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LANGELEBEN - IN THE BEGINNING

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1951
On the far side of the world the Korean War was still raging, while in the United Kingdom the Festival of Britain was about to open its gates to thousands of visitors. On the mainland of Europe NATO Forces faced the Soviet Union's massive army across the inter-zonal border in a desolate and divided Germany. As part of the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), Number 1 Wireless Regiment, based at Münster Westphalia, kept an electronic watch on the group of Soviet Occupation Forces Germany, which was poised to cross the border from its garrisons in the Soviet Zone of Occupation. Opposing BAOR on the North German Plain was the crack 3 Shock Army, with its Headquarters in Magdeburg, while to the north of Magdeburg was located one of the largest training areas in Eastern Germany, the Letzlinger Heide, which before 1945 had linked up with the Lüneburg Heide to form Germany's largest troop training area. As its nearest point lay within fifteen miles of the border, the fear was of a surprise attack which could be launched against the West following on from large-scale Soviet manoeuvres in the Heide.

1 Wireless Regiment's nearest asset was 101 Wireless Troop, stationed in Hildesheim south of Hannover, but it was felt that this was too distant to keep a close watch on activities across the inter zonal border. From their base at Hildesheim 101 Wireless Troop carried out a recce to find a more forward location. LANGELEBEN was the result.

LANGELEBEN is a hamlet situated around nine hundred feet up on the Elm feature, midway between Braunschweig and Helmstedt, some ten miles from the inter-zone border. The site had been occupied by the RAF during the Berlin Airlift (1948-9), and Taff W... remembers that they had left a steel shed with a power source at the top left hand corner. This was not the highest point on the feature, the highest point had been occupied by an American unit (today the site of the British Forces Broadcasting Service Drachenberg radio transmitter).

LANGELEBEN lies on the east-facing forward slope of the Elm, and consisted of the County Children's' Home (until 1985, now an old peoples' home), the Forester's cottage, and a country pub - the Waldwirtschaft, run by Frau G..... in 1952 the youth section of the German Social Democratic Party chose this as the site to build their 'Falkenheim', an outdoor activities centre, (today, including the former pub, this is the Falkenheim Youth Hostel). Apart from these few buildings, there are the ruins of a Hunting Lodge of the Dukes of Brunswick, where Frederick the Great of Prussia was a regular guest.

This then was the community of LANGELEBEN, and not a lot has changed from that day in March 1951 when nine men of a probe section from 101 Wireless Troop first pitched their tents. Living conditions were somewhat basic, to say the least. The first summer must have been quite pleasant in the open, but to anyone who has experienced a Langy winter, the cold season was bracing , to say the least. A good job we don't wear kilts! Taff W.... recalls that in October it turned cold and wet, with day after day of continuous rain - the only heating was in the R wagons and the tin shed, which doubled up as the cookhouse. Bedding was damp, as were clothes, with socks and underwear clinging to bodies as it was put on; the tent floors were a morass of cold oozing mud, which meant that leather boots became coated with white and green mold. Colds and coughs lingered and everybody was miserable. Reluctantly, for operationally the LANGELEBEN site was a tremendous success, the unit was recalled to Hildesheim and Münster. Sometime in 1952 the decision was taken to reoccupy the site on a permanent basis.

The honour of possessing the first semi-permanent accommodation went to the gentlemen of the guardroom, who were built a wooden hut. A word about these characters, who belonged to the Mixed Service Organization (MSO), and were mainly Yugoslav, speaking little German and even less English. Syd G....... thought that they were saving up to go to the USA. Those who got to know them from sharing guard duties can confirm that they were real eccentrics. Occasionally they would turn up for duty in a somewhat 'tired and emotional' state which on one occasion required the assistance of the local police to escort one of them home. By and large, they were grand chaps, the like of whom we will not see again. Syd G....... remembered that as an experiment, the MSOs were replaced by a county Regiment. This however only lasted a few weeks, and was abandoned after 'disturbances' in Königslutter. The last of this happy band, Stefan W........... retired in 1984.

In 1955 the first wooden huts were erected for living accommodation, cookhouse, etc. Operations were carried out from a complex formed from wagons backed together; later a semi-permanent covering of corrugated iron was added. Accommodation was very basic. Washing facilities came in the form of brown tin bowls, and the single bath stood on a concrete floor. As drains were non-existent, the plug was pulled and the water simply ran over the floor to find its own level. The tin bowls were also emptied onto the floor. An alternative was to get into Königslutter and take a bath for 50pf.

