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An Infantryman's memories Part Three - Capture of Luneberg airfield and return to UK and a posting to Palestine.

by bedfordmuseum

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People in story: 
Mr. Arthur Keech and Lieutenant Mitchell
Location of story: 
Germany, UK and Palestine
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Contributed on: 
12 September 2005

An Infantryman’s memories Part Three — Capture of Lüneberg airfield and return to UK and a posting to Palestine.

Part Three of an oral history interview with Mr. Arthur Keech conducted by Jenny Ford on behalf of Bedford Museum

“We moved on from there (River Weser area), we left the German Prisoners of War to the people coming behind. We were actually going towards Lüneburg Heath, there’s a big airfield there that we were hoping to capture, well we did capture it. On the way there we were going along, we always moved along in file. We were in Sections - well each of us used to move up in turn. One Section would move up front like that and the other Section diagonally and the other Section there, we’d do that for a day. You would interchange with the front Section, so that you weren’t the front Section all the time and then you’d change with another Company another day. We were moving up and we heard a noise that we’d never heard before and we were being strafed from up above and they were the first jet aircraft we’d ever seen. There were five jets came over and they were machine gunning us all the way through. I was next door to a Sergeant, he said, ‘Down!’ So we both dived into a trench and both of us landed on a Gerry, he was in the bottom. I don’t know who was more surprised, him or us! Anyway he didn’t have any chance to do anything, I don’t think he would have done anyway. He was taken prisoner - with four boot marks! We took the airfield and there were 800 aircraft that we took on this airfield. We had a few days rest there. In the meantime the Russians were coming up the other way. Our objective was to get to Berlin before they did but they got farther than we could because we had so many prisoners coming in, they wouldn’t go their way - they had to come our way because they (the Russians) had got no mercy for them.

Belsen was just over the way so we went into there. More or less to have a look but the Russians had got control over that. They had sorted everything out. We went on then from Lüneburg to a place called Bad Kleinan on the Baltic coast that was the end of our war sort of thing, that finished in Germany. We stayed there for a few weeks, moved back to Lüneburg Heath and we flew back from there to Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain.

We immediately got back and had 14 days disembarkation leave now 14 days running concurrently with embarkation leave. We had the Freedom of Salisbury and we went back to Bulford Camp, we had a few weeks there, we went swimming and went for a few drinks, the usual things. We did a lot of glider practice and things on Salisbury Plain, Larkhill was the actual place. We were re-equipped. We were retrained. Our advance party had already gone to India. We were the main invasion force on Japan. They decided that, the advance party as I say it had gone, but they dropped bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

So they put us on a boat called the Duchess of Bedford it was a 21,000 ton boat and they sent us out to Palestine, went into Haifa. We went there from camp to camp sort of thing, we were down at Gaza for a start in a camp there, in the desert part not doing a lot, just sort of guarding things and one thing and another. We came back to another place we were on guard, there was a sequence of this, I forget the sequence. I was in hospital twice in Palestine as it was then. Once in Haifa with sand fly fever and once in Jerusalem with dysentery. We moved back from there and we went to Nathania Cross Roads. We had a camp there and had to take turns in having guards on the Police Station because the Police there were British Police and they were sort of civilians from here gone over to there under the British Mandate and we used to stand guard with some Arabs. Well every time it came to prayers, the Arabs put everything down, their rifles and they got a prayer mat out and prayed to Allah, and just left you to it! That happened nearly every time you went on. Eventually they made me cook there on this Nathania Cross Roads, cook for 120 men for about six weeks. It was a big job! They provided all the help that was needed. I asked one of the officers, I said, ‘What about some oranges?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ They sent a patrol out with a kit bag and picked these oranges. We used to have thermos flasks about a foot high and about 6 inches round. They came back with these lovely big Jaffa’s. I got a group of chaps peeling them. Cutting them through in segments, crossways, across the segments and put them in these thermos flasks with a layer of brown sugar and a layer of orange, right up to the top and that came as a sort of sweet for breakfast with condensed milk. And then there was cornflakes, and then there was eggs and bacon, we did quite well there, very enjoyable.

Nathania was the name of the actual cross roads and the camp, the camp was at Nathania Cross Roads. That’s the Police Station and the actual military camp was by the side of it. We were on guard there this one particular night, on this lovely star light night, it was cold, we could hear this clip clop clip clop clip clop and it was a donkey coming towards us - along the side you see. Anyway the donkey kept coming and when it got right to us, it was no good us challenging it, there was an Arab on it, his legs were swinging and his eyes were shut and his head was down. I said, ‘We’ll give him a shock.’ So we got the donkey turned it round and sent it back the other way! It went clip clop clip clop away the way it came from. I hope he didn’t hurt the old donkey. What had happened I don’t know?

On another occasion at the same particular cross roads, two other chaps were on guard and there’d always been a lot of stories about ghosts and things. This particular night they had a camel come through and this was a white camel and it had a monk on it. They challenged it and it walked straight through them according to these people. How true it is I don’t know! But one of those chaps in the morning, his hair had gone from black to white and they had to send him home. I didn’t see it, I wasn’t there. I was only told about it. They believed it, yes.

I went from there I think to Jerusalem. I went up to Jerusalem, they had a camp there, went to all the religious places. King David (Hotel) was blown up whilst I was there, they blew it up with a milk churn. The next thing that was blown up was the Alamein Bridge across by the Dead Sea.

Another funny thing that I had, when I was at work this was before everything started, I used to go into what was called Gales on the counter at Gales in Bedford. The chappie who used to serve me, I didn’t know he was Jewish, anyway he used to serve me at this counter. I was walking down the street in Jerusalem with two other chaps and we always carried firearms we were never without them, I was walking down the street and lo and behold there was Tom. He looked at me and I looked at him and I said, ‘Tom what on earth are you doing here?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’ve come over here to live. How about coming back to my place?’ I said, ‘Sorry Tom, I just can’t do it.’ And he’d got one or two other chaps with him and I wouldn’t trust them one little bit, but anyway apparently he was killed a fortnight later.

Then there was Lieutenant Mitchell he got into some trouble with a chappie on one of our skirmishes in Israel and he threatening letters that he’d never leave Palestine. But then I was assigned as his personal bodyguard!

It came my time then to come home. So from there I came back to Haifa and I boarded a boat in Haifa itself and come through to Toulon and came back through Medlock, what they called Medlock. It was on the rail journey taking in part of Switzerland and coming right through to Calais, we ended up at Calais. We got on a boat there but two days we had to wait there because the sea was too rough and we got on this boat called the Daffodil, it was a pleasure boat I think. There were lots of other chaps with us coming back from various places, one from SEAC, a little tiny chap with a big hat. He said, ‘It ain’t going to be rough is it?’ Anyway we got on this boat and we got out to sea and waves were breaking over the top of this boat something terrible. There was a rail that went across the bow of the boat but set back quite a bit and he’d got both hands on there, like this and all of a sudden a big wave
came over and hit him in the middle and bowled him right down the deck little a tennis ball. He came staggering back and said, ‘I wish they’d build a bloody bridge across this piece and I’d walk home!’ After that we got into Dover I think it was, came into Dover and I went into a Transit camp there were I was issued with a de-mob suit and a pork pie hat, a pair of shoes and a ticket and on my way home, so that was it!”

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