Donald Taylor writes:
Once again Sulgrave has demonstrated that wonderful generosity so often shown to exist. Everyone was so kind and friendly to me personally on my rounds, the progression round the village was a joy. Considering that the remembrance service was at six pm there was a good congregation – many of us find turning out at night difficult. Between my house to house collection, the contribution at the church plus boxes at the shop and the Star Inn you contributed an amazing £852.28.
The current total for the district covered by Wappenham Branch stands at £4668.73. In congratulating everyone, may I comment that the Legion is always seeking new members – you do not have to be ex-service. Anyone can join – we have outings, coffee mornings, annual lunch etc and great camaraderie.
The prospect of door to door collecting can seem daunting. I can tell you it is not. On the contrary, the poppy appeal is a most enjoyable and rewarding experience. Anyone fancying helping out next year will be most welcome. I’m not getting any younger, though I do not intend giving up.
Very many thanks for your generosity and on a personal level for your response to my call. You made me so welcome it was almost another holiday! For two years running Sulgrave has contributed nearly £1000 to this worthy cause – with a little help perhaps we can reach the magic figure in 2017 – the 100th anniversary of the Third Battle of Ypres – “Passchendaele”!
See next page for Donald’s account of his return to the scenes of his army career in the Intelligence Corps in Austria just after the end of the Second World War.
Donald in Gleisdorf, Austria in 1949
Donald was born in Sulgrave in 1929 and spent his boyhood at the family farm (Mill Farm, Sulgrave). During the war years he attended Banbury Grammar School and not long after the end of the war in 1945 he embarked on a career as a regular soldier in the Intelligence Corps, serving mainly in Austria.
Visitors to this website will no doubt recall Donald’s moving account of his 2015 visit to Ypres, where his father had seen action exactly 100 years earlier. This year, Donald planned and carried out a nostalgic journey to the scenes of his own army career over sixty-five years ago and this is his account:
“Never go back!” I’ve heard this advice so many times in relation to nostalgic trips. I’m so glad I ignored it! Having wished to return to Austria, where I spent four happy years during my army service, finally I drew up a schedule of places to visit, after 65 years! Details were passed to “Train Tours 4U” who produced an itinerary which worked like clockwork. None of the usual tour companies listed the places I wanted to visit so this was a solo effort – all by train – Train Tours 4U also arranged hotels close to the railway stations. Setting off from Banbury at 10 am on September 7th to Marylebone – St Pancras, then Eurostar to Brussels. I finished up in Cologne, having dinner on the square in front of the cathedral – the biggest in Europe – a wonderful atmosphere!. The last time I was in Cologne the cathedral was all black and windowless – burnt out inside, the railway station alongside still had its roof girders but no glass and the great Hohenzollern railway bridge lay in the Rhine.
Cologne Cathedral, the railway station and the surrounding devastated area at the end of the war in 1945….
…and Donald’s own photograph from September 1950 showing the Cathedral through the blackened girders of the bombed out railway station.
The city itself comprised a grid of roads with just jagged and broken walls plus huge piles of rubble for miles around. Now, of course, all is pristine, the flattened warehouses along the Rhine rebuilt but as flats retaining the warehouse facades. A continuous succession of cyclists use the wide roadway along the riverbank. Nearly all the bikes are tourers or the old fashioned “sit up and beg” variety, with a fair sprinkling of electric cycles also.
Cologne Cathedral September 2016
A Rhine cruise – three hours – toured along the river but also around the very extensive dock area where the barges were loading or unloading containers, fuel – solid and liquid and where the River cruise ships moor up. This is a huge container port – the barges, up to about 400 feet long – can carry over 100 containers and are of about 2500 tonnes – compare to our narrow boats! Sitting at the riverside there was nearly always a barge (or more) going by – a big cabin at the stern which was the family home – anything up to three or four cars parked on the roof alongside a crane to lift them on and off. I didn’t have time to try the cable car system which stretches right across the river, no doubt the view is spectacular!
Moving on to Salzburg via a change of train at Munich – always a reserved seat – I’d passed through many times in the past but never been able to stop, so this was a new venture! A beautiful city – very small, now seemingly devoted to “The Sound of Music” plus Mozart but not with a feel of Austria about it – looking for dinner I found cuisine from Japan, South Korea, India, the Middle East, Greece and Italy but not one Austrian restaurant! A river cruise again in only one hour on the very fast flowing Salzach was fascinating. The small ship – seating perhaps 70 to 80 people – was skippered by a very young lady who commentated whilst steering a winding course – not all visible except through the echo sounder, by careful manipulation of the throttles she could hold the ship stationary in the swift current then on a good clear stretch of water at “full ahead” we were going a good 20 mph or more – still against the flow, the engines must be very powerful. Returning to our start point she put a Viennese waltz on the sound system and set the ship pirouetting in midstream before coming alongside the jetty without the slightest bump – very impressive!
