Wednesday, 30 November 2011


After the war the Amis (Americans) came. But at first they were afraid to come into Gardelegen because they thought there were soldiers hiding in the woods. It was daft. The soldiers wanted to surrender before the Russians came, but the Amis were afraid of their own shadows.

They were very lawless days, so Dad locked up the gates of Isenschnibbe, and wouldn't let anyone in. He and the other men guarded the boundaries. There was a lot of looting, and the pigs beyond the walls got stolen.

One day I looked over the wall and saw a black man wearing a top hat and tails. It was the first time I had seen a black person.

In the two days before the Amis came to take Isenschnibbe, a train carrying slave workers from Nordhausen came into Gardelegen. The war had ended and the SS officers in charge were told to shoot them. So they were rounded up in a barn and shot, and the barn burnt. It was on the Isenschnibbe Estate, but a mile away from where we locked in, so we didn't know.

Some of the prisoners escaped, and the Gardelegers helped them by hiding them in ditches.

It was terrible, but we didn't know it was happening. Maybe if the Americans had come in time, it would have been avoided.

This account is slightly at odds with what I have read about the story online. From the distance of so many years and knowing what we now know, it seems impossible to imagine this happening so close to your home, but things were very confused and frightening. Law and order had broken down, and they were difficult days. I am not sure the people locked in Isenschnibbe and the other Gardelegers could have prevented this from happening, even if they wanted to.

Rosemarie initially thought that the victims were Jews, not slave workers, but we read the story of the slave workers in the Information Office in Gardelegen. This may account for the description of slave workers in the following link: It is without a doubt a terrible crime to have happened in Gardelegen, but I genuinely don't believe the majority of Gardelegers would have wanted it to happen. (Isenschnibbe was two miles from Gardelegen, and the barn a mile away from where Rosemarie's family and estate workers were holed up. People were very afraid, and many would have stayed in their own homes. The reports seem to suggest that German soldiers, and Hitler Youth were involved, but I don't know how local they would have been. ) Having said that, Rosemarie has an album with pictures taken of the bodies, and it is truly horrific. A dreadful blight on a beautiful town.


Elfriede was my best friend. We met when we were ten.

Elfriede came from Kochte, and was a weekly boarder in Gardelegen, because it was too far too go home. She preferred to be at our place, then be at the boarding house, so during the week she was always with us at Isenschnibbe. Which was very nice.

Elfriede had two brothers, Otto and Fritz, both of whom survived the war.

When the Russians came, Elfriede's family had four hours to pack up their things, and had to leave their farmhouse behind. Luckily they could go to Otto's place.

I didn't know what happened to Elfriede after the war, but when Mother came to live in Wolfsburg in the 1960s, Elfriede found her, and then found me.

So then we could see each other again. Wasn't that lovely.

When the Wall came down and people could go back to the East, we visited Kochte with Elfriede, and she also told us this story. The farmhouse had been huge, and well run, but it was in rack and ruin, and iit was clearly a devastating experience for Elfriede to go back. But like Rosemarie, I think she was also grateful to have survived.

Auntie Ellie

Auntie Ellie, was my mother's sister. She was five years older then Mother and always delicate.

Ellie went to Prussia for a long time and that is why she called Auntie Yetel, the old auntie there Grandmother Auntie.

Ellie married an artist called Walter Fricke. Uncle Walter was always painting. Once Grandfather Heidtmann sent them a lovely fresh bacon - a huge one. And he took the bacon and sold it to buy paints.

Ellie and Walter lived in Holzminden, but then Auntie Ellie wasn't well and whenever we had holidays, she came to stay with us to see Mother. And it did her the power of good.

When Ellie was in labour with Ansalde, my cousin, she nearly died. She remembered a feeling of floating on the ceiling and looking down at her body. But then she thought, there is a baby I must look after, and that she must get back to her body.

So the baby came and all was well.

Friday, 25 November 2011


The only person I saw after the war was Elfriede. I didn't see any of my friends from Weimar. Times were so uncertain. The mail being uncertain, I didn't pursue to find out what had happened to them.

Brigitte Dosse was one friend whom I liked. Quite a big girl.
Then there was Brigitte Ilsen. Her father was a vet.

