Sylt, January 1954.
My overnight stay in Ütersen was without event and our convoy set off early for the island of Sylt, off the north-west corner of Schleswig Holstein, adjacent to the Danish frontier. Our route took us north through Itzehoe, Rendsburg, Schleswig,
and Flensburg. There were one or two interesting moments for the drivers, for this
was rolling countryside and that meant hills. Some drivers had only driven on the
absolutely flat North German Plain and had never had to change gear to go up a hill,
either for a very long time, or never in their driving careers. With much graunching
and double-declutching our progress was slowed but continuous at each rise in the
ground. We had one of our stops at Rendsburg. All of us were amazed to see cows
drinking the sea water, for we had stopped by an inlet of the Baltic Sea which is
almost fresh water. There were reeds growing in it, too.
From Flensburg we turned West, on a road parallel to the frontier with Denmark, to make for Niebüll, our next destination.
We arrived at Niebüll in good time to meet the train which was to take us
across the Hindenburg Damm, the causeway to Sylt. There is no road connection
with the island. I checked in with the RTOs
Office and was told what to do to load the
vehicles and that there would be no need to lash them down on to the flat trucks.
and I saw to the loading, each driver taking his vehicle up the ramp at
the end of the train and driving along it from truck to truck to fill up from the front,
and be properly spaced out. I loaded a Thorneycroft first and it sat behind a black
Opel Kapitän saloon car, the first vehicle on the train. My Landrover was at the rear.
The weather was cold but not bitterly so, and there was a fresh breeze. A locomotive
backed on to the train, coupled up, and we moved off. We were allowed to
dismount from our vehicles because the motion of the train, transferred through the
springing of the vehicles, could have the effect of making the occupants travel-sick.
Many of the drivers dismounted but soon found the breeze, added to the wind
created by the forward movement of the train, was far too chilly for comfort so, to a
man, they opted to travel in the comparative warmth of their cabs.
By this time the train had left the mainland and was crossing the Hindenburg
Damm when, suddenly, there was what seemed to be an emergency application of
brakes. Five of my wagons slid forward on the greasy, wet, wooden surface of the
trucks and cannoned into each other. The train didn't actually stop but accelerated
again to its original speed and continued until it reached the unloading siding at
Westerland, Sylt. In doing so, those wagons which were in contact with each other
scraped together with the train's motion and turned what would originally have
been slight damage into something more significant but, fortunately, not disabling.
That was not all. The lead Thorneycroft was pushed from behind into the back
of the Opel Kapitän which, itself had been forced across the buffers into the back of
the locomotive's tender - and looked a sorry sight. Its driver, so we quickly
discovered, was no less than the Senior British Officer, a civilian responsible for
liaison between the Occupying Forces and the civilian population of that part of
Germany. A VIP
if ever there was one. I have to say that he was very understanding
and was concerned that none of us should be blamed for what had happened as the
whole incident was totally beyond our control. Johnny MacKnish
, Chiefy Blair
, and I,
set our drivers to the task of getting the Opel out of its predicament and on to terra
firma. It was driveable, just. The Bahnhofmeister was fetched and informed of what
had happened. That done we drove to RAF Sylt. Journey over.