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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 02:30 GMT 03:30 UK
'We had a lot of laughs'
by Chris Summers
BBC News Online

Between 1945 and 1957 tens of thousands of young men did National Service with the British Army or the RAF in Germany. David Stainer was one of those and he told BBC News Online what life was like as a soldier in Germany in the 1950s.

When he was four years old, David Stainer was almost killed when a German bomber crashed into his father's shoe repair workshop in Poole, Dorset.
David Stainer and his mates at REME in 1950s
David Stainer (sitting, third from left) pictured with his REME pals in Germany in 1955

He was trapped under rubble, along with his father, after the Junkers 88 was shot out of the sky by a Spitfire as it returned from a reconnaissance mission.

Mr Stainer, now 68, still has deep scars on his legs but he did not bear a grudge against the Germans.

So when, in October 1954, he learned he was being posted to Germany for the next two years he was quite happy.

"There were 30 of us and one day they just read out where everybody was going. Some of them were going to Hong Kong or Kenya - where they saw active service during the Mau Mau uprising - so I was quite pleased when I heard I was going to Germany," says the retired businessman.

The Germans would sing their songs and we would sing our songs. Sometimes it would get a bit argumentative but we didn't really get into any fights
David Stainer
Mr Stainer says: "I originally joined the Dorset Regiment but when they found out I was colour blind they said I couldn't be an infantryman and would have to join a corps."

After six weeks of basic training he was assigned to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and became a clerk working in the motor pool.

Late in 1954 he arrived in Duisburg in Germany. He was 18 years old and it was the first time he had been abroad.

British servicemen, 1955
British servicemen being inspected in Germany in 1955
He spent the next two years at a camp on the outskirts of the city of Essen in the industrialised Ruhr valley, attached to the Royal Signals Regiment.

Mr Stainer, who soon got promoted to lance corporal, was responsible for booking in vehicles for repairs.

He dealt with the paperwork for the motor pool, which were used to send military mail all over the British Army of the Rhine.

His base was close to a coal mine and the troops used to rub shoulders with miners and other workers in the nearby pubs.

"We would go drinking in a pub called The Stadium, which was right next to a sports ground. I remember the German beer tasted really good.

"The Germans would sing their songs and we would sing our songs. Sometimes it would get a bit argumentative but we didn't really get into any fights," he remembers.

Local girls

"When we weren't working we often went into town to do a bit of shopping or check out the local girls. We always had to wear uniform and the local lads would often swear at us and call us sons of bitches or whatever in German," he says.

David Stainer now
He spoke a little English but his wife spoken none and my German was minimal, but somehow we got on
David Stainer
But around 100 German civilians worked on the base as mechanics or fitters and relations with the British squaddies were good.

"This one chap, Franz Siegman, and his wife, took quite a shine to me and we became quite friendly. They would invite me to their flat for Sunday lunch," recalls Mr Stainer.

"He was a storeman, in his 50s with no children, and I know he was Jewish although we didn't really talk about it. I got the impression he had had a very rough time during the war.

"He was a very dedicated man and very kind but language was a difficulty. He spoke a little English but his wife spoken none and my German was minimal, but somehow we got on."

Suez
Mr Stainer was demobbed just as the Suez crisis was developing
Mr Stainer remembers the men were under strict orders not to go into Essen's red light district and there was harsh treatment for anyone who caught a venereal disease.

He said soldiers were supposed to treat themselves after having sex and sign a book in the Free From Infection (FFI) room back at the barracks and could face a court martial if they subsequently caught VD and their names were not in the book.

Homesickness was something all the National Service personnel suffered from and Mr Stainer says Sunday lunchtimes were probably the worst time of the week.

We used to listen to Family Favourites on the radio...That was a real tear-jerker because it would remind us of Sunday dinners at home and I could almost smell the mint sauce
David Stainer
"We used to listen to Family Favourites on the radio, presented by Cliff Michelmore. That was a real tear-jerker because it would remind us of Sunday dinners at home and I could almost smell the mint sauce," he says.

On 6 October 1956 Mr Stainer was sent home, where he built up his father's shoe repair and retail business, married and had two children.

He still remembers his Army number - 23074002 - and thinks fondly of his days in Germany: "We had a lot of fun and some good times and I learned a lot. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. It made me grow up very quickly."





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