We English really are weird

Shortly before D-Day Trautmann was transferred to France to train new recruits. He fought in several desperate delaying actions across France, and then at Arnhem; by now he had been awarded two Iron Crosses and promoted to corporal.

While regrouping in the German town of Kleve, he was buried alive for three days when the Allies bombed a school where his unit was billeted; most of his comrades were killed.

In the confusion that preceded the fall of the Reich, Trautmann decided to make for Bremen. Briefly held by the Americans, he was finally taken prisoner by a British signals unit whose soldiers greeted him with: “Hello Fritz, would you like a cup of tea?” His lifelong love affair with Britain began at that moment.

Weird, but perhaps not so bad:

“My education only began the day I arrived in England,” Trautmann recalled. “People were so kind and decent, they didn’t see an enemy prisoner, they saw a human being. The British made me what I am … When I visit Germany, they say to me: \’Be honest, you’re English through and through’. And I’m mighty proud so to consider myself. I come back four or five times a year and always think \’Great, I’m home.’”

13 thoughts on “We English really are weird”

  1. My dad was nothing like so exalted, merely an engineer apprentice when you vile Brits captured him after the sinking of his Reichsmarine ship in the Bay of Biscay in 1943. Or 1944. His memory was Einsteinian and relativistic.

    Some days his ship was the Charlotte Schliemann (http://www.schiffe-menschen-schicksale.de/cgi-bin/bestellung.cgi?nummer=Nr.164&titel=Tankmotorschiff%20Charlotte%20Schliemann&preis=4.90&59&39), some days the Bremen, but always a HAPAG ship nationalized into the Reichsmarine. He served on both but old age warped some memories.

    His love affair with the Brits, and later Canadians, began when they cursed him for helping scuttle the ship, but even so giving him tea and baked stuff. No beatings, no torture, holy God wass ist loss?

    Same in Canada when he got here. 5 gallon tub of wienies and beans to feed 8 men one lunch. Then almost complete freedom. We really were and are stupidly rich and open here in Canuckistan. Where is a German Hitler Youth to go in 5000 miles of nothing?

    Out to cut timber in the north, build a dam in Kananaskis and ultimately let loose as a cowboy “riding the wire” near Brooks Alberta. No guards, local RCMP having beers with him while allegedly ensuring his careful captivity. Tried to escape only after the war when they told him he had to go back to Germany.

    The entire time everyone accepted that a German boy could be stupid, could fight for an evil cause from mistaken conviction or conscription and offered only kindness and toleration.

    He died here in Canada 4 years ago, the happiest and most loyal Canucki ever.

    I miss him.

  2. The story in my family is that my Mum’s first boyfriend, in 1946, was a U-Boat officer waiting to be repatriated. I would have thought if anybody was a good candidate to be hated by the former enemy it was a U-Boat officer, but apparently not.

    (I can’t vouch personally for the truth of this; my dad was a later arrival on the scene and I was later still)

  3. Went to a Spanish/Russian wedding a couple weeks back. Could you get more dissimilar cultures? Guests were from a dozen other European nationalities, as well. Struck me that we Europeans, left to ourselves, do get on with each other remarkably well. If it wasn’t for our rulers, princes or politicians or sometimes priests, we’d have great difficulty finding anything worth fighting each other over.

  4. @bloke in Spain – you’re right; work has taken me all over the world but mainly across Europe and I have seen people from all over getting on with one another and raising a glass together. I have a theory that the same personality archetypes crop up again and again and you seem to meet the same sort of people all over the world in different skins. And no matter where they’re from, a self-serving political weasel is a self-serving political weasel. As my first boss once told me “Remember, it’s not just cream that floats to the top”

  5. My father was in the Fleet Air Arm in the Far East. At the end of the war they brought back some of the former POWs on their ship.

    To his dying day he hated the Japanese with a vengeance.

