Monday, 29 August 2011

Unfinished Business

Ernst Ewald Werner Schulz

My father was born in oder Neusalz, in eastern Germany, on the 5th September 1920, and spent the early part of his life living with his parents in the forest a few miles outside the town. From what I can gather, with the region being a predominantly wine and beer growing area, he went on to work in agriculture in his middle to late teens.
As with most men at the time, the arrival of war saw him enlisting, and ending up a pilot in the Luftwaffe, where he flew Messerschmidt Bf109's. On occasions these planes would be used to escort the heavy bombers on their flights to places such as London and Coventry, and it was on one of these flights that led to him meeting my mother, as I shall explain a little later.

Of course, as with all professions in the forces, everyone must go through their basic combat training, and we unearthed this lovely photo of him in the classic German uniform. My older brother Ian looks just like him, without the uniform of course!

On one of the flights to bomb Coventry, a major industrial city at the time, he was shot down and taken prisoner, and ended up a prisoner/labourer on my english grandparents farm, where my mother Rosa and her siblings worked the land as well. As most men were enlisted, women took over most jobs usually thought of as 'mans' work, from farm labouring to toiling in the munitions factories, of which Coventry was home to some of the largest. The farm was not far outside Coventry, and my mother would tell me of the horrendous noise of those bombardments and the distant glow of the city burning, and how on their return, the bombers would jettison any excess bombs as they flew over farmland, to save fuel, and consequently rip up the fields in the process. As you can imagine, a German pilot was not thought of very highly in this area. Dad worked hard on the farm, as I imagine he will have not wanted to give my grandparents any cause for complaint, and after all, as with so many, he was just an ordinary soldier who wanted the war to end. As you can see, he lost a lot of weight, but his appearance didn't stop a relationship developing with my mother.

My grandparents alienated both of them pretty much for the rest of their lives because of this relationship, and things became such that they moved away to another town in the area and married. The man on the left of my father, was a very good friend of his named Herbert, a fellow German pilot. The lady on the far right is one of my mothers sisters, Lucy, who became her closest friend for the rest of her life. To start up any sort of life after the war, my father of course had to return to Germany to gather what personal documentation was left of his, and by now the country was divided into east and west by the wall. Getting into east Germany was relatively simple, but like tens of thousands of others, getting back was a totally different matter. A night time escape through barbed wire and over fences resulted in him being one of the lucky ones not to be killed by the ensuing hail of bullets by which so many perished over the years, and he returned to England with the help of a family living in Rugby, and carried on his life.

During their time in the midlands, first my sister Lyn was born in 1954, and then Ian in 1956.
Dads friend Herbert married, and the four of them went out regularly, and obviously flying didn't vanish from the men's lives. Herbert and Maisie were to remain good family friends for the remainder of mum and dads lives, and I remember with fondness, many a very informal supper in front of their open fire, mugs of tea on the hearth, and giant slabs of cake. Shortly after my brother and sister were born, my parents decided to move to Bournemouth on the south coast, and took on a large hotel near to the sea front. Neither had any experience in the hospitality trade, but they coped for quite a few years. Alas, I think that the pressures put on such a difficult relationship over the years were well and truly taking their toll.

The year 1961 saw my arrival onto the scene. My mother had miscarried a couple of years earlier, and so I guess I am lucky to be here. Apart from the annual family holiday to places like Wales or Cornwall, the members of our family didn't really get together like many families do, and so, being so young, I never really knew my parents as people in their own right at this point, as the hotel took up pretty much every waking hour of their time.
We all remained at the hotel until around Christmas 1971, I was ten, and it was this time in my life that the cards were totally thrown up into the air. Dad had to go into hospital for a heart by-pass operation, and for reasons that are still unknown, my mother chose this time to act on whatever difficulties had been between them. Without going into detail, she moved in with another man just before Christmas, whilst dad was lying in a hospital bed with his chest stitched up, and leaving myself aged 10, my brother at 15, and along with her boyfriend at the time, my sister aged 17, in charge of a 19 bedroomed hotel with guests. Needless to say the hotel didn't last, my brother and myself were allowed to move into our new stepfathers home, and as he refused point blank to take in my sister for whatever reason he had, she joined bedsit land. My stepfather later turned out to be extremely violent, but that's a whole different story.
My dad coped incredibly well under the circumstances. Whilst still in hospital, and then staying with nuns to convalesce after the operation, he also dealt with the ensuing divorce, and what must have turned out over the next few years to be a 'tricky' relationship with us three children. My sister was trying to deal with a very difficult private life as best she could, and once a fortnight I would go with my brother to visit dad as he continued to recover. He eventually healed enough to move into a tiny bedsit in Boscombe, and I remember well, carrying his few possessions up a couple of flights of stairs for him, as he was gasping for air just to get himself up. The fortnightly visits to see him in the evening were very special times for me. Although a very, very quiet man, the three of us would share a supper of German sausages, sauerkraut and potato salad, and exchange whatever polite pleasantries came to mind. He could draw incredibly well, and wrote beautiful poetry, one particularly lovely one was about my sister.Those evenings were happy and peaceful times for me. A total contrast to my life with the step-father.

