Return to England - 19th May 1945
Saturday the 19th of May 1945. It was 8:00 pm when we touched down at Dunsford. The doors opened and we filed out, down the gangway, to be met by Officers, Red Cross nurses and W.A.A.F.s. There was no military discipline and we just walked to the hangers where the nurses and W.A.A.F.s kissed us as we passed into the building. It had been kitted out as a mess with tables laid out for tea. They treated us as if we were V.I.P.s, which I think, surprised most of us. During our time in captivity we often wondered what our reception would be like when we did arrive home. We had the idea that, being prisoners, we wouldn’t be very welcome to some people. As a matter of fact, while we were on the farm at Finckenstein, we spent a lot of time, towards the end, boxing and wrestling with the idea that if anyone took the mickey, we would be able to give a good account of ourselves in fighting back. I’m pleased to say that it never happened, we were wrong in what we thought and everyone went out of their way to help us to settle down again.
While we were having tea there were endless people coming around to talk to us and answer our questions. Then they brought around a telegram for each man to send off straight away to our families to let them know we were alright and would be home soon.
After we had tea and filled in the telegrams, we boarded some trucks and we moved out. I don’t know which route we took but then nor did the driver as he got lost. What a ribbing he got from us, but we didn’t really mind. It would have taken a lot to dampen our spirits as we were, to say the least, in a happy frame of mind that night. If we passed any girls on the way they all got a very noisy reception and they must have wondered what was going on, but they all waved back at us.
After driving around for hours we eventually arrived at Lingfield in Sussex, at a reception camp for P.O.W.s. It was getting late by then and we were straight away put into a nissen hut to sleep. We had real beds and I slept well that night.
Sunday the 20th of May. We were woken up early the next morning to the shout of “Wakey Wakey, come on let's have yer!!” by the Sergeant. This time it wasn’t in the tone of voice we remembered from so long ago. He got a lot of remarks but he took it in good part, grinning all the time. We had a good breakfast, saw the Medical Officer and we had a good shower to get rid of the unwelcome passengers that we still had with us (lice). We were then kitted out in a new outfit. After that we had an interview with the Officers. They wanted to know how we were treated, if we had witnessed any atrocities and, if so, by whom. The rest of the day was taken up largely in signing paperwork. We were given some money and another telegram to let our people know we would be home the next day.
After tea about six of us went out together and what a feeling that was; we were really free at last and could go where we pleased. We walked down the country lanes in a very happy mood and came to a pub where we spent the evening, singing and drinking (although I found that I couldn’t drink very much.) One chap was playing the piano but it wasn’t a very good one so we thought we would improve it and poured beer in the top. Unfortunately it didn’t improve it and it didn’t do much for the landlords temper either. All of us were in very high spirits, some worse than others. We staggered back to camp and the guards at the entrance didn’t say a thing. I suppose they must have guessed what would happen when we went out. We weren’t the only ones like that by a long way and I didn’t need any rocking to sleep and had another good night.
Monday the 21st of May. I was issued with a new service pay book and a leave pass until the 12th of July. We left for Haywards Heath in Army trucks and caught a train to Victoria at 7:45 am. where I caught a train for Eastbourne. I finally arrived at Channel View Road and while walking along the road to No. 76 a woman who lived opposite (I didn’t recognise her at first.) called out “Is that you Derek? Welcome home.” The house was decorated with flags and a welcome home sign had been put up. I’m afraid that my first impression, when I saw that, wasn’t very good. I thought, God why did they put that up for everyone to see! I still had the impression that it was very degrading to be taken prisoner. I very nearly went around the back, but in the end, I didn’t. The front door was unlatched and I walked in, dropped my kitbag on the hall floor and went into the dining room. My eldest sister was standing by the window and we were both so overcome by emotion that I don’t think either of us could say a thing for a few moments. I know that one of my first thoughts when I walked in was “God what a tiny room this is”; it seemed to close in on me. Soon after my Father came in and there was another tearful reunion. I was really Home at last.
The next days were one round of visits. My brother, Syd, had got compassionate leave from the Air Force and was arriving the next day. I was at the station to meet him and his wife Win. One of the first things he said to me when he arrived was about my teeth, or lack of them. We had endless things to talk about and it was a very happy time.
It seemed very strange to be in a house again; everything seemed to close in on me and I couldn’t bear the windows to be closed. I certainly didn’t like being in a room with the door shut. It took a very long time for me to overcome this fear and I still hate the door being closed even now.