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Dr Bobby Headley interview: Europe war ended

What happened when the war in Europe ended?

The war ended in Europe. The war in Japan didn’t. General Montgomery – a nice kindly chap – said all you chaps who have been out here more than three years can have a month’s leave at home. Very kindly. So we all went in order of precedence. So we had this little trip home. We went on the train, not an aeroplane or ship. These two funny chaps were always cracking jokes about the fun and games everybody had and how rough it was. They always wore a scratch uniform. Nobody in the 8th Army wore a proper kit at all. They always wore anything but the proper uniform.

This tells you all the places went to on that trip. I had never seen anything like Ulm. Ulm was the most extraordinary city I ever saw. Completely flattened. Everything except the cathedral tower which was standing there. The rest of the place was almost like a desert. Years later we were going on our way to Austria and it had all been put back. There was the cathedral tower with the spire still there and so was the rest of Ulm. It was amazing to see what could be done in about three years. Luxemburg, Sedan, all these places, Calais and then home. It was a long trip. I can’t remember how many days it took...quicker that way than going by the Cape of Good Hope!       

We had a very lovely time in Venice. We were with the 22nd General Hospital and travelled up in a tank landing craft. All the hospital equipment went up. We landed at Trieste and had to drive right around here. What amazed us was when we realised there were the lines of women walking all by themselves. We wondered why. Then we realised that the Yugoslavs were lined up here and were getting ready to take Trieste. They wanted Trieste because they hadn’t got a proper harbour. Hungary used to have one before the [First World] war. So Trieste was a valuable port and they were determined to take it. We were determined they shouldn’t. All these good looking girls were terrified that they were going to get overrun by these Slavs and they needed saving from a fate worse than death. So they all walked along this road keeping well with the British troops until they got to Venice and then they managed to settle there quite well.

We used to have jolly little dinners and things like that. Everybody joined us. The Royal Daniele Hotel was the nicest hotel in Venice and the most expensive and it was our officers’ club. It was five shillings a day to stay there. One of the things we used to bring back was silk and stuff. But the liquor was good and for once we felt we had won the war. We never felt it before.