Telling The Story Of British Forces In Westphalia

An exhibition tracing the history of the British in North Rhine-Westphalia has officially opened at the State Parliament in Dusseldorf.

Almost 75 years after British forces first arrived in Germany, they remain stationed in the country’s most densely populated state, North Rhine-Westphalia.

In the summer though, all but a few of those troops will be leaving.

Exhibits on display tell the story of the British in North Rhine Westphalia, a state that Britain helped to create.

"This exhibition covers the whole of North Rhine-Westphalia so we show objects from all parts of the state," explained Dr Bettina Blum, the historian behind the project.

Images from after WWII in Westphalia 070519 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
After the Second World War, British and German people lived side by side in the region.

She said she wished to show how the British and Germans lived side by side in the region.

The research took her to sites like the former Joint Headquarters in Rheindahlen, the vast complex near Mönchengladbach where Britain once commanded its Cold War forces.

"It is really important to see the place and to get an idea of how people lived here, how they worked here, how everyday life was."

Exhibits include curfew notices from the early occupation days, special banknotes once issued to personnel serving in Germany and photographs depicting the famous military estates built in the 1950s.

Military housing in Germany 070519 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Some people believe British military housing in Germany isolated personnel from the locals.

Some believe that British military estates in the region isolated British personnel from local people, but anti-nuclear protests at Royal Air Force bases certainly strained Anglo-German relations.

Despite the difficulties, a key theme of the exhibition is how lasting friendships have developed.

Military notes issued to personnel in Germany after WWII 070519 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
The exhibition includes notes used by British troops in Germany after the war.

"Lots of things carry a very personal story and we try to combine stories from Germans with stories from Britons of young people with old people and we try to get a wide range of different perceptions," says Dr Blum.

"What surprised me most is how early people got to know each other and how early they fell in love, they formed friendships, that it was sometimes only a few days after the British took over in 1945."

The British in North Rhine-Westphalia exhibition runs until early June.

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