When the Russians came, they came so fast, we were still in Weimar. I took Brigitte Ilsen home to Gardelegen, because she had to go to Berlin and then on to Stralzand in the Baltic.

I never heard of any of them afterwards. They couldn't write. Maybe things were difficult as everything was opened. That was really a shame.

Brigitte Dosse. I hadn't thought about her. She had an aunt at the River Weser. Maybe they had gone there.

Thursday, 24 November 2011


Gisi was in the land army for a year. Gisi being Gisi, she volunteered to go to Bohemia, and she was damned well homesick then. In Bohemia, everything is different to North Germany, and she was the only North Germans among Austrians. So when she got homesick, Dad said you'd better go down and have a little look at her to cheer her up.

So I caught the train to Berlin, and got to Linzt at midnight. And then the next day, caught a train from Linzt to teh Bohemian Forest.

Gisi got my accommodation from the local doctor. And I slept under the thickest feather bed, I'd ever seen. In the morning, I was serenaded by Gisi's companions.

I got to know the Narbeshuber family well. I stayed there twice, and Frau Narbeshuber adored me and wanted me as a daughter in law. She had three sons. The eldest was married, but the second one - I can't remember his name - his mother thought that chappie would be be the one for me. My mum had no idea!

But they cooked differently and everything else, so I don't think I would have stayed there.

Then the war with Russia started, so I went back home via Berlin. I ran like mad at midnight for the train to take me back to Gardelegen.

Then I got home and Gisi came home, and we were all working on the land in Isenschnibbe or wherever. But we were lucky because we were not in a factory area.

So that was that.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


I was very little and Granny Brandt took me to Gardelegen, and bought me a nice frock.

I've been told I was standing in my grandfather's house, in front of the mirror and making little curtsies, saying "Aren't I pretty, aren't I pretty?" because someone must have said I was.

I can faintly remember it I think. Granny Brandt died of flu, just like Granny Heidtmann. So wasn't that sad?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011


I was six, Gisi, five. A bird used to sing outside our window. Gisi used to say to Mother, can't you shut that bird up. It sings so much.

And you know it was a nightingale.

Everyone wants to listen to a nice nightingale.

Monday, 21 November 2011


In Gardelegen we had an aerodrome and we got to know the parachutists. When we went into Gardelegen in our horse and cart, they always wanted to come in with us. But we didn't let them in!

After I left school, I went to study at the High Trade School in Stendahl, for one year. I travelled second class by train every day. Second class was lovely, because of the parachutists going from the aerodrome in Gardelegen to the visit the dentist. They were always glad to see us. We cheered them up because they were very scared about what they had to do.

One journey our train was bombed. Another time, the train stopped suddenly, and the train driver put a big board over the chimney, so from the air they couldn't see anything.
So wasn't that clever?

Saturday, 19 November 2011

That little man Hitler

During the war, Hitler issued an edict that all private horses were to be requisitioned for the war effort.

But Gisi was having none of that. She didn't see why that little man Hitler should stop her riding. So the day after the order came through, she came downstairs in her riding gear: black hat, coat, jodphurs, white gloves and riding crop. She was determined to ride her horse.

My dad went mad. She could have got us into a lot of trouble. So he took her on his lap and beat her, and made her go upstairs and change out of her riding gear.

That little man Hitler stopped her riding after all.

Dancing lessons

Our dancing master was called Herr Kleinschmidt, and he came all the way from Berlin with his daughter to teach us how to dance. He was much smaller then me, but he was a good teacher, and we had to learn.

We had lots of balls, but the main one was when we could dance properly. All the grandmothers chose what we would wear, and told the dressmakers how to cut the dresses, and what material to use. I wore a dress of taffeta, with sleeves of tulle. It was cornflower blue. And my friend Ulla the same. They were so pretty.

At the dances we all had dance cards which we filled up when the boys asked us to dance. It was lovely. But then the war came and the boys went off to fight. At first they were all right, but then one was lost, and a second and a third. It was very upsetting.

But we did have lovely dances. And my dress was cornflower blue. So pretty.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


When I stayed in Wolfsburg at my grandmother's house, I would be invited to tea at the castle with the children: Werner, Ina and Gunzel.

Werner, Ina and I used to play, but Gunzel was too little to play with, so I didn't know him so well.

