Shenstone: The quiet, leafy village holds a little known story of wartime, and postwar endeavour. Imagery from Bing Maps.
I’m always fond of little-known local histories here on the blog, and some months ago, old pal of the blog and top lad Ian Bourne got in touch to tell me of a history he had a bit of a childhood connection to: That of Major Eric Sadler, who was stationed in Germany immediately at the end of World War Two.
I knew nothing about this at all, but the story sounded intriguing. Ian wrote to me:
I spent some years as a lad growing up in Shenstone. My mom and dad bought our house from a retired solicitor and Major, Eric Sadler.
He kept part of the very large garden and built a bungalow to retire in, at the bottom. We had a connecting gate into his garden, and we would all look after him. I used to go down and cook his meals sometimes, and he’d surruptitiously reward me with a can of Ind Coope beer, bless him.
Lovely old fella, but he had some fabulous history. During the war, just after D-Day he was sent in to help ‘run’ a small German city, and kept a diary. This was serialised by the Birmingham Post & Mail in the early 80’s, and my dad kept the cuttings. I have them, they were spread over three days by the paper, including a few pictures.
I jumped at the chance, and Ian very kindly and thoroughly transcribed the article into three parts for me to serialise here on the blog, which I’m proud and honoured to do.
I feature the first instalment here today, and would like to ask if you knew the Major, or anything about his story at all.
The immediate postwar in Germany, and the implementation of the Marshall plan is little discussed in the UK but was key to shaping our current era.
My thanks to Ian for a lovely thing, he really is a gentleman.
If you have anything to add, please do: Comment here on this post, mail me on BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com or tug my jacket on social media.
Major Eric Sadler (retd) at home in Shenstone with his wartime photographs. Image from original 1984 Birmingham Post article.
The Birmingham Post, Thursday February 16, 1984
When the fighting stops, life does not automatically return to normal straight away. One of the many British officers who were charge with the duty of setting up military government in Germany immediately after the fall of Hitler was ERIC SADLER, a Birmingham solicitor before and after the Second World War. He kept a fascinating and detailed diary of his experience, from which we shall be publishing brief extracts today, tomorrow and on Saturday.
To the victor the toils…
“I got a medal from the other side at the end of my consular seven years: Officers’ Cross First Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
“It’s the BVK1. One polite chap said, ‘Excuse my asking, but is that the number of your motor car…?’”
Gentle amusement ushers in the story of the souvenir of Eric Sadler’s stint as Consul for Germany in Birmingham, which he carried out until 1975, alongside his duties as senior partner of a Birmingham firm of solicitors.
There is more to come.
“And I got the TD for 24 years’ undetected crime on our side. War counts double, so that’s 12 towards the 24, and I did a bit before the war and a bit after.”
At his home in Shenstone, near Lichfield, the gentle amusement becomes an uninhibited chuckle. Improbability is all, and you cannot tell Eric Sadler anything about appreciating the unlikelihoods of life.
He has been tuning in to its quirks and its incalculabilities for most of his 76 years and it is not difficult to get the impression that by now he could do it with his eyes shut while taking a crash course in Swahili.
It is a tendency which even includes the circumstances of his birth at Erdington.
“In 1907, Erdington was still in Staffordshire – so when I choose, I call myself a Brummie, and when I don’t, I am a Stafford.”
Unmistakably, Eric Sadler has got his life taped – but, somehow, it is taped on his own terms. When it manages to surprise him, he enjoys its presumption to the full.
This is a quality which adds piquancy to his Detmold Diary, a day-by-day account of the six weeks he spent in 1945 as legal officer with No. 121 Military Government Detachment, responsible for the administration of an area the size of an average English county, just before and just after the end of the war in Europe.
Detmold is a German town which lies between Hanover and Munster; unlikely to draw itself to the attention of the average British taxpayer in the ordinary course of events; of no significance to Major Eric Sadler until he and the other members of the small force of which he was a part arrived there to assume the functions of the local authority and lay the foundations of a return to normality.
Detmold is a town with a long history and I suspect this old cafe has seen a lot of it, good and bad. Image from the Detmold Tourism Information site.
Where Detmold achieves distinction is in the Sadler documentation of the birth-pangs Detmold’s peace, seen through the eyes of an outsider charged with making them as smooth and swift as possible.
The diary was originally scribbled on bits of paper, then handwritten as a fair copy and sent home, two or three days at a time, with his letters to his wife, Marjorie.
Its current, typed version, includes fading photographs of places and people. One shows the handful of officers and other ranks who comprised No. 121 Military Government Detachment.
Another is of August Herbst, resplendent in breeches, multi-buttoned jacket and epaulettes. It is a picture with special memories.
“I regarded him as my German right-hand up to the time I came home. But he had not got what every other German employee of ours had to have, which was security clearance. About two years later I learned why.
“He may have been in the uniform of the fire brigade, but he was an ace German pilot. He had fought in the Spanish Civil War and he had Germany’s highest decoration for 20 bombing raids over London.
