The winter of 1944/45 was one of the harshest in memory with freezing temperatures and snow on the ground for many weeks. The British were pushing through the low countries and there was widespread issue of camouflaged snow smocks and trousers to better camouflage the men against the white landscape. This corporal wears his snow suit over his battledress, the loose over suit looking baggy and better helping to break up his outline. Over this is worn skeleton webbing, consisting of ammunition pouches, bayonet, water bottle, entrenching tool with a sandbag secured to it and a gas cape to act as a waterproof. As an NCO he carries a machete on his hip in its leather scabbard. His helmet is the Mk II with a camouflage net over it to help break up its distinctive shape. He wears woolen gloves to offer some protection form the cold and carries the Mk II Sten sub machine gun:
- Battledress trousers
- Woolen shirt
- Battledress blouse
- Ammunition Boots
- Snow over trousers
- Mk II Steel Helmet
- Mk II Sten Gun
- Woolen gloves
- 37 Pattern webbing
If conditions were tough for British soldiers, at least they had decent supplies of food. Much of Europe was starving in the final winter of the war. Hans Muller was a small boy in Amsterdam, still waiting for liberation at this point:
I was a skinny boy then, 11 years old, living in Amsterdam with my parents, my 14-year-old sister Anneke and baby brother Bob. The southern parts of the Netherlands were already liberated, but after the “Market Garden” disaster, we lost all hope for a rapid end of the war.
Although severely jammed by the Germans, we listened to the BBC, and “Radio Oranje”, the Dutch programme, where we heard our Queen Wilhelmina (“the only man in a government of old wives”).
After September 1944, the National Railway system went on strike and food became increasingly scarce, because the Germans had inundated most of the agricultural western parts of Holland. Food rations consisted of sugar beets, tulip bulbs, industrial-grade potatoes and bread made of ingredients that you would hesitate to use as fodder for cattle. I myself suffered for some time of hunger edema, but our father succeeded in finding supplementary food by trading a few hoarded cigars, some bars of soap, tea (by the teaspoon) and coffee for flour, cheese, milk and oats. Later, soup kitchens opened but the quality of that soup became more and more a danger for what remained of your health. No electricity, no gas, no coal, only some soft peat for cooking and heating. Notwithstanding the strict curfew the beautiful trees along the canals disappeared rapidly during the night, as did the impregnated wooden block pavement between the tram rails. But that was extremely dangerous, you could be shot on sight by the military police or their armed Dutch collaborators. The houses left by the Jewish community were also stripped of anything that could burn, and my grandfather, a retired cabinet maker, used most of his wooden tools and precious wood reserve in the kitchen stove to cook sugar beets and rye porridge (try to grind rye in a coffee mill….). Miraculously, water supply was maintained although pressure was low.