When Werner was about ten, he fell out of the castle window from a first floor window, onto concrete below. Wasn't that dreadful? The girl who looked after him was very upset, thinking he would be badly hurt.

But the good lord looked after him, and he was completely unhurt. Not a scratch on him.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Grandpa Heidtmann

Grandfather Heidtmann married twice. I don't remember my actual grandmother who died of the flu when I was one.

Every day he would come in from riding into the kitchen where there was an open fire, and the Mamselle would give him a big hot chocolate from the stove.

Eventually he married again. She was a lovely woman and my second grandma, as they didn't have children of their own.

She looked at him when he was riding and hoped he'd look at her.

And eventually he did.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Countess and the Volkswagen Works

Before the war, the village of Wolfsburg was tiny. There was the castle, a gasthof, a church and a few houses. The only way to the castle was through the fields, and in summer it rose out of a field of corn.

But Hitler changed all that, by deciding to build the Volkswagen Car Works there.

One day, the Countess von Schulenberg was out riding, and she saw some men, with maps and measuring equipment on her land. She asked what they were doing, and they told her they were planning a car factory.

The Countess went immediately home and the Count made representations to the Reichstag, to no avail. Hitler wanted a car factory there, and there was nothing they could do. Eventually, the Nazis took over the castle and in 1935 the von Schulenbergs had to find a home elsewhere. They never got the castle back, and now it is an art gallery.

Wolfsburg Castle still stands out in the landscape of Wolfsburg, but the fields are long gone, and the town of Wolfsburg is dominated by Hitler's Volkswagen Works. That was how things went in Nazi Germany.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Aunt Beatrice's violin

My mother's family came from East Prussia. There were three aunts: Anna, Beatrice and Jetty. Anna was married to Charles Kuoss. They had one daughter who died of TB in her twenties, and Charles grew flowers in her memory.

Aunt Beatrice would come and visit us in Berlin and play her violin. I never met Aunt Jetty, but my cousin Ansalde did. Ansalde's mother Elli, died when Ansalde was very young, so she spent a lot of time with us in Gardelegen. Her father, Walter Fricke was an artist, and very difficult. He thought Ansalde had got to big for her boots staying with us, so he sent her to stay with Aunt Jetty in Berlin.

When the Russians came, Aunt Jetty wouldn't get on the last train. The Russians are nice to old people, she said. But they weren't very nice. In the end, everyone was dithering apart from Beatrice, who got on the train with just her violin. The journey from Berlin to Gardelegen took six days, and Mother met her from the train. But that night, Beatrice was taken ill as she had caught dysentery, and she died a day later in hospital. Mother kept her violin, but I don't know what happened to it after that.

The others missed the train. And we never heard from them again.

Cousin Werner

The bookshop in Gardelegen was run by the Manger family. Their son Werner was at school with me.

During the war, Werner was injured, and luckily for him woke up in a Canadian army hospital in France. So he was taken prisoner and ended up as a POW in Norfolk. Werner was always pleased about that because if he hadn't been taken prisoner he would have ended up on the Eastern Front.

There was one officer in charge of fifty prisoners. And he made them go and out and do exercises on the beach every day. They didn't run away, because, Werner said, there was nowhere for them to go. Besides, he quite liked it.

After the war, we found out that Werner was a POW, and Roger tracked him down to Norfolk. We wanted him to be be nearer to us, so we could make sure he was being looked after. So Roger told the authorities Werner was my cousin, and he was moved to Croydon, where he helped rebuild the airport.

When he came to see us at Wallington, he would go to a hedge on the outskirts of the airport, and change out of his prison uniform into a suit, then he would come over to Wallington and have a meal with us, before going home and doing the same thing in reverse.

Before he left for Germany he took us to have a meal at the Savoy. But the waiter wasn't very good, so when we left, Werner only tipped him a penny.

Werner went back to Gardelegen, where he continued to run the bookshop under the Russians, before eventually moving to Berlin.

