Sergeant Richard Hall

 

Unit : The Green Howards.

Army No. : Probably either 4388766 or 4388896

POW No. : Probably either 226411 or 226412

Camps : Stalag IVB

 

The following is Richard Hall's recollection of the events following the liberation of Stalag IVB by the Russians in April 1945.

 

 

Ron was beside me and we decided to wait and see what happened. Before he left, Henri gave us some of our records, photographs etc, where from and how I never asked questions of Henri, they could only have come from the camp office. It seemed strange the next morning not to have to get up for Roll Call - "Appelle" I think it was called. The stove was alight and also the copper boiler from which I begged water to shave and wash, and later for a brew of tea. Many stories were flying about - some had killed a pig and had eaten well into the night and were found dead the following morning. Little Muhlberg had been thoroughly looted for so so many things, some of value, some for pure interest taken for the sake of taking.

 

We, Ron and myself, and of course others, had breakfast. We were then called onto Parade with a Chaplain. Although he lived at the other end of our barrack room I could never remember having seen him, however, when all was ready and the lads in order, more for curiosity than anything else, he started. "The world would be full of shame for the manner in which the British P.O.W.s had behaved during the past 36 hours. He was very disappointed to be associated with us." Not a word was said, but afterwards I learned that whilst he was going on at us for our behaviour, his or the servants had been busy preparing and plucking a goose to cook... I suppose it could have just "flown in" and was caught! I suppose the maxim - do as I say not as I do - would have been correct.

 

Russian Officers entering the camp were besieged by some of the French who claimed they were the only Communist group in the camp. They were told in no uncertain manner by the senior Officer, "That is all over now, we want a democratically controlled Government and Country in the future". This was much to the surprise and chagrin of the Communist P.O.W.s, however time showed this was not to happen for many years.

 

Many of the British soldiers had gone to try and find their own way home. However a number of us were taken in trucks by the Russians and arrived in Ex-Military Barracks in an old city called REISA further south along the River Elbe. Thus we left MUHLBERG STALAG IVB about 6th May 1945.

 

Victory in Europe was declared on 8th May 1945 - AT LAST - however, ho sort of special celebrations for us, we were in the military barrack at REISA, quite comfortable but short of food.

 

Victory was announced and I wandered into the city centre. The Russian soldiers seemed to be out of control - they went mad, in our terms. Guns of all types were loosed off into the air, hand grenades by the score were thrown into the River Elbe. These exploded sending columns or fountains of water high into the air, with fish stunned it was quite frightening.

 

I realised that what went up must come down no matter what calibre or size, and as artillery pieces and tank guns were being fired I had no wish at that time, and with the U.K. not so far ahead, to receive a head wound from spent shrapnel or other spent ammunition and I decided to return to the barracks.

 

Somehow a French soldier, an ex P.O.W. Rene Brissat, had joined us. There were 4 of us in the room about 3 floors high, comfortable and with clean beds but food was scarce.

 

One night about 2.00am there was a banging upon the door of the room. I was asked to dress and go downstairs to an Office near to the entrance. There I was introduced to a Russian General who asked some questions through an interpreter, mainly regarding conditions. I told the General that we had little food and nothing to smoke - a note of this was taken. I was then asked to prepare a list of all those who were in the barracks, in triplicate - a mammoth task! It was made clear that this would expedite our return to our own side and ultimately home. The following day, having received a truck full of black bread and boxes of cigars we set off to find paper, carbons etc, and one by one we returned to our room with our loot or hauls. There were three typewriters from the Middle Deutsch Steel Works, one ordinary, one electric and one portable, which I finally arrived home with and which did yeoman service once I restarted my business.

 

On the 17th May I went into the city an saw an Optician called Dr. Meyer whose business was in the centre of the city. He examined my eyes and said I would require spectacles - these he promised in two days - and I paid for them with two large loaves of black bread. He was an interesting man who had attended conferences in Newcastle upon Tyne and appeared to know many of the Opticians I had heard of locally. After two days I attempted to return for the spectacles. At the gate was a Russian sentry and I was refused permission to leave the barracks. I produced a piece of paper which had writing upon it, saying to the sentry "Ousveihs" hoping my attempt at German would impress, I was sure he could not read. I pointed out to him my rank in the crown on my sleeve - this had the effect of making him salute and he let the "Chef" pass. We had far more bread than we expected to eat thus I received good value for money and the bread would be of more value to the family than German Marks, or soon to be Roubles I would think, as under the agreement they were to be occupied in the Russian zone.

