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Seen from both sides

by Genevieve

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Archive List > Family Life

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Gottfried and Lilian Riedel
Location of story: 
Donnington Shropshire, Scotland, Germany, Sheffield, Wales, Blackpool
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 July 2005

At school we’d say, “I wonder what our husband’s are doing at this moment”, little did I know that I’d meet and marry Gottfried, who was a German prisoner of war. He used to be in the Navy but he was captured by the Canadians.

He has told me some horrendous stories. One time he said when they were fighting and shooting, he was talking to a friend one minute, and the next minute, his friend’s head was gone!

When it’s Remembrance Day my husband doesn’t take part. He says “I’ve seen enough. It’s been the same on both sides”.

He told me all about what they used to do when he was a prisoner of war. They used to put holes in tins of sardines, and attach them to them -so if they escaped, they wouldn’t get very far without being heard.

Gottfried said that when you’re hungry, you’ll eat anything. He ended up in hospital in Scotland with jaundice, and there was an aerodrome next to it. The nurses used to fall in love with them and the prisoners would fall in love with the nurses, he told me all that. Two Luftwaffe pilots told him they were going to try and escape “you’ll hear us going over”. He did. They got back to Germany, and a film was made about that escape. When Gottfried told me, it all came back to me.

He told me that back in Germany they were big friends of the Jews; he had a lot of good friends. He even told me that Hitler’s father was German, and his wife was a Jew, and he went amongst the Jews mixing up with them — he must have been working out how to get where he got, and then he turned on them. Everybody was afraid of talking because the Gestapo would go into their houses, take them away and you’d never see them again. Even his own people — they weren’t all that good to them. Gottfried said he’d had enough of it all.

When he was home on leave and when there was an air-raid by the RAF, his mum and dad would say “come in the shelter” he’d say “no I’m going to bed to sleep. If I’m going to go, I’ll go. I’ve had enough”.

When he was captured by the Canadians he didn’t care much for them because they used to take everything off the men, even their personal items. But Gottfried avoided being sent to Canada because he caught jaundice.

He then went to a camp in Sheffield. They were all walking round and round when one lad came face-to-face with his own father. A nice surprise, wasn’t it?

They were moved to Wales where he was a prisoner of war but used to work on the farms. He made a lot of friends there; the bank manager, the dentist and the doctor, he made friends with them all. They were ever so good to him. But one night, one of the prisoners, who was only about eighteen, stepped just an inch to far forward when he was going to the toilet and our lot shot him. They made a big fuss about that.

He lived in Wales for seven years, then he came to Donnington where he worked on the houses painting and decorating.

I was going with someone at the time - Gerald from Leeds, he was in the military police at Donnington, and apparently Gottfried had had his eye on me for a while. I went to Leeds to meet Gerald’s mum and dad, and I always remember his mum saying to me “He’ll never leave me, our Gerald won’t”, and I thought “Oh!” And then Gerald wrote to my father and asked for my hand in marriage and my dad said “yes” because he liked him. I said “Listen here, dad, it’s me. It’s up to me”.

In then in the meantime, I’d met Gottfried. I went to work at the café to make extra money because I was working on the depot, and Vince said “I’ve got somebody here who wants to meet you” and he was in the back - so we got talking, and it went from there.

My Mum and Dad, Auntie and Uncle came down for supper there; and when he knew he said “I’ll give her…” and do you know it threw us more together; we used to meet on the sly. Gerald was still writing letters to me; I had kept all his letters but when we got engaged, Gottfried made me burn them. I remember having my palm read in Blackpool on holiday and she said “You’re going to come between two. One is fair and one is dark haired”.

Gottfried and I got married in 1954 on the 20th March, and we’ve been married 51 years now.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Becky Barugh of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of Lilian Riedel and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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