February was not really eventful. We mainly discussed the Rhine crossings. We continued to train hard at work to our best potential after a training course was set up. I decided I had to be patient about it. And to my surprise I actually was very calm and submissive.
At the beginning of March, I noticed how Captain Rhys was alone all the time and I’m sure I even saw a tear. Had he been given news from home? Had something bad happened? I did not know. I just felt sorry for him a wee bit.
On the night times of our wait we often played Black Jack or Dominoes. A couple of the nights some of the lads got drunk which caused a stir up with General Dempsey. He was a very stern man.
When he left the room that night, I decided to go after him. I caught up with him, “Sir, permission to speak?”
“I’ve been wondering. Why have…” he finished my sentence for me, “…we not moved? Yeah I get that a lot.”
“Well why haven’t we moved sir,” I questioned him with patience.
“It’s because of the spitfires and the airborne. The airborne have decided to go on their own little adventure in the opposite direction and the RAF planes that we require are tied up with the Japs.
He walked off so I returned to Ethan to write a letter to my mother. The last time, she wrote back. She was so happy for us but worried. She was fine though but I had to do another check. It wrote:
day by day, we get more anxious and determined. We are currently on standby waiting for the allies to arrive…’
Then I stopped and realised they would cross that out. I continued,
‘We are well occupied but we are bored. It’s really tough.’
We told her everything we could really before signing it off to the post officer.
On the 26th of March, we struggled through the toughest training course yet. We tackled the journey of running up a hill and back. It was a big hill though; something I would have called a mountain.
We were tested on reflexes later on followed by entering a building without being detected. We practiced on cover techniques by diving for the nearest object when the officer shot at items on the field. On other terms, we fired at training dummies for accuracy.
Training was important and it made up for the lack of ours. A surprise attack could have been launched and we needed to catch up after a month of no action. Dempsey said that we needed to be a wee bit sharper on the taking cover.
The atmosphere of the camp changed every day. One day we would be determined and eager and the next day we would be bored. The morale experienced a regular change as we went through continuous mood swings.
I celebrated my birthday on the 27th. It was the worst, but most memorable birthday I can remember. I was at my peak, reaching twenty two years old. It was also my first war time birthday away from home.
I missed my mother and my friends; especially Nancy. I had a crush on her at the time and for most of my life probably. But then I thought of my father. I blinked heavily but fast; I could feel the sweat dripping down my nose.
I could hear his voice in my head, “Marshall! Marshall! MARSHALL!!” Then I opened my eyes to see Ethan calling my name. He sung happy birthday with the lads and we had a laugh but I could still hear my father, shouting for help and begging for mercy.
I needed rest but I knew very well that I had to do my duty. We practiced on shooting at 11:00am. At twelve, we did a circuit course twice. We finally had a half hour lunch at twelve thirty before we worked on stamina, cardio and strength. At four o’clock, we were lectured on tactics by Dempsey.
We had the rest of the day to ourselves then. I decided to relax and chill. Again, we occupied ourselves with card games and jokes. I even decided to sit down and read a book about World War One. The 29th of March however, was the most memorable day in Bad Hersfeld that I can remember…
It was a sporting day. The Yanks were playing baseball and we were playing football. Their ball was thrust towards our playing field. Of course Mark had a say in this.
He picked up the ball and danced around mimicking Americans. Eventually a group of Americans soldiers marched over to us in casual fashion. “Give us our ball back Shakespeare!” one of them laughed.
“Give us ours then” Gaz laughed, interrupting the next response by kicking the ball off him.
I stared at one of them. He was huge, too big to be true. It made me worried because Mark and Gaz were taking their chances here. He looked at me and said aggressively, “What are you looking at?”
Mark stepped in and we all knew it would result in trouble…
“You’re on the same side!” Montgomery locked us all in his office. It was like being in school again. Rhys also stood in there, appalled by our actions. “Fighting your own men!” Monty roared in anger as Gaz and Mark protested. He eventually let us off and kept the Yanks back.
The next day was full of accusations about racism. Monty was British and so were we. Accusations were thrown at him because he punished the Americans with harder training even though we started it (When I say we, I mean Mark).
The 30th was Ethan’s birthday. My job was to make sure he coped well from being so far away from mother. Surprisingly, he took it well. “I’ve been away from mum for over three years, maybe even four” he smiled.
“You saw her last year” I added.
“Not properly though” he smiled again.
The last smile was different. It was not a sign of happiness, he was reminiscing. I know this because I can read my brother like a book. I was happy to see him growing up but it was sad to see him change.
In the evening, we sung happy birthday for a laugh. It was another excuse for the lads to get drunk I suppose. It was typical ‘grown men’ to see them acting childish due to alcohol. I was delighted though to see Ethan enjoying himself.
I was still amazed how well the different age groups settled in so well. The range of the age group was about thirty, more or less. Ethan often talked to Patrick, Gaz, Greg, Jordan and John. They all got on well. I thought it was fantastic whereas the Americans often settled in to similar age groups.
It was the last day of March and we were called to the ‘end of month review meeting’. It was basically summarising the month in thirty minutes. Montgomery was the host as usual.
“So far, we have received mix emotions, behaviour and health within the camp,” he begun, “we’ve seen fighting, illnesses and mood swings, which are understandable. The main key points that I bring to you tonight though, stay sane and stay in a team.” He expanded on those points before stating news on the allies.
“We have received news that the key RAF elements are close to completion in Birmingham and Coventry. The remaining Americans and Canadians have retreated from the North and are on their way. The other allied troops are close behind. Men… I stand before you today and wish you all… the very best of luck.”
That was the last we saw of Montgomery. He later on returned to England to engage in discussions with Winston Churchill and the other allied leaders. We had also found out of the Russians progress. They were predicted to reach Berlin first by far.
It was not an issue to who got there first, more of a competition. The Soviet Union were not allies but they weren’t an enemy either. They declared war on Germany independently.
The 1st of April was cold but bright. The weather was also important; if the Normandy landings were on a sunny day then I believe there would have been fewer deaths. The only worry on my mind was April fool’s day…
Some of the men ran into Rhys’s office and warned him of a devastating storm coming our way. He rushed outside to see dozens of men laughing, shouting “April fool’s!”
Rhys marched towards them, “This is the army, and this is life or death! It is NOT a laughing matter! Get back to work!”
“Yes sir” they said quietly and turned to retreat with a huge smirk on their faces.
I hesitantly strolled over to him. “Sir,” I did not know what to say to him, “is there something bothering you?” I was delicate about the situation. He looked at me before shouting, “You too Jackson! Get back to your training!” I walked back, looking back. I had caused a stumble in his life.
Then I heard a gunshot; everybody rushed to a particular training course. An American soldier stood there pointing his rifle at an English troop. He was young, I did not recognise him. I looked to his badge and discovered the lifeless body was only 18 years old. It was a life wasted, we needed to leave. Fast.
The good news was that Mark was not around to start a mass riot. The bad news however, was that there were still no allies by the 2nd of April. We were running out of food too. The allies needed to show up and get over their slow proceedings through Strasbourg. They were close.
We were also told of the allies extra supplies. They had plenty of guns, food, water and equipment. Just thinking about it made me want more food. We set off for bed that night, gripping onto the edge of our beds, anxious for the late arrival of the allies.
They did not show up on the night but we were awoken by the trucks storming in at 5:30. We were called to an early meeting as we munched on fresh food. We were informed that we were setting off for Belzig come Noon.
We began to pack everything food, guns, equipment, water, maps, knives and essentials to the trip. Five thousand allies were going to attack Belzig and its shallow Nazi population.
Then we would move for Berlin.