Despatches from the front line of Cold War

John Wiseman at Cold War checkpoint
John Wiseman at Cold War checkpoint

Without warning early on the morning of 13th August 1961, the Russians closed the Berlin border and the construction of the wall began, which was sadly to last another 28 years.

That same week the Buxton Advertiser ran a story about a young 18 year-old Buxton man, John Wiseman, who was serving with the Royal Military Police in Berlin. He was one of the first present at the Brandenburg Gate early on that infamous morning to observe and report back to the British Headquarters as events unfolded.

John Wiseman, Buxton retired police officer.

John Wiseman, Buxton retired police officer.

His picture appeared in several national newspapers and on the cover of Life magazine. A large picture of him is still on display in the ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ museum in Berlin.

John served three years in Berlin, witnessing many international incidents and appeared in the Look at life film ‘Crisis City’.

The world held its breath as the Soviet Union and the Nato forces faced each other across a line which was to become infamous in history – The Berlin Wall.

Here is his story, almost exactly 50 years on.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

Watching every move in the tense drama at The Brandenburg Gate was a Buxton soldier, just turned 18, his radio at the ready to report what could have been the opening salvoes of World War Three to the British Government.

“We had the Russian tanks on one side of the barrier and the Americans on the other, with one (shell) in the breech,” said John Wiseman.

John had volunteered for a career in the Army at a time when young men were being conscripted, and his baptism of fire in the opening stages of the Cold War were to stand him in good stead for a career which took him to some of the most tense hot-spots of world crises to come.

He saw people shot, dramatic escapes across the Wall, was there when the Russian MiG fighters buzzed the streets, and watched the skies as the Berlin Airlift brought supplies vital to keep the besieged city part of the free West.

“I didn’t realise at the time that I was part of history,” said John, who spent three years in Berlin.

He continued his service with a career in the RMP, living in Germany, Northern Ireland and London during the IRA bombing campaign. He also served in Malta and Cyprus during the emergencies which accompanied their independence from Britain.

Ten years ago, he went back to Berlin and visited a museum dedicated to the era - only to find Japanese tourists taking photos of a giant picture of a young John Wiseman on duty at the iconic Checkpoint Charlie barrier.

But although it is all history now, the legacy of the battle to keep Berlin free is still alive: “I can remember being in German in 1989 when the wall came down and they were all in tears.”

After leaving the army he was a policeman in Buxton before eventually becoming Head of Security for British Aerospace (BAE Systems) until his retirement.

He lives in Buxton with his wife Charlotte.