My military service time at Langelandsfort
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I’m an old veteran of Langelandsfort
We were called-up and ordered to arrive at the barracks at 12 o’clock on January 25, 1955. I had to travel by rail from Horsens and as our train drew closer to its goal, I noticed that I was not the only recruit.
In my weekend-bag I had all the stuff I’d been told to bring along, among others my own pocket-knife, and I wondered whether we might not have enough rifles. As all the men I met during the journey had had their hair cut short, it was easy to see which of the passengers were the new recruits. I travelled via Odense and then on to Svendborg. From there we took the ferry to Rudköbing, which was a completely new country for me. I had never been to this area before and felt rather depressed. The ferry took almost two hours to sail to Rudköbing. When we looked around, we saw a couple of petty-officers waiting to receive us. As far as I can remember, we were the first group that was to receive its basic trained at Langeland. Normally, basic training was given at Arresødal. After we had been welcomed, they asked us to climb onto some waiting lorries, I think they were PBC’s, and we were on our way. Others had to go to Søndenbro by rail
When we arrived at our destination, they asked us to queue-up. After having been addressed by the Chief, we went to the mess for lunch. If I remember correctly, it was “skipperlabskovs“, not really my favourite dish, but we were hungry.
After lunch we got our uniforms. We had all been looking forward to that. They ordered us to queue up in a long line. Petty-officers handed us our uniforms, boots, caps, bed-linen and lots of other stuff. We also received some clothes in which we had to write our service number with indelible ink. When we had finished doing that, they told us we’d never forget that number (and they were quite right). Then they assigned us our rooms and a cupboard. Each room housed eight men. After having looked at each other for a while, we started sewing our numbers into our uniforms. This was necessary, because our clothes would be washed by a laundry in Svendborg. There was a lance-corporal who had the easy job of collecting our dirty laundry and distributing our clean clothes. We called him the “Wash bear”.
The next day the stress started. We were taught how to march and to salute. They told us that all petty-officers were our superiors and we should salute them every time we saw them.
Our training had to be expedited, because we were earmarked to be the guard-company of the fortress. We only had to do guard-duty at the Southern- and Northern artillery bunkers and the Føllesbjerg. They gave us rifles and sent us to the firing-range, where we learned how to shoot and operate our rifles. We had to learn a whole lot of safety instructions and how to dismantle our weapons, oil and service them.
Since our fitness had to be improved, we marched three or four kilometres every week to the meeting-hall, I believe it was in Magleby, where we did P.T. The room was heated by a large stove, which made it so hot you could hardly breathe.
We were also taught to fire the 150 mm guns, of which the fort had three. Each platoon had to work in the mess, washing the dishes, buttering rolls and cleaning-up.
Most of all, we looked forward to going home on leave, when we could show-off our uniforms. But we had to wait a while for that. We were obliged to wear our uniforms and were not allowed to change, even when we were at home. That was strictly forbidden. We were divided into the “King’s”- and the “Queen’s” Quarters (watches) and had to share everything.
The people of Langeland did not like us very much. For them it was rather strange to have soldiers on their island. We also received training in fire-fighting, because the fire-brigade in Søndenbro was quite a long way away and there were a lot of farms in the neighbourhood. Every night about 10 – 15 recruits were on stand-by. They had to sleep fully dressed, so they would be ready quickly.
One summers evening, when I was on fire-brigade duty, we were told that an aircraft had crashed into a nearby field. We were driven to the site of the accident in a lorry, and the officers in a jeep.
When we arrived, there really was a burning airplane in the field, but it wasn’t so serious, because it was one of those radio-controlled ‘drones’, like the ones the American soldiers in Germany used as targets. It could be steered by radio as long as it was visible. But when it flew into a cloud, it would continue flying until it crashed. Fishermen from Bagenkop sometimes found them in their fishing-nets, after the drones had crashed into the Baltic Sea.
There was a tradition on Langeland, which might still exist today. During winter, sometime around Lent, we had to go to the local church, where a model of a ship that was hanging from the ceiling, had to be taken down. It was mounted onto a litter and then four soldiers carried it on their shoulders from one farm to another. There we’d present the ship and get a snack. After we had carried it around the whole day, the ship was brought back to the church and hung from the ceiling again. Afterwards there was a church service.
In the winter of 1956 an accident happened in Greenland and three sailors died. Eight of our men were selected for the guard of honour, which participated in the burial ceremony of one of the sailors who was from Æerø. One of the recruits at the fortress was a theologian. He held the memorial service for the three men.
