7) Victory in Europe 1945 despite my brother’s interference
War eventually came to an end in May 1945. It lasted longer for our troops in the Far East of course, but the euphoria of victory in Europe was such that we now thought we were invincible. The newspapers had sparingly been providing us with news for a year or two with much being said about the Second Front for far too long. The first front of course was the horrific war being waged by Germany against the Russians. The Russians implausibly were on our side only because they were fighting the Germans. They were our allies for the duration of the war but not much long after. It was a marriage of convenience and it was this hypocrisy that opened my eyes to the political machinations of men in power even at such an early age. The Second Front was avoided by the western allies (Britain, its colonies and dominions and the United States and the few other countries that had not been overrun by Hitler and wanted to be involved in the War). Britain certainly did not want a second front if it meant that hundreds of thousands of British soldiers were going to die on European soil as had happened in the First World War. The Americans didn’t want a second front unless they could see some distinct advantage for themselves when it was all over. So the war dragged on through 1941 to 1943 whilst the Russians were slowly wearing down the German fighting machine and using up all their men and material resources. The allies had plans of course but were reluctant to put them in place. Eventually the not too secret invasion was arranged. It was too hard to hide the massive build up of troops and equipment in Southern England in the spring of 1944, so they built huge dummy camps and vehicles and placed them in and around the Southern Counties to confuse the enemy reconnaissance. The real invasion force made their way down to the channel coast by various means for weeks on end over the roads and lanes of Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire. They were quite obvious, the convoys streamed continuously night and day through the towns and villages, tearing up the roads, keeping us awake at night and us boys inattentive during the day at school as we heard them pass the school’s front wall.
One evening my brother Bryan produced with pride a detailed map of Southern England which had fallen from a tank grinding through the town earlier that day. He had obviously whisked it quickly out of sight and left the poor tank commander to figure how to get down to Portsmouth Harbour ‘blind’. We didn’t hear of any missing tanks on the news but they wouldn’t have told us anyway. I like to imagine this lone tank lost in the West Country perhaps at Barnstaple not knowing where he was going all because Bryan wouldn’t give the map back. The invasion took place regardless and Field Marshall Montgomery had great difficulty advancing across Normandy with one tank short but eventually the battle was won and victory was assured.
In later years after the war, Montgomery settled in a delightful house at Isington Mill near Alton in Hampshire. He used to drive in his old Rolls Royce to Alton Post Office in the High Street, to collect his aged pension there. I only saw him once face to face and the glare he gave me made me feel sure that he knew where that map had ended up!