The Lighter Side of War - CHAPTER 23: Winterslag,
People in story: Reg Reid, Captain Mascoid, Brotherstone, Powell, Johnny O'Toole,
Wheeler, Petty, Rumsey-Williams
Location of story: Winterslag, Belgium
Unit name: `A' platoon, 133 Company, 7th Armoured Division
Background to story: Army
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk –
Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Reg Reid, and has been added to the site with the authors
permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
The Lighter Side of War
CHAPTER 23: Winterslag, Belgium
The 133 Convoy left Maaseijk and moved up through Belgium, bypassing Borg Leopold on
their way to Winterslag. Ritchie and Butch in the Workshop's lorry were set back by 48
hours attending to various breakdowns en route.
The most interesting one was at a crossroads, where an MP was vigorously directing
traffic. A brand new civilian 10 ton lorry was at the crossroads, abandoned.
They pulled into a lay-by just before the crossing to make themselves mugs of tea.
Butch supped his quickly and took a mug to the MP traffic cop. "Go and sit in our cab with
this and I'll direct the traffic."
The MP did so with pleasure, giving Butch his armband. MPs are not used to being treated
Do a good turn and it comes back to you. The MP returned after twenty minutes chatting
in the cab with Ritchie, took his armband back and asked Butch:
"Do you want that civvy lorry? It broke down and Belgian black marketeers in it scarpered
when they saw us. It won't go. I've tried it. If you can mend it, it's yours."
It was brand new, with NAAFI supplies in the back - whisky, gin, fags, beer. All this for
giving a bloke a twenty minute tea break!
Butch got in. The engine fired beautifully but it didn't move in gear. Ritchie checked the
drive shaft and found that a universal joint made of rubber and canvas was broken. In a
big tool box were six spares, they repaired the lorry and Butch drove away, waved through
by the MP, Ritchie following in the 15 tonner.
It was a few days on from Maaseijk and the unit had bypassed Borg Leopold to reach
Winterslag where all the lads were settled in civvy billets. Our two were now trailing two
and a half days behind, when they reached a huge wired and watch towered prisoner of
war camp, built by sappers and housing German prisoners and 133 Company HQ cum
hospital and cookhouse.
They parked the civilian lorry discreetly nearby, drove into the camp and reported to the
He said there were no more civvy billets - the small town was groaning with British,
Yankee and Canadian troops.
"You two will have to stay with the Jerries in this camp. Get a couple of palliasses and kip
down tonight in the guard room. At least you've got your US Navy sheepskin, Reid."
The guard room was so bleak, they left everything to `hit the town', It was only mid
afternoon and Winterslag was an half hour walk away. Troops were milling around the
Town Hall Square and every local bar and cafe, even at that early hour, were bustling with
troops. A wall of sound hit them as they went into one or two South Yorkshire, Scouse,
Geordie, Cockney, Scots, Welsh, American, Canadian, French and Flemish voices, but
through the fog of cigarette smoke, they couldn't recognise any of the lads and didn't
fancy wading through crowds to get to the bars.
They wandered down side streets and eventually found Cafe Wilhelm, with not many
inside, in fact just six Yankee airmen lounging about, half drunk. The Limeys joined them
The booze had made the Americans happy and frank, not aggressive. Perhaps they
thought Butch was a Yank in his US Navy issue sheepskin lined coat, and were surprised to
find he was a Limey, albeit with what they thought was a Flemish accent!
The Limeys were surprised to find the Yanks were fighter pilots, semi-intoxicated when on
call. They were drooling over the cafe owner's wife who was nice and friendly with a pretty
face, well built, in her mid forties perhaps and, lets be frank, nice tits, which she showed in
a low cut dress. You know what it's like, the only woman in a group of men who've not had
female company for some while and who are slightly drunk, all eyes on her, even if she's
not unduly attractive - and the cafe owners wife was very attractive. A little dog walked at
her heels as if to repulse any advances.
A snooker table took up much of the main room. One of only three in Belgium, she said.
She knew it was a British game, invented by the British Army in India, a long time ago.
British lads often came in for a game.
Ritchie challenged Butch to a game. Butch was shaping up for an expert shot when some
people came loudly into the cafe, putting him off. He paused, shaped up for a shot again
and was just on the verge of letting fly, when someone knocked his elbow. He turned
round angrily to find the cafe owner's wife smiling at him.
