Here is a one-off blog post for this day, 9 May 2015, on the 70th anniversary of VE day (victory in Europe). My father was in Germany on that day, as a captain in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and he wrote letters home, one to his mother on the 7 May and another to his aunt on 9 May. They are such vivid first-hand accounts from that they should perhaps be shared. He was then aged 24 and had fought for five years. Here are extracts from the letters:
7 May 1945
“As you may well imagine we have been busy. It’s all rather complicated to explain. We moved great distances quickly and then fought a longish battle and then changed at once to the job of dealing with a defeated Germany. What an experience it has been so far. The journey was very interesting as there was plenty to see. The battle was very hard work – I averaged one and a half hours sleep a night for six days . I have just recovered completely now really!!
The third part though has been the incredible part. […] The day before yesterday I stood at the fork roads of a small town we were in – what a sight met my eyes. Thousand upon thousand of prisoners rolling in – generals – privates – boys – women – coming in private cars with their wives and civilian clothes – shambling in on foot – in carts – on buses – complete in their own transport – on horses – any old how. All of them, without guards, merely being directed to the cages. Cages is the wrong word, for there is no wire round them – there are just fields and civilians come and give them soup and so on. The cages are just get together places for an army with no leader – and utterly broken and dejected rabble.
As well as that crowd pouring in – there are lots of our own ex-prisoners of war – there are displaced persons which are slave workers from Russia – France – Belgium – Holland. Finally, there are the civilians just standing and staring. Finally one or two British soldiers – moving them one way or the other and directing a convoy pouring through headed north at forty miles an hour!! …
…It’s all very breathtaking really. VE day is tomorrow. I cannot believe that the war in Europe is over – it can’t be true. There is no boisterousness here. I hope they all believe, as I do, that we are faced with the bigger job now – the peace.”
9 May 1945
“… we have been extremely busy, as you may well imagine. We shot up from our old areas at great speed and joined in the crossing of the Elbe. There followed a pretty sharp battle – really I suppose the last fought against British troops by the Germans this war….
It has been, this last week – the most astounding and interesting week of my life. I have been privileged to see, absolutely first hand the complete downfall of Germany…
Isn’t the news very thrilling. Here I couldn’t believe it. It’s very hard you know, but last night when I heard our old friend Howard Marshall and Richard Dimbleby giving a running commentary on Churchill appearing on the balcony of the Ministry of Health and conducting Land of Hope and Glory, I realised that it must be over. What wonderful scenes there must have been and what a wonderful moment for a wonderful man”