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Conflicts through Germany and Liberation of Belsen

by Eric Patience

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Archive List > World > Germany

Contributed by 
Eric Patience
People in story: 
Eric Patience
Location of story: 
Germany, Belsen and the Baltic
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A1129655
Contributed on: 
01 August 2003

Please let me tell you the story of the conflict that we, the 11th Arm. Div., had after entering Germany and the liberation of the Belsen concentration camp.

On or about the 28th March 1945 we crossed the river Rhine at a place called Wesel, this town was bombed and shelled for hours and was nearly destroyed. There was no sign of life and the stench from dead Germans and animals was terrible, just like Normandy all over again. The large town of Osnabruck was captured with some resistance. We took quite a few prisoners including some SS women — what a sullen bunch too.
On April 5th we found ourselves entering the small town of Stolzenau on the river Weser. The bridge was blown so we had to force a crossing under cover of farm buildings on the opposite bank. The Royal Engineers tried to build a pontoon bridge but they were badly mauled from shell fire and bombing from German aircraft. I was told they lost 18 men, we ourselves lost something like 13, and other units lost a few more. This was when we heard of the concentration camp that lay ahead of us.
We soon found this was the awful Belsen concentration camp. Here we were up against our old friends the 12th SS. We were relieved three days later so that we could cross a bridge further up river and carry on our advance.
A few days later we came across Steinbeck, a pretty little village with thatched roofs, it looked so peaceful. How wrong we were for as we entered all hell broke loose. It was our old friends the SS again. Here we had house to house and hand to hand fighting, no quarter was given and none was asked for. They lost nearly all of their men and sadly we lost one of our Officers. This was where I nearly lost my own life through being slack for one moment, maybe because I was exhausted I don’t know.
I didn’t see this German soldier who was lying behind a hedge just three to four feet away. I had the chock of my life when he came out from behind that hedge with his hands up; he had me cold, I am sure my old Dad was watching over me that day. H e had died in October 1942.
Next we came to the River Aller at a place called Essel where we freed hundreds of POW’s. We were now on the Hanover — Celle road and this is where we first saw the yellow signs edged with black with the word BELSEN. As we advanced we saw on one side of the road a large pine forest and on the other a large camp with 12 ft high barbed wire fences with watchtowers on each corner. It was being guarded by Hungarian troops. We had orders not to fire unless we were fired on first. We could see the poor inmates waving to us. They were dressed in black and white striped clothes like pyjamas. A few were standing but most were sitting or lying down, it was a sight none of us will forget as long as we live. The two commandants and two SS women were later hanged for their crimes. Years later the story was told of Anne Frank and her family. I read the diary and found that Anne and her sister died in Belsen just a few days before we got there. I f only we had got there sooner, we did try, we really did.
We pushed on towards the Baltic and the great port of Lubeck but first we had many more battles and the crossing of the River Elbe. We also liberated Belles Circus before we got there. After the war they came to where we were stationed in the town of Schleswig on the Baltic to put on a nice show for us.
We captured Lubeck on 3rd May taking thousands of prisoners who were willing to give themselves up. The following morning we pressed on towards Neustadt north of Lubeck. The great bay was full of ships and U-boats. These were attacked by RAF Typhoons and tanks of the 23rd Hussars. Three ships were capsized and set on fire. On one of them the SS had imprisoned their own political prisoners. The SS guards had opened fire on the Typhoons which made them attack it.
Pressing on towards Kiel and the Danish border on 4th May we reached the village of Struckdorf. Here we had orders to halt, by now we all knew something was up. My section of mates and myself found ourselves in the barn of a farmhouse; we were able to have a wash and shave, the first for many days. We also cooked ourselves a meal and had a nice brew up. I wrote home to my mother and sisters, again the first for weeks, telling them that I was OK but tired and dirty. I also told them that we thought we could see the end of the road but I could not tell them where I was or what I was doing. My old mum had four of us in the Army, I was the only one in the front line, and my younger brother was way behind me in the Medical Corp at Divisional HQ.
We were all listening to music when at about 9pm on Friday 4th May the music stopped and the announcer said that the Germans had surrendered and that all fighting had stopped. For just a moment there was complete silence then all hell broke loose. We all hugged each other and shook hands then out came the beer and wine that we had saved and liberated over the months which lay behind us. Those of us here had made it but a lot of our mates hadn’t and we thought of them with a toast and a speech by our C.O. I for the first time in my life got drunk and passed out. Next morning I found myself in the loft of a barn and to this day I never did find out how I got there. That day, Friday 4th May at 9pm, will always be a date which we all will remember all our lives.
Two days later we moved on to Schleswig but our job was still not done for there was still a lot of work to be done in guarding SS prisoners and rounding up those who were wanted for war crimes. We also captured the entire German Government in Flensburg.
That was the end of our war but not our Army life, that ended in September 1946. Peace came at last but will it last, I really so hope so.
War is a terrible thing and it brings back terrible memories such as seeing your own mates die and you have to bury them. Then there was the awful Belsen concentration camp and last but not least the hundreds of animals which were killed. There were however nice memories as well. Those of liberating villages and towns and seeing the joy and happiness of the people in them such as the great Port of Antwerp.
One thing that I enjoyed and remember most was when we cleared a small Dutch village of the enemy in September 1944. I was going past this house when a young lady came running out with a baby in her arms. There were tears in her eyes, she shook my hand and said nothing but the look in her eyes said it all. Wonderful I thought. I was tired, dirty and hungry but seeing that young lady made me feel very proud and a whole lot better, a small thing you might say but to me it was wonderful.
God Bless that lady and child wherever they might be.

