Hohne was a NATO garrison when I first arrived there in the late 1950’s and as it had been a former Nazi military facility, it was a massive state-of-the-art complex which for the first three months of being there, probably gave me a false impression of what the rest of Germany was like at that time. Hohne Garrison was an exciting place to be. Thousands of NATO soldiers from British, American, Canadian, French, Dutch, Belgian and German armed forces came to do their firing exercises on the ranges there. They would all come down to buy their clothes from the NAAFI in the garrison. There was a massive building called The Round House for entertainment. It housed a NAAFI shopping centre, restaurants, a huge library, exhibitions, a large theatre where various concerts and plays were staged, a gym and a dancehall. It was the hub of the garrison. I was busy doing my gunnery course for tanks and my wireless operator course so that I would be eligible for promotion and better pay. What little free time I had was spent in the gym trying to get fitter and stronger for success in all the different new sporting activities that were available for me to learn in camp. In the dance hall, a “four-penny hop” was held every Wednesday which was open to the garrison and visiting soldiers, their wives and children as well as the girls from local villages. I was quite good at dancing and won many of the regular competitions they held there. It didn’t matter that new arrivals like me were confined to barracks for the first three months of being there.
The fact that German villagers could come to the Round House for these social events meant that I began to understand a little about German laws and culture from them even while in camp. I got a better picture of this when we went out on exercises into the local countryside and even more so when my ‘C’ Squadron friends invited me to go down into the nearest village, Bergen, to visit local bars and restaurants. “The Deutsche Haus” had a notice posted outside:
I wanted to know why they put up such notices. I found it offensive. We therefore didn’t go in that place, but went to others, like “The Semptre”(I think that was how they spelt it) where they didn’t have any exclusion notices. Young single soldiers like me all went to what we called “The Baby Bar” where there was a stage, a juke box and enough space to accommodate us all and we could dance. They sold German beer and snacks and played all the local modern pop music. In Bergen, I began to meet local German youths of my own age, some more fluent in English than others. One of these, Dieter Voss, was in the Bergen Athletics Club “Tus Bergen.” I asked him if I could join their club and he said “yes.” They had very good coaches for athletics, football, handball, field handball, cross country and an excellent boxing club. Dieter introduced me to them and I joined in with them all. I enjoyed field handball as we didn’t play that in England. I especially liked the girls of the athletics club, who were very talented. I was hoping to get good enough to compete in the athletics, but I didn’t realise that they didn’t have a proper running track. There were two full sized Olympic running tracks in the garrison, so I asked the Garrison Commander if local youths from the sports club could come into the garrison to train with me on our tracks. It took a lot of persuading up through the chain of command to get to this point. I had to write a letter to the commander and was eventually collected in a staff car to attend an interview with him. He made me feel at ease as he sat down beside me on his sofa and asked me to explain why I had made this suggestion.
“It seems a shame that our facilities are out of use most of the time and yet local teams have no track to use,” I said.
“I see. I’d like to give you permission but I want you to understand that it must be a VERY ORGANISED activity, wherein you all come together and you personally are there to meet the guards at the gate. You must all stay together while they are in the camp and they must not roam around the camp where they please,” he said.
The boys of the club were overjoyed to hear this news. After years of never being able to use these facilities which were right on their doorstep, they now could have the benefit of them. I took part in lots of athletics competitions organised by Dieter all around Niedersachsen, in Hanover, Bergen, Celle and as far away as Hamburg. Travelling around Germany in the back of a three-ton truck to Hanover or in a Land-Rover was an eye opener for me. The state of the country saddened me as it was still devastated from the bombing it had received in the war. Bombsites and heaps of rubble were everywhere. The repair jobs on houses and roads hadn’t really started as yet, 15 years after fighting ended. Shops were few and far between. Clothing shops didn’t seem to exist. People wore drab garments, not fashionable stuff like we had in the NAAFI store or back in England. The locals were struggling to survive and make a living. They had obviously taken a serious battering in the war. People seemed to shuffle rather than walk. How on earth would the citizens clear up this flattened mess and rebuild their lives? I spoke about this all the time in padre’s hour on Saturday mornings.
“You must have seen the same in London,” said Padre.
“Yes, but it wasn’t everywhere, only in places,” I said. “People here are living in holes like caves.”
If you enjoyed reading this story and want to find out what happened to me in my man’s service as a professional soldier then order “An Unlikely Hussar: The Remarkable life of Edwin “Joe” Joseph” by Jane Joseph, published by Sapodilla Press in March 2017 available soon via Amazon in kindle or paperback format.
If you want to find out what happened in my later life when I returned to help develop my birth country Guyana in South America, then look for “The ElDorado Affair” by Jane Joseph ISBN 978-0-9932409-0-4 available in paperback on Amazon.co.uk, order it through your local book store or read it in Kindle format ISBN 978-0-9932409-1-1 available worldwide on Amazon.com