When the Wall came down, he and his wife came over to Wallington again. Cousin Werner, reunited with his family.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Je Tswee

There was a boy in our class called Wilhelm Luttich who had a speech impediment. We must have been twelve or thirteen. Poor Wilhelm had trouble in French saying "Je suis". He always said "Je Tswee, je tswee." The more he tried, the more he failed. Our teacher got so annoyed Wilhelm couldn't say "je suis", he gave him the whacks. So we all got up in arms about it, and said it wasn't fair. So then we all got the whacks. We had to bend over and he whacked our bottoms once. Elfriede as well. That was the way it was.

Later Wilhelm became a bank manager in Goslar. He was a very clever boy. But he never could say "Je suis".

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Riding Master and the Count von Schulenberg

A story for Armistice Day.

Rosemarie's mother Gertrud Heidtmann was brought up in Wolfsburg Castle, where her father Heinrich was Riding Master to the Count von Schulenberg. They lived in a little house in the corner by the castle next to the stables which Heinrich was in charge of. Relationships between the workers and the aristocracy were different in Germany to here. There was less cap doffing and more mutual respect, so Gertrud, and later Rosemarie, often used to play with the Count's children. And when World War 1 was declared, and the Count went off to war, it was Heinrich's job to go into battle with him and ensure his safety. Luckily for all concerned, he did...

Walter also fought in World War 1, and was lucky to survive the Somme. After World War 2, when he met Rosemarie's father in law, Dan, who had also been at the Somme, there was no animosity between them, but they spent along time comparing notes on which positions they'd taken up during various battles.

I often think how but for a stray bullet going one way or the other, my children might never have existed...

On Remembrance Day, I am more grateful then ever, they do.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Dancing all the way to London

Just after Roger, my father in law died, Rosemarie came to stay with us. We were sitting round the dinner table one evening and she started telling us the tale of how she came to England. It was one we'd often heard before, but this time she added a sweet coda.

When Roger went back to England after being demobbed the plan was for Rosemarie to follow him. She was unsure about how she would feel living in England, so her Uncle Fritz, who ran a hotel in Wernigerode came to see her. As the sole member of the family who had been to England (as a waiter before the war), he was qualified to tell her what it was like. You will like it, he said, It is just like here. They have lots of trees.

Once it was decided that Rosemarie was to go, the next problem was getting her there. Transport to and from the Continent being very difficult at the time. Roger had a friend called Gordon Guest who was also bringing his fiance, Ilse over, and had managed to obtain plane tickets for a small fortune. The plane tickets being somewhat beyond Roger's means, he managed to find alternative accommodation on a cargo ship headed for Hull. Rosemarie's mother came to see her off at Hamburg, as by then Walter had been imprisoned by the Russians in Buchenwald.

Gordon was so delighted that Roger had found them such a cheap alternative, he promised to buy Roger a drink every time he came to London. Which he did for the rest of his life.

So far so good, that is what we knew of the story. But that night Rosemarie told us what happened next.

When they arrived in Hull, the press were waiting, full of interest in the two German war brides. Roger got on the boat and put his finger to his lips, warning the girls not to say anything. When they'd got through security, the boys whisked them onto a train carriage. To their delight, they were the only occupants, and somehow they got hold of a gramophone. We were so happy to see each other, said Rosemarie, so we danced all the way to London.

And do you know, she added, Uncle Fritz was right. England was just like home. He knew I'd like it.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Crow

One of the girls at school was called Hanna Schoppen and she lived in the vicarage of the nearby village of Berge. Hanna had two brothers, one of whom kept a pet crow. Every day Hanna's brother would cycle to school in Gardelegen with the crow perched on his shoulders. When he got to school, the crow used to fly home again and wait until he got home.

The vicar had a lovely garden with box hedges all the way around it. The crow used to hop in and out of the box hedges and chase after children it didn't like and peck them on the heel. Rosemarie was about fourteen years old at the time, and she didn't like the crow at all. Hanna didn't like the crow either. Only the two boys did!

As an aside, Rosemarie adds, Paster Schoppen was a very nice chap. A real country vicar. And of course, his wife was nice too. We were very lucky to have met such nice people in olden days.

I'm glad she has good memories of those days, along with the bad.

When my mother in law met Louis Armstrong

At the end of the war, Gardelegen was eventually handed over to the Russians, but first of all the Americans took over Isenschnibbe. And the two Major Generals in charge got on famously with Rosemarie's family. As she had learnt English at school, Rosemarie was often required to translate.

