The smells of Autumn

The changing seasons invoke memories of times gone by, the condensation on the outside of the conservatory window, the dampness in the early morning air, together with the smell of harvest, immediately takes me back to 1983.

Back then we were still embroiled in the Cold War, a left over from the conflict of WW2. The defence of Europe was still vitally important, but by now it was not a war of millions against millions the technology had moved on, and the boots on the ground were now there to slow a full-scale attack until the politicians could make the relevant decisions to deploy the battlefield nuclear weapons, that had been in safe storage since 1967.

The author(left) planning the next phase of the war

Summer leave across the British Army of The Rhine has always been in August since the end of the war, thousands of families would travel back home to see family and friends. The last two weeks of August would see fully laden cars registered to British Forces Germany queuing to get into Dover docks ready for the long journey home to their quarters in barracks.

Clearly the Soviets had no intentions to gain ground as they would have attacked us during the summer leave period when many bases only had a skeleton staff available.

 In the days following the cessation of cars going back to West Germany, the unit I was attached to would prepare for the ‘exercise season’. Since we were an occupying force in 1945 the ability to train realistically was possible across the plains of Germany, this meant crops were damaged and the knock- on effect for the population was to avoid disruption keeping them fed and the economy going. Changes were made whereby the exercising in open country was only allowed from the first week of September through to the end of March, to avoid damaging crops and avoid confrontations with angry farmers.

All the major reinforcement exercises would take place in September/October, Exercise Crusader, Eternal Triangle and the largest one in the history of BAOR, Exercise Lionheart. Thousands of reinforcements would pour across the channel by ferry and air to simulate the hasty defence of our existing army on the ground.

The author (far right) damp and wet under a motorway bridge somewhere in West Germany

We would travel for hours without rest, refuelling and eating composite food in woods adjacent to motorways all across the area until we found ourselves, in our case in a valley near the village of Sibbesse, just South East of the city of Hildesheim. We would take up positions and dig defensive trenches, the same ones we filled in last year and the one before! We would then sit and wait for the hoards to come along the valley to slow them down.

End of exercise, awaiting the long journey home

The reality was of course, the Soviets would have reached Calais before we would have cleared Customs in Dover, such was the might and manoeuvrability of their army.

Looking back in the cold light of day, yes it was scary stuff, the threat of the Soviet Union was not taken lightly, they had far more manpower, equipment and weaponry than we did but couldn’t realistically have managed or run the infrastructure across Europe which of course they knew. My memory of sitting in a trench overlooking the misty plains below is tinged with a satisfaction of a job well done, but in reality, the loss to the taxpayer was the major factor here, yes, we defended Europe but at what cost? The Berlin wall has been down 32 years, life has moved on but the Russian hardware is still just across the borders? Who knows what will happen in the future but meanwhile I reminisce smelling the damp air and putting on an extra jumper as I am now forty years older and feel the cold!

I have written my memoirs of my 27 years in the Army, its been republished on Amazon this week. A link is here

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