The Cold War - a letter home

The Cold War - a letter home

Excerpt from a letter home by Wing Commander G F Tisley BEM RAF

Byfield & District RBL Member Bernard Tisley writes: In the early seventies of last century, my father was running the Air Minister for Personnel’s Liaison Team. This required him to visit every RAF station around the world with a team of people who spoke to the airmen, officers and their wives to explain future Air Force policy and listen to their gripes, answering as many questions as they could there and then and reporting back later if they did not have an immediate answer.

This involved long trips abroad and my father wrote many interesting letters home describing his adventures.  I have inherited some of those letters and thought people might find the excerpt from one of them below of interest:

Berlin, August Bank Holiday 1973

‘On Friday afternoon a trip was arranged in an army helicopter – the major commanding the unit took me up, a pleasant chap who last did a tour of duty in the UK in 1942!

Bell _47-OH-13_inflight _bw

The aircraft was a Bell Sioux, this has a plastic bubble canopy on the front and a ‘Meccano’ tail construction – the type you see in the M.A.S.H. TV series, and before that the advernture series "Whirlybirds". It is thrilling to fly in with a fantastic view all round as you can imagine. There is only room for two. 



I was taken on a grand tour of the British Sector and flew along the “wall” on many occasions hovering just above places of interest or cruising along at 40 miles per hour.

          Berlin Wall Accredited (1) Boys By Berlin Wall (2)  Spandau Prison Aerial View

Probably the most memorable thing was our visit to Spandau Prison which houses one inmate, Rudolf Hess; the guards are taken from each of the occupation forces in turn for one month of duty. Overflying is not permitted so we slowly circled the perimeter wall surrounding the miserable red brick buildings at about 50 ft. up. There are grassed areas and trees in the grounds and the major said (over the intercom) that Hess had been seen once or twice. I said I could see someone in shirt sleeves under the trees, we hovered and then out walked Hess onto the grass looking up at us. He looked very old and grey, anyway it was a rare opportunity we had captured.

There are magnificent houses to be seen from the air and Berlin is about 30% lakes and forest (Grunewald Forest), recreational facilities abound and we flew over all the main points of interest in the one hour flight.

                Grunewald (1)  Olympic Stadium Berlin 1936

The aerial view of the Olympic Stadium and surrounding open areas was really something and brought back vivid memories of pictures of Hitler’s rallies there with a million Germans shouting “Zeig Heil!”

Next morning I went for another tour by road this time in an RAF staff car. A corporal drove Mr Warren (another member of the team) and we visited many of the places in slower time I had already seen from the air. The Reichstag, Victory Column, Brandenburg Gate, Russian War Memorial etc. I cannot tell you how much I regret not having brought my camera!* We returned in time for tea in the mess. I was the only one living in the mess for the weekend so it was very dreary. After a few enquiries about travelling I took myself off into Berlin by bus. It took an hour to reach the city centre but the buses are smooth in operation with automatic transmission. I looked around the central area including the church on the postcard I sent you and then walked the length of the main shopping street. I also looked around Europa Centre a vast enclosed shopping area with swimming pool, saunas, discotheques and cinemas added. The city at night was a blaze of light and neon signs. By the time I caught the bus back at 10.00 pm I felt tired and slept fairly well.

Sunday morning was taken up by a tour of the Russian Sector in an RAF coach with Flt. Lt. Buckley as courier. Mr Warren and I were the only service passengers, the rest were mums, dads and grandchildren. We had to wear uniform and going through Checkpoint Charlie near the Brandenburg Gate, we were scrutinised by Russian and East German guards, then in we went.

                   Checkpoint Charlie       Panorama _of _the _Russian _War _Memorial _at _Treptow  Russian War Memorial East Berlin             

The immediate point noticed was the reduction in the number of vehicles and that more military personnel were in evidence. The signs of war, particularly ruins of churches and the cathedral are still in evidence and more buildings have yet to be rebuilt. Nevertheless there are some very attractive new buildings to be seen. We drove to a huge park in the centre of which is an equally huge Russian War Memorial including the mass graves of Russians killed in the final battle. We left the coach and walked round the memorial, the entrance of which was flanked by two immense slabs of granite built up from the remains of the Reich-Chancellery on which there are two statues of Russian soldiers with their heads bowed, each figure is about ten feet high. Down the steps between the figures are the mass graves, about the size of a football pitch and at the other end is a mausoleum on top of which is the immense figure of a Russian soldier (must be twenty feet high) holding a small child on his left arm and a sword in his right hand which is cleaving a swastika in two at his feet. There were crowds of people and young Russian soldiers about and we were photographed more than once, I heard “Englander” said too as the groups went past us.

Another place we were permitted to stop and get out of the coach was at the East German War Memorial where we saw the changing of the guard. Jack-booted goose stepping soldiers in steel helmets made the war seem very recent, in fact this is Berlin, particularly in the Eastern sector the war seems to linger on. We drove back down the Unter Den Linden, through the checkpoint and reached Gatow in time for lunch’

Brandenburg Gate Looking 'west' (1)

All this brings back to me shades of the Cold War, and also happy memories of my father returning home with gifts from foreign lands!

Bernard Tisley

*Although Wing Commander Tisley didn't have his camera with him, your editor has taken the liberty of adding images to emphasise his story.

Photo credits, thanks to:

Berlin Wall - By Edward Valachovic

Boys by Berlin Wall - the

Spandau from the air -

Grunewald forest and lake by A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Brandenburg Gate - -

Other images designated "public domain" and/or "royalty free".

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