- Contributed by
- Frank Yates
- People in story:
- Frank Yates, General Ross, Brigadier Prior-Palmer, General Horrocks, Peter Meinertzhagen
- Location of story:
- Goch, Geldern
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 November 2005
Memories of Frank Yates CHAPTER 38
Having emerged from the Reichswald, our next task was to take the fortified town of Gogh and to press on towards Weeze and Geldern, on the drive to the Rhine. Cleves, the home of the unlovely Anne, and the first of the important German towns on the west of the River, had already been “liberated” by the Canadians.
15 Div were the first into Goch, overcoming, with difficulty, the usual fanatical resistance. The Germans were now defending German cities, and even though the outcome of the war could only end in defeat in a matter of weeks, they still fought on.
Goch was a bottle neck and helping to impede our advance was an armoured brigade, commanded by Brigadier Prior- Palmer. They had supported the Scots and were now parked in the middle of the town, making any movement difficult. Complaints were coming in from our troops about the hold-up and the general was getting a bit shirty! Turning to me, he said. “Find Brigadier Prior-Palmer and tell him to get his b****y tanks off the road” I said, "Sir I can’t say that to a Brigadier” He replied “Give him my compliments and tell him to get his b****y tanks off the road, not one word, more or less.” Off I went, and found them parked right in the middle of Goch, brewing up and having a nice breather. I enquired of the location of the CO’s. HQ, and was taken to a Sherman tank, devoid of a gun and with a steel ladder welded up to the top of the turret, which, I think, had been fixed from rotating. The escorting officer shouted down to the great man “L.O. from Div to see you Sir” and a voice bid me to descend a ladder into the interior of the tank. I was more worried about my message than looking around the white enamelled interior but I got the impression that it was a very comfortable “Pad”. “Well?” “Sir, I apologise, but I have been ordered by the General exactly what to say” “Well, spit it out then”, he replied. I then delivered the message verbatim and he shot past me up the ladder, and, as I got back to my jeep, tank engines were starting up all around!
Another problem in Goch was that the main route through the town had to pass through an ancient archway, part of the Steintor building, a turreted and pinnacled building, of great interest and beauty. The houses and shops on both sides of the road went right up to the arch and the opening was not quite wide enough to take a 3 ton lorry. I understand, from the Engineers’ history “Welsh bridges to the Elbe”, that it was suggested that the arch should be blown up, but they saved it by removing a few bricks from each interior side. After the war the damaged houses on one side of the Stientor were demolished, the main road taken round it and the arch pedestrianised very tastefully
When we took over Goch, I was living in a private house in the street near the Stientor. My shared batman announced that there was coal in the cellar and he was preparing a bath, Bliss! I luxuriated in the hot water and had a good soak. When I got out and dried myself, I felt strange sensations and on looking in the mirror, I got a shock, my hair was sticking straight up, in hard spikes and my skin was encrusted with white crystals. He had found a jar of bath salts and dumped the whole lot in the bath! He had to fill the bath again!!
Speed of advance was the order of the day as the Russians were moving quickly through East Germany and although it was never mentioned, the politicians were anxious that the meeting between the Allies and our Russian friends, should be as far east as possible. In the interests of speed, we were visited by the charismatic Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks, the commander of 30 Corps, of which we were a part. Our “Bobby” Ross had been sent on leave and one of the Brigade commanders, Brigadier Fish, was acting Div. commander and met Horrocks in the Ops room, together with the CRE. I watched spellbound, as he cajoled them, putting his arm round the CRE’s shoulders and telling him that he was amazed that the famous engineers of the Welsh Division had not been able to build an important bridge as quickly as he had hoped and he was sure that it would be built by eighteen hundred hours. It was!
The Division cleared down through Weeze and Kevelaer to Geldern, where we stayed for a few days rest. On Saturday afternoon, the G2, who was then Peter Meinertzhagen, the son of a famous London banking Dynasty asked me if I wanted to help him enjoy a cruise, on that long ago, sunlit, March day. There was a very large lake close to Div HQ and he had persuaded the OC Signals to lend us their “Weasel” for the afternoon. This brand new vehicle had bee designed for use in the waterlogged countryside of eastern Holland, and used by our Signals in the awful conditions of the Reichswald. It was, virtually, a very large carrier with a canvas canopy and broad, adapted, caterpillar tracks, which served as paddle wheels when the vehicle was used on water, for it was completely amphibious. So on that warm afternoon we drove down to the lake, the Royal Signals driver looking forward to the sail as much as us.
Meanwhile, may I say that Peter Meinertzhagen was a lovely man, educated at Eton, but enlisted in the Army instead of Oxford. He died, in 2001, as Sir Peter Meinertzhagen, being knighted for his services to Africa, where he developed large agricultural projects.
Eventually we reached the shore of the lake and waddled in. We had rolled back the canvas roof, to enjoy better the lovely day, and we were having a blissful sail when the engine, hidden under a central cover, started to splutter and cough! We hastily removed the engine hood and found that it was half covered with water, which was rising rapidly. It seems that the driver, although having driven it through the forest, had never used it in its boat form and did not know that there was a plug or something to make it watertight.
There was no time for recriminations, the starter motor was used to turn the dead engine and transmission, until the battery was flat and then we unshipped the two spades, provided for shovelling mud, and “Monty and I frantically paddling with them, realised that we would not make the shore, as the Weasel was settling rapidly. About twenty feet from dry land she sank with a gurgle and a major, a lieutenant and a corporal were swimming to the shore, wearing caps, uniforms and boots. A lift was obtained from a passing vehicle and we sloshed home, carrying two spades, to report to the OC Sigs whilst dripping over his floor. He informed us, heatedly, that the thing had cost HM. Government £1500. I suppose that it would be “Monty”, as senior crew member, who, if the worst came to the worst, might be asked to contribute. I read, from his obituary in the “Daily Telegraph,” that his brother, Daniel, was chairman of Lazards and the Royal Insurance Company and his other brother, Luke, was senior partner in Casenove & Co. so that would not be a problem!
In the event, the matter was much more complicated. We used an official driver, and the fact that he was uninformed about the “plug” was not our fault. Signals had given their blessing and they probably invented a plausible story to account for the loss!
After we left the area we heard that the Engineers had been asked to pull the beast out, but they could not find it. Apparently, the lake had once been a huge quarry, nearly 200 feet deep! Sigs told us, months later, that a naval salvage party had eventually raised it.
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