A DESERT RAT'S STORY
NEARING THE END
NEARING THE END OF THE GERMAN FORCES
We could clearly see the damage our bombers had caused in the
towns and cities we passed through. Outside the towns we had to edge forward
with great care as although the Germans were in full retreat, they were still
powerfully armed and led by some fanatical officers. We captured a few wearing
jet black gear with silver skull and cross bone badges, rather like one of
our cavalry regiments, the 21st Lancers. They wore black berets and looked
very sinister. I thought at the time that if the positions had been reversed,
they would make short work of us but we weren’t into that game.
A short stocky German N.C.O., dressed all in black and with an insignia of the Deaths Head Division, was standing before my troop with his arms raised in surrender and muttering to another at his side, and at the same time furtively looking around. Quite clearly to me he was getting ready to make a break for it. I told the lads to keep an eye on him. It did not really matter to us whether he remained a prisoner or took his chances on getting away. In any case we could not take them with us as we would be moving forward after a while and would then have to send them back under their own steam. When he thought it quiet he made a dash for it, making for a hedge. He didn’t get half way before he was killed by fire from a Bren gun. Why he tried it puzzled us all. An hour later we had moved on and left the remaining prisoners where they were to be taken over by following troops. He could have lived, it was his choice.
We came through Hamburg and found the whole city flattened by our bombs. It was so bad I thought it could never be rebuilt. We found no opposition at all from the enemy.
We were all getting very tired now and seldom got a decent night’s sleep. Our advanced quickened up and more German territory was taken over. We reached the town of Lubeck, the Royals were well in the advance. On one particular day we took ten thousand prisoners. Late in the afternoon all resistance in the town had ended apart from a few fanatics. I took the troop to a three-story block of flats with a courtyard in which we could put all our cars. Placing a guard on them, we entered and ordered out all the inhabitant. They left within a few minutes and everyone of us slept in a warm bed that night and cooked our own food in a kitchen. Everyone had strict instructions from me to take nothing out. After a hot bath the following morning we left and as we did, all the flat dwellers sped inside, possibly expecting the worst but they were in for a pleasant surprise.
Exploring the basement the previous evening to make certain there were no troops hiding, we spotted a large suitcase. Lifting the lid we saw it was packed with millions of brand new German marks in the original bank wrappers. Remembering what happened after the 1914-18 war with hyper inflation in Germany and 50 million marks just about buying a box of matches, I said to the lads, “Don’t bother about that rubbish, it will be useless in a few days’ time.” As a souvenir, I stuffed a pile in my bag and the next day swapped the lot for a scruffy rabbit skin jacket worth nothing at all. It turned out that devaluation never happened and although the mark weakened, it was still a useful currency.
It did not bother any of us that we left a fortune was left
behind. Many had the one thought that having survived over six years of war,
it was just a question now of keeping out of trouble for another few days
and it would all be over. The Russians were nearing Berlin, and we heard that
they faced fierce resistance. Prisoners of war were out of their camps, refugees
were clogging the roads towards us, mixed up with thousands of German soldiers
wanting to surrender. By now we were north of Lubeck, expecting to go forward
to Keil, when we were told to prepare with our 7th Armoured Division to make
a short diversion to liberate Denmark. Colonel Pepys was flown to meet General
Montgomery at Lunerberg Heath who informed Pepys that it was not necessary
for a whole division to do this, so the entire liberation was left to the
Royal Dragoons. We left that night, mounted up and crossed the Kiel Canal.
Most of us knew very little of Denmark, but having seen and fought in many countries and scores of towns, to move on another hundred miles was just another routine. We started off at first light the following morning and made good progress. On the way we passed through Neumenster, Rensberg and all the other towns in Northern Germany, places that had been annexed from Denmark in previous wars. There was no sign at all of any bomb damage. In fact the occupants had gone through the entire war and had not suffered one iota, not losing any sleep from the bombers, never short of food, and claiming to know nothing of the atrocities committed by their troops to people at their mercy. They watched in sullen silence as we sped through until finally we reached Flensburg with its cobbled streets and large port packed with sailing vessels and large ships.