“We met him again when we went back in the 50s and the hotel proprietor put us up in what had been the colonel’s bedroom…”
In 1928, long before any hint of the war which was to take him to Germany, Eric Sadler had been articled to Jeffrey Parr & Co, solicitors, of Temple Row, Birmingham – the firm of which he was to be senior partner from 1952 and to which he became consultant about three years ago.
His early Territorial Army service saw him take a commission with the 5th Bn, South Staffordshire Regiment, in 1938. Later, he transferred to the 7th Battalion and went on a junior staff course at Brasenose College, Oxford. By the time war came, he was a captain.
Eventually, there was what he recalls as “the gauleiters course at Wimbledon.”
REME were stationed at Detmold Barracks during the Cold War, and I’m sure Eric would be familiar with this view of the site from an early 1950s image by Tony Briscoe.
“It was for officers destined to go into Germany and fill the gap between battle won and hand-over to full civilian government. The doodlebugs were around at that time, to liven things up.
“Then some of us went on to a bit more learning about military government with the Americans in Manchester. We had a medical examination before we could be attached to them.
“When I had joined the TA, I was simply told to ring the MO. He said, “Are you all right?” I said I was, and he said, “In that case, I don’t need to see you.”
Eric Sadler crossed the Channel some weeks after D-Day in 1944. He and a handful of others were put into the first of the American landing craft which met them a few hundred yards off Arromanches.
“We came to a juddering halt. One of the crew investigated round the back and fished up a cable which was entangled in the propeller. The American officer in charge said, “Get your bloody hatchet out and cut it” – which we did.
“It could have been carrying all the communications for the whole of the invading force, for all he knew. A light-hearted lot, these Americans…”
He surrenders to the memory with an air of agreeable disbelief. As ever, the man behind the Detmold Diary is enjoying the improbabilities.
Tidying up in the smouldering ruins
Sunday, April 8, 1945
Detmold is not badly damaged, but it looks a mess. A few buildings are smashed or burned, many damaged and most front window glass shattered.
Rubble and glass in the gutters: streets and pavements pitted and cratered: tram wires trailing and twisting: bent and broken light and tramway standards: no gas, water or electricity. Some damage by bombs – some when the town was captured by a single American battalion.
The battle started on Sunday 1st April, reached its climax and ended on Wednesday 4th April; we are here three days after the German Army went. In a few places it still smoulders and has that same curious sweet burnt wood smell, so noticeable in ever damaged town.
Tuesday, April 10
Colonel’s Conference. In the woods around Lemgo, a town fairly near, are said to be hundreds of German soldiers. An emissary is going to tell them they may give themselves up at 2.30 tomorrow and that the British do not ill-treat prisoners of war. A food store big enough to feed an army is in the town, we have taken a few things for ourselves.
Displaced persons in Detmold include 200 Poles, 140 Jugo-slavs, but the unnumbered majority are probably Russians. A handful of British Military Police are said to be in Detmold; the only other British troops.
Wednesday, April 11
Herr Chef wants pieces of wood for the window mending. I sign an authority for him – I sign almost anything, most of us do. Whether we have authority to do so is another question.
Just the car for the job…Maj Eric Sadler at the wheel of the four-seater drop-head coupe 1700 cc Mercedes-Benz which he requisitioned. Image from original 1984 Birmingham Post article.
After I had done a little arranging and tidying, the Colonel sprang on me that I must next provide water and electricity for the Yanks up at the airfield. Called on my reliable messenger for Herr Brand and the Detmold electricity man. Herbst showed me the four-seater drop-head Coupe 1700 cc Mercedes Benz which he had selected for me to requisition. It was laid up and dusty but obviously a beauty. It was the private property of the Oberfinanz Prasident of Munster. However Herbst said the O.F.P. was a Nazi and didn’t need a car anyway.
Friday, April 13
One officer has issued all our drivers with pretty triangular yellow flags with black skull and crossbones to stick on their vehicles. The drivers quickly take them off when I point out they are sporting the emblem of the German S.S. Totenkopf Division!
A German complained about looting. I said in war soldiers will loot and he replied that the German soldiers were the worst!
I suspect this is a very close model to Major Sadler’s commandeered car. Isn’t that special? Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Dinner with the usual courses and drinks and deep discussions about definitions of fraternisation and collaboration. An American interrupts us for some sort of pass – as usual I sign it. Retired to write. John Shadbolt came with a problem – German garage proprietor has been helpful, our colonel says he must empty cars out of his garage. This sort of question will keep on arising. C’est le guerre. And the Germans have lost it.
I doubt whether I have ever done so much in a single day before, but it is constructive. Since the war began, I have never (except on leave!) felt happier or better in health.
Coming in part two:
Learning that setting up military government means being a Jack of all trades…
German Order of Merit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_Merit_of_the_Federal_Republic_of_Germany
TD award https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Territorial_Decoration
I think this is Mr. Sadler’s car https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes-Benz_W136
Bad Salzuflen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bad_Salzuflen
HITLER IS DEAD https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-44131106
VE Day Broadcasts https://www.bbc.com/historyofthebbc/anniversaries/may/ve-day-broadcasts