Rommel's ex-driver recalls exchange of cigs, small talk between Germans, Brits in African desert
London, June 17 (ANI): In the summer of 1941, two groups of German and British soldiers met deep in the Libyan desert, and instead of shooting at each other, they chatted and exchanged cigarettes before going their separate ways.
What made that encounter remarkable was that Erwin Rommel, the German commander in North Africa, was among them.
Field Marshal Rommel's 86-year-old driver Rudolf Schneider has revealed this story some 68 years later in an interaction with a group of British veterans.
Schneider, a former Afrika Korps soldier remembers the short-lived ceasefire because he was working that day as Rommel's personal driver.
Touring the sands between Libya and Egypt in a captured British scout car, Schneider spent two years as part of Rommel's elite protection force, driving up to 500 miles into the desert with the famous tactician beside him.
Speaking in the fluent English he learned as a sub-tropical agriculture student, Schneider told The Independent that the chance rendezvous between Rommel, aka Desert Fox, and a British reconnaissance unit was one of two incidents that summed up both the humanity and the ruthlessness of the battle for North Africa.
"The common soldiers did not act out of hate. When we met the English soldiers in the desert that time, we were far, far from anywhere. There was no reason to shoot. We swapped cigarettes and I talked with the English officers. But there were also times when we were shocked by the enemy," Schneider said.
"Rommel enjoyed touring the front lines. We would go deep into the desert to explore. One time we came across 14 German soldiers who seemed asleep. When we got closer we saw each had his throat cut. Nearby we found a kukri - the knife of the British Gurkha soldiers. I still have that knife," he added.
The extent to which the ferocity of a war fought by young men has been replaced by comradeship among former enemies was underlined this weekend when Schneider met five former Desert Rats, including an ambulance driver who accidentally drove into a German tank position while it was being inspected by Rommel and was promptly sent back to his lines by the field marshal with Schneider at his side.
"We are now friends, very good friends," he said.
"I was once a German soldier and they were English soldiers, but now, we find it difficult to understand why we had to fight against each other. Rommel was always first a soldier. We did not forget that we were fighting fellow human beings," the veteran German soldier said. (ANI)