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WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
Marine117570 Arthur Hill
People in story: 
Arthur Hill
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Background to story: 
Royal Navy
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Contributed on: 
15 November 2003

The Kriegsmarine in Kiel faces square on to the port, and the view across the U-boat pens from the top floor is breathtaking, I suppose it should be, it's the German equivalent of the Admiralty in London. Not bad for a billet, we were on the second floor, and as it had been abandoned in a hurry there was plenty to explore. The purpose of our presence as part of the 5th.Army, was as a Naval section. One group, (lucky buggers), crewed a German destroyer back to Pompy, another section formed a check and search station, for prisoners of war returning from Scandinavia where they relieved the incomers of their loot. There was a heap of cameras as high as a man, and an enormous pile of jewellery, and they were wading through banknotes knee deep,(only the old Rentonmarks were legal tender, most of the notes were Reichmarks, illegal, therefore just rubbish!). All they were allowed were personal effects, toothbrushes and photo's, mainly, (even that was open to interpretation).
Our group had the job of recovering Naval stores, the variety was wide , and a lot of the stuff was only found by tip-offs, sometimes miles inland, (should that be Kilometers?), on farms, in barns, some of it on the secret lists. Our own stores (the G.1098. mostly explosives) were kept separated in a secure strongroom, next to a large workshop that the chippies had set up. The yard in front, covered with clinkers from the local power station, the car park, and at the back was the warehouse, rapidly filling with equipment that was being collected. There was a 24hr. guard patrolling the area, and we all had spells of that. As this was remote from our billets, a guardhouse also housed us while we did our tour of duty. One night I was doing a 4 hr. middle watch, 12-00 - 04-00, and the temperture had dropped to near freezing, and to keep the circulation going I was marching up and down, stamping my feet. Suddenly the guardhouse door was flung open, and one of the off watch guards came out, "Hey! noisy sod, drink this, it'll keep you warm, and stop trying to crush that coke underfoot". He handed me a large glass, filled with a cherry red drink. "What's that?", "Polish Vodka and fruit juice, and goodnight!" Couldn't have been a lot of juice, I don't remember the rest of the night.
A couple of days later, when the carpark was clear, the chippies came out for a break, carrying a homemade cricket bat, Tubby Robinson stood a mobile wicket in the middle, and proceeded to chip out a crease with his heel. "Here, look at this", he shouted as he dug out a little wooded box, we all gathered around to see, when I suddenly realised what it was.
It was an Anti-personal Schu Mine!
Although the area had been given the all-clear, these things couldn't be detected, especially in clinkers.
The yard was immediatally roped off, and on examination found that Tubby's Box, as it got labelled, had failed because wet had made the wood swell enough to prevent closure. As I was the only one who knew anything about them, I'd got a new job. So an organized probe started, the technique was to lay flat, face down, and probe ahead of yourself with your bayonette, the fact that this was only six inches long, brought things that much closer. The width of the carpark, could be covered by twelve men, each having yard of space to clear. Slow and easy is the name of the game, and in two days we recovered 86 Schu Mines,( plus Tubby's) what a stroke of luck that it had been so wet. And to think that only a few days earlier, I had been stamping all over that lot!
Still, if the weight of the vehicles wasn't enough to set something off, I suppose the boxes were pretty secure. Then, in the small hours, the thought comes, why 87?, why there? who for? Original packing would be in 25 or 50 packs, what happened to the other 13, did we miss 'em? This is just off the main road to Flensburge, you don't put mines in your own backyard, do you? Looking at the state of them, they had been there a long time, so the contents of the warehouse must have had value far exceeding anything we dreamed of. I had to put a report in, and S/Lt.Veich took one look and took me straight into The R.S.M. In no time flat, we were moved out, and the security moved in.
Back in Kiel, a big clean up was going on, trying to eradicate all Nazi symbols and maximum use was made of POW's before they were disbanded. At the start of a day's work the whole workforce was paraded on the forecourt of the Kriegsmarine, to be allocated jobs, the Officers in charge were Lt's Bailey, and Shepherd, (the two who picked me up from Stratford-on-Avon police station) assisted by S/Lt.Veich. We, The Royal Marines, were also on parade, and would be appointed as taskmasters.
They were looking up at the German Eagle, with its Swastika, topping the flagstaff, and were saying that it must come down, and one of them said,"That's a trophy we must have, for the Officers Mess in Deal, if we can get a rope around the steel flagpole about halfway up, we've got enough manpower to pull it down". Probably because it was the the only name he could remember, S/Lt.Vetch immediately said,"Mne.Hill will do it", but the attempt only illustrated that you can't climb poles in shore service boots, and calling for a volunteer from the POW's, got one, who only managed to push the rope up to ten feet or so. The length of rope limited the numbers in the tug-of-war team, about 25, They made the Eagle whip to-&-fro a few times, but only showed how good the structure was, to the delight of the POW's. Then someone said call out the fire brigade, who came with a ladder long enough, but when they got up to the bird, it suddenly became apparent how big the thing was, so vast that to remove it, was a full engineering project, that would have to be planned for at a later date.
So back to the day's work, L/Corporal Jones and six men, took charge of a party of thirty POW's to unload a whore ship, 'The Milwaukee' that was permanantly docked, mainly for the use of Submariners. We never saw any of the girls, but they do say that everyone of them was a cracker, especially picked for the honour, but the stores that came off was a real eye opener. Case after case of Scotch whisky, English spririts and beers, and all manner of goodies, that haven't been available at home for years, makes you feel sick when you think of how they were got. The only access, was across a wooden gang plank, just wide enough for two to pass, and when a couple of POW's stopped half-way to chat, leaning on the handrail, L/C. Jones was quickly on the scene to move them, as he got there, one of them spat in contempt. L/C Jones didn't even break his stride, but swung a backhand to the guy's middle, with such force, that it folded him in half, straight through the gap, into the dirty dock waters. Jonesy disappeared with a satisfied grin, that's one back, said his body language. The tide was out, and there was more mud than water, and the nearby Jacob's ladder, (his way back), was covered with a green slime that transfered easily. Oh! what a pretty picture!
By this time, we were gettin paid in Occupation Marks, (40 to £), which was supposed to be the only legal tender, but there was not enough in circulation for the country to operate, so in the main everyone was using Rentonmarks as the only alterantive. This was great for us, a little stroll along the search beach, and we could pick up handfulls of notes, not that there was much to be bought.
The R.S.M. said, "Too much work, not enough play, its time the lads had a night out" so he organised an awayday to Flensburg, where there was a famous nightclub. And we had transport laid on, that was lucky, for on the way out we got forced off the road, by a convoy going in the opposite direction. We were in the back of a three-tonner, and when we left the road, back nearside in the ditch, travelling at some speed, all those in the back of the truck got thrown into a heap in one corner, all arms and legs. The driver kept the front end on the verge, trying to drive out of trouble. Nearly got away with it too, but telegraph pole stopped us, it also stopped us from falling over. The lorry behind us saw all, and came to our assistance, the combined parties manhandled us back onto the road, with little damage.
It was a great day out, and to finish up at a nightclub with a cabaret that was the best in Germany at that time, all the booze you could manage, and all paid for with somebody else's loot, was a real HOOT!
We had a sack full of notes under the table, just help yourself, it's wonderful what a difference that makes, the R.S.M. timed that spot on.
Thanks 'Scouse'.

