My service in Royal Signals, 1939 to 1946.

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by Nevil, Feb 21, 2011.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    The shoulder-flash of the HQ, British Sector, was a black circle with a red band around it. The general supposition was that it was intended to represent Berlin surrounded by the (Red Army?) Soviet Zone...a zany idea, if true. However, the more popular explanation was: "The darkness of abysmal ignorance entirely surrounded by red tape." There were a few other possible explanations, all entirely unprintable here.

    Very amusing ... but perhaps not then?

    -

    Enjoy the R&R Nevil and thanks for the latest instalment.
     
  2. Nevil

    Nevil WW2 Veteran/Royal Signals WW2 Veteran

    I'm following every instalment too !:)

    Enjoy your trip away. I've just got back from a long weekend riding the 16H around Normandy and have had to go back to work to recover !:unsure:

    After doing that just about every day for three years, Rich, I think I should be able to get a disability pension for my bad back.....specifically a wrecked spine! :D

    Would have been easier if I had been in the Canadian forces......I know an ex RCAF pilot, my age, who got some pension benefits because he needed hearing aids......result of the noise from plane engines during WW2!

    Nevil.
     
  3. Nevil

    Nevil WW2 Veteran/Royal Signals WW2 Veteran

     
  4. Nevil

    Nevil WW2 Veteran/Royal Signals WW2 Veteran

    For their final assault on the city of Berlin, the Soviets had deployed a wide variety of regiments, including many from the east of the USSR, from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, people who would be as strange to a resident of Moscow as they were to us. According to a Soviet officer with whom I became acquainted, but not friendly (they would not, or dare not, even appear to be friendly), supply arrangements for their combat divisions were primarily for ammunition. Such items as food and clothing would only be brought up if there were no opportunities to "live off the land." Pay arrangement were haphazard and they were expected to loot. No loot, no pay, in many instances.


    The joke was told of one Uzbek rifle company that took over a fine, modern, German barracks. A British officer asked his Uzbek opposite number how his men liked the place, the toilets, showers, and so on. The Uzbek replied: "Well, they like everything except the washing facilities. Every time they pull the chain, they lose their soap." :D


    On the road out to the British Zone, through Helmstedt, which we had to travel frequently, the Soviets were a serious menace. They were not supposed to interfere with our traffic but they largely ignored the rules. Any trip was always tense and unpredictable. On one occasion, driving at night to Helmstedt en route to Hamburg with a fellow officer, we were stopped and, with rifles shoved in our faces, motioned to get out. Then our kit was pulled out and pawed through. None spoke English or German, so we had no idea what they wanted. Eventually our luggage was put back, we were allowed back into the car, and then four of them piled into the back seat. We were quite sure we were going to be killed and our car and belongings stolen. After a few miles, we were motioned to stop and we figured that was that. They got out, shook our hands one by one, grinning broadly, then stood waving at us as we drove away. It was not a pleasant experience.


    An hour later, we saw another little group waving us down. I slowed until we were level with them, then floored the gas pedal, cut the lights, and waited for the bullets to arrive. Uncharacteristically, they did not shoot. We had some tense moments before we were out of range.


    One never knew whether one was dealing with bona fide troops, who were unpredictable enough, or whether they were deserters who were really dangerous. As they were shot on the spot by Soviet MPs or Field Security units if they were caught, they had nothing to lose by murdering allied troops or German civilians for whatever supplies they might want.


    Yet another hazard on the road in and out of Berlin were bands of Displaced Persons, including many East Europeans who had been the expendable slave labourers of Hitler's Reich. They were then also fleeing the Soviet Zone as they feared and mistrusted them as much as they did the Germans. They had heard on the grape-vine that there was "sanctuary" in the British, French and American zones and would do anything to get there. As they moved along, they routinely murdered German farmers and villagers, to obtain food, clothing, etc. Most were armed and were sufficiently desperate that they would not hesitate to kill Allied soldiers also, if they thought it necessary to obtain food, arms or vehicles.


    At that time, some idiot remote from the scene, had decreed that Allied troops were not to carry arms, not even side-arms, except on guard-duty and the like. I suppose the idea was to reassure Germans that Peace was really here. It probably seemed like a good idea if you were in London or Washington, DC. In Berlin, which was a bit like the old Wild West, I followed the rule at first, of necessity. Then, after some scary incidents, I would leave my service revolver at home but carry a small Walther automatic 6mm pistol that was flat enough to fit in my pocket without much of a bulge, or in a shoulder holster. I needed it only a couple of times., the first being when a group of us were fired at from a ruined building on the edge of the Soviet sector. I emptied a clip into the building in response and that presumably scared off whomever was responsible. On “official” trips outside the British sector, I ignored the rule and wore my service revolver. I also had a Luger 9mm automatic pistol hidden under the car seat, as further insurance. If all that sounds a bit melodramatic, one should realize the Soviets had a complete disregard for human life, their own as well as ours, and also one could never be sure that some disgruntled civilian or ex-soldier might not want to vent his frustration.


