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Irmgard's Lebenslauf


Her story continues . . .

Part 4 - Post War.

Post War

The war ended in May 1945 and the Americans occupied the part of Austria where we stayed.  The Austrians who were keen to become Germans before the war now wanted to be Austrians again and evict the German refugees from their country.  Mutti and my sisters were transported to Germany.  I was still working at the dental centre and, as we now treated the people who came out of the concentration camps, our work became important, and we had to stay. 

I shared a room in the Bahnhofs Hotel with a nurse and a girl from Berlin who was the interpreter to the Americans. Before my family left, I arranged with Mutti a contact address so that we did not lose each other again.

Vati's brother, Sepp, lived in Brunswick and we agreed on his address as a point of contact. Vati had to stay in Silesia. All the men were kept back and were not allowed to leave so we had no news of him.

Lodgings in Austria.

In January 1946 those of us who had stayed behind in Austria now had to leave as well. A bus was made available and we were taken to our destinations.  On the first evening we arrived in Nuremberg, which was badly damaged.  There were no hotels or hostels for us to sleep in. We were not allowed to travel during the night as a curfew was in force. The driver went to the police station for instructions.  The police did not have any idea what to do with us until someone mentioned that there was plenty of room in the cells. We slept on straw mattresses, itched like mad and were glad when we could carry on the next day.  But I can say that I have slept in Nuremberg's jail.

The next day I arrived in Brunswick.  I went to my uncle's house but it was full with relations.  Mutti and the children had been sent to a small village where they found some accommodation in a farmer's house.  Because there were so many refugees coming from the east, the people in the west who still had homes had to give shelter.  The accommodation was very cramped. 

At about the same time, Silesia was occupied by the advancing allied army from the east. My father had to stay put, at least pro tem. Eventually he made the long and hazardous journey from Silesia to Brunswick, mainly on foot, and often moving by night. In the near anarchy and utter confusion of the early post war months, being an adult German male presented a danger to life. Not without difficulty, he made it and was eventually reunited with Mutti and his two daughters Helga and Karola.

After a few years in temporary accommodation near Brunswick, Vati, Mutti and my two sisters were housed by the German government in a local authority flat in Reutlingen in Baden Wuerttemberg (1955). My other sister, Inge and her family also relocated in the west and ended up near Frankfurt am Main, where they settled permanently.

After I arrived in Brunswick, I went to the local accommodation office and was fortunate to get a single room in a house with a very nice family. I tried to find work with a local German dentist but they were busy re-constructing their own lives and businesses and there were no vacancies. However, on my walks I noticed a sign saying:   "54 Field Dental Centre"

I thought that this would be similar to what I had done in Austria, but in English.  I had learnt English at school but now when it came to the test, it was sparse.  I went to the centre and spoke to the head dental officer, Major Norman.  He said, "Yes, I do need someone, but I have advertised and this afternoon I am interviewing several young ladies for the job.  If you could come back tomorrow morning I shall tell you what the outcome is."  I went back there the next day.  "Yes", he said, "You can start tomorrow".  "Oh, thank you, but I cannot start tomorrow" I told him "as I have to discharge an obligation first for a friend of mine". 

A post war good turn

When I was in Austria, all the German people had to be "de-nazified"  according to American law.  We had to fill in questionnaires about what office we held during Hitler's regime. Apart from the Hitler Youth and the Land Army I was not involved in anything and got the OK.

Kark Frenke

A friend of mine, Karl Franke, who was drafted into the SS, was not so lucky. He was interned by the Americans, I don't know for how long. Before he left he gave me his watch, his papers, his father's address and asked me to deliver these items.  That was why I did not start my work immediately.

I travelled to Schleswig-Holstein (In the very north of Germany) where his father lived and practised as a vet in Husum.  The railway system was very bad. A lot of railway carriages were lost through bomb damage. I did find a train, which went north to Hamburg.  It was a cattle train, without a roof and many people squeezed in.

I did eventually get to Husum, I can't remember all the details, but I enjoyed the few days I had there.  My friend's father took me in his little car on visits to the farmers in the area.

Food was very scarce in Germany after the war. The average amount of calories eaten was 800 per person (the normal average amount being 2800).  Because this man worked with farmers he had no difficulty in obtaining food. It was a very difficult time.  Many people took a rucksack or bags and went either on foot or by train to the country to exchange anything they had for food.  The farmers were getting fed up with them, but managed to get a nice collection of all sorts of things. (Jewellery, linen, and anything you could think of).  That was all right for people who had lived in the west and had not lost their homes, but all the refugees who had nothing left had to help themselves.

