A Personal Reminiscence
I was prompted, to put pen to paper, by the recent hype of the 75th anniversary of the end of WW 2, particularly the coverage of Captain Toms’ “100 years young”, raising £30 million plus for charity [ Isn’t he a marvel ], the Dan Snow BBC coverage of D-Day landings, WW2 history footage, etc. and lastly, the photo of Mike Tucker in uniform in the June “What’s On. I worked regularly with our uniformed lads and lassies during my career as an estate surveyor with the Ministry of Defence [MoD].
In 1970, I was posted from the Defence Land Agents [DLA] office, Dorchester to the DLA office in Dusseldorf which was responsible for the estate management of the military bases, airfields, married quarter sites, etc., in the north western part of Germany “policed” by the British Army of the Rhine [BAOR] area. At this time there was still two “wars/conflicts” in progress; the Cold War with Russia [Breznev, a hardliner, was the President at this time], its’ “Iron Curtain” allies and the conflict with the IRA in Northern Ireland.
During my first week, I had to attend indoctrination courses which involved the tactics of Russian/East German agent activities in Western Germany, particularly their movements, spying and possible infiltration by way of “honey traps”, etc. One eye opener of the course was the communication method of getting coded messages to their agents on the ground. This was done by a radio broadcast every day at exactly 10:00 hours from East Berlin by a female, nicknamed “Berlin Annie”. She would read out in a monotone staccato voice, a series of four numbers from 1 to 9: for example, zwei, sieben, acht, funf [ 2, 7, 8, 5 ] . drei, neun, eins, vier [ 3, 9, 1, 4 ] and so on for a period of about ten minutes. The agents would note these numbers and decode them into messages. By the time British Intelligence deciphered the messages, it was apparently almost too late to take any action.
The Russians were allowed to travel in vehicles in West Germany but they had to display a yellow background number plate with a number and Russian flag display with the wording underneath “SOVIET MILITARY MISSION BAOR” this was called a “SOXMIS” vehicle. If any of these were spotted during our travels around Germany we were to report the number and location immediately to the military police especially if the vehicles were in a restricted area such as a military installation, barracks, etc. As civilians, we apparently had the power to “detain” the vehicles by “boxing them in” !!!!!
As already mentioned, another “sinister war/conflict” was still continuing in Northern Ireland but the IRA were now expanding their operations outside of the UK – Several IRA activists were detained in Gibraltar about this time, for example. They were also now operating in Germany and the Netherlands. During 1972-1973, Dusseldorf barracks, where the DLA office was situated, was
subjected to periodic security alerts strongly tightened on intelligence of IRA presence in the area. Dusseldorf, the BAOR HQ at Rheindahlen and the RAF bases at Bruggen, Laarbruch and Wildenraath are closely situated to the Dutch border where British families often crossed to visit such places as Arnham, for example, and the nearest town of Roermond for its shops and cafes around its central square. It was here that the IRA targeted a cafe frequented by Brits and exploded a bomb which fortunately resulted in no serious casualties.
I had to travel to London on several occasions for meetings, briefings, etc. I always travelled on “Air Trooping” aircraft with military personnel on route to and return from Belfast. On one return flight back to Dusseldorf, I sat next to a corporal [Chris] who sat in the window seat. During our chats, he told me he was excited at returning, after six months duty, to see his three month old daughter for the first time. Half way into our flight, the captain announced that we were, for technical reasons, being diverted to RAF Gutersloh, an hour’s train journey to Dusseldorf and that relevant passengers would be given train passes and ferried on to the station. At this point, Chris started to become agitated, mumbling that he wasn’t going to see his first child. He eventually calmed down but on landing at Gutersloh, he suddenly tried to shoot out of his buckled seat shouting we are going to crash !!!. The reason for the outburst was the noise of the engine brake and he saw the wing flaps suddenly drop for further braking. This was obviously a case of PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder].
On the train from Gutersloh, I sat next to a Sergeant and his comrades who were also returning to Dusseldorf after their six months duty in Northern Ireland The train was travelling at a high speed when suddenly a another train passed us in the opposite direction, also at high speed, which produced a high sounded “WHOOOSH/THUD” which was frightening. The sergeant and several of his colleagues suddenly jumped into the aisle, taking up a kneeling/crouching position, holding imaginary rifles and furtively looked around the train. This was an eye-opener, witnessing the aftermath of what our lads had gone through and were still going through in defending our country and freedom. It is therefore disgusting that some have been and are still being persecuted for historical allegations of murder. Etc. It is understandable why our lads suffer from PTSD.