To all the lads of 8th Rifle Brigade who are still around I wish them all the very best especially my mates ‘G’ Company.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Your conflicts story

Posted on: 01 August 2003 by Member no. U229957

Dear Eric,

Have just finished reading the story of your experiences in WW2 - I would just like to say one word - Brilliant!

Best Wishes

Ken Williams

 

Message 2 - Your conflicts story

Posted on: 05 August 2003 by Warren Whitmore

Excellent story!!!!!

Well done!!!!!!!

Best wishes,

Warren Whitmore

 

Message 3 - Your conflicts story

Posted on: 13 August 2003 by Angela 238604

Eric.. a very moving story especially about Belsen. l have earlier today listened to a Radio 4 programme on another camp that very little has been known about. you mentioned being near a forest at that time. l have a relative buried in Reichswald Forest, l do believe it was not very far from Bergen Belsen. What are your views on any war after experiencing such horrors? l can never justify it however many reasons may be argued.
the effects of war do not end for many generation, and l expect even now you have days remembering that which should never be experienced by anyone. But l talk of a perfect world and we hav'nt managed that yet even for the generations you fought for. regards from Angela

 

Message 4 - Your conflicts story

Posted on: 07 September 2003 by Eric Patience

Dear Angela
Thank you for taking the time to read to read my dad's story. I am sorry we have not replied to your questions but I have been on holiday and have just read you reply. I have passed your kind words and questions on to my dad and he will be very pleased to answer you and help if he can. I will reply as soon as possible.
With regards
Kathy (Eric's daughter)

 

Message 5 - Your conflicts story

Posted on: 18 September 2003 by Eric Patience

Dear Angela
Thank you so much for your moving words about my story, I am sorry I have not been able to answer before but I hope that I will now be able to answer and help you with some of your questions.
You first ask me about my views of war. Well, I am like you, it can never be justified for whatever reason one may give. Unfortunately, there are leaders in this world today who are causing more trouble with death and destruction than anybody has done for a long time. I am afraid that I do not trust them and have not done for many years but I am sure that we will not see another world war like I, and so many others, esperienced. Thank God.
Now Angels I will try to answer some questions about your dear relative who, so sadly, died.
The Reichswald forest is in between the River Maas and the River Rhine which was cleared of units of my division and the Canadians before we all crossed the River Rhine at Wesel, which was in ruins. The Reichswald Forest is, by the way, miles away from Belsen.
You first gave me clues to what might have happened to you relative by firstly the date and secondly his regiment.
Your relative's Regiment was part of the 131st Infantry Brigade which was part of the 7th Armoured Div (The Desert Rats). They were fighting on the right of my Division around the 1st April. We both forced crossing over the Dortmund Ems Canal at the small towns of Reisonbich and Birgte. Both the bridges were blown so we had to build new ones. On the far side of the canal there was a very large wooded area called Teutoburger Wald. This was about 30 miles long with about 3 villages inside. It was very well defended by ordinary troops and 7 companies(about 900 men) of N.C.O.,s from a training school in Hanover. These were fanatics and prepared to die, which many did. One of our regiments, the 3rd Mons were badly mauled and they had to be replaced by another regiment. This was all happening on the 3rd April.
Help was needed from 131st Infantry, 7th Arm. Div. took over from us and this is where I believe your relative was killed.This was a very long and nasty battle and the 131st and ourselves lost many a good and brave man. The Germans lost a lot more.
Angela if you need more information you might like to try a Channel 4 teletex page, Service Pals P. 462, soon to change to P.152 on 30.9.03.
You will find the address at the end of their pages. It is a very good service and I myself was able to help a relative of one of our lads who was killed. A lot of service men and women look at the page so hopefully you might meet with more help. I hope that my information has eased your worry a little.
I wish you all the best of health and happiness.
Eric

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