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Our New Home

The summers were very hot and the winters very cold, and I was to experience nine of each. Which, to be honest, was rather unusual for a military family in the fifties, for the average posting would usually only last for about three or four years. The countryside in which we lived was rather flat and contained lots of woodland, consisting mostly of Silver Birch or Conifers, or indeed combinations of both. As we were on the edge of Luneberg Heath, wild heather grew in abundance. The camp itself, which was a Garrison containing about six differant Regiments, was completely self contained and isolated in its own little world, out in a rural backwater about three miles from the nearest German village of Bergen.

The married families were housed in blocks of flats, two stories high, each one also with an attick and a cellar area. We were on the back of the block on the upper floor. Each building was situated in its own very large plot of land and fenced off from its immediate neighbouring block. So there was plenty of open space between the buildings and there were also many small woods and fields to run wild and free in. And safe! Above all perfectly safe. For a small adventurous boy it was the perfect place to grow up in, and I loved every minute of my childhood because of it! In the flat we had double glazing and central heating with radiators in every room and all the mod cons of a modern bathroom and kitchen, and compared to our families back home in England, we were living in the lap of luxury by comparison! We even had a maid for those first few years, something, I am quite sure, that my Mother would never have envisioned, not even in her wildest dreams, whilst living in our broken down old Victorian quarters back in Aldershot. If people were suffering back home in austerity Britain, for the Germans it must have been ten times worse! So they hired their services to their recent conquerors for a mere pittance.

As we approached our first German Christmas (1952) my Mother took my brother and myself to one side and explained to us just how badly off the German people were, and could we let our maid have one of our Teddy Bears, so that she could give her children something for Christmas. I went to my room and returned with all of mine, about three in all. 'No, no! Said my Mother. Just one will do.' I shook my head and placed them all into her hands. I had just recently turned five and started school and considered that Teddy bears were now beneath my new status. And besides, I just couldn't image a child waking up on Christmas Day to find nothing at the foot of the bed! I will never forget the look on our maid's face the next day when our gifts were handed over to her, and I do remember feeling slightly embarressed by her tears, for she did cry! We never had very much in those days and I found it so hard to understand that there were people far worse off than we were.

Every Christmas in Germany was a white one, and the snow would lay thick on the ground for weeks at a time. Father would drive out to the local woods and chop down a Christmas tree and it would take over and fill a corner in the sitting room and reach up to the ceiling. How on earth we never burnt the house down, I'll never know, but of course we didn't! For the candles that adorned the branches were real ones, to be lit very slowly and most carefully with matches every evening during the twelve days of Christmas. I've no doubt that it was at this first Christmas that the sledges turned up for my brother and myself. A great source of amusement for us during the winter school holidays, despite the lack of available hills. But we utilised a rather steep bank that was at the edge of some sports fields near the camp cinema, and that was good enough for us!

Born to Roam! ( With apologies to 'The Boss!')

My Mother and I eventually returned home to a commandeered house in Kiel, no doubt the former property of some middle class German family. After all these years no one can remember the address, but you can be sure that it would have been very cosy, with its double glazing and central heating! The Germans, as I would discover for myself one day in the fairly near future, seemed years ahead of us when it came to basic home comforts!

However, we would not be there for very long, and in March 1948 I was to be taken on the first of many journeys that I was to experience during my formative years. This one, in fact, would take me all the way from my birth place of Kiel, to Exeter in Devon, England, the home town of my parents.

Our mode of transport would have been a troop train, which would have made its way steadily through Germany and Holland, and eventually ending up at the Hook of Holland where we would board a cross channel ferry bound for Harwich on the east coast of England. The crossing, on this and subsequent journeys, was always at night! If one must cross turbulent waters, doing so in the horizontal position in a bunk, must surely be the best and most comfortable way to do it!

