The war in Europe is over! Neubeckum—then and now

Posted: May 8, 2019 in 1945, Germany

This posting, by sheer coincidence, is being made on the 74th anniversary of VE-Day, May 8, from the very town where the 111th celebrated it. The men were so happy that the war was finally over, at least in Europe. They could begin to dream of going home. But first a celebration was in order.

The Allies had crossed the Rhine River on March 25, 1945, and soon the 111th began to follow the troops deeper into Germany. They left Munchen-Gladbach on March 31 and spent April and early May all over the place—Dinslaken, Nulert, Ahlen, Dorsten, Hannover, Wathlingen, Bodenteich, and Salzwedel, and, on May 6, Neubeckum, in the neighborhood known as Friedrichshorst. There they moved into a cement factory.

This was the modern cement plant; it closed in 2006.

We found the cement plant easily today, but we knew it was too modern to have been around in 1945. Except for one car, the place was deserted. But by chance, the owner of that car—a guard, perhaps?—was leaving to go home while we were there snooping around, and he stopped to see what we wanted. He spoke good English, was intrigued by our search, and told us to follow him to an area behind the large towers. There we saw the old portion of the plant, certainly where the men had been.

Our men knew that the war in Europe was over by May 7, but the official announcement  would not be made until the next day. Seeing no good reason to wait, the men were ready to celebrate. The company commander, Capt. Art Brooks, put the always-creative Lt. Fred Kent in charge of finding refreshments for the celebration. Here is how he described the task:

“After scouring the surrounding area, I finally located a distillery where I procured what appeared to be a ten-gallon barrel of pure grain alcohol…I repaired to where the kitchen was set up in the cement factory and instructed the cooks to mix the alcohol with an equal amount of water and to add to it some caramelized sugar to give the mixture some color and flavor…in no time the men were lined up with their canteen cups to partake of this deadly brew.”

“In reminiscing over this event, I’m convinced God must have been watching over us, for I’m certain that that must have been the most dangerous day of our company’s wartime experiences. The men were absolutely inebriated, but in their exuberance to celebrate by firing their rifles in the air, they were incapable of raising them to a trajectory higher than the horizontal, with the consequence of bullets flying all over the place.”

VE Day, Friedricshorst Nuebeckum, M. Frank Turner with unit

Some of the men, VE Day eve, 1945, in the cement factory.

Lt. Kent continued, “It was truly a miracle no one was shot. Poor Lt. Stan Errington was OD [officer of the day], and no sooner had he succeeded in quieting one group of men when suddenly there would be another eruption of small arms fire and flares. It wasn’t until the small hours of the night that he was able to reestablish tranquility, but by that time I think he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Thus ended VE Day.”

After I first posted this, I realized I needed to add observations of the night from two of our favorite soldiers—Roland Unangst and John Raisler. “That night we used a confiscated wind-up record player and a bunch of German records (‘Roll Out the Barrel’). It was a good tune. Lord, we were happy it was over,” said Unangst.

Raisler talked to us about the craziness of the celebration, but concluded, “The whole war was a grand experience, but I assure you, once is enough.”

  1. LOUISE BROOKS says:

    What a great find!

  2. I thought you were going to tell us he took you to a wall where the men had written their names! lol If only, huh? I’m sure there are more surprises around the bend, though!

  3. Pat says:

    Amazing! and to think that you arrived there on the anniversary of the end of the war! How fortuitous that the guard was there, too. Wow, such great experiences the two of you are having. We’re all experiencing it with you vicariously. Thanks!

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