Behind the wire Soldatenleben in Westfalen

Behind the wire Soldatenleben in Westfalen
Wendy Faux

                                     Behind the wire

                                Soldatenleben in Westfalen

“Ich habe ein kleine Panzer, kann ich hier parken             I first came to Germany in 1967-1969, aged just 18
bitte?” – This was not the schoolgirl German I had         months, when my father was posted to Duisburg.
learned but in 1992 I was on exercise as a Troop Com-      There were few British Quarters1 (military houses)
mander with 39 Regiment Royal Artillery and I had a        and my parents lived in a flat above a row of shops
Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) that I needed         close to Duisburg Zoo. The recollection of this is based
to ‘hide from the enemy’. A farmer’s barn was the per-     on the cine film my father took of our time there.
fect place and I believe he said ‘Ja!’ out of curiosity.      This was how I can see that history repeats itself.
    As a child or ‘daughter of’ a soldier, which was the   Just as my parents took me to events such as Karne-
title the Army gave us, in Germany in 1980 my school       val and took on some German traditions such as St
German was sufficient. I could get to the shops, the       Niklaus so I, too, have done the same with my chil-
swimming pool, ask for directions and most impor-          dren. They have lived all of their lives in Germany,
tantly order an ice cream or bratty and chips (Brat-       except for 6 months in the UK, so the thought of not
wurst mit Pommes). But there is one key phrase that        opening some presents on Christmas Eve or not
has seen me through and prefixes all conversations:        having a shoe out for St Niklaus – a tradition they
‘Es tut mir leid, ich spreche nur ein bisschen             have now introduced to their Boarding School in
Deutsch. Sprechen sie Englisch?’                           England – or not going to Libori as many days as
    25 years of living in Germany and my conversa-         they can or being able to spend the whole day at the
tion starter has not changed. My German language           outdoor swimming pools is something that will be
skills may have improved slightly and encom-               difficult to negotiate.
passed other situations such as having a baby, being          In the early 1980’s we were back in Germany as a
treated in an hospital and dealing with the media          family and it was the Cold War. We lived in Minden
on Royal visits, medals parades… and even more             and I was convinced that the whole of the Russian
military exercises… but I always apologise first – I’m     Shock Army was going to force its way through the
British!                                                   Minden Gap. I was aware that the British soldiers on

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Wendy aged 3 outside house in Duisburg. Wendy Faux, 1969.

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Soldatenleben in Westfalen              123

the other side in places such as Bergen-Hohne,            timed to ensure that we didn’t make any deviations
Wolfenbüttel, were there only as a ‘speed bump’ to        off the road.
meet the Russians closer to the Eastern front so that        Alongside the larger political implications of liv-
the rest of the British Army could deploy and evacu-      ing in a divided country with a Cold War taking
ate families by train.                                    place, we also had to adjust to living ‘behind the
   I spent most of the years at boarding school in        wire’. Although we were lucky enough to live outside
England but holidays were spent exploring Ger-            the barracks, ‘the wire’ extended metaphorically to
many. A ski trip to the Harz Mountains was my first       us in our German hirings. We had the same rules ap-
encounter with the East-West border as a reality. We      plied to us for living in the houses.
were told to be careful as we took to some of the            When you arrived at your new home you were
runs as otherwise we could end up right under the         ‘marched in’. There was an inventory of everything
fence and border towers.                                  in the house and everything was provided for: cut-
   On a trip to Berlin, camping in RAF Gatow, we          lery, bedding, furniture, lamps, washing up bowl,
again experienced the impact of the East-West di-         curtains. All you needed to walk in and start living.
vide – the Berlin Wall; even journey itself wasn’t that   Today it is the opposite; there is a ‘march in’ pack
straight forward. As we were a military family we         available to assist for a couple of weeks if your re-
had to give months of warning, send off our pass-         moval lorry is delayed but essentially you have to
ports and let the Russians know our travel move-          move with everything.
ments. When we got to Helmstedt on the autobahn              As a child I remember preparing for the ‘march
we handed over our passports and the journey was          out’ as we were leaving. Toothbrushes would be

Moving-boxes & Chores: Even though the house is being packed up the household chores still need to be done.
Wendy Faux, 2006.

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Christmas photo moments before going away on another 6-month tour of Iraq. Wendy Faux, 2009.

saved for months and old t-shirts to be used as             If I went to the NAAFI (the English shop) or
cleaning rags. Our job as children was to use the        the Post Office I had to know my father’s military
tooth brushes to clean the skirting boards and any-      ID number, without that not much could be done.
thing that was at our height. I could only have one      I was a ‘daughter of’ and this was on my identity
packing box to fit in all my toys, books and dolls – I   card, medical records, library card and any other
used to be heartbroken on each move.                     official document. Little has changed other than
   Then a Warrant Officer who was in charge of           I then became ‘wife of’ and currently am a ‘depend-
looking after the houses would come in and inspect       ent’.
the house. Any damages would have to be paid for,           Among the documents we need to carry with us
any hooks left in the wall would have to be paid for,    is a ration card. A throw back to the end of the war
the grass would need to be cut and paths weeded or       when items had to be rationed in order to stop a
we would be fined, anything that was dirty would         prosperous black market in cigarettes, gin, whiskey
have to be cleaned again until it passed the inspec-     and coffee from booming. While all items can now
tion – this still happens today.                         be bought in a German shop in the 1980’s I remem-

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Officers of 57 Battery, 39 Regiment Royal Artillery stand for a formal photo in the grounds of Schloss Neuhaus.
Wendy Faux is back row, second from left. Wendy Faux, 1994.

