- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Ray Griffiths
- Location of story:
- Germany and England
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 February 2004
From a friendship born of a chance meeting in the year 2000, began a venture tinged with success, sadness and an outcome of unbelievable luck and kindred spirit.
The story unfolds in August 1944 when at the age of 18 years I was “called up” to serve in the British Army to participate in the Second World War to overthrow the German forces who had occupied the countries of Europe since 1939.
Together with Tom Freeman of Leamington Spa and Cedric Holdnall of Lye Stourbridge and others we arrived at Foregate Street Railway station where we were met by the largest Sergeant Major we had ever seen who called out “ Are you gentlemen for Norton Barracks? This was the first and only time while in the army that I was called a gentleman.
We were soon encompassed into the life of Army routine and training which eventually led us all into action with the 1st Battalion The Herefordshire Regiment who were part of the 11th Armoured Division preparing to advance into the German hinterland.
After crossing the River Rhine at Wesel on the 27th/28th March 1945 and participating in several small engagements and one major battle at the Teutoburger Wald near Osnabruck the 1st Herefords reached the River Weser on the 6th April 1945 where “C” Company of which the three of us formed a part, crossed the river at Schlusselburg in small rubber boats and formed a bridgehead on the Eastern bank to protect the Engineers who were to repair the damaged bridge.
A later attack on this infantry group while they were on a patrol along the road and the adjoining orchard by the German force in a distant farmhouse resulted in the death of Cedric, wounded four others, one of whom died of his wounds later. Cedric had been a close friend and colleague during our short time together and he was greatly missed. He was buried later on the bank of the river.
Upon the cessation of the hostilities and later being part of the occupying force in Germany, our return home to civilian life after 3 1/2 years of Army life and routine the life as a civilian was difficult, particularly with memories of lost friends, but life carried on and with my wife Emily and later our son John. Settling down to civilian and family life was a great relief.
For many years I had searched for the final resting place of Cedric, but without success although I had moved from my original place of residence into the Stourbridge area and studied the local newspapers for any memoriam reference by his family or friends, this was to no avail. I did however find his name on the War Memorial in our local Mary Stevens Park and even more recently his name on the Commemorative Window at the local church in Lye, Stourbridge.
It was not until a chance meeting in the Gas Hall exhibition centre in Birmingham during the year 2000 where an exhibition of the new Internet system by the B.B.C and B.T. was held that I finally found the answer to my quest.
The next part of this narrative is quite unbelievable and forms the major part of this story.
Whilst walking around the Hall and noticing how busy all the computer keyboards and screens were, my wife and I were about to leave when we chanced upon a gentleman and his daughter seated at the penultimate computer near the exit. On the screen of the computer he was using we noticed that it showed the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Web Site. Not having seen or heard of this system I wondered if it would throw any light upon my quest for Cedric’s whereabouts ?
The gentleman, who up till this moment was a complete stranger, introduced himself as Brian Poole and kindly offered to carry out a search for me and typed in the relevant details which included Cedric’s name and number, the date he was killed and the 1st Battalion The Herefordshire Regiment. After a slight pause the following appeared on the screen :-
In Memory of
Private CEDRIC GEORGE HOLDNALL
1ST Bn. The Herefordshire Regt., King’s Shropshire Light
Who died aged 18 on Friday, 6th April 1945
Private Holdnall was the son of George and Mary Ann
Holdnall, of Lye Stourbridge, Worcestershire
Remembered with honour
HANOVER WAR CEMETERY, Germany.
I could not thank Brian and his daughter enough for their help but the next comment from Brian was even more amazing. “ If you Ray were also in the 1st Bn The Herefordshire Regiment were you at the battle at the Teutoburger Wald on 1st April 1945? To which I replied “YES” I was with Cedric and Tom Freeman. Brian then told us that his brother in law William (Billy) Smith had been with the 1st Herefords at that time and had been killed in action on the 1st April 1945 while with “A” company attacking a strong force of Germans on the Riesenbecker Ridge of the Teutoburger Wald.
From this chance meeting Brian and I formed a friendship of kindred spirit which has gathered further momentum with many further meetings and journeys. With the research Brian had already compiled over the years as a member of the War Research Society and visits to the Libraries, the Public Records Office at Kew, the Internet and together with other members of the armed forces who had first hand information through taking part in the action at the battle at the Teutoburger Wald” from 31st March to April 6th 1945, we have compiled the story of these little known days when heroic deeds were done and many lives were lost and of the little recorded TRUCE.
While we had gathered and analysed the information from the Regimental War Diaries of the Regiments taking part in the battle and also acquired various maps of the area, some of them dated 1944, which showed quite accurately the battlefield and its surrounding area. This led us to the question, “Should we visit the site of the battlefield to try and find the place where Billy lost his life and to visit the grave of Cedric at Hannover before our physical capabilities and mental memories of the events diminish”? A whole hearted agreement from Brian and our respective families thus set the wheels in motion for the journey.