One day, one of the Major Generals came to Rosemarie's parents to invite them to a concert. Louis Armstrong and his band were going to entertain the troops. I'm not sure how long they stayed, but Rosemarie couldn't believe the lavishness of the event- Louis Armstrong was flown over from the States, roses were flown up from Rome, for a family who lived off the land and wasted nothing, it seemed the height of waste, luxury and extravagance.

What was Louis Armstrong like I ask? Nice, says mil - but that's what she always says, everyone is nice to mil - they all were. And we enjoyed listening to him play. For several Christmases afterwards, he wrote to Rosemarie's mother. We still have copies of those cards.

So you liked him? I say. Oh yes, says mil, shutting her eyes and going back to sleep. He was tip top, very nice. It was lovely.

Some Background

My mother in law was born Rosemarie Gertrud Brandt on 8 June 1924, the eldest daughter of Gertrud and Walter Brandt. Her sister Gisela (known as Gisi or Gischen) followed on 13 May 1925.

Walter was an estate manager, running the estate of Isenschnibbe, two miles from the mediaeval town of Gardelegen, 85 miles west of Berlin. Originally he worked for the family Von Blotnitz, then for the Prince of Lippott Detmolt, who bought it for his youngest son Arnim. As the war was on, Arnim never visited the estate, so Walter was the person to whom everyone came, and was responsible for all the estate workers.

Rosemarie and Gisi were brought up in a little house in the estate courtyard, which was big enough to have it's own brewery, and even had a train line, which bought goods into the estate. They went to the Hauptschule aged six, where Rosemarie's first teacher was a Herr Muller, whom she loved dearly. She cried so hard when she moved up to the next class, her mother always laughed he was the first boy she cried about.

Tucked out in the country, away from the political unrest in the towns, Rosemarie's life might have been unremarkable, had it not been for the war and what followed. When the war ended, Gardelegen was taken initially by the Americans, who handed it over to the British, who in turn were forced to hand it over to the Russians following the Yalta Agreement. Fortunately for Rosemarie and Gisi, Walter had earned the respect of all the military personnel he came across and one of them warned him what was to happen, so he was able to get them both to the West and safety...

First meeting

My first meeting with my mother in law Rosemarie Williams, was fraught with embarrassment. On my part at least. I had met up with my then boyfriend and some other friends in central London, it got late, and as I lived in North London and he lived in South, he suggested I came back to his house. In those pre mobile phone days there was no way of communicating this information to his mother before we got back to Wallington where he lived at around midnight. Being a bloke, of course, it didn't occur to him to use a public phone.

So we arrived back at his house and apart from feeling excruciatingly shy and nervous, I was mortified when my future mother in law, without batting an eye went and sorted out my bed. Already in her sixties then, it was probably the last thing she needed, but being both eminently practical and generous of heart, she welcomed me with open arms.

If truth be known, those welcoming arms were not always so welcome to me. I was young and probably intolerant, but I'd also been brought up in a more relaxed less intense kind of family. So Rosemarie's kindness and generosity, coupled with a determination which meant she failed to see where I was coming from was at times overwhelming.

It took a long long time to get the point where we are now, but I'm grateful that in the end we have found ourselves in a place of great affection, and love. Without a doubt, she is the most inspirational person I have ever met in my life. Though life has thrown affliction and trials that I cannot even comprehend in her way, she has always risen above it, and maintained a positive and happy attitude whatever the situation. She has taught me about courage and conviction, she has shown me how to be happy with simple things, and above all she has always given me her love, freely and generously, even if at times I was churlish in its acceptance.

Now she is dying, there is a lot I want to write about. And I will probably be doing that privately, away from here. But for a long long time I have wanted to write the story of her life, but I'm not a biographer, and lack the patience and time for writing non fiction properly. But yesterday, I decided to post a story about Rosemarie meeting Louis Armstrong after the war on my other blog, and finally I had found my way in.

So this is where I will be writing about the stories Rosemarie has told me over the years. Please bear in mind they are memories, and may be incomplete, or slightly skewed as memories invariably are. I haven't always had time to write down the stories as they've been told to me, so sometimes my versions might not be wholly true. But I hope at least the spirit is truthful, and I cannot think of a better way to celebrate my wonderful mother in law's remarkable life.