R+R in Holland – bully beef sandwiches and chocolate

Churchill tanks of 34th Tank Brigade cross a temporary bridge in Roosendaal, 30 October 1944.
Churchill tanks of 34th Tank Brigade cross a temporary bridge in Roosendaal, 30 October 1944.

Dutch civilians cluster on a Churchill tank of 34th Tank Brigade, the first tank to enter Roosendaal, 30 October 1944.
Dutch civilians cluster on a Churchill tank of 34th Tank Brigade, the first tank to enter Roosendaal, 30 October 1944.

Tank Commander Trevor Greenwood and the 9th Royal Tank Regiment had been almost continuously on the move since they had landed in Normandy in June. They had fought their last battle at the end of October, which finished with Greenwood removing the body of a friend from a tank that had been hit alongside his. The body had been cut in two by an armour piercing shell.

They had then prepared to assault the Dutch town of Roosendaal which was reported to be heavily defended. At the last moment the Germans had chosen to withdraw. The 9th RTR were very relieved to discover that not only did not have to fight for the town but they were given a period of ‘rest and recuperation’, living in private houses in the town.

Greenwood and his men found themselves living in a bar-cafe. They were having “an incredibly easy time”, only having to see to daily tank maintenance and attend a number of lectures of such topics as VD and the procedure for de-mobilisation after the war. No-one was getting their hopes up, they knew thay would be back in battle soon:

D +165 Saturday 18.11.44

Fine morning, but cold and windy. Courses until 12 noon. Indoors all afternoon — too comfortable in these billets to bother about going out.

We are being well looked after — waited on hand and foot. Fires, tidying up, etc. all done by civvies. Unfortunately, none of the people in the house speak English, but we manage to converse somehow. It is really amazing how much ‘conversation’ is carried on by means of a few words, signs and pantomime.

Attended 15 Troop’s party this evening. The troop is billeted in a separate café with quite a good dance floor. Each member’ of the troop invited a lady friend, making about 30 of us in all. The major and SSM were also invited. Unfortunately, we only had a portable gramophone for a ‘dance band’ — it was more or less useless, but the dancers managed somehow.

Refreshments were surprisingly good — the lads having been scrounging and buying for a couple of days beforehand. There was plenty of beer — from stocks in the café. We also had whisky and gin and cordial from the sergeants’ mess ration. Also bully beef sandwiches — and several dozen fancy cakes bought in Antwerp yesterday. Chocolate too was fairly plentiful, thanks to the issue of 3.5 bars per man during the day.

There was some dancing, and a few games, in which kissing seemed to be the principal feature. These Dutch lassies certainly enjoy kissing! The party finished about midnight, I believe.

Saw signs of a huge heavy bomber raid on Germany today. There were hundreds of bombers overhead during the afternoon: objective Munster. We are now completely out of touch with the war here. Our first few days in Roosendaal were disturbed by heavy gunfire, but there is now complete silence — apart from the occasional roar of a bursting flying bomb in the distance.

Judging by news reports, the Belgian government is having trouble with the ‘patriot army’ — the latter refusing to hand in their arms, maintaining that there is still work for them to do.

From my observations of the men who constitute these Maquis forces in Belgium and France — also Holland — I am not surprised at this development. What is the nature of the work still ahead of them? To fight the enemy within? They certainly form a potential threat to any form of reactionary government — or a return to the old order of dominance by the wealthy.

The Belgian govt. have offered to incorporate the ‘patriots’ in the regular army. This seems very much like an attempt to hoodwink them. Once in the army, they would cease to be free men able to assert themselves. The ultimatum to hand over all arms expires at midnight tonight. Meanwhile mass meetings seem to be the order of the day in Belgium.

I am living in an aroma of cheap scent at the moment. This morning, our host here — a very obliging Dutchman of 37 years — showed me a small bottle of scent — ‘tis goot’ he added. And then he poured some of the stuff on my hair and clothes — thinking no doubt he was doing me a favour. I had the smell with me all the evening at the party — a sickly, heavy smell: faded violets, or something.

See Trevor Greenwood: D-Day to Victory: The Diaries of a British Tank Commander

A scene of complete devastation in the railway yards at Munster, as discovered by British ground forces on 7 April 1945. The administrative centre of Westphalia, and a major rail junction, Munster had suffered heavy Bomber Command and USAAF attacks when it became a tactically important reinforcement route into the Rhine battle area.
A scene of complete devastation in the railway yards at Munster, as discovered by British ground forces on 7 April 1945. The administrative centre of Westphalia, and a major rail junction, Munster had suffered heavy Bomber Command and USAAF attacks when it became a tactically important reinforcement route into the Rhine battle area.

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