Excitement had reigned amongst us, for some time, before the arrival of Friday the 9th of July, and it remained with us until the evening of Sunday the 18th of July, when we arrived home.
There was very little doubt about the fact, we had to hurry, and this we did in a real Rover manner, by arriving at Snow Hill Station, with about 3 minutes to spare. Our compartment had already been reserved, and very soon we were off on what was to be the most enjoyable holiday we have yet experienced.
On the way to London most of us displayed a curiosity which had laid dormant for some years, by continually questioning each other on what was likely to happen to us in Germany.
George and I made numerous attempts to learn German phrases from a text book, and to some extent we succeeded.
We had the company of a charming lady in our carriage, who was on her way to the Mediterranean for a Cruise. She gave us a number of hints, as she had already been abroad.
London showed itself bright and sparkling in the evening light, when we arrived, for some of us the first time, for others just a common occurrence. We crossed London by the usual methods, a double decker bus, being our limit, and what we were unable to see from the windows, we had to see with our imaginations.
Victoria Station gave us our first taste of a total stranger, for there we met, in uniform, an Australian Scout, who had come over to Europe to go to the World Jamboree which was been held at Holland, in the near future. He had already toured Germany by car, and so was able to give us first hand information, on various points, which we had been unable to completely sit on ourselves. The main one was that we should be treated like Lords, and how true we found this before our week was up.
We had a comfortable journey down to Dover, except for the fact, that across one's mind a little voice would shout, 'You have forgotten something', what is was we could not find out, and so we had to 'wait and see' as some great politician said.
The arrival at Dover meant that we were able to display our passports, in the dignified manner of the rich, this we did with a fling of the arm of which even a connoisseur of travel would be jealous.
We climbed the gangway to the ship with hearts as gay as possible, owing to the possibility of meeting that little devil sea-sickness, who always seems to hover in the vicinity of liners.
After scrambling amongst the crowd in the numerous alley-ways, we managed after about 30 minutes to find a speck, which even if it did not have all the comforts of home, was at least 'speck'.
The crossing was probably the calmest we should have got, even if we had waited for another six months, so in that respect we did excellently. In other respects we did not, and for four hours we tried in vain to go to sleep or to get warm. About half a dozen men, who had had one or two too many, also helped to put us to sleep, by singing at the top of their voices, those beautiful English songs, which we all knew so well.
Dawn brought us to the Belgian port of Ostend, and we were able to have an excellent view of a number of Belgians, in full dress uniform, if such it may be called, for to say they looked like wrecks, would probably be putting the language very mildly. Most of them were thin and looked in need of a damn good meal, we also, in all probability looked in need of a meal and this we intended to get at the first opportunity.
Passports were again examined by the Belgian Customs Officials who also put a chalk mark on our packs, which was, so I thought, a type of Belgian writing which meant OK
The station was alongside the Quay, and it was only a matter of minutes, before we were given our first glimpse of the Continental trains, and what a glimpse it was, we almost had to shade our eyes, owing to the blinding comfort which sallied out of the carriages. Then we dared to look again, yes it was right, wooden seats, such as one was wont to get, when having a run of bad luck on the Birmingham trams.
We thought of what seven hours on these would do to us, but then a greater calamity befell us, there were only eight seats for ten Rovers, but we had to leave this intriguing problem, for the call of food brought us back to earth. Half of us entered the café, and our French linguist Colin Needham, began to jabber with such fluency that the waiter dropped a plate in surprise.
We fed that morning on rolls and coffee and then took twenty rolls back us with us to the train to keep us company on the journey.
The train passed through Belgium in the early hours of the day, and we saw on the roads, countless cyclists, on their way to work.
We stopped at the main stations, namely Bruges and Brussels, and how dirty and untidy they looked, even in comparison with the large English stations. The Belgians waiting for their trains did not look any healthier than their relations on the Quayside at Ostend.
The German Frontier town of Aachen, shouted its welcome in some tongue that was as bad as Chinese to nine of us, but Jack Saunders our German linguist came to our rescue, and informed us that we had to get out of the train to have our passports stamped, and to say how much English money we had in our possession, this we did in the course of time.
The main thing that struck us was the difference between the German and the Belgian people. The former looked pictures of health in their bright coloured uniforms, their smiling faces and good teeth, which invariably clung tightly to a fat cigar. For some time after leaving Aachen we stood and admired a German blonde, who through fate perhaps had come into our corridor, and who was clinging gracefully to a window rail, until a little fat ticket collector came down the corridor from the opposite end, and on this poor gentleman we tried our German. We became quite friendly with this chap, and finished up by giving him an 'English Cigaretta' which he proudly put under his peaked cap, and started for the next compartment, after saying 'Danke Shörn' for some time.
We arrived at Cologne, about dinner-time, and came into a station, which was to say the least of it, really beautiful, most of the Officials were able to speak some English, and so we were not quite so bad off, as we thought we might be.