    Being in a besieged city, in "enemy territory" our recreational opportunities were a little circumscribed. The ultimate ambition was to get home leave, which I had twice in a year, or leave to travel to Denmark, where I went once and found Danish hospitality to be just as generous as on my first trip from SHAEF.


    My first leave home was by train, travelling two days across Europe seated on hard wooden slats, with the carriage windows boarded-up, probably because they had no glass or had not yet got around to fixing them. There were eight in the compartment so no room to lie down. Then the boat trip across the Channel which was very rough on that occasion. It was said that if you drank 'Black Velvets' (Champagne and Guinness) during the trip, you would not be sea sick. Worked for me but not for the rest in my cabin! I said : "Never again!" to that route for leave in future. On the next occasion, I persuaded the Air Force to let me go home in one of their supply planes. What I did not know was they were just converted bombers. The "passenger accommodation" was lying-down space on bare metal struts, in freezing cold, all the way to England. I said: "Never, ever, again!"


    Within the first few weeks in Berlin, I had visited all the pre-war tourist-type places or, at least, those that were still standing. One of the first places I visited was the Reich Chancellery, where Hitler, his girl-friend Eva Braun, and many of his staff committed suicide. The roof of the main entrance hall was badly damaged. Down in the "bunkers" there was some fire damage and there were papers scattered everywhere underfoot. The Soviets had long since combed it for anything of value or interest of course. I still have photographs I took but I should have taken a few souvenirs from amongst the scattered files there.


    I joined the United Services Yacht Club on the Havelsee, a lake several miles long. The club was operated by the British Army, using sail boats and premises confiscated from the German club that had been there. Once again, our Soviet friends tended to spoil the fun; one end of the lake ran into their zone and any boat straying into it was shot at. They meant business too, not just warning shots. Still, my friends and I had some fun times there out on the lake.


    There were two British Officers' Clubs in Berlin, one for sports and one for wining and dining. These were about the only places in the city where one could use normal (military) currency. Everywhere else, one paid with cigarettes. A bottle of German gin, home-made from potato skins, would cost perhaps five cigarettes.


    Walking along smoking a cigarette, you would gradually gather a "tail" of people waiting for you to throw away the end. When you did, there would be a wild scramble for it. Even the Soviets could be bribed with our cigarettes as they had only a small ration of them, of foul aroma.


    In the early months of 1946, I got permission to hire a German clerk, to replace army staff that had been demobilized. The man I hired was a middle-aged accountant, although I had only routine work for him. He refused any salary but said he would do any job if he could be allowed the privilege of cleaning the office ashtrays and keeping the contents. Of course, being the army, we paid him anyway but no doubt the cigarette butts were worth much more than the pay.. He was very grateful for the job and later presented me with a paper knife which he had made, he claimed, from a fragment of one of the first British bombs dropped on Berlin. I still have it and use it to open mail. It is certainly made from a bomb casing but I would have a hard job identifying it as British or when it was dropped!


    All British Officers received a personal allowance of liquor, usually one bottle each month, and the normal procedure was to turn it in to the Officers' Mess bar, where it was shared. This usually meant it would be all gone by the first couple of weeks after the issue was received. We could sometimes get beer but it was hit-and-miss. For Mess occasions, we mainly relied on the German gin. This was really raw stuff, made in bathtubs from potato skins, its "maturity time" from distillation to sale probably being no more than a few hours. As we had plenty of gin but no "mixes" ( tonic water, or similar), we gradually acquired a taste for the stuff and habitually drank it neat. I became so accustomed to it in that form that, for a while after I returned to England, I thought that adding tonic or vermouth to gin made it taste horrible! For the really important occasion of Christmas Dinner 1945, we managed to get quite a few cases of Imperial Tokay, the premium wine of Hungary, from a Soviet contact, no doubt looted from somewhere and costing us a small fortune in cigarettes!


    Apart from our military clubs and messes, the only other places to go for a social occasion were illicit nightclubs mostly in the Soviet Sector as they were ostensibly “verboten” in the British and American sectors. The customers would be a mixture of British, American and Soviet troops. There would also be a large number of German girls, although socializing with Germans ("fraternization," as it was called) was illegal at that stage of the occupation. That was one law that, in application as opposed to theory, was applied mainly to male Germans it seemed! Sometimes as the liquor flowed, and international tensions rose, they could be pretty exciting places, to put it mildly. The secret to their enjoyment was sometimes to know when to get out!


    On one occasion several of us misjudged the time to leave and had to fight our way to the exit. I lost a front tooth as an elbow made contact! That triggered quite a saga; I was very self-conscious about the effect on my appearance and anxious to have something done about it. The army dentist in Berlin was sympathetic but apparently unable to get the necessary materials. My German clerk recommended a German dentist he knew of, one of the few still practicing in Berlin at that time.