Toilet facilities were definitely not for the squeamish, consisting of tin drums , which were emptied once a week by the Königslutter refuse operatives. After about three days use, one had to be desperate to use them. The same opinion seems to be true of the cookhouse. Poor facilities, poor food for over 100 Officers and Men five times a day prepared by 3 cooks was a recipe for disaster. Fortunately the 'Waldwirtschaft' did excellent meals. The Officers fared somewhat better - being accommodated in the 'Waldwirtschaft', although joining the Senior NCOs for meals in camp. Entertainment was a problem, with no bus service to Königslutter, a 'recreational' service was instituted, which entailed a truck driving the pleasure seekers into town in the early evening and then doing the rounds of the local hostelries late at night. The older inhabitants of Königslutter remember the late night antics with obvious affection, sometimes helping incapable drunks back onto the lorry.

One less expensive way of letting off steam was to indulge in sports. In 1957 the camp team took over the fixtures of the Königslutter third team so that the team could be sure of regular fixtures. Watch commitments meant that the same team was rarely fielded twice. The most famous member of this side in the fifties was of course 'Yorkie' B...., later of England World Cup 1966 fame, but here as Signalman Driver B....., Bob R..... remembers that during one of the games, the opposition's manager spent most of the game behind Yorkie's goal, trying to sign him up! Apparently 'Yorkie' got a bit fed up with his inactivity in many games, so was occasionally played as centre forward to let the other 'keeper' Ray B...... have a game. Through the years Langy soldiers continued to play in Königslutter. Bill H..., John S....., and Foxy F..... all played for the now-defunct FC during the seventies. Paul T.... was even good enough to be considered for the Lower Saxony Amateur side, although exercise commitments prevented him turning out.

For a night out in Königslutter, according to Derek S......, The 'Deutsches Haus' was favourite, where beer cost one Deutschmark, or if they were hard up, Schumanns' where beer was 50 pfennings. In 1955 the favourite music on the Juke Box was 'Rock around the clock' and ' Yellow rose of Texas'. The beer was usually 'Gala Pils' which remained a favourite through the years until the brewery disappeared in a take-over by Feldschlösschen in the early 1970s.

During the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, the unit was on full alert. One Saturday night instructions were received to call all personnel back to camp. Syd G......., the pay clerk, had the unenviable task of going round town to round everyone up! Eventually this was achieved, and the unit made ready to evacuate, with the cooks and pay clerk defending the road against possible attack from Russian tanks! Fortunately the stand-down was ordered shortly afterwards. Facilities on camp slowly improved. After the first admin inspection, a PRI bar and juke box was provided, and an additional block with baths and showers was built. Four times a week a film was shown.

Pay was doled out at a pay parade every two weeks, a mixture of BAFSVs (British Armed Forces Special Vouchers - for use in NAAFI canteens only) and Deutschmarks. The exchange rate was 12 Marks to the pound. BAFSVs were retained in BAOR until the early 1960s, but continued to be used in Berlin until 1 January 1977. Syd G....... remembers a pay parade where a BAFSV note was pinned to the table - each soldier counted his pay including the pinned down note and reported 'Pay and Pay Book correct, Sir'. The money collected was given to Sid H....., who as duty driver had been made a scapegoat for a cracked engine on a frozen vehicle, and fined £130.

Christmas was obviously a special time in LANGELEBEN. One day, shortly before the festivities, the OC happened to look out of his window in time to see a horse-drawn brewer's dray, loaded to overflowing with barrels and crates, struggling up the hill into camp. The office clerk broke the news to him, that this was the troops' Christmas order! After recovering from shock, the OC placed the booty under lock and key until Christmas Eve. Each room was decorated for the festive season, and a bottle of gin awarded to the best. The drayman was Hans K....... of Königslutter, who remembers having to deliver each hut with a barrel of beer, which he then proceeded to tap, and was of course invited to share a drink with the troops. This was repeated in each hut, until the time came for the horse to take him home! Incidentally, Hans did sterling work for Langeleben for many years, eventually becoming the Wolters Brewery representative until the late 1980s, and his daughter married Signalman Dave J.... Travel to Langy has never been easy. In the days before air trooping, the route from UK was via troopship from Harwich to the Hook, and then the British Military Train to Berlin. The RTO on the train was always puzzled when the train stopped off at the Königslutter sidings, where he had to open a door and let two or three bods off, who walked across the tracks to climb over the station wall and onto a waiting truck (if they were lucky, as the truck was more than likely parked outside a pub!).

In 1957 101 Wireless Troop was raised to Squadron status and became No. 2 Squadron, 1 Wireless Regiment, whose RHQ was now in Birgelen. The Regiment shortly became 13th Signal Regiment (Radio).

Last updated 01 August 2015

 
 
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