7 August 2012
Dr Peter Beckmann has emailed me from Germany to say he would very much like to hear from relatives or friends of the late Colonel E H D (Eric) Grimley, who was the British Kreis Resident Officer (KRO) for the district of Bentheim in northern Germany near the Dutch border, from January 1946 until he retired from the army in 1949.
In 1945, at the end of the war, Dr Beckmann’s father, Rudolf Beckmann, was appointed by the British as Landrat, or head of the local administration for the district, and the two men worked closely together.
Dr Beckmann also sent me a German translation of an article Colonel Grimley wrote for the Shooting Times in 1965. I’ve written previously on this blog about the role played in the occupation by British Kreis Resident Officers (KROs) and was delighted to read a first-hand account, written by a KRO, of his impressions of ‘how it really was’.
Like many British army officers at the time, Colonel Grimley was a keen sportsman. In the article, under the headline ‘I hunted for democracy’, he described some of his experiences in Germany. His district included fields, meadows, woods, heath and marsh, with plenty of game, including red deer, fish, rabbits, hare, pheasants, partridge, snipe, geese, duck and even wild boar. Part of his responsibility was to oversee the transition of the local administration from totalitarian to democratic principles. Perhaps I did not understand the situation correctly, he wrote, but ‘it seemed to me that if the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, the battle for democracy could be fought on the hunting grounds of the district of Bentheim.’ He and his dog became a familiar sight not only in Nordhorn, the main town in the district, but in the country villages, where many of the local inhabitants shared his interest. Hunting he believed, combined discipline and freedom, and encouraged mutual trust that could never be achieved in the office or local council chamber.
Although, he wrote, it would have been simpler to restrict his shooting parties to members of the British military government, he decided to invite Germans to accompany him, including the Landrat, Rudolf Beckmann, who was a keen huntsman. At the end of the war all weapons, including shotguns and hunting rifles, had been confiscated from the Germans; the British were afraid of armed resistance and the official penalty for a German caught in possession of a firearm was death. Allowing their former enemy the use of firearms on a joint hunting expedition was therefore a demonstrable sign of trust.
While sorting through his father’s papers after he died, Dr Beckmann found some extracts (translated into German) from a diary that Colonel Grimley kept during his time in Bentheim and gave to the Landrat. In the extracts he described persuading the local administration to make more accommodation available for thousands of refugees, visits to the small towns and villages in the districts, and emergency measures to cope with sudden severe floods; a major problem in a low lying area.
Colonel Grimley must have taken his diary back with him to England, as he referred to it in his article for the Shooting Times. As far as I know it has never been published, but Dr Beckmann believes he gave it the title ‘I always come back to my window’. He hopes it has been preserved and could still be in the possession of the family; perhaps Colonel Grimley’s children or grandchildren, or a family friend.
The reason for the title ‘I always come back to my window’ is apparent on reading the extracts from the diary. Colonel Grimley returns again and again to the view from his office window, of the Union Jack fluttering in the wind outside the British headquarters building and people passing in the street outside. Here is one brief extract, describing the end of a long day:
'Now I stand again at my window. It is almost like the silent films of long ago. People go past, but due to the double glazed window panes, shut tightly against the cold, the noise of their passing stays outside. The flag was lowered with the onset of the dusk. For the moment nothing moves on my silver screen. Who or what will appear next, for a few brief moments, in the evening twilight?'
Lt. Col. Eric Henry Donald Grimley was born in 1899. He was commissioned as an officer in 1916 but was too young for active service. Between the wars he served in Mesopotamia, India, China, the West Indies and Africa. From 1940-1942 he was the commanding officer for the 8th Battalion of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. He joined the army civil affairs branch and served in Norway after the war, before transferring to Germany in January 1946. Colonel Grimley died in 1969, aged 70.