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German Refugees in Cheltenham (continued): Helmut's Story

by The Stratford upon Avon Society

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Archive List > Postwar Years

Contributed by 
The Stratford upon Avon Society
People in story: 
Helmut Schulenburg
Location of story: 
Stratford, Germany and abroad
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 March 2005

11b - (Helmut now talks about his photography): “When I was nine, I think I got a little camera, but I had only one film in it and after two years it was full. But when I did my first trip abroad, I was a member of a swimming club and they took us to Holland, first time crossing a border, and the first thing I bought was a camera because I wanted to record it and this little camera I took with me when I joined the merchant navy, and for half of the time I photographed with this, and then when I had some savings I bought a posher one with four extra lenses and so on. But at that time photography was not very popular because it was expensive, and on the ship it was very difficult to get films and store films, but what I also did, I carried darkroom equipment with me, and so whenever I had time I could buy some chemicals, or send from Germany.

The idea to go to the merchant navy was - I wasn’t happy in Germany because I was on my own, when I was 15 my grandparents died, and so I wanted to emigrate, and I knew they would only take skilled special technicians, so I signed on an apprenticeship to become an electrician. And after 3 years then I was a fully-fledged electrician, I applied to the Australian embassy, and within weeks I got a note when my ship would go there, and then I got ‘hot feet’ or whatever you would find it, and went straight to the embassy and said I can’t go there, I am too frightened because I have got no one who could tell me or support me, or…but I would like to work on that ship. And they said we cannot give you a job on a ship, only to see it, and so I went to the unemployment office, and they gave me a ship on the Rhine, and I said I do not want to go on the Rhine, I want to go to Australia, and it turned out it was the wrong office, so I had to go to Hamburg and sent my application to Hamburg.

Well after half a year the papers came back, I was really disappointed but another half a year later a telegram came: was I still interested, and I should come the next day and go on the ‘Cabal’ which was a ship going to West Africa, and so from there on, with two breaks in between when it took me some time to really,…, I was dieting when I started and I always thought I am missing something, but then with a four month spell in Germany even doing some work, I realized more and more this is my life, I want to stay with the merchant navy.
And after 7 years Susie came across and stopped it! But I think I couldn’t find a better ship for the next 40 years than this!
(And now Helmut does his photography in Stratford) I took 500 pictures for the Stratford Society but at the same time I tried to do another book as I did in Germany but these books were all with black and white, and I ran around the town and took pictures of features of all kinds, so I had the intention to do a book, and then came the Stratford Society and English Heritage and I stopped working on it; maybe I start one, one time.

The Images of England project is still going on but it had already twice to be finished, but it is a huge task to create a digital library of 370,000 listed buildings…! And so I got a lot of work to do, and even in rain I take my pictures when I travel, but here now in Stratford I can wait for the better light."

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