At a time when we are celebrating VE Day 70 years on, we are indebted to our forefathers who fought in WW2 to ensure we have the freedom and way of life we enjoy today.
Eric Allsop, a member of Stumperlowe Probus Club gave us a stimulating and emotional talk on D-Day through to the Baltic. He was there. It was his journey. He experienced the horrors of war, the highs, the lows and the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers. Previously, Eric has spoken about the D-Day landings. Now he was taking us on his journey from the Normandy beaches through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and on to the Baltic. On the Normandy beaches he was assigned to a group of 12 sappers with their vehicles as part of the task force to sanitise the beaches and landing areas. Marshalling areas were set up so that men, vehicles and supplies could come ashore. Thousands of mines were cleared over 6 weeks and eventually in excess of 2000 vehicles/day were coming ashore ready to push into Europe.
Eric’s unit was attached to forward moving troops and his detachment were tasked with ensuring the infrastructure of roads and bridges were in place for the advancing troops. Bridges and pontoons were built across the Seine and the Rhine. He described beautiful villages where locals welcomed the sappers, birds singing and the still, quiet countryside. He described scenes of utter desolation , the horror of being shelled continuously for long periods and being buzzed by German jets.
There were moments of humour when pontoons had minds of their own, trams were used as mine detectors much to the anger of the local mayor and when a deserter gave Eric and the armed escort the slip. Yes, the old routine of visiting the toilet!!.
Eric and his comrades helped liberate the Belsen concentration camps. The smells, sights and horrors have lived with him to this day. He saw piles of dead bodies 8 feet high, 20 feet wide and 100 feet long. He witnessed the digging of mass graves and the bulldozing of those bodies into those graves. The stench was unbearable and you have to remind yourself he was only 21. No counselling or social workers on hand in those days!! He was around Belsen for 3 weeks and during that time 26,000 bodies were buried. Local Germans knew what was happening but many were in denial. The stench said it all.
Eric’s unit moved onto the Baltic as there was a possibility that Russia had designs on Denmark. The war in Europe was over but Eric and his unit were given tropical kit for a Far East posting. A kindly officer mentioned that if he applied for a commission he would be spared. —- He was spared and finished his war in Essex and was demobbed with the princely sum of £55, roughly £1/month served.
An absorbing talk given to an audience who were spellbound by the contents. We owe so much to the likes of Eric and his generation.