Back briefly to my early time at HQ Second Division
My national serviceman friend Derek and I joined an Anglo-German group, comprising on the German side current or recent students from a local school’s final year, hoping to improve their English.
When it came to choosing what they called the group’s president, the Germans elected me, with Derek as my deputy. I assumed they were impressed by a presentation I made about English journalism. In fact, I spent so much time away on my public relations duties that Derek was the de-facto president.
He and I went with a few other young soldiers to a dance hall a walk away from the camp. We soon realised that the German young men went immediately to ask the women to dance when the music began, leaving us loitering and bereft as we made up our minds – as I remembered young Geordie lads doing at the Newcastle’s Oxford Ballroom. It was a lesson quickly learned.
Derek and I also saw Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator at a local cinema. We laughed. The scattering of Germans there didn’t. This was about 16 years after the end of the Second World War.
Once, among British soldiers and German civilians in a countryside Kneipe near camp, a British sergeant I hardly knew began praising my imagined abilities and activities to a young German woman, recommending she make a date with me. (I had no idea why he did so, presuming it was just to amuse himself.) It resulted in me walking her home and arranging a date in a Lubbecke street. When we met, I suggested going to a particular Kneipe. She said, oh no, friends would be there, and she couldn’t be seen with a British soldier. I said, “If you’re ashamed to be seen with me you can go there on your own or go back home.” And left.
A key early event at the Rheindahlen Public Relation headquarters was being introduced to a 32-year-old regular sergeant and photographer (I’ll call him Alan Driscoll), who had most of the responsibility for arranging the trips to where British soldiers were involved in activities of likely interest to UK newspapers and TV.
Our photographer at my base had advised me to be aware that whether Driscoll liked me would determine whether he would take me on interesting trips in preference to sergeant-writers from other BOAR (British Army of the Rhine) bases.
I wasn’t at first sure I liked him because he spent that first meeting recalling with smiling, eye-crinkling relish how he and Axel had enjoyed memorable times with women on their trips together. So, his (and Axel’s) promiscuity, while married with children, was immediately apparent.
As he drove me somewhere I instinctively made a point of commenting on the good looks of women we passed, assuming it might help instil in him a liking for me as a future travelling companion. Sure enough, it evoked his crinkly-eyed smile and, much later, during one of a couple of times he took me to his family quarters, he told his wife that he had quickly liked me at our first meeting.
Sex will thread its way throughout this narrative – but it does in life generally.