Goodbye Moenchengladbach

An article from the website of the local newspaper, the Rheinische Post, describing the events that took place at JHQ in July 2013 to celebrate the closure of the Garrison. See below for an English translation of the article!


 


“Goodbye Moenchengladbach”

By Helmut Michelis – last updated: 12.07.2013 – 07:45

Moenchengladbach (RP). They came as occupiers and leave as friends: This weekend the people of Moenchengladbach bade farewell to the last British soldiers and their families. The Headquarters in Rheindahlen, opened in 1954, will be closed.

Hundred of British-German marriages and numerous joint clubs are the most noticeable indication that the soldiers from the United Kingdom and their families were welcome in Nierderrhein and felt at home here. Moenchengladbach, with the departure of the British Forces, will lose a complete locality, the “Joint Headquarters Rheindahlen”. JHQ – this English shorthand for a multinational military headquarters – once comprised of four high commands including that of the British Rhine Army.

In Great Britain the name “Rheindahlen” was a well known name. All high ranking officers and many thousands of soldiers serving in the British Army were, at some time, stationed in JHQ. General Sir Richard Shirreff said, at his farewell from Rheindahlen in 2010, that half of his military service was spent in Germany and that his son was born here – a common example.


WITHDRAWAL PLANS

British Forces in North Rhein Westfalia

Great Britain plans to have withdrawn all of its troops from Germany by 2020. They have already withdrawn their forces from Muenster and Hameln will be vacated in the summer of 2014 and the Javelin garrison in Elmpt (Viersen) by March 2016.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall the British Rhine Army and the Royal Air Force had a complement of more than 80,000 soldiers and airmen. In North Rhine Westfalia there were 10,000 personnel stationed in the Bielefeld, Herford, Guetersloh, Paderborn, Muenster, Moenchengladbach and Viersen garrisons.


This chapter of German-British cooperation is now history. A reception on Thursday evening was the start of the final closure of JHQ. This was followed, on Friday at 10:30, by a Farewell Parade of British troops through the centre of Rheindahlen. Finally the people of Rheindahlen were invited to a “Party in the Park” in JHQ, on Saturday between 9:00-22:30, to say farewell for the last time to their British co-inhabitants.

The JHQ complex was the control centre for the defence of the whole of West and North Europe during the “Cold War” between East and West. Several hundreds of thousands of soldiers and the whole of the Royal Air Force were controlled from Rheindahlen. Moenchengladbach was for many years the most important Garrison town in Germany.

Six thousand people, from more than 17 nations, lived and worked in the huge complex in the west of the town. However, JHQ remained – with the hunting dog under the General’s desk and the drinking of tea with milk in the Officers Mess – always dominated by the influence of the British.

“Londonderry Drive” or “Queens Avenue” were the names of streets, “Fire Station” was written on the tower of the Fire Brigade and signs to the “Church of Saint Thomas More” directed people to the church. Nearly all of the “Royals” visited JHQ, with the Queen being the only exception. However, her birthday was celebrated every year in Rheindahlen together with German guests.

The legendary opponent of Rommel in Africa, Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery, belonged to the founding fathers of the garrison. On the 15th August 1952 the British, at that time one of the occupying forces, seized 400 hectares of woodlands. Over 2,000 buildings, including sports facilities and a road network of 36 kilometres were built at a cost of 173 million Deutschemarks. At the heart of the garrison, opened on 1954, was the “Big House” with 2,000 rooms and a labyrinth of corridors, one of which was 280 meters long.

Even after the end of the “Cold War”, JHQ did not lose its importance. The Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) of NATO controlled the Peace Missions in Bosnia and Kosovo from Rheindahlen. General Mike Jackson, in charge of the Rheindahlen garrison between the years 1997-1999, is reputed to have prevented the outset of Third World War. He disobeyed the orders of the senior officers of NATO, which instructed him to use force against the Russians, who, as allies of the Serbians in the Kosovo conflict, occupied the airport of the capital of Kosovo without consultation.

In 2007 the Defence Ministry in London announced the withdrawal of the British Army from the Rhineland in Germany. JHQ had lost its geographic strategic importance. The ARRC has since been transferred to the English town of Innsworth. The last British soldiers are being transferred to Bielefeld – a big loss for the town of Moenchengladbach. Amongst other impacts were the loss of over 1,200 civilian jobs and the annual loss of several millions of Euros which would have been spent by the soldiers and their families in the local economy.

A working party of the the Town & Country Department of North Rhein Westfalia are now trying to determine how to use the land. A third of the area should be returned to woodland and a Windpark developed. A tenant for the large “Big House” is being sought, perhaps a Government department or a large Company.

Source: RP (Rheinische Post)

Photo 1

The “Band of the Prince of Wales’s Division” on parade in front of the “Big House”, in the background is an AS 90 Tank. Photo: Ilgner Detlef

Photo 2

They met through a friend in Moenchengladbach and returned for the Rheindahlen Closing Ceremony. Sir Stuart Peach, the second highest ranking British soldier, and his wife Brigitte who grew up in Hardt. Photo: Ilgner Detlef

Source: Rheinische Post (RP)

Translation by Fred Williams