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Lieutenant Geoffrey Sneezum

Lieutenant Geoffrey C. Sneezum

 

Unit : No.9 Platoon, "A" Company, 12th Battalion The Devonshire Regiment.

 

The following is a letter which Lieutenant Sneezum sent to his parents at 14:30 on Saturday, 5th May 1945. Courtesy of British Airborne Forces Association (Vic) Inc.

 

My Dear Mother and Father,

Well, it really has been an extraordinary week! Since I wrote you last Saturday it has just been like one glorious nightmare. It is quite impossible to describe, even if I was allowed to, and so many events have happened in so short a space of time that they are already getting jumbled up in my mind. The main thought just now is that the goal of five years struggle has been achieved - to have seen the German Army completely beaten and utterly dazzled. Thousands and thousands and thousands of them until I am physically tired by just looking at them. And to have achieved almost a life's ambition by being in at the death. It really could not have been a more dramatic climax than the final dash forward right through the broken German Armies, and then to cap it all to find Russian shells falling on my platoon position!!

 

Well it is all over now, but to clear up the mess. Some mess too. For two days now I have been handing German prisoners along, and trying to stop a solid square mile of jammed civilians from stampeding. I don't suppose you will understand the above sentence. Nor will you realise how scared they all are of the Russians, both soldiers and civilians.

 

I honestly think I must have spoken to - (or at least seen) people of every European nationality. I could easily fill four pages with the names of nationalities. But the most welcome of course were the English, Scotch, Irish, Welsh, Canadian, American, New Zealand and Colonial Prisoners of War - Soldiers, Sailors and RAF. Just imagine what it was like for us to meet for instance :- 1. A Glider Pilot from ARNHEM who had also flown with us to Normandy. 2. An RAF Warrant Officer Army Co-op Command shot down in a Blenheim in France in May 1940. 3. One of our own Bn. Coy Commanders taken prisoner just after the Rhine landing. 4. Some Norfolks captured in the Maginot Line 1940. 5. Some of our own Bn. captured by German tanks last month. 6. Some Parachutists and Commandos captured very near to me in Normandy. 7. A Frenchman fighting in the Resistance movement captured at his home town CAEN. 8. Belgians from places I knew. 9. Dutch from places I knew. 10. And Czech, Poles, Russians, Danes in large numbers. Numerous other nationalities such as Lithuanians, Norwegians, Rumanians, etc. in smaller numbers. I could go on giving you individual examples indefinitely.

 

And everyone trekking westwards away from the Russian Armies. I felt we were just a very tiny party moving east. We reached our final destination just ahead of schedule - to my complete surprise. And awaited the link-up - which was preceded by Russian shells, as I have already told you.

 

We all 'stood-to' during the hours of darkness ready for anything, and waking each other up as we kept dozing off on our feet. Three hours after dawn I was asleep when a Russian private soldier was brought in to me. He was absolutely dripping with sweat, having arrived on a bicycle. I thought at first that he was drunk but he was not. Only intoxicated with the sight of British troops.

 

During the day other Russian troops arrive and proceed to loot all the German vehicles scattered around. And to fire off thousands of German weapons in all directions, but mainly up into the air.

 

Since then parties of our boys have been entertained by the Russians and vice-versa. So we are getting organised.

 

Incidentally I have had a bit of a poisoned foot, but have not really had time to notice it. In fact it has been useful by keeping me awake. It is getting treatment now and seems to be responding. I travel everywhere now in any German car, motor-cycle or anything else I just pick up and discard again.

 

We have used all sorts of transport in the platoon - civilian or military. I have had every man on bicycles, horse and cart, with some riding horses, lorries, cars, motor-bicycles, tanks, half tracked vehicles, tractors with four trailers on tow, a fire engine, railway train, trams, and we have walked and walked too. The roads have been very bad, in fact we have advanced all the way on by-ways and muddy tracks. Thus the usual thing is to start off in a lorry and walk when it got stuck. Last Sunday for instance we walked about 25 miles carrying all weapons, ammo, grenades, etc. And no-one dumped any ammo! Our personal washing-kit we leave in a dump, and it is brought up to us when they can manage it. I have lived almost entirely on the land, just going into a house, turning everyone out at once, post a sentry and eating what we find in the house. We have never been short of food once. In fact the tendency is to over-eat, with consequent stomach trouble. Water was more difficult. We always carried filled water-bottles, plenty of sterilising tablets and drank only tea, having well boiled the water, or just drink only the fruit juice from the bottled fruit in the cellar. Eggs have been the staple-food and I am quite tired of them by now.

 

Well the last month has certainly been worth waiting for. The whole platoon has been unbelievably lucky. Since we have joined up we have had the privilege of to be well in the van, as we missed a very sticky fortnight by crashing in England*. All three platoon commanders in A Coy. were killed before I rejoined the Company, in the space of a fortnight! The remnants of the old A Coy. say that we changed the Coy. luck when we arrived.

 

Cheerio for now,

 

Your loving son

 

Geoff.

 

 

* The glider in which Lieutenant Sneezum's platoon travelled on the 24th March suffered a broken tow rope shortly after take-off. Having landed safely, they returned to aerodrome, took-off in another glider and reached the Rhine only to find that the visibility was so poor and the situation on the ground so chaotic that the glider pilot refused to cast-off. The platoon were towed back to England (the tug being very low on petrol as a consequence) and rejoined the 12th Devons a fortnight later, via the ground route.

 

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