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Thursday, February 20, 2014
once upon a time.
The Prisoner in Cell Number………
I tapped, as usual, nervously in my crease block, and awaited the next delivery. When it came, it was such a loose ball, that I was pleased to dispatch it high and long to the boundary, forcing the Umpire to lift both hands, and signal yet another six runs.
The surrounding fielders threw looks which would have killed, but I didn’t look, I was too busy getting somebody in Uniform from the spectators block, the higher ranked the better, to go and ask – “Can we have our balls back?”
This was Spandau, West Berlin, cricket balls were rare things, and I had just hit the last of our supply over the boundary wall. Six runs – yes, but into the closely guarded confines of Spandau Prison, at the moment guarded by our Russian “allies”, to join the other 10 or 12 balls I had already put there!
Simply climb over the 3 different barbed wire perimeters, then the wall, all this whilst avoiding the Russian doggies, the Russian shouts, and eventually the Russian bullets, was a possibility, for a Hero, but we were British Squaddies, playing Cricket, and we had been told (at great length) to avoid all actions which may lead to an International incident! This wasn’t always possible, particularly with our Russian friends, as later blogspots (if I have the time to write them) will testify.
In any case, we had to have these leather cricket balls back, but not at any price!
This episode was ended by the appearance of a Russian Officer, of the swaggering type, who had obviously never played cricket in his life, who inspected each one of the hard, red round little objects lying on “his” territory, before gathering them together in his huge Russian army hat, and signaling to us that he had found what appeared to be a new type of land-mine, and did they belong to us? Did we want them back? (after all who the hell would want land-mines back?) Yes – we did? OK, and taking the cricket balls one by one, he inspected it, wound up his arm, and released them, individually, back over the wall!
Only after he had thrown the last one back, did he deign to call –gently – “stupid English b-----ds!”
My response, as a gentleman, and as the one responsible for the presence of the cricket balls on his territory, was to call back, equally gently. That his bowling action was decidedly suspect, and I would be obliged to report the matter to the appropriate authorities! He obviously was and educated Russian, with some notions of the English language, because, on hearing the word “authorities” he disappeared forthwith, returning with a dog and a camera!
Such was life in the summer of 1966, in West Berlin, Germany, where I was whiling away some time as a member of the permanent British Army Staff at Smuts Barracks, right next door to the military prison of Spandau, which at this time contained one solitary prisoner, having been built in the 1800’s for some 180 prisoners! Our job was to be present in any case of difficulty regarding this self-same prisoner. We were around 150 soldiers, the Russians were around 250 soldiers, we were backed up by the other “allied” forces, American, French, sometimes Dutch and Belgian as well. Basically, Brits, Americans, Russians, and one other force took 3 months each to have the responsibility for the prisoner, one Herr Rudolph HESS, sole inmate! At the moment, it was the Russians’ turn, and we were strictly speaking “stood-down” but since the prison was in the British Sector, we had to stay there to guard not only Rudolph Hess, but also his guardians, the Russians!
(We were also obliged to guard the other guardians –Americans etc – but to a much lower degree)
The Russians loved being selected for this task, being as it was, the only possibility to come to the wonderful West! The first thing done by them, upon arrival, was to throw out the bed and desk installed by the other guardians, in the cell of Herr Hess, and watch the one-time Hitler Deputy sleep on his palliasse on the bare cell floor. The second thing done, was to arrange the lighting in the cell so that it was a grell, eye-burning force, which they left on 24 hours a day.
Herr Hess was well used to these changes, once a year, and often, in these later years of his incarceration, he was deemed medically unfit just before the arrival of the Russians, and had to be guarded by them in the nearby British Military Hospital, with Russian Guards in the room, at the door to the room, at the entry to the ward, at the lifts or stairs, at the entry to the Hospital itself, and of course each Russian Guard had his Western Allied counterpart standing 2 feet away from him!
All in all, a nonsense, a political one. We, the Squaddies were not too bothered. We had to do something, and effectively, we were really only on duty 3 months of the year, and West Berlin was a wonderful place to be at the time. We had access to the 18 hole Golf course, free of charge, we played football in the Olympic Stadium, we had free yachting and canoing on the river Spree, all sports were available to us, thefood was magnificent, being bartered with the French and American troops also stationed here. We had freshly flown in from Paris French bread for breakfast for example, and lots of other stuff like that, from all over the world. West Berlin had to be shown to be the central meeting point of Europe, indeed the world, and must show off it’s riches to the poor Russian and Eastern country forces, just over the border. More of that on another occasion, possibly. We had extra allowances for deplacement, and more extras because we had to accept 50% of our wages in “BAFF’s” (a currency invented during the war for British Forces, so that nobody else but us could use the cheap duty- free NAAFI shops – at least that’s what the big boys thought, but we of course sold our BAFF’s to local Germans and others, for 200% their value, having used what we needed for excessive tobacco and alcohol consumption. In fact we sold most of the stuff to the local Berlin bars!)
So – here we were, playing Cricket in West Berlin. Summer 1966, month of August, England had just won the World Cup (which had probably stimulated the Russian Officer’s outburst) and I had been brought back from one Army posting to another (after the obligatory 3 weeks disembarkation leave, followed by another 2 weeks embarkation leave!
All this because I had shown certain capabilities in one so young – I was capable of speaking French and German- English too, which for a British Squaddie of the time was something one could never be sure of!
France (Larzac) to West Berlin, via Detmold in West Germany, and via Paris (on leave), London (a very short leave), back to Southern France for the main leave, then on to Detmold again, to finally land here in Spandau!
God, was I tired, and in need of leave – where better than West Berlin, on “active” service?
End of part 1
(In part II you can read all about the “normal” daily prison routine, as well as the “normal social life in the West Berlin of the era.)