The stories behind the story
A poignant, heart-warming, Christmas tale of goodwill to all men as Bill Cheall recounts the last of his days in the Army in peacetime Germany.
Bill Cheall's published memoirs, which depict his Dunkirk exploits and much more. Between £10-£20.
Bill Cheall, far right, Corporal in charge of the East Lancs Regimental Police. Below the original prior to restoration and improvement. Note how the top of Bill's head has been photoshopped back into place with a bit of trickery!
Podcast Show notes
This first short story’s drawn from Dad’s book and it’s a Christmas at War story. It relates to the end of Dad’s war. He’s left his beloved Green Howards battalion behind, having being wounded during the fighting in Normandy following D-Day. He’s recovered from his wounds at Dundee in Scotland and chooses to rejoin his pals, ending up in Germany as the war comes to an end.
And if Dad experienced the Dunkirk spirit in 1940, he was to find some real Christmas spirit in 1945. WW2.
The following passage is every bit as poignant as the story you’ll have heard of the WW1 Christmas armistice when the opposing soldiers played football.
The original photograph was in black and white and I’ve recently had it colourised by specialist Marina Amaral, just for this show!
It’s December 1945. The war in Europe is over and the Allies have occupied Germany. Dad is stationed there in the Regimental Police, policing post-war Duisberg ......
He’s now in the East Lancs infantry regiment. When he left England, he thought he was going to rejoin his beloved Green Howards but didn’t know they’d been withdrawn from battle, so Dad finds himself amongst new friends yet again!
He’s now a policeman in the regimental police, keeping the peace in war torn, defeated WWII Germany. Whilst he was there he was stationed at various places and covered Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Essen and Duisburg amongst other places.
“We did patrols on our motorbikes and to be frank it was becoming
enjoyable. The days had gone when there was any possibility of resentment towards our presence. The population had suffered the first shock of defeat and were now accepting what they could not possibly have foreseen in the heyday of their country.
WWII podcast contd
The companies of the battalion were spread out over a large area and it was my
duty to cover that area, which involved having to cross an excellent pontoon bridge across the River Elbe at Duisburg. It was a marvellous feat of engineering. The engineers were very clever doing the work they did on the Bailey bridges. Duisburg, too, had been a prime target of the air force”.
In the photo, Dad’s standing alone, proud, smart, gazing into the distance. He’s got a Lance Corporal’s stripe on, though he’s about to be promoted to full corporal in charge of the Regimental Police.
He looks in a contemplative mood as he poses for what could be one of his last photos in uniform. He’s reflecting upon his war, the tragedy and violence he’s witnessed, on the horrors he’s seen and hopefully some of the better times.
He’s wearing the badges of the East Lancashire Battalion and 53rd Welsh Infantry Division,
On his right wrist is the brown leather duty brassard which is a sort of strap that signifies he’s on duty to anyone who needs to know. On his head is a huge, almost oversized, beret, or more correctly the General Service Cap.
He’s got the white webbing worn by the policemen and a belt that is now sitting on my desk today as I record this show! I’ve tried it on for size and I’ll tell you this, even though I’m pretty fit for my age, there is no way I can fasten it round my waist – so Dad must have been incredibly fit and trim – mind you he was less than half my present age so we shouldn’t be too surprised.
He’s got white ankle covers on – called puttees. Black army boots. How smart he looks!
Even though he’s in uniform he’s not carrying a gun, certainly not on this day as he’s there to supervise a children’s Christmas party, and this is where it gets better and better …
Over to Dad …
"At the beginning of December 1945, our company commander thought it would be good to give a Christmas party to about one hundred German children of about nine years of age. When the day arrived, they were assembled in the school hall and the police were present to give a hand. The looks on the children’s faces were a just reward for the effort put into the party. They had never seen such a spread in their young lives. Food had been short in Germany for years and it was good to see them all so happy.
WW2 podcast contd
At the end, a teacher told them all to stand and thank our officers, then the teacher standing at the front raised her arms for attention, gave some instructions and the children all started to sing their national carol, Silent Night. We were all very touched - it sounded so beautiful. I was so impressed that every year I think of those German school children in that schoolroom near Duisberg.
The memory is so vivid that in December 1986, forty-one years after the occasion, I wrote to the information bureau at Duisberg, telling them of my experience and asked if there was a record available of German children singing Silent Night. and if they would send it to me, letting me know how much money I should send back. They replied, sending the record I had requested, with English and German words on an enclosure. It was a very kind letter, which I have kept. They thanked me for sharing my memories with them and the record was a gift from the German people. I can’t express in words my feelings, sufficient to say that every Christmas I play the record, recalling that lovely day in 1945."
End WWII podcast
Learn how the Dunkirk spirit of 1940 became the Christmas spirit of ‘45. Hear the story behind the photographs, as Bill Cheall keeps the peace as a regimental policeman in war-torn and defeated Germany. Scroll down to read the story or play to listen
Got Spotify? Hear the whole of Silent Night. Otherwise hear part of it.
Bill Cheall, left. All dressed for another day's motor cycling around Germany
Dad's army belt as seen in the photos