The limit of time and the distance to travel from Stourbridge and Solihull to Ibbenburen and Hannover meant that our travel arrangements would be by air and rail. Our planned route to be from Birmingham International Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and then by German Railways to Ibbenburen where we would stay at our pre arranged Hotel for three nights from March 31st before returning by the same route.
Prior to our journey we made contact with a member of the Association of the 3rd Monmouthshire Regiment our sister Regiment in the 11th Armoured Division who had also played a heroic part in the Teutoburger battle. We enquired if they also had a visit planned at this time ? No visit was planned but they gave us the name of Dr.Wolf Berlin who had been in action against the 3rd Monmouths as a conscripted soldier in the German force at the Teutoburger Wald. Upon making contact with Dr Wolf at his home in Hannover we made arrangements to meet at our Hotel where he would also stay overnight and the following day would transport us by car around the area.
After a very relaxing and enjoyable journey both by KLM and 1st class train we arrived safely at our very comfortable Hotel. After settling in and while there was still some daylight left we walked a short distance to the nearby German soldiers cemetery which we had previously marked on our maps as No 2 (EhrFdhf) and took some photographs. It was nearly dusk and the daylight was diminishing, we decided however to walk up a defined pathway which led from the cemetery, through the silver birch and larch trees towards the top of the Riesenbecker Ridge. After a walk of about 10 minutes we made our descent by a different pathway which led us back to our Hotel where we wined and dined and fell into our beds , very pleased with ourselves.
April 1st 2003 :- Today was planned as our visit to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Hannover, by train from Ibbenburen to the suberb of Halem in Hannover.
So began a journey of sadness and nostalgia .
Upon arriving at Hannover, while enquiring of the times of a Bus to the Cemetery we had the good fortune to meet a gentleman who spoke good English (we later learned that he came from Coventry). What a small world! He assisted us with the purchase of our tickets and directed us to a local tram from which we alighted at its terminus. A short walk along the main road brought us to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery where we saw the graves of some 2000 men of the Allied forces who were killed in action during the 1939 to 1945 war, on land sea and air, in a setting of peace and tranquillity.
We walked among the rows of headstones and came to the grave of Cedric whereupon we placed a small poppy posy and some small commemorative wooden crosses from his friends and relatives. The sadness one feels at times like this when you are looking upon a comrade in arms who gave his life that others may go free, is difficult to put into words while the thought goes through ones mind, “There but for the grace of God go I”.
We spent quite some time here, noting for future reference the names of other men of the Regiments who had served with the 11th Armoured Division who lost their lives so near to the end of the hostilities.
Our return journey had some brightness and humour to lighten our sombre thoughts, we had caught the ‘International’ InterCity train instead of the InterCity train, the request by the guard for the payment of the excess surcharge would have put a big strain upon our finances until quick witted Brian paid the excess only up to the next stop, where we alighted and caught the next correct train.
Upon our safe arrival back at our Hotel we were pleased to meet, as previously arranged Dr.Wolf Berlin. After dinner we told Dr Wolf the story of our research and showed him the maps and war diaries, we were fortunate that he spoke and understood our English which made our understanding of each other much easier.
Dr Wolf explained to us the part he had played as a conscripted soldier in the German Army and also of the long night time marches over twelve nights from his base north of Hanover to the Western edge of the Teutoburger Wald with a large force of senior officers and officer cadets. Our meeting was one of friendship and camaraderie tinged with sadness as both Brian and Wolf had suffered the loss of loved ones during the conflict and Wolf and Ray had seen action in this area during those early April days. Wolf had also been taken prisoner and not released until the end of the hostilities. After a lengthy perusal of the maps and documents we had each brought with us, we formed a plan of action for the following day.
As mentioned earlier, we had, on the late evening of the 1st April visited a German soldiers cemetery situated on the lower North slope of the forest and Dr Wolf being unaware of this site which on our maps we had referred to as No2(Ehr Fdhf) was most anxious to visit.
After breakfast we made our way on foot and Dr Wolf began his search for the grave of one of his comrades but to no avail. Photographs were taken and we then made our way back to the hotel and Dr Wolfs car.
Our next call was to see the Cemetery No3 (Ehr Fdhf) this being on the top of the Dorenther ridge on the North/East face of the forest. A short ride along the Ibbenburen to Munster road southwards, to then turn left along a narrow road/track along which we travelled for about a mile whereupon we left the car and walked for about 15 minutes through the forest, noting the view across the downward sloping fields (over which the 15th/19th Hussars had travelled), towards Ibbenburen.
