2 April 2013
I wrote previously on this blog about Colonel Eric Grimley, a British Kreis Resident Officer (KRO) in occupied Germany. He was a keen sportsman and wrote an article for the Shooting Times in 1965 on his earlier experiences, with the title ‘I hunted for democracy.’
Colonel Grimley was not alone in his belief that a shared interest in hunting encouraged mutual trust between British and Germans. General Gordon Macready, one of four British Regional Commissioners appointed in May 1946, responsible for all aspects of local and regional government in what is now the German Land, or region, of Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony), described in his memoirs how he worked together with the German ‘Prime Minister’ of his region, the social democrat Hinrich Wilhelm Kopf:
‘Co-operation with such a man was always pleasant, and on many occasions I enjoyed an excellent day’s sport with him. Inviting the Prime Minister to a shoot was always a matter of some delicacy. The control of all shooting and fishing had been taken over by the Allies, and no German was allowed to possess a firearm of any kind. Sporting guns and rifles had been collected immediately after the end of hostilities and in some localities the Allied military had senselessly destroyed piles of valuable sporting weapons by driving tanks over them. However, many remained and were kept under lock and key. When inviting Herr Kopf to a shoot, or accepting an invitation from him, I handed him one of his own guns which had fortunately been preserved, and gave him a ration of ammunition. The balance of the latter and the former were returned at the end of the shoot. We were glad when some months later, German high officials, estate owners and others who were vouched for by Military Government were allowed to resume possession of their guns.’
Hunting was a popular activity among many British army officers in the first half of the twentieth century. Here are two more examples from my researches among senior British army officers in occupied Germany:
General Alec Bishop wrote in his memoirs about life as a young British officer in India in the 1920s:
‘The big game shooting was first class, and included tiger, bison, wild boar, sambhur, cheetah and spotted deer. Serving officers could obtain … a licence entitling them to shoot one bison, one sambhur and four spotted deer in a season. The shooting of tiger and wild boar was not restricted … Life was very pleasant in those days for young officers serving in India. We were in fact a very privileged body of young men.’
General Brian Horrocks remembered his school holiday trips, before the First World War, to Gibraltar, where his father was serving as a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps:
‘The Gibraltar of those days was a small boy’s paradise, much more so than today, as we had free access to Spain. Life consisted of bathing, hunting with the Calpe hounds, cricket matches, race meetings and children’s parties – all great fun.’
What did hunting symbolise and mean for men such as these, when they found themselves in occupied Germany at the end of the war? Here are a few suggestions:
- Hunting wild animals (perhaps paradoxically) symbolised peace. It was what army officers did during peace time, when they were not at war.
- Hunting, in occupied Germany, therefore meant that the war was over and they could (at last) return to activities they associated with life in peacetime.
- Inviting the former enemy to accompany them symbolised reconciliation as well as peace. It symbolised mutual trust.
- It showed they were now on the same side. Weapons confiscated earlier were reissued and used against a common enemy (the animals they hunted together).
But it was not that simple. British officers tried, on some occasions, to justify hunting as a way of solving the new problems they faced in peacetime. For example, I came across a brief article in the British Zone Review in November 1945, with the headline:
‘Troops are hunting game as a military operation’
‘Operation Butcher’…is probably the biggest hunt ever organised. It is designed to kill as much wild pig, deer and other livestock as possible and thus supplement the meagre larder of the Germans. It is being treated as a military operation.’
The war was over. Their job as army officers had been completed. But they now faced new problems, such as shortages of food among the German population, which they did not know how to solve. They had won the war but did not know how to win the peace. So they justified hunting on the basis that it alleviated food shortages. By calling it ‘Operation Butcher’ they went about it as if it were a military operation – trying to use the methods of war to solve the problems of peace.
Of course ‘Operation Butcher’ was only one of many things the British did in occupied Germany. The practical effect of hunting on alleviating food shortages was minimal. The solution which worked in the end was to increase the volume of food imports from the USA and Canada (see my earlier posts on Bread Rationing in Britain).
Then as now, hunting (at least in Britain) was an elite activity. It created mutual trust and reconciliation between some members of a British elite of senior army officers and German administrators. In some rural areas, as Colonel Grimley described in his article, this would extend to local farmers, but Germans living in poor conditions in the big cities were no more likely than British people at home to react favourably to stories of British officers out hunting, while they went short of food.
Lt-General Sir Gordon Macready, In the Wake of the Great (London: William Clowes and Sons Ltd, 1965)
Alec Bishop, Look Back with Pleasure (Beckley, Sussex: unpublished, 1971)
Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Horrocks, A Full Life (London: Leo Cooper, 1974)
British Zone Review, Vol. 1, No. 4, Saturday 10 November 1945