Peter: I thought, why do I need a driver’s license? I didn’t even have a push bike!
Sophie : Almost 78 years ago, on the 1 of September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland, signifying the beginning of a war that would take more lives and destroy more land around the globe than any previous war. The war was a fight between the Axis powers, Germany, Italy and Japan who fought against the Allies who were made up of France, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and China. Through the 6 years of war, it is estimated that 40-50 million people died.
In the years since the end of World War Two, many of those who fought have passed away, however, there are those who remain in our society who know what it was really like to live through the Second World War.
This episode of war stories features 98 year old Peter, a World War II veteran who shares his story.
Peter: My dad was a builder, a carpenter and a farmer. So he bought land and he built his own house. He came from a different side of Baltic states in Latvia; from a different county. I was born already there and went to school, of course. I learned music. I finished school and the second World War broke out.
The Russians came into the Baltic States. After 38’, Hitlers, German Army broke into the Baltic States and in Latvia and in Russia and that started the second World War. That’s already when I finished school work and everything. I was working in the railway job in Latvia. I went to the railway because I was already 17 years of age.
German occupation of Latvia in World War II
And the Germans, the Germans got beaten in Russia and they needed more soldiers so I knew that I was going to get drafted in the army. But while I was working on the railway, there was something inside of me, not an audible voice, telling me to go and get a drivers license. And I thought, why do I need a driver’s license? I didn’t even have a push bike! But something said, go and get drivers license. So, I did. And sure enough in 1994 the Germans drafted me in the army. I was sent to Germany in boot camp. What can you do? You’re drafted in, you’ve got no choice, whether you go to fight or they put you in jail. After about three months, Sargent comes out in the morning roll call and said ‘anybody have drivers licenses, three steps forward’. So I am three steps forward. The Germans already got beaten in Latvia and they had retreated back in Germany and there were a lot of drivers killed, you know shot during the war you know. So he sent me to Signal Corps to drive a truck.
In the German army there had to be two truck drivers, well two with a license, because if one gets killed, the other one takes over and drives if the truck can be mobile.
I got my truck, I have a roof overtop, I don’t have to go in trenches in the mud and everything, I am nice and warm. I’ve got my men, my five men with the telephone lines and all my equipment back in the truck, the cables and telephones and all of that. I used to take them out from headquarters and put the line, the telephone line on different units.
In Germany, petrol was short, and we ran out of petrol. And the rule in the German Army was that you don’t leave your truck intact, you had to destroy some parts of it so that the enemy can’t drive it. At the very end of the war, when the Russians invaded Germany, there was no petrol at all. So all the petrol trucks had to be destroyed. Only diesel, they had plenty of diesel and so I had to destroy my truck. I had to take my backpack from out of the back, you know and march on. We were marching 5 kilometres a day to keep away from Russians before we got to the English zone, British zone. And another thing that was a very special moment, the Lord was looking out for me. I was catholic, my whole family was catholic but the Lord was looking after me. We were walking on the beach, you know to get away from the Russians, and about, in the dark, about 10 o’clock or something in the night, there was a little shed, like a guard house on the beach. And I was wondering with my mates. Why is this guard house on the beach for? We just walked past and as we walked past all of a sudden there was a ‘Halt! Halt! Halt!’ In German Language. I said ‘what’s the matter?’ he said ‘there’s a minefield in the front’. And We already walked in the minefield. Now, my hairs were up and I never knew where to put my foot. I was scared just in case I stepped on a mine. But apparently they put those mines in for heavy vehicles. And anyway, the war finished and the Germans capitalized and all units went over to the British. Germany was divided in four sections. There was British zone, American zone, French zone and Polish zone. So we went over to the British zone into the prisoners of war camp. After a while we were in the camp, the Germans and Latvians, we were separate in different barracks. The Germans put a barbed wire in front of the prisoners of war camp and I though ‘why would they do that?’. So they had separated the German Soldiers from all the Baltics because Baltics are from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we were the soldiers in the German army. And after a while, the British came in and they knew that we are not Germans.
There was no nothing after the war to eat. We received Red Cross parcels from now and then. And the British said ‘we will draft you in our army. So they did. So that’s my story of how I fought for the Germans.
And then, so I was in the British uniform and I was mainly just driving supplies, you know because only for food, and military business. I met a friend, Latvian, he had a little so and his wife said ‘Peter, I have a sister’. I said ‘yesss, where is she?’. ‘She is in England!’. I said ‘that’s a good thing, what’s she doing in England?’. She was working in a Hospital. It was a big deal that she was there. And after about three weeks she came back, she was 17 years of age at the time, Elaina was her name. She came back to Germany because she was lonely, she didn’t like the job. I met her in the ballroom one day, it was a Sunday night you know. And from day one, started a relationship. I got married to her in 1948. I was still in the British Army when I got married. I didn’t have appropriate clothes so I got married in Uniform. And in 1950 we came to Australia because that friend’s wife, they went in 1948 to Australia. And she wrote to her sister, which said ‘Elaina and Peter, come to Australia it’s lovely here, it’s a nice country’.
So I came in 1950 in Fremantle and those days we had to work three years contract the government would give us to work. See, I was a motor a mechanic already back home, and I tried but you had to work what the Government gave you in Australia to work. So we had landed by ship in Fremantle but her (Elaina’s) sister and husband, they were in Sydney. We went by train from Perth to Sydney and finished up in Bowral.
The United States Holocaust Museum 2022, ‘ Invasion of Poland, Fall 1939’, Holocaust Encyclopedia, viewed 1 November 2022, <https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/invasion-of-poland-fall-1939>.
Hughes, T.A 2022, ‘World War II’ Encyclopedia Britannica, published 30 August 2022, viewed 1 November 2022, <https://www.britannica.com/event/World-War-II>.