(May 2008) I remember a drive in No Mans Land

The first days of May 1945 were very active and very tiring ones for us in the British Army of the Rhine. Hitler was dead and the Russians were fighting in Berlin and many other places. The German armed forces were under the command of Admiral Doenitz who had commanded their submarine fleet. Gaps were appearing in their defences which our army was doing its utmost to exploit.

Our squadron of flail tanks was operating near Delmenhorst, a few miles from the city of Bremen and word had gone round that we were up against the German Parachute Regiment on this part of the front, so we weren’t expecting any favours. Our Royal Signals lorry, an Austin 3 tonner was equipped with a big five kilowatt, eight horsepower charging engine and spare batteries for the tanks, radio sets and equipment for servicing the tanks. Our driver/mechanic, Freddie Bungeroth from London, looked after the lorry and batteries and Jock Shearer and I were radio mechanics. Jock was a Glaswegian and a Veteran of Dunkirk and D-Day whose place I had taken for a few months while he recovered from a wound sustained in June ’44. Jock was one of more than one hundred thousand wounded who were evacuated by landing craft via the Normandy beaches, to offshore hospital ships or direct to hospitals in England during the Normandy campaigns.

With the squadron fragmented we had to do guard duties, which were not normally duties of attached personnel, and on this night I opted to do the first shift up to midnight in the hope of getting some rest afterwards. Soon after midnight, while I was just making myself as comfy as possible in the bottom of my trench, an armoured car arrived with orders for our signals lorry to follow it under cover of darkness to where some of the tanks were parked for the night. It soon left the hard road and led us on tracks across heath land to where the tanks were parked by a copse. One tank required a change of batteries and I dealt with any radio faults.

We finished while it was still pitch dark and Jock told the driver of the armoured car we were ready to leave. “You’ll find your own way back won’t you?” he said. “I think so”, said Jock and we set off but soon found it wasn’t that simple with ‘pepper pot‘ headlights in the reverse direction. Eventually we came out onto a hard road and started driving along it. We could make out one or two lorries with the allied forces white stars on them and then – nothing. After about a mile Jock said “I don’t like this very much. It’s too quiet. Let’s turn round and go back.” As we got back towards where we had seen the lorries we saw a torch being waived to stop us and an angry infantry man opened the cab door and said “Where the hell have you been to? This is the front line. I heard you go past but you were so quick I couldn’t get out of my trench in time to stop you.” Jock didn’t say anything. He just ran his forefinger gently round his throat inside his battledress neck band.

That evening we listened to the radio report from the front which included the sentence, “Our patrols discovered that the German Parachute Regiment which had been holding the line in the Delmenhorst area, had withdrawn from its positions during the night”. We wondered whether the sending-out of those patrols had been prompted by our safe return from no man’s land. Lady Luck was certainly riding with us that night! Other memories of that historic week were :- Of being stopped by a military policeman as we approached a crossroads in Bremen. He warned us that German troops were still holding out in the street we were about to cross and told us to get up speed and go over the crossroads as fast as possible. Freddie didn’t need any second invitation. Our tyres hardly touched as we went across!

Of watching a twin jet Messerschmitt 262 making three or four bombing runs at Bremervoerde. We couldn’t see its target from where we were parked but I think it must have been the bridge on which Himmler, the SS chief was later arrested by British Troops as he tried to cross.

Of arriving at a new location and finding all our squadron’s tanks parked on a piece of concrete outside a school. We wondered what was going on as there were no officers around. Somebody told us that he had heard that a Swedish diplomat had been trying to bring about a cease fire and it dawned on us that this might be it. We were also told that Captain Sadler, a highly respected Dragoon officer had been killed during that days fighting. I wondered which piece of news would reach his family first on his farm near Haywards Heath in Sussex, the good or the bad.

Of enjoying a good night’s sleep having had none for 60 hours. There was no reveille the next morning and some chaps stayed in bed until 4 pm to celebrate the ceasefire.

Bob Lamb