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British soldier: ‘Field Marshall Rommel gave me beer and cigarettes’

November 20th, 2014

Rommel, known as the Desert Fox, asked the Briton if there was anything he needed, to which Capt Wooldridge cheekily replied “a good meal, a pint of beer and a packet of cigarettes”.

To his astonishment, his wish was granted when he was ushered into Rommel’s mess where all three items were waiting for him.

Capt Wooldridge ate the food, drank the stein of lager and smoked the German cigarettes, but kept the empty packet as a souvenir. Thanks to Rommel, he survived and was sent on to a prisoner of war camp.

Now aged 95, Capt Wooldridge is to appear on BBC1′s Antiques Roadshow on Sunday, where he will tell expert Graham Lay his story.

He will also show off the cigarette packet along with his Military Cross and Bar, which he was awarded for a death-defying mission to clear a path through a minefield in Alamein while under mortar fire.

He will also include a photo of him being presented with a ribbon to his MC by British army chief Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery.

Left: Roy Wooldridge in 2014. Right: the cigarettes Rommel gave him (BNPS.CO.UK)

Capt Wooldridge was one of the very few soldiers who came face to face with both Field Marshall Montgomery and his great adversary, Field Marshall Rommel, during World War Two.

Capt Wooldridge, from Hendy, Glamorgan, said: “I was on my honeymoon in London and when we returned to our hotel from the theatre there was a telegram asking me to report to my unit immediately and that Mrs Wooldridge was not to travel with me.

“I went to Dover straight away. Reconnaissance photos had spotted these obstacles just below the waterline and they couldn’t determine from the pictures what they were.

“They suspected they were some form of mine just under high tide so that a landing craft coming in, lowering its door, would get blown up.

“I was assigned to X Troop commando and four of us were taken by motor torpdeo boat across the Channel and anchored one mile off shore. We took two dingies to the shore.”

Under the cover of darkness, Capt Wooldridge shinned up a post at Onival beach, Picardy, and found a German tank mine on top.

The group returned for the next four nights to carry out further inspections, but on the last mission they were caputred by the Germans.

Capt Wooldridge said: “We were taken to a house and interrogated for two weeks – they wanted to know what we had been doing but I didn’t say anything.

“After that I was taken to a chateaux and in the guard room I was given a cup of tea and some cake. I was told to have a wash and smarten up because I was going to see someone very important.

Wooldridge’s medals (BNPS.CO.UK)

“I was marched into a room and there stood behind a desk was Rommel. I recognised him immediately because I had studied photographs of him while in the Western Desert.

“His boss, Field Marshall von Rundstedt was also there – two of the most powerful men in the German army. Rommel asked me what I was doing in France but I didn’t say anything.

“He then asked me if there was anything I required. I just said I could do with a pint of beer, a packet of cigarettes and a good meal. Then I was dismissed.

“I was taken to his mess and served by his waiter and on the table was a stein of beer, cigarettes and a plate of food. I could’t understand it.

“I was told that Rommel always wanted to meet men who had been doing something unusual when they were captured.

“I was meant to have been shot. I was told on several occasions during my interrogation that is what would happen unless I talked.

“Hitler had issued orders that commandos were to be shot but Rommel declined to obey that instruction. Rommel saved my life. He was a very fine German and a clean fighter.”

Capt Wooldridge was taken to a PoW camp in northern Germany where he remained for the rest of the war.

He returned to Britain where he become the principal of Derby College of Art and Technology.

His wife Phyllis died 25 years ago. He has two sons and three grandchildren.


World War Two

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