We must not forget Belsen liberators, says Spalding man

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People across the globe marked Holocaust Memorial Day in various ways last week.

Many events were focused on the liberation by the Russians of Auschwitz 70 years earlier.

In fact, most of the documentaries and newspaper articles since the end of the war have principally been about Auschwitz and some of the other extermination camps liberated by the Russians.

However, Spalding resident Reg Chalkley says: “We must not forget the British troops who had to deal with Belsen.

“The British didn’t come across Belsen until April 15, 1945, and at that time nobody knew about these camps. It was all on the newsreels, all these naked bodies in heaps. It must have been horrendous for the troops.”

Belsen was a prison camp, rather than an extermination camp. Of around 80,000 prisoners, roughly 30,000 Jews died, either of starvation or typhus, including the diarist Anne Frank.

The first British troops on the scene not only had heaps of dead bodies to deal with, but people who were starving and diseased.

Sixteen years later when Reg was posted to the camp during National Service the huts of the old concentration camp a short walk away had been demolished. Huge mass graves were a reminder of what had taken place there.

Reg says: “I had seen the newsreels and it was such a horrible shock that it’s always been in my mind. All those naked bodies. Why were they naked?”

Afterwards, Reg says people in Britain naturally wanted to put the war years behind them and there was barely any mention of this shameful era of history.

The Holocaust Memorial Day has only been established within the last 20 years, much of its focus on Auschwitz, the network of German Nazi concentration and extermination camps. By contrast, there has been very little said about Belsen.

Reg says: “I thought it was a bit unfair to the memory of the troops who had the horrible job of clearing it up.”

Reg is not alone, as it’s a point that was made by an MP in the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday.

As conscription in the United Kingdom ended in 1960, Reg was among the last of the men on National Service.