Monday, November 25, 2019

Stones to Germany 1945

Some time ago when browsing in the British Newspaper Archive, I came across a snippet of news that the Forfar Curling Club had agreed to gift a pair of curling stones to troops stationed in the British Zone of Occupied Germany in the immediate aftermath of the second World War. What struck me was the date, just five months after the German surrender in May. The 'appeal for stones' had apparently been made to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, whose secretary, Andrew Hamilton, had contacted the member clubs, of which Forfar was one. I was intrigued, and set out to see what else I could uncover. I've been only partially successful. Here's what I've found so far, and hopefully others can add to the story.

A month or so after the Forfar clipping was published, the appeal for curling stones was widened, as Hamilton sent letters to various newspapers around the country.

Here is Hamilton's letter which was printed in the Dundee Courier of November 8, 1945.
When WW2 was over, different areas of Germany were occupied by Britain, the USA, France and Russia, and of course Berlin was also 'divided up' amongst the Allied nations. The British Zone of Occupation was the north west of the country, as in the simplified map above, from here.

Canadian forces had played a huge part in WW2 alongside British and other Commonwealth soldiers, and it is of no surprise that they were to represent a significant part of the occupying army after the end of the war.

As a result of the appeal, 70 pairs of curling stones were sent to the 51st Division and 60 pairs to the Canadians in Germany. A Major Purves, who was Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General, and whose principle duties in Germany were supply matters, travelled to Scotland in January 1946 to take possession of the stones destined for use by the 51st Division.

On March 11, 1946, Brigadier J R Sinclair, later to become Earl of Caithness, sent a letter to the Royal Club secretary noting that, "The stones have now arrived in Germany and are being distributed to units. I wish to offer my personal thanks and to express the sincere gratitude of all ranks of the 51st Highland Division for your most generous gift. I would be deeply obliged if you would pass this on to the individual members who so kindly made this donation possible."

I have been unable to find out just how and where these stones, sent to the Scottish troops, were used. Any help with this will be appreciated.

We know a bit more about the stones that were sent to the Canadians! They erected a six-sheet curling rink, and this was in operation by January 1946.

I was excited to find this photo in Canadian archives (here). It is accompanied by the caption, 'Opening of a curling rink, Oldenburg, Germany, 1946', and has to be the rink in question. It was constructed in a hanger at the Oldenburg airport in Germany and an artificial ice plant was improvised by men of the Royal Canadian Engineers and the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in the Canadian Occupation Force. Might it be possible to identify those in the photograph?

More about the Oldenburg curling rink can be found in Colin Campbell's report to the Meeting of the Dominion Curling Association in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on March 6, 1946. It is clear from this that it was Campbell himself who had set in motion ideas for curling by the Canadian forces stationed in occupied Germany. Campbell was a mining engineer, and a local politician in Ontario. When war broke out he joined the Royal Canadian Engineers. His wartime accomplishments are considerable and can be read here. He rose to the rank of Brigadier General, and was awarded an OBE and DSO. He was serving in Italy at the end of the war. Curlers will know 'Collie' Campbell as the President of the International Curling Federation, later to become the World Curling Federation, from 1969 until his death in 1978. His name is remembered in the 'Collie Campbell Award'.

With his many ties to Scotland, Campbell had been appointed as 'Overseas Representative' of the Dominion Curling Association in 1943. His duties were mainly concerned with arranging curling for Canadians on leave in Scotland, and also representing the Dominion Association at the Annual Meetings of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

Campbell's report (as found in the 1946-47 Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club) states, "After V-E Day it became known that Canadians would form part of the Occupation Force in Germany, and as they would be occupying the same area at all times I considered many members of the Force would wish to curl. Subsequent interviews and discussions were held with Major-General Vokes, Commander of the Canadian Occupation Forces, and several of his staff officers, Lt-Col Poulter, Senior Auxiliary Services Officer, CMHQ, London, and Mr Andrew Hamilton, Royal Caledonian Curling Club." And from these meetings, and due to the efforts of Campbell's successor, Lt-Col R F Jobson, MBE, the Oldenburg rink was constructed.

I was interested to learn that corn brooms could not be procured in Europe, so these were purchased by Canadian Auxiliary Services in Montreal and 'rushed by fast steamer to Germany for the opening of the season'!

Some 400 members of the Canadian Occupation Force, most of whom were 'other ranks', took part in competitions at the Oldenburg rink.

One competition in that first season had first and second prizes as a trip to Scotland! The three day trip saw the eight players visit Falkirk and Kirkcaldy ice rinks, and they were entertained to dinner by Dr G J R Carruthers, a member of Edinburgh Medical Curling Club, and RCCC Council Member.

For those Canadians, unable to travel home while serving in Germany, the prize trip was much appreciated. The sense of that can be seen in a letter sent by Major C E Nye to Andrew Hamilton. He says, "I'm certain that the hospitality, kindness, generosity, and friendliness has never been outdone by any group anywhere or at any time. Something just a bit out of this world. It will be many a year before this journey dims out in our memories, and even then we have souvenirs with which to refresh. May I take this opportunity of thanking everyone who made our lives so enjoyable during those few days."

Lieutenant Jobson wrote to Andrew Hamilton thanking him 'for the very kind and generous treatment which was given to the curlers of this formation when they visited Scotland. It is a visit that they will long remember'.

The Canadians presented Andrew Hamilton a plaque as a memento of the trip. Lieutenant Jobson explains this as follows. "Reference the plaque that we presented to you - the tiles in this plaque were procured from a Dr Meulenbelt who is presently living in Apeldoorn, Holland. He had previously lived in Middelburg on the Walcheren Island and had been a collector of old and ancient tiles. He only had eight left intact after the Island had come through the war and these eight I have managed to secure from him. They are professed to be between 250 and 300 years old and are supposed to depict curling (Pele-Mele) as it was played in Holland at that time. The other four similar tiles we have sent to the Dominion Curling Association in Canada. Dr Meulenbelt gave me to understand that tiles of this nature are becoming very, very rare and are only to be found in museums and any collections of very wealthy people, and it was due to his misfortunes in this war that we were able to purchase them."

The tiles may represent an early form of croquet, rather than curling, but from Lieutenant Jobson's description they would seem to be rare things.

I wonder if they have survived? For many years they were listed in the inventory of items belonging to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. Such an inventory last appeared in the Annual of 1985-86.

One final comment. The discussion of allied soldiers playing curling in their camp in Occupied Germany is not intended to trivialise the situation in that country in the years following the ending of the war. Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery was appointed Military Governor on May 22, 1945. In his memoirs he described the situation in the British zone in May, 1945, as follows. "We had in our area nearly one and a half million German prisoners of war. There were a further one million German wounded, without medical supplies. In addition there were about one million civilian refugees. Transportation and communication services had ceased to function. Agriculture and industry were largely at a standstill."

Indeed, the inability to adequately feed the population of over 20 million, in just the British Zone, was a major concern for a number of years.

Whereas there is much WW2 information on the internet, there is much less about the occupation. For anyone interested in finding more, I would recommend Keith Lowe's book Savage Continent: Europe in the aftermath of WW2, published by Viking in 2012, and for an insight into the British Zone, Winning the Peace: The British in Occupied Germany, 1945-1948 by Christopher Knowles, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

The origin of the illustrations are as indicated, and from the British Newspaper Archive. Much of the information in the article has been gleaned from letters and reports in the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, 1946-47.

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