The money exchange was our first object, and this we found without any difficulty, we change our traveller's cheques for German Marks, and had our passports stamped with the quantity we had obtained.
We then made our way to the Post Office which was also in the Station, and from here we sent our first cards home, I gasped out the following sentence to the German Post Office 'Ich merckte ein brief-marken für finf-sehn phenigs' and was calmly answered in English. (Pardon the errors).
Outside the station, the tramcars made us smile for instead of being double-decked such as our own, they were all single decks, but there were always two or three of them fastened together, with only the first one picking up current.
Jack spoke to one or two Germans, on the point of eating houses, and we were finally taken to a place called the 'Orange Haus' in 'Mattias Strasse'. In this café we got down a real good German dinner, with cake as a dessert, and beer and Cider to drink.
It was in this Haus where we came across Gustav a German of about 25 years, who had a shop next door. He could not speak a word of English, but through Jack he offered to take us round Cologne. At first we were highly delighted to be treated so well, but as time went on we began to grumble like the typical Englishman about our legs and feet falling off, and we found our way back to the Orange Haus again for a further tuck in.
We had seen most of the sights of Cologne, the foremost of which is the magnificent cathedral which make a dwarf of any others, that I for one had ever seen.
Towards evening we took the electric car to the town of Bonne about 25 miles away, where we were to sleep the first night in Germany. I however fell asleep on the way, so to me that journey is merely a dream.
From the outside the Youth Hostel at Bonne was like, a very large residential boarding house. Inside it was fitted, with almost every device necessary for the comfort, in a plain straight forward manner, of its users. Half of us were unable to obtain food in the Hostel, and so we were obliged to go out into the town to hunt for it. With George as our leader we managed to capture a supply, which included the well known Black Bread of Germany.
The evening's meal was the one and only time that we tackled the 'stuff'. In colour it looked like 'Dark Shag Tobacco'. Taste it did not possess, but there was an enormous amount of grit in it, which cracked in one's mouth like egg-shells.
After dining, if it may be called such, we got into conversation with four German people who were also on a walking tour. They taught us a great deal of German, and we did our best to teach them some of the English language. George was by far the best of us 'lesser linguists', with myself probably a far away second. Of the others very little can be said, but we were all enjoying the company of the four foreigners.
Bed time also brought its trials and tribulations for, we had hardly climbed into bed, when the chap in charge came into the dormitory, and bawling in German told us he wanted half our bed-clothes, and we only had one blanket to keep us company during the night.
Morning brought with it, our first Hostel meal which consisted of brown and white bread, butter or margarine (I am not sure), jam and coffee.
We had a good tuck in from what was going, and then washed up our dishes, and prepared to leave the Hostel, We were however compelled, through rain, to stay for a short time.
Our first move was to get a tramcar as far as Memel, and then commence our walking tour. This we did, but in the meantime, on the tramcar to be exact, we met Margaret, a young English lady from Burnley, and the three Germans with whom she was staying. Two of these were girls and the other a man, and none of them could speak English. Aenne, one of the German girls we found to be excellent company, as we walked over hills, and into valleys. She was a fine girl, typically German, with good features and looks without being pretty.
We had of course to talk to these Germans in their own language, and Jack at first did most of the talking, but then George began to find his German tongue, and the party began to split into groups. Our group consisted of Aenne, George, Ken and myself, and did we have fun.
Having climbed to a good height by paths, we came to a beer garden, the first but by no means the last, which we saw in Germany. Here we stayed for some time, listening to music, drinking, and signing autographs. Leaving the garden behind us we gradually descended to the banks of the Rhine, and then crossed by the ferry to a small village known as 'Unkle'. Here we stayed for lunch, and afterwards emptied three bottles of wine down the sink, (pardon me). We were all by this time having great fun with the German language.
We seemed to be taking our newly found friends with us, instead of them taking us, so we had to ask them if they had intended to come the same way as ourselves. Their reply was that our way was their way, so we carried on happily.
However, we had to part very soon, owing to time getting rather short, and both parties had a good distance to cover before evening. This we did, with promises to see each other before we returned to England.
We arrived at Hammerstein hostel, a weary, tired aching party, with, in some instances the proud possession of a couple of blisters. We had by the way covered a distance far in excess of what we had intended to do.
Hammerstein was like a home to us, it was run by two sisters, the younger of whom had some very good features, the best of which was her hair a lovely auburn colour. They made us tea, which although too weak to come out of the pot was at least tea. From my own judgement I should say that there was about two spoonfuls in a pot for ten. We also had the pleasure of having bacon for breakfast, after two chaps had been five miles to get it, and, we had cooked it ourselves. Still such a dish is so rare that we considered ourselves very high and mighty. At this hostel was a German youth who said he knew no English, but we found out later that he had a remarkable vocabulary of romantic English words, which he used when trying to make love to Katie the girl with the auburn hair. This gentleman also bawled out in the middle of the night 'I want a piece of pork'. This of course brought forth first rate laughter from us English lads, who never having heard such an expression before were more or less astounded.