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- Ray Dalley
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- 07 October 2004
Letters Home - December 1945 — Part One
Gnr. R.Dalley O.F.C
320/98 H.A.A. Regt. R.A
Dear Mum Dad and Bubbles,
Today is Christmas Sunday. Four years ago I spent the day in hospital in Wales, one year ago I spent it in anxiety as rocket bombs exploded around me in Antwerp, this year I spend it in the same way I did four years ago… in a sickroom bed!
The pace of living during the past two weeks has been of such an intensity that my human form has succumbed to influenza. Now I’m forced to relax, Ive even some spare time to write some decent letters. I’m afraid my swotting has been abandoned since leaving Wilhelmshaven, but next week I go to Holtsminden for an educational course.
“Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men…”…what a grand time Xmas is indeed. Dickens is superb in the art of expressing that Christmas feeling, his tales of Old London with Scrooge, Fagan, Little Dorrit; they all seem to make one so intimate with those “ good old times.” No Christmas can seem like Christmas without children! It is their time, a time of make- believe, when their small minds are filled with happy thoughts and desires. Even at this time of life we are still the children of our parents, and it would indeed be most inappropriate if you happened to choose to spend Xmas day away from Home Bubs.
Two German women have just washed the floor of our room. Like all women workers, they were a bit gossipy and were very delighted to know I could speak German. They wanted to bring a Xmas tree into our room with silver balls on it, etc., I could imagine you wishing to do the same little kindness for somebody else’s son Mum! And was the woman working Xmas day? Yes! It was the only way she could forget her grief, her husband killed in an accident a year ago, and her only son missing in Russia.
Of all the people I know in this wretched war who have suffered most it is the women of Germany. No matter where I have travelled: Wilhelmshaven, Bremen, Brunswick or Berlin, theirs is the haunting look- a look of hopelessness, degradation, and humiliation. They have one hope and consolation- their children! Their men are no more, they have been swallowed up by those gigantic battles we so often refused to believe took place in Russia.
Last week I was in Brussels, and whilst there it was the first time I have been called a ‘Limey’- the nickname of a Londoner.
Many of the people are anti-Leopold, at the same time not thinking highly of their present government. Friction is still latent amongst the French speaking ‘Walloons’ and Flemish speaking ‘Flamands’(which Hitler tried to stir up.) Several times I broke into the German language and the people I was speaking to refused to listen if I continued in German. Brussels is the best means of getting rid of surplus money that I know, it is a city of everything.
Back at camp after travelling for a night and day in a rickety carriage… next morning due for the Berlin run! This involves a journey varying in length of time from 14 hrs to four days- we go forth with a ration box for seven days, in case we arrive by mistake in Moscow.
Never in the history of railway journeys has there been such a journey as the one we have to run to Berlin and back. And the Russians? Yes! I’ve met them.
We slept in our clothes at our hotel in Brunswick by the railway sidings. At five o’clock we were awoken to board our train, taking our bedding, washing tackle, rations and most essential of all things- our rifles!
The long lines of wagons seem very awe-inspiring as they stand in the huge marshalling yards, during the dark and icy cold hours of the morning. Shadows flit across the lines in the gloom, but one does but look and wonder because you are still in the English zone, but in the Russian zone…it is a different matter!
After an impatient delay of resigned waiting in the darkness our Sargeant returns to say he has found the guard coach, so we go stumbling (still half asleep) over the rails and sleepers to where we shall spend the next few days. There are four of us on guard and another engineer-guy in charge of the German engine crew.
In our coach are three double bunks for the English guards and the opposite end are three bunks for the German train crew, in the middle two stoves are kept going firstly to keep us warm through the bitter central European night and secondly for us to make an incessant brew of tea and heat our notorious ‘tinned duff’ (which is guaranteed to keep any sentry awake). The German train crew then enter with a surly “Gut Morgen” and a glance at our ample rations. They then resign themselves to their end of the carriage and we give a majestic air in our occupation of the carriage. The coal is obtained from the engine tender and also we command hot washing water direct from the locomotive.
Now a word why such an air of mystery overshadows the Berlin trains. Even with a guard aboard quite a number of trains arrive with several carriages missing, some have even arrived plus a carriage. Anything is liable in the Russian zone as you will soon gather. The Russians are living on the land, and must find their food and cigarettes from the region they occupy. In the first few instances whole train-loads of goods were diverted. But nowadays it is just one or two wagons which is put down at the Berlin end to ‘the Russians’. Sometimes it is the Russians, other times it may be the English, who knows!
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