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15 October 2014
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VE Day and Belsenicon for Recommended story

by ron_peters

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Beryl Andrews
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 August 2004

At the end of 1944 Beryl Andrews was 19 and was pursuing her career as an actress at the 'Theatre Royal' in Windsor when she was offered a part in an ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) production 'Saloon Bar'. The production was planned to follow our forces as they advanced through Europe.

The following is a report Beryl sent home shortly after the cessation of hostilities.

"On the night that most of the German Army capitulated we were playing in a theatre at Emsdetten. During the show someone came in at the back of the theatre and called out, "The War is over!' With one accord; the whole audience rose to its feet and cheered madly, it was wonderful. I don't know how we finished the show, we felt almost choked with emotion. I shall never forget hearing during the interval hundreds of happy voices singing, 'Take me back to dear old Blighty' it meant so much. Afterwards of course we heard that the war was not completely over, but I know that the whole company will always look on that day as being our Victory Day.

It is awfully difficult not to be taken in by the servile and seemingly friendly attitude of the German people. The average Englishman is such a kind and susceptible soul that the role of unrelenting occupier takes a lot of willpower to fill. Because we are human we are inclined almost to pity the people who now stand in such long food queues. Then we remember the poverty and the heartbreaking conditions in other countries and I personally pull myself together with the one word 'Belsen'.

Yes I went into the Belsen Concentration Camp before it was burnt to the ground and with my own eyes I saw things that I shall never forget. The camp had been magnificently cleared by our troops and every patient was receiving excellent medical attention. Although we were spared the worst horrors we saw what I only describe as 'living corpses'; I would not have believed that the human body could be so thin and emaciated. Talking with our own soldiers who had had the dreadful task of tidying up, told us even more what atrocities had been committed.

A mile way from the camp were healthy well-cared-for German children, whose parents could live so near to this place and yet not know of its existence.

The devastation in Hamburg defies description; I was really amazed that there was still a hotel standing for us to live in. Morning after morning hundreds of German prisoners were gathered together in the station yard opposite our hotel and it was a strange sight to see the so-called 'Master Race' hemmed in by a white tape, on its way by train and lorry to clear up the chaos they had created in other countries. The theatre in which we played was beautiful and the largest now standing in Germany. Someone told us that Hitler's last Visit to Hamburg was when he went there to see a performance of 'The Merry Widow' that had been put on especially for his benefit. During the evening someone in the gallery threw a stone at him, and it was quite definitely his last visit!

There was great excitement in Flensburg (the German town near the Danish border) last week when Lord Haw Haw was captured by a young British Officer. We happened to be right in the centre of the town and were delighted when the hero of the evening came in and told us the story in his own words. You can imagine the great kick we got out of knowing all about it before the news had been made public.

From Flensburg we were lucky enough to cross the border and spent a wonderful day in Denmark. It was lovely to get out of a country full of veiled hatred into one where everybody waves at us and wanted to shake us by the hand. The friendly atmosphere was incredible. We were able to buy fresh milk, tomatoes, strawberries and superb pre-war cream cakes, which went down very well at our picnic as we had been living on tinned food and tinned milk. After rounding off our day by basking in the sun on a pleasant bit of beach we all decided that Denmark is certainly worth a very early visit as soon as travel becomes possible again."

Beryl Andrews
May 1945

Beryl continues to live a happy and active life in Surrey.

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