- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Hilda L Witchell, Peggy Quinney
- Location of story:
- Berlin, Germany
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 August 2005
My friend Peggy Quinney and I were the first two ATS girls to enter Berlin after the fall in 1945.
We were sent for training in Piccadilly just after D Day. We trained as clerks although I was a PTA Instructor. I knew that if I did not retrain I would not get the opportunity to go overseas. Initially there were 60 girls who were posted all over the world until just Peggy and I were left. There were 5 senior staff at the beginning and by 1946 there were 21,000 staff altogether.
Our training consisted of planning for the rebuilding of Berlin by using large sheets of paper with headings like “Sewers”, “Water”, “Bridges”, and “Postal” etc. Underneath we wrote the different ranks and their reconstruction jobs. This included other ranks jobs as drivers, cooks etc. I had to type messages to be sent to Officers all over the world with specialist skills to recall them for reconstruction duties.
After the Potsdam Conference each nationality was allocated six boroughs of Berlin to work in. 150 of the staff were sent to Paris but I was left in London.
Three army sergeants joined the team and I was very much taken with one of them, so much that we eventually married. Peggy married one of the others!
Eventually I was sent to Eastbourne by truck (my future husband came too) to wait for a flight to Berlin. We were there for 5 weeks as Berlin was closed because of disease. This was partly as a result of the destruction of the sewers by the Russians who had taken reprisals for Stalingrad. We had a very relaxing time on the beach in lovely weather just waiting! Eventually we were put in a Dakota without any seats for the flight to Berlin. I had to sit on the floor. I had a packing case with a typewriter and had to work. Shortly after crossing the Rhine the plane was diverted to land in a field. It took off again leaving us with no idea what was happening. Two or three hours later a staff car came for Peggy and me leaving the boys in the field. It was a long time before we found out where they were and met up again. We were taken to Montgomery’s’ Headquarters where we worked for three weeks before eventually going to Berlin by road. We drove through dreadful sights, three miles with no building standing. 100 Flying Fortresses had devastated the city. People were living in the gutter. The heat was terrible. We drew up outside of a block of flats where the top three storeys had been destroyed. We lived there until the end of the posting, protected by Military Police with a dog.
A path a yard wide had been cleared between the flats and Charlottenburg where we were to work. We were told not to step off the path, as the rubble had not been cleared of corpses!
My job involved taking minutes of International Planning Meetings between the Allied Powers. Once, my shorthand was checked by a Russian General, who wanted to know if we had noted the Russians had said “nyet” (no) at a particular point in the discussions.
My husband to be was also in Berlin, but in another part, and it was some time before we met again. We were able to attend the Victory Celebrations together but we were warned to be careful about the crowds which could include ex German soldiers in civvies.
My lasting memories of Berlin are of a city with no birds or cats as they had been eaten by the starving survivors. I did go to a Cocktail Party in the Russian Sector by special invitation. I went with my Brigadier in his staff car and as I was only a private we had to get special dispensation from the War Office for me to accompany him. The food at the party was amazing as we had been used to meagre rations. The table was covered in Salmon and meat. We then had to watch a Russian Propaganda film during which the audience drank vodka, smoked and talked so I understood very little about what was going on.
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