The inhabitants knew we were coming, and as we drove through we could see them peering through the curtains of their windows. Others were going about their everyday business. In fact it was uncanny -they had a comfortable war. They probably wondered what we would do to them. No doubt they had heard what the Russian troops had inflicted on the German civilians in the East of Germany as punishment for the slaughter of millions of Russian women and children when they were on the winning side. A few soldiers near the docks saluted as we headed for what appeared to be a castle where we intended to stay overnight.
The following morning we arose early and after a quick brew up we loaded our cars. As dawn broke we drove to the Danish/German border. It took less than twenty minutes. As we turned at a bend in the road we saw an unforgettable sight -standing alongside the raised border bar were officers and men in Danish uniform with German border guards flanking them all, saluting as we sped past. My first impression was of green field, white houses and cottages, red and white Danish flags on each roof, and not an inch of space along any part of the road without crowds cheering every car that went by.
The first major town we came to was Aabenraa. We had to slow down and as we did so, a dozen people climbed onto our car flooding the interior with flowers and cheering and kissing us all. We could not stop as we had to occupy the whole country and disarm the Germans who were still there in full strength. They were further inland, so on we went with each squadron aiming for a different town. A Squadron was given Aarhus as our base.
As we entered the outskirts of the town our cars were swamped with young people clambering all over them, many wearing the red and white scarves and head bonnets of their national flag. Flags were everywhere. It took over an hour at a crawling pace to reach the town centre. A public holiday must have been announced, as parties started from the beginning of our arrival and went on for days on end. Such was the relief of liberation from the German occupiers, who appeared to have settled in very well indeed with their barracks in the best positions and plentiful food. The country as a whole had not suffered any bomb damage.
The noise was terrific and the happiness of the people of all ages showed. The Handel High School was allocated to us as a temporary billet. We parked our cars outside and, bringing a few pieces of gear in, we dossed down on the floor which we all thought was pure luxury. Looking out of the window we saw below thousands of smiling faces waiting for our next appearance.
The school’s headmaster made an appearance to welcome us. His name was Hanson, aged about sixty. His wife, a large pleasant woman, was the first female I saw smoking a cigar, though I saw a lot of this later on. They had a married daughter with a young girl, her husband was working in Copenhagen. We were told that we were invited for a meal at a restaurant in town. We formed up in troops outside the school and marched away in good military order. My right hand was clutched by a teenaged girl. She held on to my smallest finger on which was a gold ring with a green Tourmaline in the centre. Dozens of people were reaching out to us. At times the girl almost lost her grip but she still clung on despite all the buffeting.
The meal was the first and only time we were all seated together in a civilian establishment, and it was a joyous occasion for all. The crowd outside were peering through the windows and as we left an hour later, they rushed us before we could line up. The girl made sure that my hand and ring were clutched again and I struggled back to the high school, promising to come out with some English cigarettes which they all declared they had been waiting for. It so happened we were short ourselves as they were hard to come by at that time. I did manage to get fifty together and these went in a flash. All the younger people asked us to a party and off we went to a house and drank some of the best of Danish lager. The celebration went on all night. Going home in the early hours we thought that was it for partying. Not so, the parties went on for months on end. They used any excuse for a party after several years of occupation. Hundreds of us were single and in our early twenties and loved every day of it.
On the first day in Aarhus near the harbour I had seen one of my troop emerging from the window of a building. I could see he was clutching a bottle of spirits and some cigars. I asked him what he was doing and he told me he had crawled through the window as he had seen supplies there. Nearby stood a solitary German soldier viewing all this. I was infuriated and forcefully had to remind our trooper that we had won the war and should be going in the front entrance not sneaking in side windows. Dismissing the German, I put our guard on the door. The building was the equivalent of our NAAFI - the supply section for all spirits, cigars, cigarettes, confectionery - for the entire German Army in Denmark. This kept us in supplies for months. Those Krauts certainly lived well with produce from conquered counties.
