History In The Making – Part 2
On 12th June 1982, US President Ronald Reagen stood almost directly in front of the closed-off Brandenburg Gate to give a speech. Part of his speech included a plea to the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, when he said ‘Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’
The Berlin Wall had been in place since 1961 and did finally come down in November, 1989 and saw the liberation of all the countries contained within the Communist regime.
Many of us will remember Berlin in both its current free existence and when the wall was in place. There are no-doubt many Berlin veterans in our group, including myself. We would like to hear from you about your experiences in the City and particularly in November 1989 if you were there.
But this article isn’t just about the Berlin Wall, but also about the Cold war. Never really a war but one which lasted from 1948 right up until 1990 and one that many of us veterans would have experienced first-hand at one time or another.
5th June 1945 saw the signing of the Berlin Treaty bringing about the dissolution of Nazi Germany. Supreme authority for Germany was split between Britain, France, US and Russia. But whereas the Western allies demobilised their forces Russia increased theirs by some 4 million soldiers between 1945 and 1950. Russia created a border to enclose their sector, in effect creating an East and West with Germany, with Berlin sitting within the East sector.
On 24th June 1948 the Berlin blockade started when Russia attempted to close or control all routes into Berlin. The only route they could not control was air, and the Berlin airlift came into being with British and other civilian and military aircraft flying supplies into the West side of the city, whilst rescuing those occupants that desired to leave.
Of course for veterans over the last 40 years the biggest change to all three services came in 1990 with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and in effect an end to the Cold War. Up until then the UK’s military strategy had been almost solely the based on the defence of Western Europe against the combined forces of the Soviet Union. And for soldiers like me based in Germany we were trained to combat and if necessary fight the Russians. This phylosophy had been the same for many years even prior to the wall. I remember my Father-in-Law telling me whe he did national service with the Artillery in Germany looking over the East/West German border aiming his weapon at an soldier from the Democratic Republic who was doing the same in the opposite direction.
But with the Cold War over the Government took the viewpoint that there was no common enemy to fight and as such ordered the reduction in numbers for all services. This was known as the Options For Change Programme in 1990. I remember the Army was cut during 1991-94 from around 130,000 down to 100,000 with total manpower cuts to the services being just under 20% or nearly 1 in 5.
I also remember that was done either through natural wastage (a lovely term for people leaving a job I know), voluntary redundancy or forced redundancy, thus creating many veterans. Some volunteered and were refused whereas many others were pushed out some with little support in terms of resettlement which in itself created problems both for the servicemen themselves and the UK economy in terms of jobs with the MOD creating a further 255,000 people unemployed.
At that time there was no social media, nor many support groups like this one to support veterans in need of support.
But we are here now so if you need assistance, ask for it.