 

It was no easy task preparing a list of names but with the assistance of the soldiers in the barracks we managed. However there was the fear of the Russians having details of the Brits and I had therefore to persuade the soldiers that if they wished they could slip away and find their own way home, but I was sure that this way was the safest and that we would have transport organised across the country and home.

 

I was told there would be an exchange ceremony with Russian prisoners. The Russians had however done well for us, looking after us and I was sure this would continue and that as P.O.W.s we had to take the best chance for us, also I was sure the Allies would not want odd groups wandering around the countryside and probably getting in their way.

 

Finally the day arrived. It had appeared that the General or a member of his staff could only call in the evening, but by used of a good interpreter, we were able to make arrangements for the departure or our men. Finally the day arrived and I allocated the trucks sent to take a number to the exchange point making sure my brother and the others who had worked with me were on the first truck to leave. Ready and waiting to leave I was very pleased when the trucks arrived, aye, and departed, on time. Each day the same things happened until there were only the last few of us with myself being the last to leave. This was the 25th May 1945.

 

When we arrived at the de-bussing point we were greeted by Russians. Those who appeared in charge each in turn insisted upon shaking my hand... really well too... I wondered who they thought I was. I suppose being in charge of the operation - well, from my end - could have been of some importance to the Russians.

 

All the time, and this happened every day, a Russian band was playing. The Leader turned and shook my hand and then intimated he would like to exchange cap badges. Knowing I would be given another one once I returned home, I took my own from my cap. The pleasure on the Leader's face had to be seen to be believed and he took his own, looked at it a moment, then pressed it into my hand, muttering something I could not understand, and turned back to his band. It was a moving moment and I had gained a souvenir beyond my wildest expectations and it is still with me over 50 years after the time I left East Germany.

 

As I entered to pass onto the bridge I turned and saw so many of the Russian soldiers and bandsmen were waving. I waved in return and then moved onto the bridge over the River Elbe. The bridge had been decorated with an arch of flowers and greenery, looking very attractive too. As we all passed over the bridge we were met by repatriated Russian soldiers with whom we shook hands. This had appeared to be the pattern of the exchange system, well thought out and beautifully executed also. As the last of the British P.O.W.s on the bridge, I did appear to have spent a much longer period shaking hands with my Russian counterparts than the others. However it was a fine gesture to their Allied friends by the Russians and I did notice there was nothing similar on the Allied side when I finally arrived on what was to become Western Germany. Somehow as I looked back I felt a feeling of nostalgia for the part of Germany I was leaving and did wonder if I would ever get back to see the place where I had spent so much of my life, particularly as it was soon to be termed "THE EASTERN BLOC".

I only stood for a moment or two being called by an American soldier. He said they were waiting for me. A front seat beside the driver and we were off. I noted the difference with the left hand driving and on the right side of the road. Whether I dozed off I cannot say or remember but very soon we appeared to be in an American camp where we were welcomed, given drinks and cigarettes - in fact almost anything we wanted - and shown to a hut. A meal was provided and then the Officer I/C having asked for me, I reported to his office.

 

He asked who I was and I told him. He then said that he was aware that I had taken (Given by the Russian General more like it) the responsibility of arranging those who were to travel onwards and would I please do this for him. I pointed out I was already several days behind those who were first to leave and this would make me even later than ever. He said if I did this he would see that I was ahead of the others, I would sort, catch up.

 

Again I prepared lists which the Officer I/C arranged to have typed and leaving on the next stage began on the trucks once again. I was surprised how well they were all feeding. I was with the Officers who had fried bacon and eggs for breakfast and added jam or marmalade to the bacon and eggs and other food - this was a big surprise.