    My first visit to him has reminded me since of the alcoholic Dr Pratt in that classic old English film, "The Wrong Box," and especially his phrase: "I was not always as you see me now!" He claimed he had on occasions been dentist to Hermann Goering and other notables of the Third Reich, which he mentioned frequently but which I thought was highly unlikely. However, he had certainly been a wealthy man. He had a very large house, in extensive grounds, in a select residential area overlooking the Havelsee . Of course, the grounds were by then unkempt and he had been forced to cram his house with homeless families. He had been left with one room only, part kitchen, living room, dining room, bedroom and dental surgery.


    He undertook to fit me with a "permanent" tooth but first I would have to supply the gold for the bridgework. His fee was to be thirty packets of English cigarettes. A week later, my Soviet officer contact produced for me a gold coin, for which I paid him many packets of cigarettes. The coin, no doubt, was one small item from the Reichbank, the vaults of which had been looted as soon as the Soviets entered the city. There were a few subsequent problems. Der Herr Doktor had no anaesthetics or even disinfectants, so the job was at times painful and I had an infected gum. Our army dentist kindly attended to the latter, marvelling at the gold bridge, the likes of which he had never seen. With all the cigarettes my parents were sending me, they must have though I was smoking myself to death. However, the bridge lasted me about thirty years so it was well worth the initial problems....and the cigarettes!


    Late in 1945, a German cinema in our sector was refurbished somewhat and started showing British and American films for servicemen. On one occasion, as the crowd was lined up in the dark waiting to enter, a volley of shots came from the ruined buildings across the road. It was impossible to tell if they were directed at us but we could see the muzzle flashes from a gap in the building and we all hit the ground, feeling very exposed. Then many of we supposedly unarmed soldiers pulled out our “illegal” pistols and started blasting back. Whomever it was must have had a severe fright when all that lead suddenly came his way. When the barrage died down, and there was no reciprocation, there was much laughter.

    ******************


    In December of 1945, I was accepted for one of the much sought-after permanent commissions, for service in the peace-time army, my idea at the time I applied many months earlier being to have an army career. After a few months, as the rate of change from war-time to peace-time soldiering accelerated, I began to wonder if it was really a way of life for me. Perhaps I should have gone ahead with it but the increasing frustration of working life in Berlin, with the Soviets less and less cooperative, if that were possible (culminating eventually, after I had left, in an attempt to starve the residents into submission, defeated by the airlift) , probably also affected my decision. I felt that I just wanted to get away from it all after nearly seven years of military service.


    I would normally have been entitled to demobilization in December of 1945, based on an age and service points system. Being Adjutant, and in view of the increasing problems in Berlin, I was held back until May of 1946. With three months leave, my official demob date was in August, 1946.


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  5. Nevil

    Nevil WW2 Veteran/Royal Signals WW2 Veteran

     
  6. Nevil

    Nevil WW2 Veteran/Royal Signals WW2 Veteran

    The following are some miscellaneous pictures followed by pictures of my family members who served in the Services in WW2.....missing is a picture of my brother in law, Sgt Air Gunner/Navigator Bill Grimshaw, Bomber Command, RAF.

    The picture of landing craft in The Solent was not taken by me and I do not know the origin.

    These represent I believe the last of my pictures of WW2:

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    Nevil.
     
  7. Michael Z

    Michael Z Member

    Hi Nevil,
    Fantastic thread. I really enjoy reading all these accounts.
    Michael
     
  8. Nevil

    Nevil WW2 Veteran/Royal Signals WW2 Veteran

    Hi Nevil,
    Fantastic thread. I really enjoy reading all these accounts.
    Michael

    Thanks, Michael. I think this just about completes this thread for me!

    Nevil.
     
  9. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

     
  10. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    Great photos of you and your family Nevil.
    I do hope you will find some other snippets to share here or I will greatly miss you posts!

    Mike
     
  11. Nevil

    Nevil WW2 Veteran/Royal Signals WW2 Veteran

     
  12. Nevil

    Nevil WW2 Veteran/Royal Signals WW2 Veteran

    Great photos of you and your family Nevil.
    I do hope you will find some other snippets to share here or I will greatly miss you posts!

    Mike

    Thanks, Mike. I have much appreciated all the encouragement and help I have received from members and the Admin. I don't have too much to add to my own thread but will not be leaving the forum and perhaps can contribute something faintly intelligent on occasions!

    At the moment I am reading a great book, Paris after the Liberation, 1944-1949, by Anthony Beevor and Artemis Cooper, the latter being the daughter of Duff Cooper, the British ambassador in Paris at that time.

    Of course, I was familiar only with the "street" and some of the military situation there from the liberation through to early 1945 but the book adds such a large amount to my knowledge of that anyway. Fascinating!

    Nevil.
     
  13. StanAmes

    StanAmes Junior Member

    Dear Nevil
    I have spent some years researching the Radio Security Service, Arkley View was it's HQ. There are full details available here - www.secretlsteners.org. Including p...y Ww2talk I D and add aol com. All best Stan
     
  14. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Has anyone any contact with Nevil's family?
    I've had an enquiry about him from the BBC .
    The email address we have for him is now invalid.

    Edit: Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but Nevil passed away in Canada 2014 unfortunately, he is survived by his wife and several children.
     
  15. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    sad news indeed

    thank you for the update Owen
     

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