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D-Day and Belsen Concentration Camp icon for Recommended story

by Catherine Green

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Catherine Green
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Contributed on: 
16 July 2003

Joy Trindles (nee Taverner) is my husband's grandmother. Now 82, she was a nurse during the war and has a book-worth of stories to tell. The following are two letters that she has written to me, describing her nursing work during the beach landings and entering Belsen...

'Dear Catherine,

You asked me for my war experiences, here are some memories: I was at school at 17 when war was declared and my brother and I were evacuated to Oxfordshire. I met up with him after a fortnight and we decided to go back to London. We lived in Kensington. Without my father's permission I enrolled to train as a nurse, my hopes of being a vet were put on hold.

I did three years training and one year in the operating theatre during the Blitz (our hospital was hit twice!) Then I joined the Queen Alexandria's Nurses (QAs). I started off in Peebles with 106 Br. General and then transferred to 29th Br. General. We all met at Goodwood House and waited with hundreds of troops around Portsmouth. D-Day was changed (I think twice) - finally we were put on an LST (a boat) and tied up in the Solent for three days waiting for the Mulberry to be taken over and for troops to take over the beaches. Finally we went to the Mulberry and one of the trucks with all our kit and belongings went over the side into the sea!

Eventually we landed and were sniped at by Germans. One of our doctors was killed and an orderly was shot and we had to amputate his leg at the side of the road. We had to be careful because everywhere was mined. Notices (Achtung Minen) were on the roadsides. Lots of dead bodies.

We went to St Lo and put tents up in a field as a front-line hospital. In the operating theatre for three days and nights - only having a few hours off. Polish men, Germans and Canadians came in - as well as our own troops. I had only the clothes I stood up in so washed my underwear - wrapped them in tissue paper and dried them in the camp oven!

It became very muddy and we stayed there until finally we packed up and followed the troops through the Falaise Gap. After that we were taken back in trucks to England and then on to Ostend and finally we took over a convent in Eccloo in Belgium. We turned it into a military hospital. We were very busy as there was a lot of fighting ahead. Some major battles were fought and finally we were taken in Dakotas to a place in Germany and put into trucks to Belsen, two days after liberation. Up until then I believed in a loving God and since that time I have never regained my faith...

I have written a poem called 'Until Belsen' and I can tell you about my experiences if you wish.

I should have told you - when in France, seven of us were told to go with some soldiers and we were put aboard a hospital ship. I was very seasick and useless, so was put back on shore three days later. A short time after this I heard that the ship had been sunk - one of my best friends did not survive. I still have her photo - a beautiful girl.

After Belsen I went to Hanover and nursed troops there until I was demobbed. I went back to England after nine weeks at Belsen to get married. We had three days and after the wedding my husband went to Schleswig Holstein and I went back to Hanover.

When I left Belsen to marry and flew to England - the only woman on board - they insisted on arrival that I removed all my clothes and showered. They examined me and my mother was sent a letter by the doctors to say I was OK.

Now - Belsen...

Whilst running a hospital in Belgium our colonel told us we were being flown to this concentration camp. We had never flown before, but were put in a Dakota - a frightening experience - and then trucked to Belsen. It was so terrible we cried ourselves to sleep for many nights in our tents two miles away. We had been through the war but this was something so terrible that it took some time for us to come to terms with what we saw...

Skeletons, naked, just standing about. Bodies everywhere. Some babies - still just about alive. We erected a tent and the sister collected the babies and put them in the tent. We entered a big building - the SS officers' quarters. Our orderlies took stretchers and collected any bodies that showed signs of life. We sent our colonel and some soldiers out to look for factories or shops to get clothes, sheets and blankets. When our troops went by, German women spat at them.

One of our sergeants took over a building and put up a big notice that said 'Harrods'. Our sense of humour managed to survive. I had nightmares for many years - my husband would wake me up and say I was crying again. After all these years I managed to live with my memories and the nightmares have stopped. We had no-one to talk to, we just had to keep going. Two of our sisters started drinking heavily and were sent home. I don't really know how we survived - we all supported each other and cried every night with our arms around each other.

There were Poles and French there. Most of them died. A French woman came with a French officer to get her husband. They took him away, hoping to get him back to France - he was dying and I knew he would never make it. I was there for nine weeks. Bodies were collected by trucks every day. We had a board outside and we wrote the number of bodies to be collected. Huge burial pits were dug and hundreds of bodies were put there. We saw some Germans who were PoWs - they were working on the burial grounds and we were disgusted at the way they threw the bodies in. We told the colonel and finally they began to lower the bodies in more gently. Our padre would go along and pray over each truckload.

