To say this was a wonderful place would be an under-statement. I could not believe how lucky I was to arrive here. It was, of course, virtually brand new, having been opened a few months earlier. Everything about it was clean and bright. No dowdy colours, no stale smell permeating the air - nothing dreary or depressing about the place at all.
I was told that a National Service airman had designed the hospital and that German builders and tradesmen had built the place in something like 3 months, from start to finish! What an achievement and what a superb building it was.
Another bonus was that much of the day-to-day work was done by German personnel, such as groundsmen, cleaners and other tasks. The medical staff were all RAF personnel of course, and excellent they were too. Good surgeons, doctors, nurses and ancillary staff and I was privileged to be working amongst such dedicated men and women.
I found my quarters to be the best ever. Shared with seven other RAF bods, it was nicely furnished and spick and span. Adjoining bathrooms were similarly a vast improvement on my earlier experiences. But perhaps best of all we had all our cleaning done by German Service Orderlies, or GSO as they were termed. These people were dressed in dull green uniforms, complete with early versions of baseball caps in the same colour. The "forman" was a Herr Puhl whom I later became very friendly with. He was a corporal in the SS during the war and he retained much of the firm protocol that existed then. For example, he insisted that all his staff "salute" all RAF personnel when in uniform! He stood no nonsense from any of his crew.
My main occupation was to keep and update patient records, typing up doctors' notes and various other admin tasks. Another of my responsibilities was to issue cigarette ration cards to those who smoked! All military personnel were treated at this hospital, and some civilians too. Any military patients were entitled to a ciggy card if they said they were smokers and wanted one. The thing is, cigarettes could be bought in the NAAFI for one shilling (5p) for 20 Players! I did not smoke, having packed it in just after I joined up, but I still took my card each week. This card allowed you one packet of twenty fags a day. If any new entrant to the hospital said they didn't smoke then I would "issue" a card - but to myself! There was method in my apparent madness.
After a few weeks I would have a nice stack of cigarette cards stashed away. I came to an arrangement with a nice young German girl who worked in the NAAFI. She would let me have sealed packs of 500 in packs 20 of cigarettes in exchange for the cards and the appropriate amount of cash, at 5p a throw! I gave her a couple of packets of 20 cigarettes for her issuing me with far more than was strictly permitted.
I then had another "arrangement" with Herr Puhl, the GSO commandant. He would pay me 1 Deutsche mark for each packet of cigarettes, and as 1 Mark was equal to almost 1/9 (one shilling and ninepence) I was making a full 75% profit on each packet. Herr Puhl took all the risks by taking the cigarettes out of the hospital gates. Anybody who was found to be taking more than one packet out of camp would be fined 5 Marks for every excess pack! This was to stop any "black market" trading, which was rife in post-war Germany. Tea, coffee and cigarettes were the most valuable black market commodities and Herr Puhl was quite an entrepreneur in this field. I used to leave a few of these bulk 500 packs in my locked bathroom; he would personally remove the fags and leave me the cash and re-lock the bathroom with his pass keys. He used to then sell the cigarettes in a Munchen Gladbach brothel for 2 marks a pack! I made 75%, he made 100% - but as he was taking all the risks of the transaction I did not begrudge him his extra markup! Because of my little trade in ciggies I only drew 10/- (50p) on each fortnightly pay parade, having the rest of my pay deposited in the post office savings account I'd set up.
Yes, I got on very well with Herr Puhl; even went to meet his wife and family one evening for a meal - bratwurst sausages and kartoffel salad of course!
Another delight of RAF Wegberg was working for Warrant Officer Robinson, my immediate boss in the hospital. He was offical tennis coach for the RAF team and he was also a fitness freak. He was out running every single day, plus tennis practice and training and other exercises. It was W.O. Robinson who encouraged me to join the hospital athletic team and I did so. I took part in cross-country races and track races, up to 1 mile. We had an excellent sports ground and facilities here. Not only that, he arranged for me to take a fortnight's "continental leave" at a place called Scharfoldendorf, near Hameln, the town from which the Pied Piper of Hamilin was said to have come! This fortnight's leave was ostensibly for hill training; there were plenty of hills in Scharfoldendorf! There was a superb hotel(owned by the RAF) in this place which was all free to me and my colleague who was also here for the same "training" purposes. Other staff were sometimes sent here for convalescence after accident or illness and it was all compliments of the RAF.
But best of all there was a glider station here, and after an hour or so running up a hill and down again we'd have a shower, some lunch and then go gliding over the hills, soaring on the thermals and enjoying the thrill of engine-less flying. The silence of the flight, apart from the creaking of the wings and the rush of the wind as we landed, was absolutely unbeatable. Sheer bliss. The gliders were two-seater jobs and all the navigation and flying was done by the pilot of course, but if I had my way I'd love to have the chance to go solo. It may still happen one day, but then again ... 'tis getting rather more expensive as each day rushes by.
Another much-loved time for all military chaps and chapesses serving overseas was the Sunday midday programme on the radio "Two-way Family Favourites". This was a favourite with countless millions of listeners and a lucky few had their names and family messages read out, followed by their favourite song request. This often had some listeners in tears as they heard messages from their loved ones back home and the sentimental songs could sometimes have the same effect on even those who had not had a personal message from home!
I wrote regularly to Joan in Hereford and managed to book a phone call to her one evening. Apart from two weeks "continental leave" we were allowed two weeks UK leave each year. I'd saved up a nice little bundle in the post office savings book after six months at Wegberg and applied for a week's UK leave in June 1954. The route back was exactly the same as when we first came to Germany, but in reverse of course. Train from Wegberg to Munchen Gladbach then across the Dutch/German border to the Hook of Holland and the troopship to Harwich, with the final leg by train back home. However, I'd no intention of spending more than a few hours in the parental home as I'd arranged to see Joan in Hereford and spend the rest of the week with her.