Once again Dr Wolf was unaware of this cemetery and so we spent some time taking notes and photographs. We returned to the car and planned our next call which was to visit the part of the forest where the 1st Bn The Herefordshire Regiment had been in action on the 1st April 1945. While waiting at the road/track junction with the main road and looking to the right we could see the town of Ibbenburen spread out before us in the distance, just as did the 4th Kings Own Scottish Borderers during their actions here on 4th to 8th April 1945. We journeyed a short distance towards the bend in the main road at which we pulled off at a parking place from which a bridle/ footpath led Westward to the top of the forest ridge. Various other small pathways led upwards from this main path and all led to the area known locally as Josefs Height (trig 142).
It was in this part of the dense forest with thick undergrowth and undulating ground that on April 1st "A"and"D" Companies of the 1st Herefords while advancing towards the top of the ridge encountered the German force encamped in firm defensive positions. During the ensuing fighting 21 Officers and other ranks, including Billy Smith, lost their lives.
After resting here we finally reached the pathway (Hermansweg) on top of the ridge from where we then travelled Southward and downward passing a local monument to a small child and finally reached the Southern edge of the forest from which one could see the panorama of the flat terrain leading to the Dortmund / Ems Canal, the limestone quarry and in the distance the bridge structure at Birgte. It was here that Ray recognised the area where he, Tom Freeman, Cedric Holdnall and others of "C"Company had dug their slit trenches(fox holes) near the top of the quarry.
After taking more photographs we walked Eastward along a small road serving a few houses at the edge of the forest and after a short distance and almost reaching "Billies bend" we turned left, back into the forest, climbing through the tangled undergrowth and up the precipitous slopes, following what we thought from the study of the maps and records the path the 1st Herefords took during their attack. The further we climbed towards the summit the more one felt the bravery of the lightly armed infantry men advancing over this difficult ground under heavy machine gun and sniper fire without the support of the tanks and also suffering from the disaster of the "friendly fire" from their own support artillery. We slowly traversed back towards our parked car each of us with our own memories of those who gave their lives in this distant land.
A record of the 1st April 1945 action is shown in part here by the War Diary of the accompanying 2nd Fife and Forfar armoured regiment, who were supporting the actions on this day.
From this point onwards we were in the hands of Dr Wolf Berlin who, together with some of his surviving colleagues, had in 1995 and 1997, revisited the Teutoburger Wald where they had been in action against the 3rd Monmouths Regiment and the 1st Herefords and had met fellow survivors of the desperate fighting which occurred in the early days of April 1945.
We drove southwards along the Munster to Ibbenburen road until we reached the bridge at Birgte where we turned up a narrow track/road which led us to the cemetery at Brumley which we had previously identified on our maps as No 1 (Ehr Fdhr). This was a cemetery set into a bank within the forest where many German soldiers, killed in the actions of the early April days are buried. Our poppy wreath and commemorative crosses were placed here and after spending time in silent memory of all those who gave their lives, we left to visit nearby Riesenbeck where we had lunch.
After lunch we returned again to the No 1 Cemetery and following Dr Wolf's guidance we climbed upwards into the forest where he pointed out the slit trenches (fox holes) excavated by the infantry men of the 3rd Mons. during their terrifying ordeal. The local residents will not allow these trenches to be filled in so as to remain as a memorial in memory and honour of such brave men.
Continuing upwards to the main path (Hermansweg) on top of the ridge from where we looked down towards the Birgte bridge and later upon the escarpment of the quarry, now a rock climbing teaching area. It was in this area on top of the ridge that most of the fighting took place and it was here that Corporal E Chapman bravely faced an overwhelming force for which he was later awarded the Victoria Cross. It was also here that a Truce was held, an event little recorded in the annals of the 2nd World War but which enabled the many dead and wounded to be attended to while the fighting had halted temporarily. The lives of many of the seriously wounded combatants were saved through this action by both sides.
Upon our descent we stayed and rested in the quarry, thus giving us the opportunity to envisage the horrendous conditions of the environment which the 3rd Mons had to face, a hard climb through tangled undergrowth and surprised in ambush by fanatical opponents. We continued our descent, each with his own thoughts and reached our car and returned to our Hotel at Ibbenburen where we said our farewells and our sincere thanks to Dr Wolf, without whose support and guidance we would not have completed so much.
Our journey home was safely accomplished and both Brian and Ray were grateful that we had been able to partake in such a journey safely in each others company.
Since our visit we have been made aware of several notice boards, placed at the Cemeteries by the local authorities and of which we have the English translation.
These tell of the suffering of the citizens of Ibbenburen when the German Army Command decided to defend this strategic area despite the expectation of an early defeat. The area was defended by anti-aircraft guns, manned by the regular soldiers, teenagers and 14 year old boys forcibly taken under command. The sounding of the air-raid sirens some 2100 times and later the use of flame-thrower weapons, during the British armour and infantry attacks, demoralised the population and eventually overcame the defences.
The reader is referred to an additional account of the conflict in this area entitled
“The Teutoburger Wald Story 9AD and 1945” Parts 1, 2, and 3 by Ray Griffiths
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.