As you know, there were other concentration camps and it is said that over six million Jews were killed. I cannot really write about everything that happened there - I have tried over the years to forgive the horrors... whoever created us humans made some awful mistakes. I only hope that in the future the world will become a more peaceful and friendly place.


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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 - D-Day and Belsen Concentration Camp

Posted on: 05 August 2003 by Ian Middleton

What a moving story Catherine.
My father was in the Royal Signal Corps at the end of the war, he joined up as soon as he was old enough. He never really told me much about his wartime experiences except that he had been based in Holland. Like your grandmother he found himself as part of the liberating force in Belsen. He only really told me about the corpses and the 'smell of death' which he sais you never forget, unfortunately he found it too upsetting to talk about,i suppose he spent most of his life trying to forget about it. I can remember vividly we were watching a programme about the holocaust, something came up about people who didnt believe it ever happened. From my father's chair all i heard in a broken voice was 'It happened, i was there and dont you ever forget it'. I never have....


Message 2 - D-Day and Belsen Concentration Camp

Posted on: 08 June 2004 by Michael Hammond

My wife and I have visited Belsen Bergen in resent years, while our youngest son was stationed at Hanover.What a terrible place, even today. No birds sing there, gorse is covering a wide area between the mound's where the mass graves are. There is a memorial at the far end of this huge open expanse and to the right is a wooded area, where you can still see the lower brickwork of the timber sheds, that housed the prisoners of war, it is a place that when you visit and see for yourselves, you can feel the horrors of war and wonder how man can be so cruel to fellow man.


Message 3 - D-Day and Belsen Concentration Camp

Posted on: 08 June 2004 by canadiangirl16

A very touching story. I've seen many vidoes and pictures of ww2 concentration camps and they never fail to bring me to tears. How anyone can be so cruel to another human being is beyond me but I will not comdemn and entire peoples for the actions of their ancestors either as my fellow classmates constantly do.


Message 4 - D-Day and Belsen Concentration Camp

Posted on: 12 June 2004 by drepp3

Dear Catherine,
My Great Aunt, Verna Darrach, RN, was also a member of the Queen Alexandra's Nurses. My father, Ivan Arthur MacArthur, landed on D-Day with Montgomery's Army. He was a tank commander at the age of 23. They were both Canadians, born on Prince Edward Island.

Aunt Verna landed on D-Day plus 4 and described a similar experience of waiting in the flat-bottomed boats. She too spoke about not having anywhere to get "clean" and having to improvise to wash clothes. She also spoke of fellow nurses needing to find periods of oblivion in alcohol - not partying, but oblivion.

My father survived D-Day and eventually was one of the liberators of the Bergan Belsen Concentration Camp. He would never speak about it - with one exception. As an adolescent,I read the Diary of Anne Frank and wept inconsolably at her death so near to the liberation of the camp. My Mother, Constance MacLeod MacArthur, gently suggested that I talk with my father. I cried to my father about the unfairness of life and asked why didn't "they" get there sooner and save her life. Daddy replied "We were too late....too late for almost all of them." He told me a little of what he found on entering the camp, particularly about the contrast between the "fat and satisfied" SS women guards and the emaciated bodys of the inmates, especially the few children. He cried about his shame at being viewed almost as "gods" by the inmates. He refused to say any more.

They were only there for a few days before pushing on towards Berlin.

Aunt Verna went on to a major role with the Red Cross in helping to unite the few remaining children of the camps with what family or friends they could find.

When I became a young RN myself, Verna spent one of the most important afternoons of my life telling me about her war experiences. She talked about the real-life confict between needing and following orders to assure the greater good but the equal and sometimes over-ridding need to break the rules to allow individuals to survive and get their chance at life. Many times she disregarded direct orders about the placement of children to help them make their way to Palestine.She taught me that my first duty would always be to my individual patients and that I must always altruistically meet their needs - even when it might result in some punishment for myself for "breaking some rules that, in the main, are very sensible and necessary."

I miss them both.

Deborah MacArthur Repp, RN
Richmond, Virginia USA

Message 1 - The same Joy?

Posted on: 13 November 2004 by colstephya

This summer I met an amazing woman in a car park. We stood chatting for about thirty minutes and she told me lots about herself and her family. She told me that she had been one of the first nurses at Belson and that the experience had caused her to lose her faith. After I drove off I wished I'd asked her more about it. Her name was Joy and the car park was in Alton, Hants. I'm wondering; was it your husband's grandmother?

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