Salzburg over River Salzach September 2016
My main destination was Graz – some 80 miles south of Vienna. Four days in the area enabled me to visit many of the places I knew all those years ago. In Fürstenfeld I took a photo of the house I lived and worked in – though the front is slightly changed and with a new red roof, most of it was just as I remembered – aided by a 1949 photo from the same viewpoint. The house is in the process of refurbishment as local government offices so I couldn’t see much of the inside. That whole street is much as it was with the addition of railway and bus stations at the end. The centre of Fürstenfeld – about the size of Middleton Cheney – has been altered but still recognisable. Over lunch I fell into conversation with a local man – he would have been a young boy when I was there. Amazingly he had known one of my colleagues who had married a local girl. They visited quite frequently for several years – sadly both have died, also he knew a good friend who had been one of our drivers – also now long gone. My Fürstenfeld visit concluded with a “Postbus” (the buses carry the mail) journey back to Graz – about 40 miles.
Schillerstrasse 11, Fürstenfeld, 1949 photograph of the house Donald lived and worked in…
….the same house in September 2016
Although there is now a motorway – Graz to Budapest – passing the town, the bus follows the old road that I had driven over hundreds of times passing all the little villages so well remembered. Now they are all bigger and brighter with roundabouts at the junction. Our entry into Graz was down the Riess (giant) a very steep and sharply winding hill into the city. They used to have hill climbing races there – it looks as though that would be too dangerous today. The bus driver was quite surprised to learn at the end of our one and a half hour trip that I had covered the same journed once in 37 minutes with urgent mail – the trip usually took 65 minutes in those days.
Graz is the friendliest city. Although Austria’s second biggest, about 400,000 inhabitants, the atmosphere is more like a village, people speak to you and life seems to be at a sedate pace. The great landmark is Schlossberg (Castle Hill) with its iconic clock tower has only really changed in that the funiculator is working and there is also a lift through the middle of the hill which brings you conveniently to the biggest restaurant at the top, a favourtie meeting place with wonderful views over the city. Close to the Schlossberg entrance a big department store “Kasstner and Öhler” where I bought all my ski gear in 1949 – still owned by the same families. It is rather like an up market M & S or Derry and Toms for those with long memories. On the fifth floor a great restaurant, partly on a huge balcony – again with great views over the city.
Graz from Kasstner and Öhner’s 5th Floor restaurant
My hotel – “Drei Raben (Three Ravens) just a short walk from the railway station is on several tram routes, with stops in both directions just outside the front door – it is so easy to get around, a three day ticket for 12 euros gives unlimited travel on trams and suburban buses – excellent value! My old home in Graz still looks much the same but now converted into flats. The Park Hotel at the end of the street which was rather dilapidated when last seen is now very smart and obviously thriving. The whole district is now given over to one of Graz’ three universities. It was very noticeable that emergency services are little in demand. I saw only two police officers, on the Hauptplatz (main square) both elegant in smart black uniforms and apparently completely without all the usual accoutrements we expect to see, no hi-vis jackets, radios, cameras, batons, handcuffs; they just seem to be out for a stroll. Having undertaken a photographic and forensics course with the Graz city police back in 1949, I knew they can be highly efficient when needed. The other emergency services are equally unobtrusive and no doubt equally efficient.
View of Graz from “Schlossberg” September 2016
As with much of Austria, train journeys in the area are spectacular, tracks often winding through deep, narrow valleys between high mountains, occasionally with sheer cliffs rising to 2000 feet and with villages nestling alongside a swift flowing stream in the valley beneath. The tortuous track of the trains means that journeys are sometimes quite slow, with the bonus of time to enjoy the scenery with the contrast of red roofs, lush green grass and the stark whites of exposed limetsone mountains, heavily forested on the lower slopes.
What a contrast on arriving in Munich, alliteratively “Manic Munich”. Everywhere is rush, rush, rush. The main roads seem all to be 3 or 4 lane dual carriageways with heavy traffic but all flowing at a tremendous rate. Crossing these roads is possible only by using the subways, which seem to have multiple entrances and exits, with the central areas full of shops with everyone still going at a frantic pace. A fascinating historic city, Munich is not for the faint hearted. Some of Europe’s finest museums are here. I had time only to see one – the Deutches museum. There are others devoted to transport and aeronautics, also BMW have their museum here. I guess I will just have to go back! My last night was marked by a thunderstorm, the only break from day temperatures of between 30º and 35º. I left my trip until September in the hope that I would avoid the greatest heat – in 1949 for six weeks in July and August the maximum day temperature was steady at 40º c!
The penultimate stage of my trip was from Mannheim to Paris by TGV. A seat on the top deck afforded panoramic views as, after one stop at the French border, the train maintained just under 200 mph for the one and a quarter hours in great comfort a silky smoot ride, theimpression of speed given by the rapidly passing landscape. In contrast, through northern France on Eurostar, although almost as fast the ride was really tooth rattling!