From a young age military children know that they need to keep things to a minimum. Wendy Faux, 2008.

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ber that Nescafe coffee was still an item that had       guage barrier as it was about moral support in a
bargaining potential!                                    situation that was beyond local control.
   For us movement behind ‘the wire’ is everyday             Working with the military I have seen how much
and it has only come to my realisation over the last     the Germans enjoy a Royal visit – as do we all! Mem-
few years that there is a whole community on the         bers of the Royal Family were over for medals pa-
doorstep of many towns and cities across Nord-           rades with increasing regularity and they too were
Rhein Westfalia that is still an unknown to local        keen to show their thanks for the support given to
Germans.                                                 British families by often meeting local dignitaries or
   It is a life like any other community: police, doc-   others who had shown such vital support during an
tors, dentists, shops, cinema, community centres,        operational deployment.
churches, schools, education centres (similar to a           As a soldier I have seen many changes. From the
Volkshochschule). A life that is busy and, in its hey-   days where we could drive anywhere; where we
day, meant that you didn’t have to go to a German        could look at a map and designate it a training area;
shop if you didn’t want to. I know of some husbands      filling in forms for compensation for farmers after
who banned their wives from shopping in local            we had dried across their land; the huge training
shops and other wives who were simply too scared,        area at Soltau and the firing camps that still take
largely because of the language barrier.                 place on the Bergen-Hohne Ranges.
   I studied German language at school but each              Experienced soldiers would know the Soltau
time I came home for a holiday I barely used it as I     training area like the back of their hand and as on
lacked the confidence. My sister could never pro-        officer I would be in so much trouble if, when plan-
nounce ‘zwei’ and so we always had three of              ning the exercise, I did not pass on our grid reference
everything or she opted for the longer method of         of where we would be stopping to Wolfgang. Wolf-
asking for one of something and then ‘noch einmal’.      gang had a blue ‘brattie’ wagon that he would bring
   I always considered myself to be reasonably ‘OK’      out onto the exercise area and anyone who exercised
with the general activities such as getting around a     up there in the 1980s-1990s would know Wolfgang.
town or at the shops – as any good school curricu-       Not only would he have a welcome meal of ‘brattie
lum would teach, but when I went into the Gilead         and chips’ he would also bring with him some ‘yel-
hospital to have my second child and was asked if I      low handbags’ – a six-pack of Herforder beer.
spoke German. At that particular point I neither             The noise of the tracked vehicles trundling
wanted to speak a different language nor focus on        through small villages, the smell of diesel, the fear of
trying to form a sentence. I simply stated that at       a vehicle ‘dumping’ it’s oil on a road, the huge con-
school we were not taught the vocabulary to have a       voys on the autobahns taking soldiers and vehicles
baby!                                                    from one training area to another have all gone. It is
   Political tensions again rose at the start of the     rare to see the mass of vehicles that used to drive
Iraq War in 2003. The British were preparing to send     around Germany. There are still the odd ones as
1st Armoured Division, a Germany based formation,        driver training still takes place but now it is more
and the overwhelming impression was that the Ger-        economical to use the digital age to simulate firing a
mans didn’t want to support military intervention.       tank or flying a helicopter.
   The next 10 years saw British troops deploying            I was recently asked if I hung my washing out on
from across Germany to both Iraq and Afghanistan         a Sunday or mowed the lawn during the hours of
but rather than the hostility of the demonstrations      2-4pm. No! … and I try to clear my pavements of
outside the barracks in 2003 the families and sol-       snow before 7am. I think that the British probably
diers experienced a warmth and show of support           know more about the German by-laws than some of
that illustrated how the two communities joined to-      our neighbours!
gether. It was extremely encouraging to see how en-          Over the last 16 years I have brought up four chil-
gaged people could be and that there was no lan-         dren in Germany. They, like me, have enjoyed all

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that Germany has to offer. We have travelled, we                         Anmerkungen
have made friends, we have become a bigger fam-
ily – two of my children were born here, we have
                                                          The term ‘Quarters’ comes from earlier military cam-
                                                          paigns when women and families followed the Bat-
watched my husband go to war and miss 5 Christ-           talions and were allocated a quarter of the space in
mases with his family and numerous birthdays or           the Barracks rooms (sleeping accommodation)
other special events. In all this we have been sup-
ported by our neighbours – British and German.
   We shall miss the country that has become our

                                                                                                      Wendy Faux - 9783657786985
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Ein Manöver der britischen Streitkräfte, Stadtarchiv Lübbecke, Westfälische Zeitung, 12.01.1961.

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