The people who'd just come in were the American airmen back from their operation, after
what seemed to be only an hour or so. They had been called into the air to escort US
bombers to the Ruhr - a mere fifteen minutes away by Super-Fortress. Das Ruhrgebiet,
the Ruhr district, with its massive steel and armaments centres at Essen, Dortmund,
Bochum, Duisburg etc. was essential to Hitler's war effort. As in the Don Valley where,
worried about the concentration of special steels in the area, the British Government had
encouraged satellite electric melting plants around Northern England, so had the Germans
expanded the steel making area of Silesia, Poland, and had established steel plants in
Hitler's home town of Linz in Austria. Poland and Austria had now been overrun by the Red
Army, and Germany had to defend the Ruhr at all costs. Lose the Ruhr and the war would
Back to the Cafe Wilhelm. The Yanks were modest about their `op'. It was uneventful.
Some flak. They said the Super-Fortresses dropped their bombs short of the target -
Krupps at Essen, and returned.
They reverted to drinking and admiring the cafe owner's wife but one did speak frankly to
Butch as the game with Ritchie continued. He confessed admiration for the RAF lads who
queued up to bomb a target, sometimes going round twice if they weren't lined up
correctly first time. The RAF fighter pilots too held in there.
"We go in and if we can't hammer the Krauts first go, we get the hell out of it. Still, it's
your war really. Europe's war, not ours."
He asked them to teach him the `Limey game'. Ritchie let him take his place for a while.
Butch tried to explain the rules, the significance of the different coloured balls. Cocky as
ever he bent down:
"Watch how I pot this one - a long shot".
He drew the cue back, but as he shot, his elbow was nudged again. He turned and faced
the low cut dress of the cafe owner's wife.
She was jolly and liked the reaction she got from the young men. She had taken especially
to the cheeky faced Sheffielder.
"Where are you billeted?"
"In the German prisoner's camp".
"I've got two rooms. You can have them."
They hurried back to the camp. It was now midnight but the Mechanical Sergeant Major
was still at HQ. He was basically kind (aren't they all?) and said, "Get your kit, borrow my
15 cwt truck and take the rooms, then I won't have to see your 'orrible faces again
They settled in the cafe nicely. What a luxury it was to have a bath, clean sheets on the
beds and breakfast with the cafe owner's wife.
Back at work next morning, Butch had a word with Captain Mascoid ("As big a bloody
rogue as me" - Reg Reid's words in 2002).
"I've got you a new 10 ton civvy lorry sir."
"Get rid of the effin' thing."
Just the words he wanted to hear, and back at the Cafe Wilhelm with Ritchie, he asked the
owner's wife if she wanted to buy a new civilian lorry, complete with a stock of whisky, gin,
fags and beer. He said he thought Belgians deserved a bargain for suffering under the Nazi
"Five hundred quid."
"Let me see it."
The lorry was still in its discreet spot near the camp and they drove it to town and parked
it outside Cafe Wilhelm. She got in it and drove it round the back and agreed:
"O.K. - I'll get you the money. £500 in Belgian Francs."
After work that day, they treated the lads to drinks at the cafe. Brotherstone, Powell,
Johnny O'Toole, Wheeler, Petty, Rumsey-Williams, half `A' Platoon plus some from
Workshops were there. Wheeler even helped serve drinks alongside a neat young live-in
waitress. Lads were crammed in both rooms and corridor. The cafe owner's wife was at her
jolly, flirtatious best. We can't go on calling her the cafe owner's wife. She was the force
behind the business: her husband, much older, with a small holding to look after, kept a
low profile in the background. Let's call her A.W. (short for `her' at Wilhelm's or `all
woman' - take your pick). Butch was very fond of her and we've a picture of her to show
Next morning at breakfast, A.W. asked Butch if he could get spare engines and offered
£100 in Belgian Francs for each engine. She would take every one they could get.
The MSM let them have a chit for the `Help yourself dump', the resting place for
irreparable bren carriers, lorries, pick-up and tanks. Some bren carriers were smashed at
the front or rear, but had sound engines. These could be lifted straight out and were
identical to A.W.'s lorry engine.
At the dump, Butch squared it with the sergeant in charge, gave him a few quid and over
the next few weeks, took four engines at a time on three different occasions helped by
Ritchie, an army lorry and a breakdown truck with crane.
Three lots of £400 were divided between Butch, Ritchie, the MSM and Captain Mascoid.
The engines were dropped at a spot designated by A.W., by thorn bushes near Winterslag.
A.W. was a keen businesswoman and usually got what she wanted. Her husband got tired
and could hardly keep up with her. It was not unknown for her to slip into a young
soldier's bed while hubby was snoring in the next room. No names, no pack drill!
Always with an eye for more business, Butch supplied her with petrol and wheels during
their stay at Cafe Wilhelm. Ritchie, for his part, touched lucky with the young live-in
waitress. The Winterslag idyll lasted a mere four weeks - yet what vivid times.