war criminals or senior state officials who were wanted for questioning. I remember going one day with Busty Thomas to pick up the local Hitler Youth leader, a certain Herr Hager. When we got to his house and he answered the door Busty said to me: "Tell him he's under arrest and has got to come with us." Hager then showed us a document from another field security unit that in effect gave him a week to put his affairs in order and then to report to the local town hall.
A very disgruntled Busty said to me: "I wish they'd bloody tell somebody what they're doing before they send us on a bloody wild goose chase!" and Herr Hager was left to get on with whatever he was doing at the time.
Thursday 26th. July 1945
Out with Yates in Dingo for more eggs. Lt.Balfour is approaching flapping climax. Tried piano in 1st. Troop's billets. Helped Red Cross woman to get petrol.
This item in my diary about a ” Red Cross women” was like something out of a film.
I was on guard outside our billets when an ambulance type vehicle pulled up and an English speaking women got out and asked me if we could help her. The ambulance was full of young kids, orphans or ‘lost’ children and she was driving them South to, as she put it, “get them away from the Russians”.
All she wanted from us was petrol and I roused the duty officer to see what could be done. We must have given her some fuel because by daybreak she was gone.

Regimental Diaries:
27th July A Sqn established in TRIEBEN
Friday 27th July 1945
After waiting nearly all day the Squadron arrived at 5 pm. Busty leading complete with Union Jack! Straight on guard after showing the troops their billets.
Saturday 28th. July 1945
On tank park picket until 4.30 p.m. "Thomo", Vic and Roy have got in the same room as me and I think we will be quite comfortable. Canteen is open in the nearby pub.
Sunday 29th July 1945
Before dinner did a bit of “gardening” in front of billets
Monday 30th July 1945
Taken off fatigues to do interpreter for Lt.”Dutch” Holland. Out in the dingo to the end of the boundary area. Crashed plane on hillside. Beer at roadside Gasthos at dinner time
Regimental Diaries:
July 31st Rgt ceasing to be under command of 78th Div (Now under 6th Armd Div)
Tuesday 31st July 1945
Out with “Dutch” again, this time to the Burgomaster at Hohentaun. Collected three crates of books from ex-Stalaag XVIII. Back early for Road Block guard. Truck broke down.

Acting in my role as un-official interpreter I went with Lt. Holland to inspect a deserted POW camp that had been used to hold a hundred or so British prisoners of war. Although it was now empty, there was something quite eerie about the atmosphere of the place; it was as though all the memories were somehow trapped inside the wooden huts, and I was glad to get out into the open air.

August 1945

Wednesday 1st August 1945
Guard room is in ex-Gasthos. Cooked our own meals. Young orphan has French father and Russian mother
Thursday 2nd. August 1945
Rain nearly every day is holding up work on the Staghounds. Clicked for a petrol un-loading fatigue. Mail situation practically non existent.
Friday 3rd. August 1945
On guard in the evening. Have managed to swap for lower road block guard as it means I can get away earlier tomorrow evening. On with “Horsey” Davies.
Saturday 4th August 1945
Lt. “Crunch” Jackson asked me to come with him to Vald where we asked the usual questions of the Burgomaster. Lofty Elliot’s Dingo still breaks down !
Monday 6th. August 1945
Uneventful day on guard. Civvie truck with one doubtful passenger who I sent down to Squadron office

Immediately by the lower road block was a farm house, and we were supplied with fresh milk and cheese by the inhabitants, a family by the name of P… The youngster of the family, Herbert, was a very bright young kid and keen to learn English. I took the opportunity to improve my German in exchange for English lessons and this in turn meant that I was called upon to act as interpreter whenever it was needed.
On one occasion I was giving Herbert an English lesson in English . His grandfather was also present and expressed a desire to show that he, too, understood some English. We said a few words to each other and then I said to him, very slowly: "Have you a brother?" to which he replied: "Yes I hab a brudder."...."Is he married?" I then asked, "No...he is dead!" came the reply. (I rather think that the old man confused the German word "habe" with the English word "had" but anyway it amused me at the time

Tuesday 7th. August 1945
Working on Staghounds but was taken off it for very important job of fixing a flagpole!
Wednesday 8th. August 1945
Working on the Staghounds. Letter and Parcel from home. Blighty leave party back.

Tuesday 14th August 1945
I remember the day well even though I’ve long since lost the original diary entry. Our Squadron was in Trieben in Austria at the time, ,controlling the roads leading into Germany and I had just come off the road-block guard in the early afternoon.
I was changing from my guard uniform into more comfortable gear when I heard the wireless in the next room creating quite a racket.
I went next door to see what was going on and found myself the only one there.
I realised that my mates were probably eating dinner in the mess-hall and that they must have been listening earlier and had then left the set on.
It was VE Day all over again. The announcer back in London was describing the noisy scene as tens of thousands of jubilant servicemen and civilians swarmed the streets. As on VE Day I felt no emotion at all, if anything, I probably felt like a kid who had not been invited to a party and who was now watching the lucky ones coming home with their party bags.

The short explanation was that the end of the war had come too late for my older brother Jack, G-d rest his soul. On the 11th of May, just three days after VE Day, I had received a letter from home telling me that Jack, who was an Air-Gunner, had been shot down over Nuremberg on the last such raid of the war.
The loss to his widow, his two young children and to all of our family was as incalculable then as it is today some fifty odd years later and our family was never to be the same again.

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