- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Reg Reid, Captain Mascoid, Ritchie, Jock McLeod, Johnny O'Toole, Sergeant Cook, `Rice' Cheeseborough, Sid Porter, Roy Brotherstone, Jack Powell, Wheeler, Petty
- Location of story:
- Spandau, Berlin, Havel
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 28 June 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Reg Reid, and has been added to the site with the authors permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
The Lighter Side of War
CHAPTER 26a: Berlin August 1945 - February 1946
Can you imagine what it was like to be in Berlin in 1945?
The `Thousand Year Reich' had collapsed around him when Hitler committed suicide in his bunker. The capital city of the Third Reich had been blasted from the air by the RAF and the USAF. The Red Army had bludgeoned its way through its streets and beyond. The city, surrounded by a sea of Red, had been split in half: half Russian, the other half divided into US, British and French military zones. This concession by the Russians was in exchange for land in the west over-run by British and US troops.
The Allies in Western Germany had to cope with seven million prisoners of war and there were another seven million displaced persons - Slavs brought into the Reich as forced labour, and Jews, Slavs and Gypsies freed from concentration camps. Very few wanted to be sent back East under communist control. In the East twelve million Germans were forced to move from their homelands by the Russians. Imagine that - as if the whole population of Scotland, Wales and Ireland were pushed out! The Russians in effect pushed their boundaries west displacing Germans. Some of these huge movements of people were through Berlin.
The Russians had a deep hatred of the Germans who had treated Slavs as slaves, as subhuman. When the Red hordes swept through Berlin they destroyed what they couldn't loot. They looted what they could take away down to the last bath plug, and destroyed what they couldn't. They raped and pillaged (when f did National Service in Berlin in 1960 there were still wards in a mental hospital containing German women who'd lost their sanity after multiple rapes by Russian and Mongol troops).
The Mongolians were especially feared by the Germans. Many had started with nothing, no supply lines, and pillaged food and even weapons on the march. An ex-Wehrmacht machine gunner told Butch he was firing at the Mongolians and they just kept coming forward, ignoring their own fallen. He ran out of bullets but they simply passed him by with their women, children, horses and carts.
Butch was at Spandau, Berlin. Workshops Platoon and `B' Platoon plus HQ were there in former German police barracks. `A' and `C' Platoons had been left behind in Itzehoe. In typical army style the convoy to Berlin had moved at dawn and he'd not been able to say goodbye to friends he'd had for years.
Spandau was now in the British zone and the barracks were solid two storey red brick buildings. Mongolian troops had occupied them previously with their families and horses. Horses had even been led upstairs and the troops slept by them. This ensured warmth in their barracks, but what a stink!
As they had vacated the barracks upon the Four Power agreement, Butch got laughing and joking with a Mongolian lad and was photographed by his cart. Neither knew what the other was talking about but they got on famously. The Mongolian grinned like a Cheshire cat.
Long queues of German women had formed seeking work with the British, and the lads were allowed to choose six each to clean out and disinfect the barracks. Lads were going around swapping details: "You should see my six", etc. Butch led his six to the stores to collect brushes, brooms, buckets, disinfectant, soap etc. It was a dreadful job, but the women set about the task eagerly and efficiently with an almost childlike desire to please.
The Workshops' wagons and break-down lorries were in use but there wasn't too much work since `A' and `C' Platoons were 300 miles away in Itzehoe and had been detailed to take supplies back into France and Belgium and also operate a shuttle service from Hamburg to Amsterdam docks. Their servicing and repairs were undertaken by another RASC unit in Hamburg.
Captain Mascoid judged that First Class Mechanics Ritchie and Jock McLeod and their teams could handle the Workshops repairs and he called over Butch and Johnny O'Toole. Lady luck was about to strike again.
"Reid and O'Toole. I've got a first class job for you two first class mechanics. The major's commandeered three cabin cruisers based on the Havel Lake, from the S.S. He's detailed me to look after them and in turn I'm detailing you. Here's three keys, Reid, the biggest cruiser is the major's, the other two are yours and mine. Mines called ERIKA and yours is LAURA ".
Along with the keys he gave them instructions to get to the Havel moorings. "It's not all pleasure, Reid. You've to service the engines and conduct repairs. Otherwise you've my permission to take your boat out and test run ours whenever you like".
Permission to enjoy himself. Yippee! Butch and Johnny went straight over to Havel to view their charges - beautiful big sleek white cabin cruisers in a beautiful setting. The Havel is quite an extensive stretch of water - perhaps as big as Ladybower and, like Ladybower, surrounded by pine woods.
There were wooden holiday cabins and beaches at several points and a small island, `Pfaueninsel' (Peacock Island) in the middle with a small castle on it. The German for castle is SCHLOSS and during the war and for a few years after, a big notice proclaimed its closure:
`DER SCHLOSS IST GESCHLOSSEN'.
After a few trips round the Havel on a few consecutive days, Johnny O'Toole rather lost interest, and Butch invited his friend, Sergeant Cook `Rice' Cheeseborough to take his place. He invited his six cleaning girls too - two at a time. `Rice' couldn't service the boats' engines of course - he hadn't a clue - but he did bring a lot to the days out - a lot of officer's mess food in hampers!
He left German chefs to prepare the officers' meals. What would the `A' Platoon wallahs think of all this? Butch missed his friends there, especially Roy Brotherstone, Jack Powell, Wheeler and Petty - but didn't miss them much when surging through the water with a nice blonde by his side.
The blonde was his favourite; Cheeseborough also had a favourite, a redhead, and the four of them became good friends. Nothing serious you understand. Not like Sid Porter, the water carrier who'd fallen madly in love with one of the other cleaning women. His wife in England had been unfaithful and he was determined to forget her and his daughter, and stay with his new love in Germany. He spent all his spare time now learning German, rather than chatting and drinking with his pals.
One morning on the Havel as the mist lifted and the sun shone through, a big yacht sailed slowly and very close by the moorings where Butch, greased up in overalls, had just finished a job on the engine. His girlfriend, blonde tresses glowing, leant upon the cabin cruiser's rail, watching the world go by, and coots bobbing on the yacht's wake. She smiled at the four crew members, RAF officers and WAAFs, but was taken aback when the WAAFs hurled abuse at her and Butch. WAAF lasses normally ignored army lads - rich Yanks or RAF pilots were better catches - but these were offended at the sight of a soldier with a German girl.
"Who's that in the monkey suit - army shit! Kraut bitch! Whore!" were some of the expressions that came to mind.
Butch's girlfriend was what would be called today a `feisty' blonde. She didn't reply to the insults but started the engine, took the wheel and roared round the yacht twice setting the vessel, its airmen and women rocking violently. Then she steered up the lake giving the WAAFs the `V' sign.
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