Page 141 - The Chapka 2016
P. 141

 Last Summer, my wife and I embarked on a grand tour (well, grand for us) of Europe almost by accident. We had tired of the annual pilgrimage to France visiting inebriated ghosts of an
earlier life from our home in Southern Spain and suddenly defi- nitely had a thousand excuses to go to Luxembourg to visit our first grandchild. But this became a serious serial collection of further stopping off points as if by some cosmic communication network of old and new friends who suggested us take advantage of the trip to drop in on them.
We eventually passed into South West France, Germany, Swit- zerland, Italy and South East France before crossing over into our adopted homeland, 7000 kms. and three weeks later. After Luxembourg, we set the Tom Tom on a nostalgic but important mission to North Germany for a very elderly distant relative. Osnabruck was not possible for the time we had available but Bredebeck was definitely in the close vicinity of our landfall. Oh I wish we had had Google Maps and GPS in the 60’s! We quickly found everywhere and soon headed into the forest near Hohne. Barricades and concrete blocks warned us away but we eventually arrived at the gates of the Schloss. We had been told to expect it to be a rundown shadow of its former self, probably being used as a reception centre for immigrants from the Middle East. As we peeped through the heavily locked gates, thwarted as it seemed at the last fence from our mission to walk the house and grounds, we could see it at the end of the tree lined drive in its still immaculate condition. Had I been thinking correctly, I would have realised that the British Army prides itself on always handing back property and equipment in first class condition. As I stared up the drive, frustration and disappointment turned into resolve. We had to find a way in but the security fence seem to stretch away from both sides of the gates into the distance. We were in a best of British four wheel drive and we set off up the forest ride. Somewhere further on a glance off to the right showed us the Schloss across the deer park. Dismounted, hid- ing our vehicle from prying Bundeswehr patrols, we felt our way through the undergrowth and imagine our joy when nothing seemed to bar the way across the park to the house. We set off at a brisk pace and soon we were there. The fountain now still, the ornamental pond full of leaves. The tennis court now aban- doned, the fence punctured and sagging, the surface sprouting uninvited foliage. No more laughter and gaiety. But the house looked magnificent still and I walked to the windows and looked in and saw the polished floors, chandeliers and curtains; the whirling dancers, the sparkling mess kits, the laughing maidens in their ballgowns, waiters with laiden trays and carefree youth probably dancing their last before the Soviet savage hordes over- ran this frontline of peace and democracy, unannounced and un- wanted. I wandered off to the side of the house to the lake where we had nearly capsized the dingy with too many souls on board with too many bottles. Strange thing going back in time – it is rarely a good thing. It is best just to remember, not to revisit.
It was the Summer of 1967 and my first Summer with the Regi- ment and a Bank Holiday weekend. We were carrying out our annual live firing at Hohne and we had the weekend off. It was very warm and the ranges and training areas exceedingly dusty. The officers had been allowed to bring our own cars and mine was a rather beaten up tired VW Beetle, expertly (and gratefully) selected on my arrival in Germany by my squadron leader, Da- vid Maitland-Titterton. I had driven up from Osnabruck with a couple of fellow subalterns. We left camp heading for Breder- beck. As we swept (or rather chugged) around the corner, one could not fail to be impressed by the wrought iron gates, guarded by stone wild boar and the delightful tree lined drive leading to the house in the distance. I cannot exactly recall my companions
now but I believe them to have been Nigel Wright and possibly Edward Thring. The Schloss was at that time occupied by the 4th RTR and I was there at the invitation of Charlie Messenger whose sister I knew in London. The drive gave way to impres- sive fountains in front of the house and column mounted stags gazing into the distance across the wrought iron fenced deer park. There were distant score calls from the tennis court off to the right and muffled laughter. We were quickly moved on for pre lunch drinks where I was introduced to Richard “Titch” Sul- livan (who later joined the Regiment). Thus began a very civi- lised weekend which also involved my meeting Simon “Ringo” Orton of the 11th Hussars for the first time (they were also in Hohne garrison at the time). He and Richard both became life long friends.
Before our arrival, we had had a slightly traumatic drive as we drew closer to Bergen. We passed a horrendous accident, bodies and wrecked vehicles littered the road, rubber necking families piled out of their cars to view the carnage – I could not wait to get past. Two kilometers up the road we came across the en- trance to Belsen. What I clearly remember was the open heath- land on both sides, with hardly any forestation. The camp was flat with few trees which made the memorial mounds even larger and the area so bleak. I can only imagine the intense fighting had resulted in the destruction of so much forestry, still only 20 years after liberation. Today after some 50 years, the area is rich- ly pine forested and the camp has been tastefully complimented with tree lined vistas to give one an idea of the individual areas within, as they had once been.
What is to become of the Schloss? I just hope something good, worthy of its history (it was not a Nazi hunting lodge), style, space, proportion and position. Despite the fact the main gates of Hohne garrison looked drab, unloved, scruffy, rusting razor wire and with bored looking Bundeswehr sentries, the Schloss looked magnificent, just longing for a tenant to enjoy and re- spect its assets. As we drove away down a different drive, there stood a magnificent stag a hundred meters ahead. We stopped and he seemed to ask us who is coming to live here? We couldn’t tell him but we slowly moved off, allowing him to depart into his forest without harm. Whoever comes, I suppose, he will always be there.
The 9th/12th Royal Lancers was the last British regiment to have the Schloss as its mess before the start of withdrawal of
BAOR from Germany.

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