Remembering the first time I stood on German soil.

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by Joe Brown, Jan 28, 2015.

  1. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    It happened at the time of the Ardennes Offensive which began on the 16th December 1944 when the 7th/9th Royal Scots were hurriedly deployed the next day to Gillrath, three miles north of Geilenkirchen. I faced the realisation that I was now standing on German soil ready to fight the enemy whilst he had to defend his homeland. After our withdrawal at Dunkirk, as a young soldier of 19 held a deep sense of fear it was going to be the other way and that we would have to fight the Germans on British soil to defend our homes and our country. The graphic and stark order received by the 7th/9th Royal Scots when they were ordered to re-embark at Cherbourg and return home for ‘the final defence of the Realm’, made it clear what faced all of us sworn to defend our country.

    I was not in the BEF with the 7th/9th Royal Scots but in those days a Corporal with the 8th Royal Scots in a slit trench with another signaller manning a No. 18 wireless set to keep the rifle company in touch with Battalion HQ. We were located near the village of Bradwell-on-Sea and overlooked mined beaches two hundred yards to our front. We were holding an important and vulnerable defensive position around the River Blackwater on the Essex Coast, lying south of Clacton-on-Sea and north of Southend-on-Sea. It was thought to be a line of attack if the Germans followed up the withdrawal by the BEF by launching landings on the east coast, either to attack London or by-pass it and cut it off from the rest of the country. So we were ready to face the enemy as soon as he set foot on our soil, and do our best to delay him whilst our forces from Dunkirk regrouped.

    Now some four years and nine months later on the 17th December 1944, I was standing on German soil: the tables had indeed been turned, but at a fearful cost of so many Allied lives. Our task and that of the 52nd Lowland Division was to prevent an 'Ardennes type' of assault through the German-held Heinsberg salient extending into Holland which could threaten the British Second Army.

    We were relieved on the 30th December after a very active spell against an aggressively intent enemy determined to keep us fully extended in Gillrath, but we were only twenty-four hours in the rest area before we were quickly redeployed the next day to reinforce the defences in the American area of Geilenkirchen after a major German attack had been launched in its vicinity. We were now deployed at Bruggerhof 3000 yards north-east of Geilenkirchen and positioned on the right of the line of the British Army and responsible for linking up with the American Army unit on our right.

    As we took up position in Bruggerhof, our Battalion Commander received a personal telephone call from the Corps Commander and the order: 'No matter what happens, no withdrawal!'

    Looking back I realise being deployed to thicken up the defensive line around Geilenkirchen was an exceptional moment in the Second World War history of the 7th/9th Royal Scots. The importance of the job we had to do was critical as emphasised by the Corps Commander when he briefed our Battalion Commander personally.

    Being 'Right of the Line' carried with it the fearsome responsibility to be totally efficient and professional as an infantry battalion in the ‘defensive-offensive’ preparations we had to make in conjunction with the Americans on our immediate right. These, as far as we could make them, had to be a model of their kind, able to withstand the determined prodding by battle group patrols as they tested every approach. Any sign of weakness and the enemy would have been ready to push everything through to back the initiative gained by a breakthrough as the junction of two armies is generally found to be the weakest point in a defensive line.

    Being the seventieth anniversary of these two moments when we were rapidly rushed forward to take up these positions, I thought it opportune to remember their importance relative to the Ardennes Offensive which, as I was rightly reminded by a contributor on this Forum, to be too readily assumed to have been wholly an American defence.

    Joe Brown.
  2. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Thanks for this Joe.

    All the best

  3. CL1

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

    thank you Joe

  4. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Really good post, Joe. Thanks for sharing the memories.
  5. TriciaF

    TriciaF Junior Member

    Thanks Joe - interesting for me because we lived in Southend for a while and 2 elderly ladies told us that the whole population of that coastal area was evacuated at the time that you were there. 1940-41.
  6. Puttenham

    Puttenham Well-Known Member

    Great post, thanks much. Fighting for your Country and fighting for YOUR COUNTRY are two very different things.

  7. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Well put Joe.........

    The thread title reminds me that I never set foot on German soil until the war was actually over.

    Firstly Austria where we ran a POW camp which held an SS Div that had originally decided to ignore the ceasefire in taly and then to Ulm in Germany where we spent a month running a staging camp for homeward bound troops.

    As I've said before, we are lucky to have someone of your wartime rank to make contributions such as the one above.

  8. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin


    Well said and most timely, given the 70th Anniversary this year.

    It is always good reading our Forum Veteran's Posts.

  9. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Joe-Many thanks again for sharing your memories with us.

  10. Lotus7

    Lotus7 Well-Known Member

    Thanks Joe, very interesting post thanks for sharing

  11. Deacs

    Deacs Well i am from Cumbria.

    Another brilliant post Joe thank you for sharing your experiences.

    Cheers Michael.
  12. spidge


    Thanks for posting Joe! A great insight into how it all came together.


  13. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day joe brown.ww2 the first time i stood on german soil.thank you for sharing your takes one there in the mind.well done joe.regards bernard85
  14. Bluebell Minor

    Bluebell Minor Junior Member

    Many thanks Joe for yet another thought provoking posting/topic
  15. adbw

    adbw Member

    Dear Joe
    Hope it's OK to contact you like this (I'm new to the site). As you were with 8 Royal Scots at the start of the war, I'm thinking that you would have known Rev Alec Sawyer, who was the battalion's padre from the outset up until October 43, when he was transferred to 6 KOSB, with whom he then went to Normandy in June 44. He was my grandfather and I've been piecing together the story from family history and all the various accounts since I did a trip to Normandy last June to see the sites.
    I'd be very interested to hear whether you in fact knew him or came across him as well as any memories you may have of him while you were with 8 RS.
    Many thanks
    Slipdigit and dbf like this.
  16. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Yes, I did. He was our First Padre and a very fine man. Still have a copy of the New Testament which he kindly presented to everyone in the 8th Battalion at the start of the Second World War, just after we were mobilised. He took the time to personally address each one with our names as individuals and did not refer to us by Army rank.

    As an 18-year-old, remember his Church Parades, often held as a Drumhead Services, and the feeling of reassurance and comfort they brought in the strange environment in which I found myself during those early months of the War.

    The pocket-size NT is now 76 years old and was always with me during the six and half years of the War.

    Joe Brown.
  17. spidge


    Your services are still required Joe. This time by a grateful relative.

    Great to read this.


  18. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran



    There is a very nice quote about your Grandfather in 'The First of Foot' by Augustus Muir (1961), page 267:

    "The Battalion acquired its Padre, the Rev. A. W. Sawyer, B.D. 'That was one of the best things that ever happened to us,' said a Jock - and not a man in the unit but would have echoed his words. Padre Sawyer was later transferred to another battalion and eventually became Senior Chaplain at Divisional Headquarters, but his heart remained with the 8th Royal Scots to the end."

  19. adbw

    adbw Member

    Thank you very much for this, Joe (indeed a grateful relative!). I do in fact have Muir's book but to have that particular sentiment echoed by someone who was there at the time and who knew him is heart-warming. The family folklore says he was 8RS through and through although he was with 6KOSB until October 44 with a spell with 6RSF during August and September of that year. He was awarded the MC for his time with 6RSF in particular, I think. By all accounts, the job of the padres wasn't easy either although the story goes that, when it was suggested being a man of the cloth wasn't compatible with warfare and what he was required to do, he said after a long pause, "Yes, but there was a lot of laughter".
    Thank you very much again - it's very good of you. I'll also pass this on to his three children.
    All the best
  20. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    4jonboy, Joe Brown and Tricky Dicky like this.

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