After a week or so we went to a camp outside the town, named Thors Molle, which was a former German-built camp ideally situated in a forest. The troops had Nissen- type huts, holding around fifteen men. Ron Triggs and myself had a large room to ourselves as did the other sergeants, and we settled in. There were two entrances to the camp, one on the main road and the other quite near the Vana Restaurant, a very up-market place serving delicious food, with the occasional dance.
CAPTURING GENERAL LINDEMANN
A few days after our settling in we had the task of getting
the Germans moved out of their camps and on their way to prisoner of war camps,
but prior to this we had to make their commanding officer know that the war
for him was really over. We had been informed that he was a Nazi and a strict
disciplinarian to troops and civilians alike.
The Germans, having surrendered, were still based in huge numbers at the headquarters of General Lindemann at Silkeborg. He was in command of the whole of the Scandinavian area. It seemed he was reluctant to surrender to our Major Fisher, at the time based with his A Squadron in Aarhus. It had been said that his preference was to meet with a higher rank, such as a General.
The matter was left for a few days and then it was decided to prise him out. A message was sent to him to surrender himself the following day. Imagining himself to be escorted in style to our General Harding, he agreed to leave his camp the following day. Expecting some trouble, a plan was made that he was to be ambushed outside a couple of miles from the exit. We took three troops, Triggs and myself with three cars, Noggy Warne in the third. Major Fisher was in another car driven by Stanley Rogers, a former sergeant in the Sherwood Foresters who had reverted to trooper on joining us at Ashford. Several members of the Danish Army now back in uniform were also present, as were photographers as they had been tipped off that an event was to happen.
Ted Hartland and Ron Triggs Capturing General Lindemann,
Silkeborg, May 1945
Three cars came in sight. We were hidden off the road on either side. As the rear car passed us, an armoured car blocked the road behind them. In front of them a few hundred yards away other cars blocked them all in. General Lindemann was in the centre car. We pulled the door open and ordered him out. He was dressed in full regalia to impress. As he stood up his face was purple with fury. He was taken to a small hut nearby and was strip-searched which made him even angrier. This did not impress anyone, least of all we sergeants who had the job of seeing he behaved himself. We were told that the thorough search was for concealed drugs should he decide to top himself. He never uttered a sound and obeyed every order we gave him, but all his arrogance had gone.
Ron Triggs, Noggy Warne and myself were then instructed to take him under strict secrecy to Copenhagen, with Ron driving him in the green BMW which he arrived in at the time of the ambush. Off we went and at one point we had to cross from the island of Fyn to Zeeland. As it lasted about a half hour, we kept him out of sight and took turns to slip away to the bar for a beer. He had still not spoken a single word from the moment of his capture and when we handed him over, he was in a state of shock. I think he was bitterly disappointed with his fall from great power, a man who could decide who would live and who would die now in the hands of three sergeants who treated him firmly and from whom he had to ask permission to go to the toilet.
As we entered Copenhagen we could see that the celebrations for the liberation were still going on. It was dark as we got to the centre of the town. Raadhusplasen was packed with people and as they made way for our small convoy, some peered in the windows of the BMW and thumped on the car as they recognised Lindemann. No harm was done though. He was handed over to the Military Police. I had been told he was wanted by the Russians for trial for atrocities whilst he had a command there, but many years later I learned that he remained in the charge of the British Army and died in Germany long after the war ended. We found a place to stay in the town centre and of course joined in the parties going on. A week went by and we were shattered from the parties and lack of sleep and decided that it was time to head back to Thors Molle.
We headed South with expectations of reaching Aarhus that evening. My car was in the lead, Triggs was just behind me in the private car and Noggy was the tail ender. I was in touch with Noggy by radio and at the same time kept glancing back to ensure they all got over the various lights at crossroads. All went well for the first twenty miles but then I heard the sound of squealing brakes behind. Looking back, I could see Noggy’s car at a halt and another stationary car nearby.
