By Bob Maxwell
It will be a sad day as we remember the dark days of the war and the comrades who did not return.
Yet it will be a proud day too as we remember what we did achieve. Our small country plus our Commonwealth brothers and sisters took on the forces of Germany and resisted them until our American allies joined us.
Memories will flood back.
I’ll remember when the war finished in Europe, the ship I was serving on, H.M.S. Devonshire, was ordered to Copenhagen to take the surrender of the only two sea going cruisers that the German Navy still had afloat, the Prinz Eugen and the Nuremberg.
Our task was to supervise the de ammunitioning of the German ships and escort them to Wilhelmshaven. I had to go onboard the Eugen as the signalman of the boarding party. My instructions were in the event of the Germans giving trouble to signal the Devonshire, who was lying off a couple of miles away with her eight inch guns trained on the Eugen, to open fire.
This was a wee bit disconcerting when I realised I would be getting shelled by our own guns.
We were not supposed to fraternise with the Germans. I found myself on the flag deck of the Eugen with the German signalmen.
I was eighteen in those days, a good deal thinner than I am now and my hair was very fair.
One of the German sailors took my eye. He looked familiar. After observing him I suddenly realised that it was like looking in a mirror. He was young, slim and fair haired. The only difference between us seemed to be that he had Kriegsmarine
on his cap tally and I had HMS on mine.
It was when I opened my flask of coffee that we started talking. The smell of the real coffee from my flask was the catalyst. I learned then that they had been drinking ersatz coffee made from acorns for years. I made sure my officer wasn’t looking and I shared mine with them.
Separated as we were by uniform and language I still managed to exchange words with my counterpart and learnt that he was from Saxony and had spent time on a farm. I told him that I was from Scotland and bad been born and raised on the farm. I was called to the bridge then to transmit a signal and that was our brief conversation finished.
I’ve thought about the German boy over the years. Why were we enemies? Why had we fought against each other? In another world we could have been raised together, we could have gone to school together, we could have played together; we could have been pals.
I was convinced that our fight was just, that we were defending our country against evil and that if Britain had not resisted we would have been over run like virtually every other country in Europe. I have no doubt he was as equally convinced that he was in the right and was justified in taking up arms against us.
I lost comrades during the war and he no doubt experienced the same. WHY, WHY, WHY?. I’ve never found an answer no matter how often I’ve asked myself the question over the years.
So I will remember on the 11 November with sadness but still without understanding. I will hope and pray that our young men will never have to face the horror and obscenity of war ever again.
But I will remember my German counterpart and, if he still lives, I hope he feels the same as I do.
“At the going down of the sun we will remember them”