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Leader Magazine
SUMMER 1963.
AN EXPEDITION TO GERMANY.
by Lt. R.G. Dawson, R.A.E.C.
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The party relaxes at a camp site near the Rhine.
On the Tuesday after Easter, under the usual overcast Tonfanau skies, the Regimental Minibus drove out of the Camp gates. A group from A.A.J.L.R. (Lt Dawson, Mr. Rowlands the driver, and J/Ldrs Jonas, Ellis, Thomas, Dee, Mackney, Oakes, Payne, Toman and Whitehead) were off for a ten day camping holiday in Germany. Picking up the passengers in Shrewsbury and London, the Minibus arrived at Dover in good time to catch the overnight boat to Ostend.
The Channel was crossed without great excitement, although eight shillings for breakfast was generally considered as robbery. The Minibus had never been abroad before, like most of its passengers, but when we disembarked, it soon adjusted itself to driving on the right-hand side of the road, and be trial and error got to know the Continental traffic signs for "Halt" and "No Entry". It sped over Belgian roads towards Germany in the peaceful early morning, the silence only broken by anguished cries from the back as we hit pot-holes and uneven cobbled roads.
THE FIRST CAMP
When we arrival at Cologne about noon, we were distressed to see our planned camp-site closed because of water failure. In the restaurant opposite we quenched our thirst and sampled our first German sausage - a foot long, boiled not fried, and quite unlike an English one. Then we moved four miles up the Rhine to another site at Roden-Kirchen. This move we never regretted, for the site was first class with hot showers, gas cookers, civilised ablutions, a shop and, right opposite, an inn.
In the evening, having pitched camp we went by tram into Cologne, to change our money and have a substantial meal at the station. It did not take long to get used to the German monetary system, where a hundred pfennigs make a mark, which is worth about one and tenpence. Strolling around the town, which was laid almost flat in the last war, we were impressed with the modern buildings, the attractive shop windows, and in particular the neon signs in the Hohe Strasse.
Our first night under canvas was rudely punctuated by tugs which would sound their hooters every time they passed our camp-site, and some even dropped anchor opposite us, to rouse us early in the morning with the clanking of chains.
Arising at the crack of noon we crossed the road to sample the wares of the "Stranschlosschen", the inn opposite the site, and to strike up a friendship with Walter, the waiter. In the evening, some of us went to the pictures where little was understood. Others visited "Marienhof", where we were relieved to find an English-speaking waitress and met Heinz, an ex-S.S. man. Heinz told Lt Dawson that he hated all Englishmen. After a while, he said he liked us, but only hated English soldiers. Having been informed that we were, in fact English soldiers, he then stated that, nevertheless, he liked us. A triumph for Tonfanau in the field of Anglo German relations. There followed much singing and conviviality, and we still look back on Marienhof with warm feelings, although the only real mishap of the trip was discovered next day, when Payee discovered that he had lost wallet, money and passport, which loss was reported to the police.
ACROSS THE RHINE
After three days in Rodenkirchen we departed and drove along the left bank of the Rhine, through Bonn, the capital of West Germany, and Coblence, along the Lahn valley, through the famous spa of Bad Ems, and camped at Obernhof on the banks of the Lahn. This site compared favourably with Rodenkirchen, but there was no town within easy walking distance, and it was much quieter, except for the frequent tolling of the bells of the monastery high up on a wooded hill overlooking the site.
We struck camp at midday on Monday, 22nd April, drove back to Coblence, and along the right bank of the Rhine to Bad Godesberg. The camping-site here was much below the standard of the previous two sites, although the owner, a charming elderly woman offered us the use of her kitchen and was prevailed upon by Toman to lend us her iron to press our by now very crumpled trousers. The site was directly opposite the impressive Drachenfels rock, the most famous of the Liebengebirge (Seven Mountains) range, and centre of the Summer tourist traffic. We, however, met only two English tourists, an elderly couple from Yorkshire.
THE GREAT PASSPORT HUNT
We moved on again the next morning, and off again went Payne - to the British Embassy in Bon to report his lost passport. The next day he went to see OC Cologne Troops, but still had no passport. Secretly we were hoping that we would have to stay a few extra days in Germany while the problem was resolved.
On Thursday, when other Junior Leaders were wending their eager way back to Tonfanau, we bought presents in Cologne, and visited the formidable Cathedral, which miraculously escaped the bombs of war. In the evening we went to Walter's restaurant for a half chicken and chips, and a noisy get-together prior to our departure to England the following day. We set off from Cologne at 10.30 for the British Consulate in Dusseldorf, where unfortunately Payne obtained an Emergency Pass without difficulty. We took a different route back to Ostend, passing through Holland, whose straight, even roads came as a pleasant change from the road surfaces we met elsewhere on the Continent.
Arriving at Ostend with plenty of time to spare before the departure of the Channel ferry, we consumed vast quantities of hot dogs, cake, Pepsi-Cola, coffee, biscuits and soup at outrageous prices. An uneventful sea voyage brought us to Dover, where Dee was the only unfortunate soul to have to pay Customs duty (on an electric shaver). Onward then to London, and, after a pause of six hours for Mr. Rowlands to snatch a well-earned rest, back to Tonfanau.
As we look back on the holiday we remember the many types of uniforms we met - soldiers, police, newsvendors, railwaymen, postal workers. There was a general dislike of German sausages and tinned food, but we had very good food in restaurants. Everywhere we went, we found the Germans friendly and helpful, especially those who spoke English, which helped to make this holiday so very enjoyable.
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