The moment peace was sealed - in colour

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The Independent Online

Unique colour photographs of the moment when Field Marshal Montgomery accepted the German surrender on VE Day have been shown for the first time.

A soldier named Ronald Playforth hid himself behind a clump of trees to capture the scene under the trees on Luneberg Heath, in Germany, shortly after Hitler had committed suicide.

He appears to have been a keen amateur photographer, because it was unusual for a front soldier to have a camera and film to hand. Official photographs of the surrender were in black and white.

Three tall and smartly turned out Germans can be seen in the photographs meeting Bernard Montgomery outside his HQ tent.

This was their second visit. They had been there the previous, hoping to negotiate a ceasefire, but Montgomery subjected them to a fierce lecture about the bombing of Coventry and the Belsen concentration camp, and laid down terms for an unconditional surrender.

The German reported back to Admiral Donitz, who had taken over after Hitler’s suicide, and he gave them permission to surrender, which they did the next day, 4 May.

The German officers were driven by a fear of falling into Russian hands. They knew the Red Army was near, but did not realise how near, and were shocked when Montgomery, speaking through a young interpreter named Derek Knee, revealed to them just how near.

The most senior of the three officers is Admiral Hans Georg von Friedeburg, who committed suicide two weeks after the pictures were taken. The others were General Eberhard Kinzel, chief of staff of the north west Germany army, who also committed suicide, and Major Friedl, a 6ft 6ins Gestapo officer, whom Knee later described as having the cruellest face he had ever seen. He died in a car accident.

The Field Marshal is facing them, with his back to the camera. An army truck and hastily erected Union Jack are also visible.

The German officers were driven by a fear of falling into Russian hands. They knew the Red Army was near, but did not realise how near, and were shocked when Montgomery, speaking through a young interpreter named Derek Knee, revealed to them just how near. One of the Germans committed suicide shortly afterwards.

Sergeant Playforth, who died about 15 years ago, became Montgomery’s clerk in 1944, and with him from D-Day to the end of the war. Hel kept the photographs of the surrender, and one of himself shaking hands with Montgomery, and the handwritten original of an article which Montgomery wrote for an army magazine, and gave to Playforth to type.

He wrote: "By no possible conceivable chance can Germany win this war. Victory for the Allies, absolute and definite victory, is certain.

"We are fighting on German soil and we have entered the ring for the last round, there is no time limit for this round, we shall continue until our opponent has had enough."

* The items will be auctioned by Henry Aldridge, of Devizes on Saturday and are expected to fetch between £1,000 and £1,500 each.

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