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Monday, November 28, 2005
Prisoner number........ Part III of IV
Prisoner Number…………… Part III of IV.
Never having been inside a real prison (some vicious tongues would say through pure luck), I have no idea of the general routine there. Not that “Spandau Gefangnis” wasn’t a real prison. It was, and had been built for some hundreds of prisoners, before finally becoming the turning place for higher ranked Nazi war criminal prisoners. Although they were not only in their hundreds, but millions, only those caught, tried and sentenced to jail terms, found their way here.
Here it was that they were guarded by various “winners” of the WWII. There never were a lot of them, so the prison premises were greatly underused, and by the time I arrived there with the “Squadron B of The Royal Dragoons” in 1966, there was only one solitary occupant of the whole prison. Herr Rudolph Hess, one time Nr 2 in the Nazi Party, and one time Hitler second-in-command.
He was always referred to as “the prisoner number…….” Even although he was the only one! Whether tradition, or simple military tomfoolery, I can’t tell you, but I do know that this “prisoner number 7” had requested this number years earlier, when the prisoner officially known as “Hitler’s inheritor” (the last “Fuhrer”) had been released.
This title had, apparently, always rankled in Herr Hess’s mind, as being, by right, HIS title, and not some fly-by-night. He therefore demanded to be moved to Cell nr 7 which had been occupied by the “false Fuhrer”. This request had been allowed, particularly because it made the job of guarding him simpler!
Hess, whose history is well recounted by other more competent authors, was mad.
Somewhere between typing Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in the Bavarian prison, as his Secretary, years before the 1933 events, and his ill-fated flight to the Scottish moors to “arrange matters between two great Aryan peoples” a fuse, or many fuses had burnt through!
All this was in the past now, but these attacks of madness came and went, even in prison. He had the right to a small garden, where he could dream of the IV Reich, he had paper and pen to write his version of events in the past and in the future.
We were there to guard him, an elderly, frail, useless madman!
When the Russians came for their period of 3 months guard duty, they took out the bed frame, the table, the chair, and amused themselves watching Hess arrange the mattress as a sort of chair during the day, pushed up against the wall, and letting it down every night.
When the French had their 3 months, Hess complained that the white bread served by the French gave him “wind”!
When the USA came around for 3 months, he complained at their complete simplicity of a “younger country, which could have become great, with National Socialism”.
When our turn, the Brits, came around, he complained about everything, from the fact that such a “great race could have contemplated becoming traitors to the Aryan cause” to the fact that he had belly-ache and wanted to go to hospital.
I recall one such episode, when a sympathetic you corporal of the guard offered him a cigarette. Hess was a non-smoker, but he accepted it, and asked for a light. The light having been given, Hess demanded the Officer of the guard, and on his arrival, complained that this young corporal had “breached the rules by giving a cigarette and, even worse, a light, to a prisoner. Said prisoner could have set fire to things with said lit cigarette”. He demanded the punishment of the corporal!
Effectively the Corporal WAS punished as charged, but no action was taken other than to return the corporal to his main Unit in West Germany!
Such things went on all day, every day, and when the 3 months were over, we were all mental wrecks, but had another 9 months to recuperate! (In that time, we were responsible for the Admin of the prison because it lay in our ¼ of Berlin, but NOT responsible for the prisoner.) Two periods of guard duty were normal as a part of the British permanent staff, therefore a period of some 15 months represented, normally, the posting period. Of course leave and other things had to be taken as normal, but never in the Prisoner Guard Duty periods. Then, and only then, were we at complete full strength. As though prisoner number 7 was going to revolt, or break out or something worse! Political and Military pride, determined elsewhere, in London,Paris,Moscow, Washington etc, had to be fulfilled and forcibly backed-up!
A financial and human nonsense.
The ritual in prison, under our control, was simple, rise and shine at 7am (Hess was already up and about well before this time), breakfast, cell inspection, recreation (mainly in the small garden in the central well of the prison) lunch, rest in the afternoon, teatime (supper or evening meal), lights out at 2100hrs (Hess invariably had already gone to bed)!
This was the routine, and sprinkled into this were any urgencies, emergencies, visits, checks, controls, investigation of complaints, etc etc…..
