75 years on: remembering the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
On April 15, 75 years ago, troops from the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery became the first British military unit to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.
For many the camp was liberated just in time and the soldiers were greeted with cheers from the internees. However, they found people on the edge of death, many skeletal and barely recognisable, living amongst disease and decay.
Speaking recently, former despatch rider Don Sheppard, now 99, remembers:
“What I saw there changed me for ever; it changed my personality. I have never stopped pondering why human beings can do things like that to each other.”
Over 60,000 prisoners were found in desperate need of medical attention, suffering from extreme malnutrition, many with typhus, typhoid and dysentery.
More than 10,000 people were found lying unburied inside the camp.
The British Army knew they had to act fast.
Brigadier Hugh Llewelyn Glyn Hughes, deputy director of medical services, recalled:
“There were various sizes of piles of corpses lying all over the camp, some outside the wire and some in between the huts, and the frightful scenes inside were much worse…”
Brigadier Hughes helped to organise urgent health supplies and established a field hospital for 15,000 patients — one of the largest hospitals in its time.
Once all of the survivors had been evacuated and the dead buried, the camp was burnt to the ground to prevent the spread of disease.
Their actions are an enduring reminder of the resilience of the UK Armed Forces in times of crisis.
75 years on, we remember all those who lost their lives at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.