  6. @ bis
    Yes, but (i) most people tend to distrust strangers, unless they have reason to do otherwise: so in the middle ages the worst thing that any member of a London Guild could do was to call another member “a Scot”; but get one stranger, like Bert Trautmann, alone in the middle of a host community and he/she can be treated as an individual – I have read of comparable treatment of British soldiers/sailors/airmen by Germans (ii) not just Europeans – I spent a winter in mid-90s Siberia and I only had to start stumbling my words in an English accent to be offered help in good English by unknown locals – after a while I got used to it but I never expected it (iii) guys are going to fight over girls and girls will compete in more subtle ways over guys regardless of race, nationality, colour, language, size, shape or any permutation thereof; (iiib) the Greek city-states and the Scots clans habitually fought each other subject to their own rules of war (Glencoe broke the rules).

  7. The story about the broken neck may not be all that rare.
    In the old days underwater cameras and lights were heavy, even under water. So we used to stumble about the North Sea like underwater moose. You could gain two collar sizes on a 30 day trip.
    Anyway, we were de mobbed and X went home to Norfolk, biked to the pub and took the customary skinful, fell in a ditch on the way home.
    Waking the next day with a raging hangover, thought nothing of it. Three days later, hangover still not over, went to A&E.
    Usual tests, then the swing doors to radiology opened like in a western or a heist movie.
    “Nobody move! Who’s the one with a broken neck?”

  8. it’s the message of the pre WW2 film by Jean Renoir – La Grande Illusion. In small numbers, you can accept strangers and empathise with them. And social class has an effect. A German farmer can work with a French farmer etc. My mother-in-law knew the German field-marshall von Rundstedt from when she was a kid playing near the POW camp where he was housed. He was a really nice old man, apparently.

  9. Some good few years ago, in the early 50’s, more or less, We holidayed as a family in far western Wales. Near St David’s, in fact. My eldest sister, then at Aberystwyth Uni. reading grassland economics, got on famously with a local farmer, a Mr Lewis, who told her this story.
    The year before, Lewis had been surprised to meet a young German in his farmyard, looking around him with a proprietorial air that somewhat rankled with the farmer. When asked his business, in a brusque fashion, the German in turn asked Lewis, ‘What ever happened to the cow with one broken horn that had lived close to the farmhouse?’
    Lewis was mighty put out by this impudence and was about to show the German how the Welsh perform a place kick, when it occurred to him that the German had no right to know anything at all about the now, sadly, departed house cow and was probably up to no good.
    So, with a modicum of cunning and, in order to detain the man, he asked him in for a cup of tea while he sent a man 3 miles to the village to phone the police.
    The German then told him a tale that made the farmer’s eyes stick out like Chapel organ stops.
    He had been a U-boat officer, second-in-command of a boat that was on picket duty outside Milford Haven. A boring and very dangerous place to be in 1944. Sunderlands were flying out of the Haven and all sorts of coastal command sub-hunters were stationed at Brawdy, Dale and St David’s airfields.
    Well, two things were really missed by the crews of the U-boats, fresh water and exercise. This U-boat’s captain had discovered, from captured British charts, that the little cove at the foot of the valley below the farm had a spring of the freshest, sweetest water flowing from a slate cistern and the bay had a smooth sandy floor with no dangerous rocks.
    So, on propitious nights, they would bring the boat in, allow her to settle on to the sand as the tide went out and they would send a party ashore to collect the sweet water while the rest of the crew played football on the beach, waiting for the tide to return and float them off.
    The young German would walk up the coombe to the farmyard and have a good look about, occasionally helping himself to an egg or two. And learning of the cow with one horn…

  10. I was thinking primarily about Europeans. We don’t seem to do much in the way of tribal. 9’Part from the Scots, of course)
    I do wonder if it’s because we’re really farmers at heart. If you farm the land, you really don’t want to up all night making sure the bloke got the next door farm’s nicking the crops out your fields. So it’s in your interest to get on with him. And if you think of it, one farm’s next to another & that to the next so every farm from the Atlantic to the Urals, Arctic Ocean to the Med are neighbours.
    It’s a different attitude from goat herders. They’re always worried the bloke over the hill’ll rustle a few of the flock. You get that me against my brother, me & my brother against the family, me & the family against the tribe & me & the tribe against the world, attitude. Middle East, much of Africa, lot of Asia.

  11. These heartwarming stories of English kindness will be of great comfort to those left to look after Baha Moussa’s children .

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