Soon it was time for us to be moving on, we've had our V.E. day, and were due to go out to the far East, which probabally meant reforming the flotilla's. at least that's what we were trained for. The convoy assembled once more, but this time everthing was going into the Pool in Hamborg. We had our red flag flying for the last time, and suddenly caught up with the rest of them, as we creasted a hill. We topped the rise to find a solid mass of Bren Carriers blocking the road. Apparently traffic control hadn't been informed of the approching convoy, and on seeing the leading vehicals bearing down on them, panicked, brought them to a sudden stop, so as to clear the local traffic. The leaders had no problem, in staff cars and trucks on rubber, but on the cobblestones, going downhill, the tracked brens had no chance, their metal tracks kicking up showers of sparks as they locked up, and they slammed into each other in a rising crescendo, and after they got sorted, they definately looked battle scarred. Anyone want a secondhand carrier?
Some hours later we might have made an offer, for we were on one of the first trains to run on the patched up line from Hamburg to Ostend. The carriages were in farmers rig, which is probabally where they found them, all wooden slats, no facilities, and we boarded in full marching order, what we could carry was all we came away with, 'Order to Move', had been at such short notice, there was no way that we could bring anything substantial with us, although some seemed to be staggering under extra weight. I had collected quite a few tools, and other sundries, but because we were leaving all the vehicles and equipment in the pool, I thought someone might as well have the benifit. So I packed all my bits and pieces in with the G.1098 stores, and kissed it goodbye! Looking at the map, it seems impossible that the journey took so long, all day, all night, and all the next day too. At one stage, blokes were getting off the train at the front end, going scrumping in the orchards, and coming back to climb onto the rear end. The maximum speed was barely walking pace, and stoppages to check the rails were continous. It was so bad that we were even pleased to see the catacombs again, before boarding the ferry, (a small gunboat), to Dover. The tide was out, when we arrived, and the only gangplank available overshot by about two feet above the dock, and was incredibly steep, so much so, that the first Marine off, in trying to jump down, loaded as he was, broke his leg.
Coming through the customs was a real laugh, we were marched to a special train and told to load all our gear, then marched back again to be watered and fed, and then in light order, offically went through the customs.
It's a shame hardly anyone had anything to smuggle !
The special that the railway laid on, (another of the offical secrets), was sealed as 'in bond', and we stayed entrained through to Tonfannu in Wales, for de-briefing. Another of those amazing coincidence's that seem to be bugging me, on route through London, where the rail systems change, the train was laid by for about an hour, so that the transfer could take place. Of all the places that could happen, it had to be at Kensington Olympia, exactly opposite Russell Road. I could see the flat where Dot & Carrie lived while working on the buses. Couldn't push my luck again for a quick visit, there was no way we could communicate, I just had to sit this one out. My lucky star was still there however, for when we arrived in the North Wales camp, the G.1098 stores were sitting there, just waiting for me to check it back to Central, and all my goodies delivered just as I had packed them. On top of all that, they sent us home on indefinite leave, because our order of command had changed so many times, that it had become a tangled web, and the paperwork had to be done in reverse order, so that we could revert to Combined Opp's.
Hooray for red tape!

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