As 1995 began, the plans for the year ahead were discussed April, our pilgrimage to Neustadt; June, return to Normandy for the D-Day Services; July, Airborne Forces day, and the Reunion Dinner in Autumn. With caravanning in between, it's all go. When it gets to Christmas we start all over again.
First I would like to tell you, especially members of 7th Para, about our return to Neustadt for 7 Apr to mark the 50th Anniversary of the battle for the town. We left home on 4 Apr at 0600hrs and our first stop was at 1100hrs with our dear friends George and Joy GiIlard. It was lovely to see them and we left refreshed for the long journey ahead as our ferry was leaving Harwich at 2300hrs to travel overnight to Hamburg.We then drove on by car via Hanover to Neustadt arriving at 1800hrs on 5 Apr. This journey was completed a lot quicker than the last time the Bn footslogged it to the town.
As we approached Neustadt, Gordon (Snowy) said, "It was just as if it was yesterday." Fifty years had slipped away. "That's the house where we took the wounded. It is as if time had stood still. It is just the same."
As we wandered about the town the reason for our visit became apparent to me; the memories of the lads who never made it back and the wounded who still have scars, physical and mental, from that terrible day in 1945. I understand why Bob Tanner said in his letter to me that never a day goes by without him thinking about it.
Nearing the bridge the content of all your letters to me came to mind. A voice shouting, "Come on B Company", and exhausted men finding another ounce of energy, jumping over explosives which had been placed in their paths. Gordon pointed to a spot where he had jumped and landed at the side of the river as the Spandaus had opened up on them as they ran. He described the sound of a 'cough' as the bridge was blown, and we thought of the terrible destruction of young lives and the wounded being carried into the home of Erika Norjork. Now I would see the place and put it all together, I visualised the horror of that night.
The daughter of Erika Norjork, Ursula, is 70 years old now but she still lives in the house and very kindly let us visit her. Gordon said everything was still the same in the house except that the piano had been changed. As he stood at the bottom of the stairs he remembered his friend Sproston who had died there; a very poignant moment.
We went into the room where the wounded had been cared for and Ursula said she had often wondered if the lad had lived whose chest-wound she had bound. Twenty years old and seeing those injuries and men die in that manner! Her mother had done all she could to try and save life, ripping up her sheets to be used as bandages. I listened as Ursula spoke and I could tell that that night was imprinted on her memory. I have heard of the Angel of Amhem; I think there were two at Neustadt.
Tiger was with us as we visited and as he spoke to her more details of those fateful hours were revealed. Sadly it will be the last time any of us can visit her at the house as she is moving into a flat. I have a beautifbl memento of my visit. As she gave me an embroidered table cloth, Ursula said, "I want to give you something from my heart which was my mother's. You have listened and understood the horror of that night. We were the enemy, but in mine and my mother's hearts, we were women who were needed by young men." Her mother had taught her well.
The following Sunday we went to a German Church service and later we had our own little service for "The Lads". The Burgermeister, Town Officials and Ursula also attended. Wreaths were laid at the Garden of Remembrance which had been rnade at the site of the initial resting-place of our comrades. Tiger then laid a wreath at the German War Memorial.
Our little convoy moved on to Wunstorf Airfield where Tiger explained the events that had occurred; the way you lads went into the airfield; the heavy firing of mortars, 88s and Spandaus; the casualties, including the death of Lt Pape of 4 Platoon. What dreadful memories you all carry with you.Today's Wunsdorf is another tale. Progress has taken over and it is now so big I am sure half of you wouldn't even recognise it!
A place we couldn't miss was Becklingen, the final resting place of the fallen. For me it was very emotional. As I walked between the headstones I saw names which I had heard you all talk about or read about in your letters. I thought of their valour, their pranks and their demise. It was sorrowful for me but it must have been much worse for Tiger and Snowy. We placed our crosses on the long line of graves: Green, who joined the Paras with Gordon,Sproston, Dodd, Sgt Mclvor, Aitken, Bradley, Corbett, Jaimeson RAMC, Wilmott, 2 unknown soldiers and so on. 28 lads aged between 19 years and 31. What a waste of lives. In another three weeks the war was over. I put a small wreath on Darkie Cornel's grave. Not that he was any more special than the others, but someone always seems to have a tale to tell about him. I felt I knew him well. So if I was a little selfish, please excuse me.
None of these lads nor any of the others must be forgotten nor must any of the stories be lost in time. Please, if you haven't written to me yet with your version of events or any little tale you particularly remember, put pen to paper now. Every letter sent to me will be included in my 'Book of life'.
The Germans we met were very friendly, helpful and hospitable. Nothing was too much trouble for them. Ursula Baldauf, the lady Burgermeister, invited all of us to her home for tea. There she introduced me to her husband, He had been a major in the German Army. In his prime he must have been a fine, tall and handsome man. He sat in an armchair, eyes closed and tears constantly flowing down his cheeks. He was blind. He had been a prisoner of war in Russian hands and had not been released until 1950. I had always thought of the Germans as our enemy. I had never given their plight much thought but I believe that if you had been in that room with us that day you would also have felt pity in your heart as well. I'm sure that this is true and in that room it was brought home to me more forcibly than ever before.
If it wasn't for our Tony Lea, Gordon and I and a friend from the 13th, Tony Gregory, would not have made the trip. I was glad Gordon got there and pleased I was with him. I shall always remember the experiences and personalities of our trip.
Fifty years is a long time. Ursula Norjork will always remember. The 7th will always remember. Let's hope nothing like this ever happens again.
By the late Joan Elliott (Pearson)Read More