I saw truck after truck leave with ex P.O.W.s on board and then it was my turn once again. Thanked by the Officer for my help I was taken and put onto a jeep and taken to an Airport which seemed quite near. I was led and put onto a DC10 which I learned was used for Paratroops. I was given a seat behind the bulkhead behind the crew and almost immediately I was asleep, later I received a nudge and sat up to be told we were going to land, as I sat up the plane dipped. It felt as if my stomach had been torn in half and I was sick or at least had the feeling of sickness as I was being landed at Brussels Airport. I arrived in Brussels on the 26th May 1945, was taken to a small Hotel and given Belgian Francs. I took the opportunity to clean up and was out into the City for a hurried look round. I was able to buy 3 special Handkerchiefs for my Mother and two Sisters, something to eat and then to bed. It was strange as I found there was nothing to pay for the Hotel. I was at a loss to know how this would work out, but was sure this had been arranged by the American Officer, however I had been warned I would be picked up early and having had breakfast I was ready and waiting - with some excitement at returning to the U.K., from France aboard a Hospital Ship. How was I to make my return this time and where? There was no use guessing but I was sure that I would soon find out.

 

Another jeep arrived prompt on time, it looked as if the Captain's promise was holding good for me, I was taken to the Airport given a meal and finally asked if I was ready for my return. I was introduced to the Air Force Personnel and then learned that this was the Crew who were taking 'ME', yes I was the only passenger. I was observed with some curiosity - Who was this V.I.P.? with special concern to the Yanks? I was not saying anything just taking everything offered, food and drink and I was asked if I was ready and was taken out to a "Stirling Bomber" by the Crew, shown to my place along the fuselage.

 

We took off. Looking around this plane I realised at the marvel of the 'Plane Builders', it was beautiful, rather noisy due to the ammunition racks fully loaded or charged which were rattling a great deal, but I could not fail but admire the workmanship. The Pilot, or so I presumed, pointed out as we passed the coast and approached Britain, I must admit to having a lump in my throat with the realisation that I was almost home. The Pilot so kindly called to me "we are about to land", marvellous landing with the aeroplane taxing towards the hangars.

 

Several ladies W.V.S. came towards us and again surprise as I was the only one to leave the Stirling Bomber. I had just said thanks to the Crew for a lovely informative flight, shook hands and wished them all Good Luck and I was in the hands of the Ladies. I was directed to the hangar - again V.I.P. treatment for a lonely soldier - first a Lady came towards me and took me to a spot near the door, quickly and I was very surprised, a tube was pushed down my shirt and battledress trousers and blouse and a pump worked for both places with a shot of D.D.T. delousing powder over everything. I was then documented and interrogated as to where I had been and why 'I' was on the plane, the only passenger, this I explained and the explanation was accepted, at least I was cleared, given any pieces of kit necessary, taken to an Air Force Barrack and told the times of meals etc, would be. I was free to walk about in England, I do not think the feeling will ever be understood by others, however I found a truck going to town, which town? This happened to be Aylesbury, I was in Buckinghamshire. I cannot bring to mind the RAF Station, but was most surprising and new to me there were great hoardings with warnings about V.D., yes Venereal Disease, something I had never seen before, this was a different Britain or England. I spent some time looking around the shops which were closing and returned to the RAF barracks to await the evening meal. I found that I had been missed and was required to report to the office used for the ex POW's or 'repats' as we were called. I was warned that the next day I was to report to the Office now taken over by Army Personnel. As requested I did report and was asked which Railway Station I wished to go, I said Redcar, a clerk checked times and changes etc. I was issued with a Warrant and full details of the travel, trains etc, then I was given a Pass for 14 days leave, part of the days rations, a ration card and 14 days pay. I had managed to send a P.C. home but had no idea when I would be following the post card. However I was soon on a truck for the local railway station whence I went to London and changed for Kings Cross Station and I was soon settled down for the long ride to Redcar. The train was very crowded but I had been fortunate to get a seat, I arrived in York and during the wait I thought of previous occasions, then on to Darlington to change again for Redcar. Finally I arrived at my home Station Redcar to find my Mother and eldest Sister and my Nephew in his pram waiting for me. My stay was wonderful, but I finally received a Warrant and instructions to proceed to Leeds Station where I would find transport awaiting to take me to a Camp in Otley where I would be processed as to my future.

 

Arriving in Leeds a truck or trucks were waiting for ex-POW's and we left for the Camp at Otley, again I gave my particulars was shown to a hut where I was to share with another Warrant Officer. He was a good type a bit Regimental as were all Regular Soldiers. We learned that a group of amateurs were giving a Concert that evening, one song which became ours, as a sort of memory, and mine from that night. She was a Coloratura Soprano singing from "The Chocolate Soldier' - 'Hero Mine", she received several long encores before she gave the final chorus. The others were as good as was her duet with the Tenor 'HERO' stayed with us.

 

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