Chapter 32: New 2nd Division
Our Camp at Bünde was outside the town and of modern construction, largely single storey, except for the married quarters. It had housed the 6th Divisional Headquarters as well as the Signal Regiment, but the HQ element moved to Lübbecke, some dozen miles away, as part of the reorganisation. I had no say in the matter, but accepted the change reluctantly. The Divisional Commander, his Staff and his Signals are an integrated organisation and the closer they are together the better. The result of the change was that I had an element of the Regiment at Lübbecke providing HQ static communications and three Brigade Squadrons, each at a distance. Left with me was the greater part of the mobile communications workers and their equipment. The only advantage gained was that I took over the splendour of the office of the former General Officer Commanding the Division. There was no chance to learn more of the situation, as recovery leave had been ordered.
This was the first opportunity to explore with Sheelah the advantages of living ‘on the Continent’, leaving our four young children with our faithful German help, Marie. There was no need to book Channel crossings and consume a day each way in the timetable of an adventure. This was before the day of the package holiday that did not flourish before the arrival of jet propulsion, bigger aircraft, greater range and higher speed. We planned our own holidays, carried them out and, with a habit copied from our forebears, produced a diary of events. Thus aided I can illustrate one summer trip.
No bookings were made so we took the wherewithal for camping in the station wagon. We could sleep in the car or alongside in small tent when the need arose. Stopping the night in Baden Baden we found it most attractive with open plains to the north and wooded valleys to the south. Though at its prime in the time of our grandparents it retained its charm. Travelling on we found the Black Forest oppressive but it opens up into country of bright green pasture with large roofed houses. Crossing the Danube and arriving at Lake Constance we camped in the car before driving along the north shore of the lake to the attractive and busy harbour of Lindau. We headed south into Austria, entering country I had skied over in the spring of 1934. We hoped to spend a night or two in the unpretentious hostel above St Anton that our small party, friends from St Cergue, had taken over. It was derelict. We made enquiries at the shop of the world famous skier and teacher of that day, Hannes Schneider, and were well received. We learned that our previous host, Herr König, had died but we would find his family at St Christoph at the mountain pass nearby. Herr Tizler would put us up at his pension. In the morning there was the scent of new cut hay being cropped on his perilous slopes with rhythmic strokes of a scythe.
Leaving the car at a saddle we climbed the 8000-foot Peischelkokf with the peak in the snows. Whistling marmots were much in evidence at this time of year and charming creatures to watch. We had brought a Collins Wild Flower guide and made what identifications we could. Frau König and her daughter were found and were delighted to recall the parties that had been their guests many years ago before Germany annexed their country.
Over the Brenner Pass we soon left major roads as we progressed to San Leonardo and then by little more than a track to Moro where we found a welcoming inn. The days there were hardly restful as we walked and climbed for four or five hours a day but they were idyllically peaceful.
The southern extremity of our trip took us to Rimini and the ancient Republic of San Marino, independent since the 4th century. Main memories are of delicious fruit and an open-air performance of Othello. Ravenna, on the way back, was a disappointment. We arrived at midday and the glorious mosaics we wished to see were locked up for the next three hours, so we pushed on to Verona that has much to recommend it. We were heading for the Bavarian Alps round Ehrwald by way of St Moritz and the Stelvio Pass, over 9000ft high and with forty hairpin bends on the descent. The good Austrian skiing area, close to the German border, was popular for our Army ski races. I intended to make arrangements for training some athletic young men of my own for a Regimental Ski team. Langlauf, the cross-country version of skiing, was probably best for beginners.
There is much to see in the German area between Munich and the Austrian border, so we took the tourist trail on a day of doubtful weather. The area had been the State of Bavaria and in the 19th century Kings Ludwig I and II spent immense sums building a series of elaborate castles. The former was forced to abdicate in favour of his son in 1864 and in 1886 the latter was declared insane. Their buildings have contributed greatly to the present day tourist industry in the area. The Linderhof might be described as a magnificent Hunting Lodge and Neuschwanstein as the ultimate Hans Anderson fairy castle. They owe much to the rococo style; both have grottoes, one of them being indoors. They take short cuts. Tapestries are created by paint on ribbed canvas. Nevertheless both are magnificent and should be seen. We recommend a later visit to the church at Wies nearby to help balance one’s judgements. The exterior is plain but the interior displays Zimmermann’s Rococo at its glorious best, a hundred years earlier than the other two.
Our final day in the mountains brought glorious weather and a long climb was favoured. After reaching the Coburger Hutte there was steep woodland leading to zigzag cliff paths with occasional handrails at exposed points. A cool dark green lake was passed on our way to a ridge and a wonderful display of alpine flowers, gentians being prominent. Scree faces were carefully crossed and a short rocky climb brought us to the peak of the Hinter Tajakopf after some eight hours on the mountain. This ascent was no great feat for good climbers but had one indication of its personal pride. In a small tin box there was a book which invited the inscription of our names. There were chamois to see us trespassing on their mountain as we descended.
A full day in Munich was not enough to do it justice, but we were lucky to be there at the time of a major exhibition The Century of the Rococo and such other treasures as could be fitted in. From there, with an overnight camp by the river Neckar, we reached home and four sunburned and noisy children. They had been well looked after by Marie, with good support from willing neighbours should it be required.
The move of the Hilden half of the Regiment had been well completed in my absence and the new arrivals were settling in with those of the 6th Armoured Division. There was one strange new circumstance. Across the access road from my house was a high wire fence. It contained Russians. This was no prison camp. From 1946 to 1990 Britain and Russia exchanged small Intelligence units, each in the operational area of the other. Ours was called BRIXMIS and the one seen from my windows was SOXMIS, the SO reading Soviet. The Last Mission, an excellent book by Steve Gibson, published in 1997, throws enlightenment on the British activities. We saw our Russians playing volleyball to keep fit, but met them rarely. However my Quartermaster was required to meet their needs in terms of their housing, furniture, and maybe some supplies. Their Commander dined with my predecessor in command and it is said that the Quartermaster was called to see him the next day. ‘Why is it that you provide your Commanding Officer with silver candlesticks for his dinner table, whilst I, a General, do not get any?’ The reply that our officers possessed private property was accepted, if not believed.
Though I was to serve on until the following summer, few items need to be recorded. I was delighted to learn that the most gifted of my Squadron commanders would be my relief in Command and arranged for him to work at Corps Headquarters for six months so that he would arrive fresh to his new task. We ran two more Kohima weekends with success. I air just one complaint. I wilted at the extraordinary amount of paperwork that the system delivered daily to my office. My Adjutant bore the main brunt, but I consider that I was more desk-bound than I should have been. Certain streams of information might sensibly have been passed direct to my second in command, but this thought comes 40 years too late.