Jumping down and running back, I saw Noggy in the turret of his car with blood pouring down his face caused by a huge gash at the top of his head. We got him down and laid him flat on his back. Wiping some of the blood away, we saw that it was a wound that had to be attended to. We knocked on the door of a nearby house to ask where the nearest hospital was. The door was answered by a very attractive and sympathetic lady who asked us inside. After a coffee she suggested that we go ahead and leave Noggy to rest awhile after which she would take him to hospital. This suited us perfectly and we continued our journey expecting him to join us the following day by train to Aarhus.
A week or so went past with no sign of Noggy. We had no idea of the name of the person looking after him or the hospital involved and could not telephone as to his whereabouts. We had not bothered to report the accident. He turned up ten days later head, heavily bandaged with eleven stitches awaiting removal. Noggy, a former miner I believe, was a man of few words. He had joined us in Ashford after our return from Italy. He said very little about his ten-day stay. It did puzzle me as the stitches would have been put in the same day we left.
The mystery was solved the next day. The lady concerned arrived at the camp gates asking to be admitted. She had fallen for Noggy in a big way and had left her husband and was preparing to find a place in town to continue the romance. This was of course impossible as we expected to move on after a while. The situation was very awkward as at any time her husband was expected to arrive. To Noggy’s credit he never discussed in any way the details of his stay. It was with some relief to all of us when on the last occasion they met she said that her husband had traced the whereabouts of the Royals and persuaded her to return home to him. Noggy remained quiet the whole time, seemingly unaffected by all the fuss. She cried when saying goodbye to Noggy.
To celebrate, the three of us decided to have a party in the room which Triggs and I shared. We had an adequate supply of liquor and food supplied by the store we had liberated on the first day of our arrival. Nothing was organised with regard to invitations, we just asked Danish friends we knew to come down that evening. Triggs asked his girlfriend Esther, then living in the upmarket part of Aarhus called Aabyhoj. Her father was a well known collaborator who went missing at the end of the war and returned when matters settled down. Her brother, I later heard, had volunteered for the Waffen SS but there was no proof of this. Esther brought along her cousin, Musse Lerdrup, and a few others boys and girls. Later on Triggs and Esther became engaged and I believe got married. I lost track of him after leaving the Army, but years later Peter Garnett saw him in a book shop in Sunderland where he was employed at that time. No mention was made of Esther, so I do not know the end of the story.
We all had a good time and around 1 a.m. the party ended. I
offered to take Musse and a young friend home. Driving the Opel car I had
purchased two weeks earlier, I left camp and swung a right down the steep
road leading to the sea front, which required a swing to the left to make
the town centre. I could clearly see the reflection of the moon shimmering
on the water. I was driving much too fast, perhaps having had too many drinks.
As I reached the point where I should swing left I lost control of the car.
I remember hitting a tree, then crashing through a barrier and falling thirty
feet to the rocks below. Dust inside covered everything I saw. Musse’s
white dress was covered with blood and I managed to drag her and her friend
out. Within minutes the Falke ambulance service came to take us to hospital.
My head was cut and metal clamps closed the wound. I was pleased to learn
that the girls got away without a single scratch, all the blood was from my
The following morning Tom Hickmore, my former signals man, approached me and told me that he and his friend Aase had seen the entire episode and that it was she who knew how to alert the emergency services. I had a splitting headache for a day or so but considered myself lucky to get away with such a small injury. My thumb throbbed with pain but it wasn’t until later I learnt a piece of glass had embedded in the bone and required a minor operation to remove it.
Sitting in the mess having breakfast, a Danish civilian called asking to see me. He claimed he had pulled the wrecked Opel out of the seashore and wanted payment or he requested that he buy it as is. Being a question of 600 kroner, I told him I would keep it and asked him to repair the car, for which I would pay him in full. He had no paint so I let him use some of our old camouflage green paint. It looked awful and the engine was failing, so it ended up that I sold it at a loss. After that we used local taxis, we all knew the taxi telephone number by heart, 111130.