My dad knew a thing or two about Germany after four years of war where he saw action in North Africa – up through Italy and across the Alps into the underbelly of Germany as the 1939-45 war ended.
Born in March 1942 my first memories of him were when he arrived at our temporary home – a room my mother had rented from old Jessie Cargill in Auchmithie – a small fishing village a couple of miles north of Arbroath on the Scottish east coast. Dad was on Demob Leave but after the obligatory photographs he was sent back to Germany for six months to carry out some ‘Hush-Hush’ work —
I was to learn many years later that his ‘Hush-Hush’ job was to work with his regiment in the clearing out of the German prison camp of Belsen. The clearing out and burial of bodies was done with diggers – trucks and bulldozers. As I’ve seen from photos on Wilkipedia it was not a pretty sight and an experience that was to scar him for life. To cap it all they were forbidden by the powers that be to tell the world about the horror’s they had seen. It was assumed back then that it would bring about a thirst for retribution by the British public if it all came out. Must admit I was never to see that ‘demob leave’ smile again – I cherish that grainy photograph of it.
Within two years of leaving the army my dad was on his fourth job – as a farm worker the house went with the job. By this time we were living in a lonely ruined stone house in the corner of a tumbledown steading in the hills above Blair Athol Castle.
Dad didn’t talk to his family unless he wanted something done. He would tell you once – if he had to tell you again it was accompanied by a clout!
My recent trips to that area to gather crab apples from the roadside trees brought back vivid memories of one such ‘event’.
I was a skinny five year old – just started school. Snow was swirling around forming drifts in the steading quadrangle below the bedroom where I shared an old iron bed with my two older brothers. Late that night dad came storming up the rickety wooden stairs and burst into our bedroom with his heavy leather army belt in his hand! My tearful protests that ‘it wasnae me’ were betrayed by my guilty face as he hauled me out of bed and proceeded to give me a fair old larroping. Curling up on the floor howling cut no ice but it did mean he had little recourse other than to boot me under the bed as a finale – where I was fairly safe from more stinging cuts from his belt.
My crime? I had pissed out of the broken pane of glass in the window into the snow banks below instead of going downstairs in the dark and following the path he had cut through the snow to the draughty wooden outdoor toilet across the yard! The indisputable ‘evidence’ of my ‘crime’ was seen in the snow below when he went out for his own bedtime piss!
I’ve often thought about it since and hoped I had been lucky enough to piss on him as he passed under my window – it might have gone some way to explain his unbridled anger 😏
In more recent years life has taken me to Germany on numerous occasions. I must admit that different circumstances meant I was left with far more favourable impressions of the country than my dad did. A look through my photo album confirms that I had taken on board the old soldier’s piece of advice – ‘if you are ever in Germany – stick to the high ground’ —
Enjoying the sun above the bends on the River Rhine —
Winter sunshine this time on a Frankfurt skyscraper —
I’m as puzzled as to my whereabouts as the guy in the pic – but I think I was on my way to Dresden from the south —
I must have made it – same shirt and I’m on top of a watch tower in that corner of Germany east of Dresden bordered by Poland and the old Czechoslovakia —
Yep – I can see them all from up here and Moscow is way over there too —
But I prefer the comfort of die liebie Lorelei’s stone chair high above the gorge on the Rhine where she sang her siren song to lure the boatmen below to their watery graves.