- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jacqueline Elsie Rawlings
- Location of story:
- Versailles/ Germany
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 19 October 2005
469442 LACW J.E.Wain,
The American Christmas was nowhere near as jolly as ours at home. With food difficulties we didn't expect miracles, but American officers did not take up the British custom of serving meals to other ranks on this special day, laughing and generally being very pleasant with us. The only speciality food wise was chocolate cake which cannot compare with our Christmas pudding. However, in the evening the three other girls in my room - the French girl having gone to visit friends - and I went to sit on a bench in one of Versailles’s splendid avenues, our feet in the snow, to eat the contents (an iced Christmas cake, small, but delicious, and mince pies) of my parcel from home which, wonderfully, had arrived that morning. Access to the various service peoples' clubs such as the Y.M.C.A. was restricted to a half hour visit. Naturally, we had not had a work free day, but we managed to make it special, particularly for me when I was able to attend Midnight Mass at the local English Church which in appearance could have been any pretty little village church. As I was well acquainted with the music of a sung mass I had been asked to sing in the choir which pleased me greatly.
Later the news from the front was not good and our troops had some very difficult times. One evening, having worked later than usual as reports on aircraft were slow coming in, I was hurrying back to the barracks hoping not to have missed my evening meal. As I approached our billet I saw a very long convoy coming and I had to run across the road before I was cut off. I only just made it and stopped to look at it. The lorries were filled with American soldiers returning from the front, each lorry towing a truck containing their kit. Normally these men would have waved at any girl they passed and some would blow kisses, but their faces were drawn and grey with no expression except that of utter fatigue. I don't think they even saw me. I was so shocked at their appearance that I hesitated and only just got to the mess in time. This was the first time since experiencing the days and nights of bombing in London that the real meaning of war had come to be seen by me.
However, the day came when we heard that the war against Germany was really over and the joy of our forces and the civilian population had to be seen to be understood. But soon came the strange thoughts "what now?" "What do we do?"
The work I had been engaged in ended when a final assessment of RAF flying resources had been made and a month after cessation of the hostilities our H.Q. flew to Frankfurt where all relevant documents were gathered for posterity. Our billet was a large block of modern flats in which all furniture had been left. However the contents of all cupboards, shelves and drawers had been unceremoniously emptied onto the floor and then swept out onto the landings, down the stairs and into the cellar. When we looked there all we could see was a mound of broken items. However on closer inspection I saw a brand new vacuum cleaner, one or two unbroken pretty glasses and a partially worked embroidered table cloth which I retrieved, hopefully for my own use. Was this stealing, after all these belonged to other people? However, the common sense view prevailed when I realised that the goods could never be returned to their original owners and I could never find them to offer recompense. The vacuum cleaner was eventually taken home to my parents while I still have the odd glass or two and later managed to finish embroidering the table cloth.
While in Frankfurt we women were, of course, only able to go out with an armed escort and, on one occasion, with an American along with me went to an American canteen. We had to wait in a queue and I was disgusted when an American threw down a half-smoked cigarette, screwing it into the ground with his foot when a German rushed forward to pick it up. It said a lot about attitudes! Another occasion enabled me to ride in a tank, in and out of potholes and bomb craters to experience something of what it must have been like for the crew.
After four weeks in Frankfurt, British personnel were sent out to the British zone of Germany. After being shunted about for the next month, three weeks of which were spent in a very dirty Belgian hotel where I slept on a chair because of bedbugs, I eventually found myself in the small, attractive town of Buikeburg, the outskirts of which were pleasantly wooded. My billet was close to the Schlöss, a castle surrounded by a moat and I shared a room with two other girls. Here our only discomfort were large flying bugs which were due every July. We knocked these down with whatever came to hand and covered them with mugs, billet cans and boxes, leaving them for the German women cleaners to get rid of.
I worked in the Schloss, marking with pens of different colours on the large wall map, every place in the British Zone which had been found to be used for the manufacture of armaments or anything used in connection with that manufacture. Meals were served in a nearby hotel with young German lads as our waiters. We were not allowed to speak any German in the street. On one occasion I was reminded of this and told off when one of our waiters rushed outside to hand me a glove I had dropped under the table and I naturally thanked him for his kindness.
While in Paris I had been able to buy two music books, one of Beethoven Sonatas and one of Chopin Nocturnes but had no access to a piano so I felt I was getting 'rusty' playing. However here in Buckeburg was a grand piano in the 'date' room where our escorts came to collect us. I had no difficulty in getting in touch with an elderly German music teacher and for the first two lessons in which he helped me improve my playing of Beethoven’s 'Pathetique' Sonata we got along well together. For the third lesson I showed him the book of Chopin 'Nocturnes' and he threw up his hands in horror, "Nein, nein" he said, "nothing good can come out of that country" referring to Poland. I rounded on him angrily and told him he must rethink his Nazi installed attitude if he was to do any good now the war was over. I made it clear I could not continue my lessons with him and ordered him to go away.
It was at Buckeburg that I met my husband to be when he became my dancing partner and escort. We were both demobbed in October 1946 and we eventually married in May 1947. The war had found me a husband and had liberated women generally particularly those from sheltered homes; opening up new avenues of work and enabling us not to be taken for granted.
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