Recollections of Cliff Howes
I volunteered to join the army in 1945 and a few weeks later I received my papers to report to No.96 P. T. C. Ranby Camp, Retford, Notts. On completion of my Basic training, I requested a posting to Royal Engineers (Postal Section) and so it came about that shortly afterwards I arrived outside the Loading Bay at Queen Street, Post Office, Nottingham where I was directed to report to “the Officer in there”. I went into a large empty office where a Lieutenant RE, was sitting at a table, so I went up to him, saluted and gave my personal details, to which after he had returned my salute, he put out his hand and shook hands with me saying “Welcome to the R.E.P.S., we hope that your time with us will be enjoyable. You will be taken to the Postal School at Whatton Camp shortly, in the meantime, you will find Tea, Coffee and Biscuits over there, help yourself and make yourself comfortable while you are waiting”.
Now I had just finished training with the Rifle Brigade so after that experience, I began to wonder just what I had come to!.
In due course transport arrived and off we went to Whatton Camp to be met by no less a person who became something of a legend in the R.E.P.S. namely C.S.M. Harold (Chad) Westbrook, who made it quite clear what he expected from us. Anyhow we settled down to our B.3 course with our Instructors Corporals Sadler and Lowman, who was known behind his back as the “Bishop” because he was a member of the Salvation Army. The course passed quickly and we were all posted to the various Sorting Offices in Nottingham. I arrived at Bulwell, Padstow Road Camp working at Daybrook;, after a month or so I was posted back to Whatton Camp to take the B.2 course and, at the end of that period, I went to Queen Street Sorting Office working 3 shifts, the interesting thing was, when I was on the late shift (3-11) at 5.30 p.m. I used to take over from the A. T.S. operators and man the H.P.D. switchboard. It was a very pleasant time with plenty of variety off duty , a large NAAFI Club, Cinemas, Ballrooms etc.
However, my mate Arthur Collis and myself decided to volunteer for overseas draft and it wasn’t long before about 30 of us went to Barton Stacey in Hampshire and from there we were taken by train all the way back to Hull where we embarked on the “Empire Lance”. We hadn’t got a clue where we were going but 48 hours later we docked at Cuxhaven, Germany at 2200 hours and that night we slept in a large shed on the Dock. Next morning we were issued with dry rations and put on a train with wooden slatted seats and off we went across Germany until we finished up at Bielefeld Holding Unit where we were kept for a week while our documents were sorted out. As is the case with transit camps you get all sorts of jobs to fill in the time. I had one that I wouldn’t wish to repeat, until were were ready to move out, I was a guard on the Military Prison, but move out we did and finally got to our ultimate destination -No.101 Z.P.D. Herford, we were billeted in the town and worked in a large factory which had been taken over called POGGENPOHL. I hardly had time to settle in when my name appeared on Orders “Posted to A.P.O. E.560, Berlin”. Amid remarks like, “You jammy B………. ” and “How did you fiddle that”, it became obvious that Berlin was the best posting in Germany and so once again on the night train which arrived at CHARLOTTENBURG Station next day.
The Berlin A.P.O. staff were billetted for accommodation and rations with the Berlin Signals Squadron, Royal Signals but later we were transferred to H.Q. Brit Troops Berlin quarters.
The Building in which the A.P.O. was housed was a large detached house on its own grounds, the front part was 3 storeys but the rear part was a single storey flat roof section, this was the A.P.O. The Caretaker and his family lived in a part of the front and on the first floor was a large room with a row of French windows opening out on to the flat roof. The interesting fact was that when the first A.P .0. troops took over, they found some reels of the film “Mrs Minniver” and it transpired that the large function room was used by Josef Goebbels to show “forbidden” films to his chosen friends.
The unit itself consisted of a Postal officer (Captain), 2 Sargeants, one who was Chief Clerk, Postal Branch, 2 Corporals, 1 L/Corporal and six Sappers. In addition, we had 8 German females operating the teleprinter link 24 hours a day working shifts, also 6 German females on forward Sorting and 2 German males to do heavy work, loading, unloading etc. The R.E.P.S. staff did all the other jobs, Counter (2 positions ), Inwarding sorting, Courier etc.
We had quite a bit of variety, once a week the French army and the Russians used to call for mail and then twice a week we took mail to the U.S. Army at their base in DAHLEM.
The Russian transfer was a bit of a mystery; , we used to get about 6 or 7 sealed parcel bags which seemed to contain a large box in each one, the bags were – addressed to the Baltic States, VILNA and RIGA and a Russian Officer and 4 troopers used to collect them, we never did know what we were handing over.
When we went to the American Post office the guys on the counter couldn’t understand why we didn’t carry arms, they all carried loaded 45’s.
A RAF ‘York’ at GatowLife was very pleasant in those days, we had a large NAAFI Club with its own Dance floor, a Bar, Cafeteria and a W.O. and Sgts Club;, in addition there were 2 British Controlled Cinemas, we could also go sailing at the forces Yacht Club, horse riding through the Grunewald Woods, play tennis and of course visit night clubs which had been licenced as “in bounds”.
In due course, I received a fairly rapid promotion and within 12 months I had gone from L/Cpl to Sgt at Postal Branch.
Then on the 25th June 1948 (my birthday), the Russians decided to Blockade the City and the following day the first aircraft of the Berlin Airlift landed. It didn’t really affect us a great deal other than re-organising our incoming and outgoing mail to liaise with the R.A.F. at Gatow. Electricity was cut off every night at 1800 hours because the Russians controlled the Power Station, we got around that by installing our own Generator. Our food was monotonous, everything was dried. Potatoes, eggs, milk and so on. Leave was postponed for a time until the airlift got fully organised because the only way in and out of Berlin was by air, but life went on much to the annoyance of the Russians. I think this was the point where the Civilian Population really began to appreciate our being there, they certainly didn’t want a Russian occupation.
So life went on and eventually my demob came round, I flew out from Gatow in a Dakota to Buckeburg airfield and then on to the demob centre at Aldershot (Woking) where I was issued with a Civvy suit etc. I then went back to work at my local Post Office counter.
I look back and remember the Officer I met on my first day (Lt. later Capt. Meatyard) and his words “We hope your time with us will be enjoyable”. It certainly was, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
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