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Movietone at War: filming the surrender at Lüneburg Heath

Movietone cameraman Paul Wyand and soundman Martin Gray moved on to Lüneburg Heath.  Luneberg had been captured by Montgomery’s forces on April 18th 1945, and was now the headquarters of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.

Paul had met him in Italy where Monty had refused to allow Paul to use his sound camera, but here it seemed that Monty wanted to say a few words and have them recorded.

Paul Wyand wrote:

“I had my back to Monty’s caravan, and was bending over my camera when I heard the Field Marshal say ‘Who’s that ?’.  His A.D.C. replied : ‘It’s the cameraman, sir’.
‘Looks more like a Sherman tank to me’ said Monty.”

Paul had a permanent weight problem.

English: Bernard Law Montgomery

Bernard Law Montgomery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monty wanted to make a statement about the German surrender.  Paul and Martin had no idea that the end of hostilities was so near. They filmed the statement and shipped it off to London.

The indomitable pair moved on to film the link up between the British and Russian armies. Then they had to get back to Luneburg.

The countryside and its roads had been empty of people and traffic but now it was filled with thousands of German soldiers and civilians making their way towards the British lines.  Some were walking, some on bicycles, on horseback, in carts, cars and trucks.   They were fleeing from the advancing Russians.  Often, the crew were being asked “Are we safe from them yet ?”. At Boisenberg the road was jammed to such an extent that British patrols, ensuring the highway was clear for the troops, had the slower German vehicles pushed into the  neighbouring fields out of the way.   When Wyand and Gray reached the Elbe, the roads were so jammed that they employed gangs of Germans to  remove the passengers from the vehicles and then to physically lift the offending vehicles off the road.   It took them nine hours to get to Luneberg.

Paul Wyand wrote: “I climbed into bed at 3 a.m., to be awakened soon afterwards with the news that Montgomery was to receive the German surrender that evening.”

On 4 May 1945 at Lüneburg Heath, near Hamburg, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was to accept the unconditional surrender of the German forces in the Netherlands, in north west Germany including all islands, and in Denmark and all naval ships in those areas. The surrender preceded the end of World War II in Europe and was signed in a carpeted tent at Montgomery’s headquarters on the Timeloberg hill at Wendisch Evern.

As the only sound crew in the area, Monty gave Paul and Martin the job of filming the surrender.

It was to take place in the tent which was about twenty feet square.  It would be crowded and Paul had to film the proceedings through a flap in the tent wall.

Paul wrote:
“Lighting was my big problem, and,……. I scrounged around for photoflood bulbs.  Ken Gordon (Pathe) had a few; Ian Struthers (Paramount) had some more; the rest came from a photographic supply shop* in Luneburg.  I borrowed an army generator and by 4.30 the tent was lighted like a Hollywood film set”.

* – Under the heading of “you could not make it up”, Paul Wyand buys photofloods from a supply shop in the German town of Luneberg in early May 1945.

English: Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery sign...

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery signing the Instrument of Surrender of the German Armies in the northern part of germany at Lüneberg Heath „Timeloberg“. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Montgomery inspected the set-up and approved.  He asked Paul where he should stand and Paul pointed out the ideal position.  His flustered ADC said ”The Field Marshal cannot do that, he must meet them”. But, Montgomery said “Of course, they’ll come to me”.

Paul suggested a pause after the initial talks to allow him to change lenses to which Monty replied:
There will be no initial talks, if they don’t sign, we fight on”.

An hour before the signing it was pouring with rain.  The camera crews were soaked to the skin.  Wyand started shooting as the Germans came into the tent.  Admiral von Friedenburg, Rear Admiral Wagner, Colonel Polek, General Kinsel and Major Friedel , they all met Montgomery and then sat around the two army tables which had been covered with grey army blankets.   They looked on grimly as Montgomery read out the terms.

Paul Wyand wrote: Crushed and defeated representatives of a crushed and defeated nation, they took up the cheap army issue pens and signed.  Inside the tent was warmth, light, and a moment of history;  outside, my clothes clung to me as the rain beat down, and the generator exposed to the downpour, spluttered and spat as the sparking plugs shorted in the rain.  I prayed that the generator would not fail and plunge the tent into darkness.

The signing over, the Germans stood up and filed from the tent.  All save Friedenburg, who sat reading the terms over and over again, a picture of absolute misery and abysmal despair.  It made superb picture material.  I had just finished shooting, and was about to signal to Gray to pack up, when one of the photoflood bulbs slipped from its socket, fell upon the Admiral’s balding head, and exploded with a loud bang.  The poor man jumped from his chair as though he had been shot, and for a moment I felt quite sorry for him.

The film was shipped back to London by courier aircraft.

The following day was the cease-fire May 5th 1945.  Paul and Martin filmed the scene in the nearby town of Luneburg.

Paul was ordered to go to Berlin, but he could not obtain passes and, eventually, the coverage in Berlin was handled directly by the editors in London.

On June 3rd 1945 he received a message from Movietone in London;
Essential you return soonest to cover Derby on June 9th”

Everything gets back to normal.

The Movietone At War articles are based on extracts and research for my forthcoming book: “Movietone At War”.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2013.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For other articles about Movietone click here.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Joyce Clarkson #

    What fantastic, historic footage

    May 8, 2015

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