Time passed, but those three months felt like 3 years.
I don’t think there is any point in my continuing to talk about the prison and its inmate (or if you count us, its inmates!). The only really exciting things happened generally when transports to the British Military Hospital had to be arranged, because representatives of ALL occupying forces had to be present! It was hilarious!
So was life in West Berlin! I have already described, a little, the outings to the Eastern part, but of course, most of our time was spent in the Western part, and that was quite something!
Berlin always was “eine reise wert” (worth a trip) as the German Tourist industry announced, and we used it. We were relatively well off, with the extras paid for “active” duty, for “duty abroad” with the enormous profits made by us from Drinks and tobacco “arrangements” with the locals. Civilian prices in West Berlin were kept to a minimum by the powers that be, as proof to East Germans,Russians and anybody else, that the West was RICH!!! Everything, and I mean everything, was available at most reasonable prices.
In the early days, an enormous store had opened in down-town West Berlin. Called the “KA-DE-WE” (Kaufhaus des Westens – meaning The Superstore of the West) it grew and grew. Each department had its own sort of everything! Each Department had its own attractions, like fashion shows, perfume shows and beauty demonstrations, wine-tasting and food tasting events – just about everything, and everything of the highest quality, some things being even a little on the “unsure about the legality” side. As an example, I recall that the butchers department, had, for some months, the sale of “Lion meat” and “Bear meat” on the programme, and this meat was openly shown, together with an example of the animal, in the chilled compartments. This was not too great to look at, but was proof of what the West could do!
On the other hand, one could spend a day, without any problem, and without spending any money in this enormous place. Tastings of food and wine, coffee and liqueurs, all free, were liberally dosed, and of the highest quality. The place was subsidized by the Occupying Allied Forces and their Governments, which meant things like fresh daily imports of bread from Paris, oysters from Brittany, game from Scotland, fish, shellfish from everywhere, cheese from France, Italy, everything of the highest, freshest quality. The proud motto was:” If KADEWE hasn’t got it, and can’t get it in 24 hours, it doesn’t exist!” Imagine, the hit of the period was Hamburgers! This was before McDonalds etc set up their monopoly of the world’s diet!
The cinemas all had the latest films, before anywhere else in the world, and they were ALL in their original languages, with subtitles for the “krauts”!
The Opera house (although I didn’t go at this period) only entertained the idea of WORLD performers, concerts were by the most well-known groups and bands of the period, the bars, cafes, nightclubs were all extra-ordinary. West Berlin did not “close”, it was open 24hours a day, as the Tourist Industry again impressed upon the Tourists, and WE LIVED THERE! Young soldiers, with money – by god, that was a time and a half!
The sports facilities, for the servicemen and their friends, were second to none even those of today. They were ALL free, even the golf courses, even the glider or small plane flying course.
Of course, the soldiers had to be kept occupied, because you couldn’t just take a car and go off for a drive! We were prisoners as well, surrounded by E. Germany, with only 4 road corridors and 2 railway corridors allowed for entry and exit for individuals or groups, military or civilian. Closely guarded areas, all people and all vehicles (apart from trains) were inspected before entry, and before exit, of the E. German territory, by East German and Russian troops and dogs. Military had to have “exit” visas from their British Units in Berlin, or “entry” visas from their Regiments in West Germany. A minimum distance of some 250 kilometers of “enemy territory” had to be covered to reach the nearest “friendly” country! Some soldiers did get “homesick” but were always returned, under heavy military escort, by the Russians, and an “official protest” was made. Actually, it was all an excuse to visit West Berlin!
Anyway, it may be that I will return, occasionally, to this theme of West Berlin, or West/East Germany of the epoch. I think that for now the reader has been given an inkling as to what sort of life could, and was, led at the time! Berlin was a pleasure, to live in, both as a Soldier, and as a civilian.The Berlin of the epoch, hateful and nasty as the circumstances may have been for many.What it's like nowadays, I don't know, but it cannot be a patch on DAMALS!
The final part will deal with my farewell party to Berlin, and with my last travel out in the “Berlin-Helmstedt Express” – the only British Military train I know of which surprised all ranks with “waiter-service” at meal times!! Drop in and have a read!