I remember going out at night in Austria with a bag and taking 2 or 3 pieces of wood from various houses where they were stacked.  Some people went to the station and took coal. There was nothing in the shops.  You could only buy your rations (butter, meat, potatoes etc.) and on occasion, not always that. If some goods had come in which were not rationed everybody queued up for them. Whenever you saw a queue you joined it, even if you did not know what was for sale. 

Back now to Major Norman, the dental officer who took me on. I started working there, and that was when I really got to grips with my English. I soon learned the names of all the instruments and to react to requests from the boss.  At lunchtime I was allowed to join the British staff in another house. That was very useful and saved my own rations somewhat. The British soldiers were all very nice and helpful and would not take liberties with me once I made my position clear.

The British Army requisitioned the house in which I had my room, and I was once again homeless.  However, when I mentioned this to Major Norman, he got wheels turning, a letter was written to the German Head of the Council as urgent and hey presto! I was accommodated in another part of the town. As I was single, it was comparatively easy to find a room, rather than several rooms a family would need. After some time the dental centre closed and I was transferred to the dental department in 121 British Military Hospital.



It was a very nice German built hospital, which the British had taken over.  My new boss was Captain Howse and we got on very well together.  He was very sympathetic and often helped me. For instance one Friday I was going to visit a friend in Göttingen after my work. I already had my train ticket, ration book and some money in my handbag. While sitting in the bus going to work I suddenly realised that my handbag was missing. Someone had stolen it on leaving at the last stop.  I had no hope of finding it again. 


When I told Capt. Howse about it he "organised" some food for me (bread, etc) and smuggled out of the hospital a large amount of cigarettes, which I could then sell for food (on the black market). It was strictly forbidden to take any goods out of the hospital (that is for the Germans who worked there) and often one's bags were searched.  So that was a great help for 2 or 3 weeks worth of ration cards had been stolen, apart from the money I could ill afford to lose.

My work consisted of assisting my boss in his work, i.e. handing him the right instruments, mixing fillings and sometimes carrying out the work of a dental hygienist as well as keeping the record of work in the books, arranging appointments, answering the phone etc.

On the phone.

In the dentist's chair

Irmi and Phil

All the patients were from British serving units who were stationed in the area.  From time to time British soldiers were sent to help us.  There were dental mechanics, corporals and privates who were doing clerical work, kept the appointment book up to date and assisted the dentist at his work. 

One day a nice looking corporal appeared Philip Shepherd. I liked him, because he was kind and very polite and when we conversed a little we found we had lots in common. He read a lot of books. We became very friendly and enjoyed each other's company.

He was posted to another part of Germany but after a time he came to visit me over the Easter holidays and we had a pleasant time.

Then that year (1948) the dental department closed and I was transferred to another unit but this too was threatened with closure and I looked around for something else. I went to the Labour Office and made inquiries. I was asked whether I would be interested in training as a nurse in England.  I agreed but was soon informed that there was no longer a vacancy.  Disappointed I went back to my room. However, three days later I received a letter telling me that a few women had withdrawn from the scheme. I think their mothers did not like to be so far away from their darlings!

The following excerpt is from an article in The Times appeared on 5 August 1948, 

"In view of the increasing demand for nurses, the Ministry of Labour is bringing over as an experiment 50 German women who have volunteered to train as nurses."

And on 19 August 1948 an article in The Times said, 

"The first party of German women to arrive in this country for training as nurses left London yesterday for a three weeks' course at the reception centre set up by the Ministry of Labour at Colwyn Bay.  This party numbers 50, and if the experiment is successful, many more may be brought over to ease the increasing shortage of nurses.  After the course they will be assigned as student nurses to hospitals which have agreed to cooperate in this scheme." 

And so it was that on 15 August 1948 we arrived at Harwich. We first spent three days in a hostel at Hyde Park Corner in London and with £1 pocket money and the West End shops within easy reach the world was our oyster. After three weeks at Colwyn Bay we were divided into groups and sent to four different hospitals.  15 went to Manchester, 10 to Dartford (Kent), 10 to Joyce Green near Dartford and 15 came to Oldchurch Hospital in Romford.  We were to draw our destination out of a hat.

Irmi at Oldchurch Hospital, Romford.

I had Phil's address in Romford and he was demobbed at around the same time. I asked if I could go to Romford, since I have "distant relations" living there. That was a white lie that paid off.

The organisers were only too pleased to have some nurses sorted out and offered that I could take 2 friends with me, Sybil and Angela. That was a great help and I did not feel as homesick as I would have been otherwise.  These were hard times, but also very happy ones. 

We made many friends and Oldchurch had become our home. The training was very strict but we were proud to have stayed there.  After three years many left for Germany and "the world" but some of us remained.


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