Schwerin and Luneburg - Waiting for a Plane
On Friday the 18th of May, during the morning, the G.I.s arrived with their convoy of trucks. They gave each man a packet of biscuits and a pack of cigarettes. We were pleased to see them and they made a great fuss of us. We left at 11:00 am and what a difference in their driving to that of the Russians. They tore off at speed, hardly ever slackening and kept closed up all the way. All the drivers were coloured and we were jolly thankful to see them and the back of the Russians.
We were in the best of spirits now and after a very happy ride we arrived at Luneburg, at an American base, at 4:30 pm. We were told to disembark from the trucks and line up in ranks of three, after which the American Officer welcomed us and spoke a few words. He told us that by that time the next day we would probably be in England, just in time for tea. What a rousing cheer he got, and he got an even bigger one when he said “I won’t keep you any longer, file into the mess and eat as much as you want, I expect you are hungry.”
It’s just impossible to express how we felt when we went in. There were rows of long trestle tables and benches and the tables had real tablecloths on. And the food; what caught my eye first was the bread, it was white! The first white bread I had seen for five years. The whiteness of it seemed to dazzle my eyes. We had sausage and mash, bacon and bread and jam. We could eat as much as we wanted; it was an amazing sight to us and one I will never forget. I had thought for so long of how much I would eat when I was free but I found that I couldn’t eat very much at all. I did get through one lot of sausage and bacon, and one slice of bread, and then I was beat. I just couldn’t manage a thing more. The other lads were the same and we started to fill our pockets with sausages. The N.C.O.s came around and were very amused and said “You don’t have to do that, if you want any more go to the cookhouse.” We very sheepishly put them back on the tables. Although not one of us could eat a thing more, it was hard to leave all that food behind. After five years of going short, and pinching anything we could get, it went very much against the grain to leave it there.
After the meal was over we had our names checked. We were told that they would be announced over the loudspeaker in the morning and when it was called we would proceed to a given spot to board the plane. We had a good shower, issued fresh kit and told to leave our old clothes behind. Then it was time to settle down for the night and we should have been contented and slept soundly. After all, we were free, we were full of food and had comfortable beds and blankets, but it didn’t work like that at all. I’m afraid we were still edgy, or perhaps it was excitement; I don’t know. Not one of us could settle down and we kept wandering outside. I know I didn’t sleep at all that night, despite having slept very little the previous night. I suppose none of us were going to settle until we were back in England, now that it was so close.
Saturday the 19th of May. Early that morning we marched to the mess for a breakfast of bacon, eggs, bread, marmalade and tea. I was still unable to face a lot and continued to be for some time after I got home. I think I enjoyed the white bread again, more than anything, it was so soft. The rest of the day was ours, to do what we liked, while listening for our names to be called out.
A lot of time was spent crowding around the G.I. Army girls, just to hear them speak. I don’t know what they said, and it doesn’t really matter; we were so engrossed in just listening to the girls speaking English. All over the camp you could see little groups of men and you could bet your boots that in the centre was a girl. I don’t know what they must have thought, but they certainly got a lot of attention that day.
The names started to be called out and, one by one, I said goodbye to my mates who I had palled up with – especially Harry. The number of men that were left began to dwindle. I went to dinner but could hardly eat a thing. The thought kept entering my head, “God, what if they run out of planes!” There were only a few of us left when, at last, my name was called. I made my way to the designated spot where we had to gather and we were taken to the airfield by truck where we boarded a plane, a Dakota. I was seated right at the front, behind the navigator’s compartment and there was a small window that I could look out of. We taxied to the end of the runway and a plane was taking off just in front of us. Bloody hell!! It went up a little way and then came down with a crash – a proper belly flop! They towed it out of the way and it didn’t look as if anyone had been hurt. Then it was our turn so I prayed and kept my fingers crossed as we took off and were on our way.
It was the first time that I had been up in a plane and none of us ever thought we would go home in one. We always used to say “Roll on the boat” but this was much better. Everyone was in high spirits, singing and laughing, except for one chap who was terribly air sick. We landed in Brussels to refuel and then took off again. I couldn’t help but think of the last time I had been in Brussels. It was exactly five years and one day since we had been driven out of there by the Germans. I was certainly a lot happier than I had been on that day but then I thought of Hugh Holford and wished he was still with us. The chap who was sick was asked if he would like to stay behind and take another plane when he felt better, but he said “I’ve waited too long to give up now, I’ll go if it kills me.”
It wasn’t a long stop and soon we were airborne once more. We were on the last lap and were soon over the French coast. We could see where the bombs had fallen as the coast was pitted with blast holes. Everyone was craning their neck to get a first glimpse of England. Then we were over the English Channel; there wasn’t much shipping on the water and what there was looked like toy boats. The Canadian navigator gave me his radio earphones and I heard a dance band on it – it was Joe Loss. Then we crossed the English coast; everyone was silent for a few moments and then all hell broke loose. You never heard such a noise as we made. We were singing and laughing and I know, for one, I was very close to tears. We were so very glad to be nearly home once more. The Canadian pilot spoke to us over the intercom but for the life of me I can’t remember what he said. At last we came in to land at Dunsford in Surrey. Even then we could hardly believe it; that same day we were in Germany and now we were home! Everything had happened so fast since we had left the Russians. It was five long years since we had last been on English soil and our feelings were indescribable.