During the summer there was a youth festival at Tranekær. Twenty men were ordered to patrol the whole park, because our present queen was among the guests. We also had a soccer-team and plaid friendly matches against several other teams from Langeland. We also went to the summer-ball at H.C. Ørstedt’s restaurant in Rudkøbing and Træskokro (the wooden shoe restaurant). There also was a small café on the marketplace which we frequented. But money was always a problem. We received only 10 crowns per week during the first eight months and later-on 15 crowns and we had to pay for our own transportation. We were only given free transportation on official holidays, such as Easter, Whitsun and Christmas.
There once was a small naval cutter in Bagenkop, which was meant to patrol the Langelandsbælt, but most of the time it assisted fishermen in distress at sea or when their nets were stuck around the ships screw. During the summer season they often assisted German sailors.
In the beginning we could not visit the Bagenkop Kro (café), without being beaten-up by the fishermen, who were afraid we’d go out with their girlfriends.
There was a wind-mill near the entrance of the barracks. An old miller operated it.
At night, when we were on guard-duty at the Southern- or Northern artillery bunkers, we could see the rotating beam of the lighthouse at Kelsnor. From the Bunker at Føllesbjerg we could spot some unidentified submarines, close-in to the coast, which were plotting the depth of the water. Their visual call-signs had been painted over, so we could not identify them, but they were easy to recognize: they were East-German or Polish.
We also learned to recognize different ships and aircraft. Our training was quite varied. We regularly went to the firing range and those of us who could shoot well, would receive a badge to sew onto our uniforms. Some of us, who could not shoot very well, could buy the same badge for 1.50 Cr. from one of the recruits who worked in the office. That’s how I got my badge.
Because I was 1.92 m. tall, I had to stand on the right hand side of our platoon. That was not very funny. I was always the first one when we had to jump of a hill or shoot with blanks. Many of my comrades had good advice for me. I should simply say: “I’m afraid” or “after you please, sergeant”. There was a moor near the barracks and we were often told to march through it. We must have looked a pretty sight when we emerged at the other end, all muddy and slimy. On the road to the Southern Battery there was an old tractor, a Fordson, with iron wheels.
They stored a lot of things in the old barn, such as two large search-lights from the second World War. They were operated with petrol-engines. On liberation-day they were set-up on the parade ground, in such a way that their beams formed a V for Victory sign against the night sky. Some people say you could see them as far away as Odense.
Then came a period that we did not like at all. Everyone was nervous. It was at the time of the Hungarian Crisis. At Langeland we could receive German television, so we were well informed about what was going on. They told us that we had a high state of readiness. We had to sleep in the artillery bunkers and they told us where to dig trenches and fox-holes. We were assigned action stations where we had to go in case of emergency. Our leave was cancelled, so we could not go home for three months.
We were with 200 men and now we had to stand on guard duty more frequently and so we had less leisure time. Our officers really scared us, when they told us we were isolated and had to wait for assistance from England. They ordered us to guard the Føllesbjerg even more closely and to monitor the radar, which in those days was something special. The radar antenna could be retracted into the bunker, so nobody could see it, but we could see very far with it. We were still young and didn’t think much about things, but all of us were mighty nervous. We had an exercise with the home-guard, which had to act as a fifth column and we were ordered to capture them. We were not allowed to treat them roughly and the Count of Tranekær participated. I remember that my company caught two tall, well-fed farmers. They had a large parcel of food, which we confiscated under protest and ate with delight. We maintained it could have been ammunition. The next day we had a briefing in the mess, where this point was also raised, but fortunately they did not recognize us.
Søndenbro really is a god-forsaken place and since we were young, we were terribly bored. If we were lucky, we good go to the cinema in Humble, where we sat on wooden benches. They had a very old projector and, last but not least, showed old films. We were also sent to the dentist in Humble. We did have a sick-room at the fortress, where two recruits were employed. Many of us suffered from sweaty feet. We were given medicinal alcohol, but if it was mixed with some apple-juice, we could easily drink it.
Our mess was situated on the attic of the building where we lived. There was a shop, where we could buy cigarettes, soda water, chocolate and coffee, but no beer or schnapps.
I had some trouble with my toes and a doctor, who came to our sick-bay every day, said I had hammer-toes. He sent me to the military hospital in Copenhagen for an operation. When I arrived there, I was given a pair of grey pants and a striped jacket, exactly like prisoners used to wear in those days. There was a high wall with barbed wire on top all around the hospital. We were only allowed to go out after we had applied for permission. There was a guard at the entrance.
When I was dismissed from the hospital, all my comrades had been sent home. I was ordered to go back to Langeland, to hand-in my things and to receive my dismissal money. But now I was no longer a moth-ball (new recruit), but a real old veteran. As you can imagine, I am a member of the Coastal artillery union and that gives me a lot of satisfaction. When we had our fortieth anniversary reunion, I was fortunate to find four of my former roommates. We had a great time together.
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