1 July 2013
It’s a pleasant surprise for a historian, to receive an eye-witness account of something they have researched in the archives, from someone who was there is person. Harry Furness, whose story I told in the previous post on this blog, was one of the British soldiers who took part in ‘Operation Butcher’, which, as I wrote in my earlier post on Hunting for Democracy, was described in the British Zone Review in November 1945 as:
'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.'
Harry Furness remembered ‘Operation Butcher’ well, because he took part in it. This is what he told me:
'You were quite right that with the great shortage of food, especially for the German civilian, it had been decided by the Control Commission to cull those over-large herds of deer in the nearby forests [whose numbers had not been controlled during the war] for food supplies. The Army had just finished war combat, so started to cull deer as a military operation. All the professional foresters had been disarmed. It was originally planned that only officers would hunt and kill the wild game. The great problem was that very few officers had any wild game hunting experience, combined with the fact that usually officers are not particularly well trained in rifle-craft; their war weapons were typically handguns and sub-machine guns. Very soon the German foresters became furious that wild game were not being humanely despatched. They insisted it had to be a one-shot kill.
The Control Commission were forced to re-evaluate the use of untrained shooters. In the area where I was stationed I was selected by my C.O. [Commanding Officer] and the Commission to shoot as many deer as possible working alongside a German forester. I had been highly trained as a Bisley ‘gravelbelly’ much earlier, so I was a well-qualified marksman. Indeed I accounted for a lot of deer always with one-shot kills. Following at some distance to the guide and myself, I had a section of soldiers with a couple of tracked Bren Gun Carriers who collected the killed game and then delivered it directly to German officials at the Rathaus (Town Hall) in Neheim, where they distributed the venison to local butchers in the surrounding areas. I only kept back a couple of killed deer, one for the Officers’ Mess, and one went to the Sergeants’ Mess … my recollection is that our method of preparation to eat venison wasn’t too good; it’s really a cook’s art.
I might mention that one of our officers (a Captain) scored a hat-trick during a deer hunt. He aimed at a deer standing next to a thick bush, and we quickly found out that his bullet had killed the deer and also another deer about to foal which couldn’t be seen behind the thick foliage, so three deer were killed with one rifle shot. It was, of course, an accident, but the German forester was unhappy at the result. ‘Operation Butcher’ didn’t last long. We killed a lot of deer, but it seemed to prove of little value in improving the food supply during that hard period.
At Ceasefire all German professional foresters had been disarmed. On retrospect it proved to be a military mistake, but it was very soon rectified and most of the hunters’ personal weapons were given back to them. After which no further unauthorised military hunting was allowed; it was by German permit only. Those few British solders with a track record of wild game hunting thereafter frequently received invitations to join German hunts.'