13 Chamberlain Road was typical of the 'two up two down' terraced houses erected for the working class poor in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. No central heating, no double glazing, no bathroom and an outside toilet! What a contrast to my first home, luckily I was too small to even care or notice! But we weren't there for very long either. A mere six months later and we were residing at 30 Corrie Square in Aldershot where Father's regiment had been posted. This time we managed to stay put for all of eight months, and then, a mere five days after the birth of my brother Christopher, we moved to 16 Victorian Terrace in Blackdown.

Things improved this time and it was well worth emptying the cases! For we stayed here for all of twenty months! Of course! You are all beginning to pick up the threads of this by now, aren't you? This time we all headed back to Exeter where we remained for only a few months for Father's regiment was on the move again. 'Where to now!' My Mother would no doubt have declared in some exasperation! 'Somewhere nice and warm perhaps!' 'Kenya, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong? Cyprus? Cyprus would be nice!' But alas, it was not to be. 'No dear!' he replied. 'It's Germany again!'

And so, after completing the two day journey that I had previously undertaken when I was a mere four months old, but this time in reverse order, we arrived at our new home. Hohne, a fairly large, self contained, army garrison situated in North West Germany on the edge of the Luneberg heath.

All I can truthfully say about any of the above narrative is that I have no personnel recollections of any of it! None whatsoever! It is only from this point of my life that my childhood memories have any meaning for me. For we stayed here for an incredible ten years! Ten years of which, to me, were a perfect and idyllic childhood!

A Noisy Arrival!

I would like to welcome you to this new section of my website. As its title 'Random Thoughts' suggests. It could be about any topic that I choose to unravel my opinions and thoughts on. But I think it might make sense to commence this little enterprise of mine at the beginning, the very start of it all in fact!

I first tumbled, rather awkwardly as it happens, into this world on a bitter fog bound, and rather dreary early winter's day, on the tail end of the month of November 1947, the 27th to be precise. The exact hour escapes me, but you can almost guarantee that it would have been a most awkward and inconvenient one. I do believe that the hours of darkness were involved, for I have often been told the story that 'the ambulance crept down the fog bound Autobahn.' Now there's a clue, if ever I heard one! Yes, you guessed it. We were in Germany. The German Naval port of Kiel, or rather what remained of it after the R.A.F. had finished with it! Apparently very little of it was left undamaged and a great deal of it was devastated beyond repair. Why was I born here?

A fairly simple explanation accounts for it, and I am sure that by now you have already guessed the reason. World War Two! My father was a career soldier who served in North Africa with Monty's Desert Rats and then took part in the D Day landings in Normandy. His unit, The 4th Royal Horse Artillery, found themselves in Kiel when the war ended and that was where they remained as part of the newly formed B.A.O.R.

Back to my arrival! To say it was problematic would be an understatement, for I was born two months premature and weighed, as my mother would constantly remind me in the years ahead, only two pounds. 'A bit like a bag of sugar.' Was the way that she would put it and I was also small enough to fit into the palm of my father's hand! It was an emergancy birth in a medical facility on the camp that was, in truth, little more than a medical reception area. Hence the requirement for a journey down the Autobahn to Hamburg Military Hospital, in a rather slow and very basic, Army ambulance.

It was to be touch and go for both of us, for my mother had lost a great deal of blood and all they did for me was to wrap me in blankets and place me in a laundry basket with a hot water bottle. Upon our arrival the doors of the vehicle were flung open and an Army Nursing Matron, whose size and demeanour would have made her an ideal candidate for the New Zealand All Blacks, stared down at both of us and muttered the never to be forgotten phrase, never to be forgotten by my mother that is! 'There's nothing we can do for him but we'll see what we can do for you!' Charming! Don't you think? Anyway, I proved the old Battleaxe wrong! Because here I am, still creating havoc and making a noise!

I mentioned noise because, despite my size, or lack of it might have been a better way to put it, I must have had a fairly decent pair of lungs on me, for I nearly drove my parents insane with my constant yelling and screaming. So much so that medical help was sought. The remedy was crude, but effective! They left me alone in a room to scream and bellow away to my heart's content, and just ignored me until I stopped!