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15 October 2014
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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Dennis Speake
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
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Contributed on: 
07 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Alma Harrison
of Uckfield Community Learning Centre, a volunteer from BBC Southern Counties Radio on behalf of Dennis Speake and has been added to the site with his permission. Dennis Speake fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

In 1945, I was a very young soldier, having only recently completed my infantry training. I was shipped over to France at the end of February and by way of several holding units, eventually caught up with the regiment I had been posted to. The Royal Welsh Fusiliers who by that time were well into Germany.

Wasn’t I lucky not to have joined them earlier as they had received many casualties?

Over the next few weeks we fought our way Eastwards and on towards the River Elbe which we were to cross on our way to attack the city of Hamburg. On one occasion we were moving in a convoy of three ton trucks when, probably, the last remnants of the Luftwaffe, two fighter planes, attacked the convoy and shot up the truck in front of ours which was carrying our Company HQ personnel. The driver and our acting CSM were killed and everyone else but one was wounded. That truck had overtaken ours a few minutes earlier! Lucky again.

We had to wait a few miles from the river until the Royal Engineers built a bridge for us, so stayed for about 24 hours in a very small village where we liberated a few chickens.

In the village square was a huge monolith on which was inscribed “Adolf Hitler 1933”. When our CO saw this he called a member of our Pioneer Platoon with a hammer and chisel and got him to add “Kaput 1945”.

So we crossed the Elbe and, that night, prepared ourselves for the attack, but then heard on the radio that the German forces in the Hamburg area had surrendered. Weren’t we LUCKY?

When we marched into the city we realized what a terrible job it would have been to fight our way through as the place was totally devastated. We were sent to the dock area where we found a large hut, tightly packed with three-tier bunks. The hut was vermin ridden and stunk to high heaven and the people inside were in very poor shape, probably slave labourers.

We found a relatively intact warehouse and some pallets on which we installed these poor people and then one of our officers threw a can of petrol into the hut and set fire to it. For the next couple of days we guarded and patrolled the area on a rota of two hours on, two hours off, day and night and when news of the war end came we celebrated with one bottle of beer between two! (only to be consumed during our two hours off). Lucky to get through the war unscathed. Three weeks later I celebrated my nineteenth birthday.

But Lady Luck has a way of turning the tables and the following year I was seriously wounded in a shooting accident and consequently discharged from the service. Never the less I survived and am still around nearly sixty years later. Lucky old me!

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