Almost as soon as the First World War Armistice of 11th November 1918, had been resolved, one of its main elements had to be implemented: the occupation of the German Rhineland by the Allied forces. Amongst those who started the long march from France to Germany, on 18th November 1918, was my grandfather, Private Charlie Payne, 5th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment, part of the 62nd (West Riding) Division, and the only Territorial Division to be included in the Army of Occupation.(Some of my earlier blog posts have covered Charlie’s reactions to the Armistice and to his arrival in Germany.)
Compared with the huge volume of literature on the hostilities during the First World War, the Allied Occupation of the Rhineland, and the preparation of the troops for their impending return to civilian life has received only limited coverage. My blog today adds a personal touch to that period when the civilian skills of some men who had been conscripted into the forces started to become more important than their abilities as fighting troops. On 11th January 1919, Charlie wrote home to his wife Ida, to give her some good news; he had been promoted and his pay would be increased.
“Mechernich, Germany, Saturday 11/1/1919
My darling, Up till now I have no further letters from you to answer, but perhaps I shall get one in the morning. You will be pleased to hear I am now a Sergeant, having been promoted to that rank as teacher of Shorthand at the Brigade School in Mechernich. In due time I shall receive the full pay of Sergt. and I think 1/- per day over and above, but will let you know as soon as I draw my new pay. Not so bad for a “duffer” eh, dear?
I am in a very comfortable billet and share a bedroom (with a champion bed in it) with another Sergt. We have a mess of our own, for which we pay a few marks extra per week. I have plenty of teaching to do – from 8.30 a.m. to 12.30. Then, of course, I have papers to check and prepare next day’s work. I am billeted in a hotel and the Germans treat us well – they seem anxious to wash out if possible (?) their past misdeeds – we have free use of a billiard table and often the family ask us to join them at supper. I am getting on well with the “lingo” and I hope it will help me when I get back to dear old England – which I trust will be soon now. As you know, dear, Germany is now more or less in a state of revolution and there are terrible riots in Berlin etc. Heaven grant the British will not be dragged into her domestic troubles. We are all anxious to clear out of it.
Well, little woman, how are you? I am anxiously looking forward to your next letter – I do hope you are feeling better. The weather here is very bright and cold today. What’s it like in London. I fancy you are having snow. I think, dear, if you address all future letters as follows I shall get them quicker –Sgt. C. F Payne 235435, B Company, 5th West Riding Regt.,186th Infantry Brigade School, B.E.F. Germany.
I think I must try and get a photo taken of my 3 stripes as a souvenir. [Sadly, no such photo has been found] I was made Corporal on Tuesday last and Sergt. on Wednesday. Quick promotion. I think the pay out here is 3/6 per day and with the 1/- per day extra = 31/6 per week, but I expect it will take a little time to come through. I will let you know, dear.
Well, little woman, how are our 4 little rebels – I trust all well. I have not yet had time to send them any more cards but tell them “old Dad” has not forgotten. What a difference in 12 months, darling. This time last year I was in the most awful of trenches [in the Gavrelle-Oppy sector of the Western Front]– up to our waists in slush, with the Huns only 100 yards away – now billeted in a German hotel about 30 miles south-west of Cologne on the Rhine. I often dream of the trenches and so do all of us who have been in them….”[the surviving letter ends at this point]
Charlie’s promotion, as a teacher at the newly-established Brigade School, is an interesting reminder that the British Army was already trying to help their men to obtain new skills that could assist them in their impending return to civvy-street. Scrutiny of the Divisional War Diary reveals that a range of such educational courses were established at Mechernich during January 1919. The mention in Charlie’s letter of “riots in Berlin” almost certainly refer to the Spartacist Uprising that occurred between January 4th and 15th, 1919.