Me and Dad

He was a very practical man, and upon realising that he must now make his own way, set about training to be a fully qualified head chef. He later went on to run the kitchens of several places, ironically one of them being an enormous hotel in the heart of Bournemouth. It was whilst helping him in the kitchen of this place on one of a number of Saturdays, that I started for the first time to see the actual man who was my father. Polite, peaceful, gentle, calm,  focussed and totally in control of himself and others.
He was, I think anyway , always a very handsome man, and it didn't take long for him to gain the attention of the lady who was to become his second wife. She would come to Boscombe to visit him, and things started to develop from there. I remember him as being the sort of man who would like things done formally and correctly, and for his first visit to Dorothy's home in the New Forest, he sent a telegram notifying her of his arrival time etc, for her to come and pick him up (he couldn't afford a car at this point).

I remember my dad being very happy indeed at this point, as indeed was Dorothy. They married of course, she looking very elegant, and he still very handsome but now with greying hair. For him not only to have found new happiness with an adoring wife, but to be back in a forest to live, was so good to see. He told me that this was also my home now, and to come whenever I could, and it wasn't long after, that I went to stay for the weekend, and the first real time I had, and have since, ever spent with him on my own. Over those two days nothing much was said. I was still very young and self absorbed, and I assume he was wary of having one of his children and his new wife under the same roof for a period of time. Nonetheless, we all enjoyed eating together, watching tv, doing normal things, and when he had to work, I would go into the forest on my own for hours at a time and try to make sense of where my life was at this point. He told me at one point about his brother, my uncle Horst. A nineteen year old officer in the SS when he was killed, and dad not being a nazi had his opinions. Strangely, among some of dads possessions was uncle Horst's Holy Bible.
At that point I was about fourteen years old.
Over the next number of years, all three of us children got married, had children, some of us remarried, and took all of the ups and downs that life throws at you. My mum and stepfather maintained a volatile relationship, with fights being a regular occurence, and life for my brother and I while with them wasn't easy. When we had both left, after finding lives of our own, things did at least calm down a little.
My fathers life continued happily and peacefully, with many visits back to Germany for him. Some years even further down the line, he was able to take my brother, me, and our families to Germany for the first time. We didn't go east to his home area, but to a favourite mountain town of his in Bavaria, Mittenwald. Again, I saw a little more of the deep and soulful man that I loved dearly, but still knew so little about. His health was gradually deteriorating, and he would spend his time on ground level whilst I would climb the mountains around us with my brother. Just one of my many regrets is that the three of us could never do this together, even though the time spent with Ian was precious, and something that to this day I wish we could repeat. We returned a few times, with dad, and without him after he died. On one such visit we climbed the Karwendel to place a memorial cross on the rock face in memory of him. On another much later visit, Dorothy took Amanda and myself, and we talked much over our memories of that place and what it meant to dad.
It's now been seventeen years since he passed away from lung cancer, brought on by his lifetime love of Gitanes cigarettes, and Dorothy went last year. During those seventeen years so many things have happened in my life that I want to share with him, and so many questions about him and his life, and an overwhelming desire to have proper conversation and time with him. He was seventy four when he died, but I was only thirty three. He never really new me, nor I him, but I have such a desire to know him now, and it's too late! Most things I know about this lovely man were either grabbed in brief moments with him, or told to me after his death.

So dad, just in case you change your mind, I'm ready for that mountain walk......... and be prepared for a very, very long one!


  1. It is so hard to lose someone you love, someone irreplaceable, that you feel as if you did not have the proper time and words and actions to express it fully to them. A very mesmerizing story, spoken from the heart .I have heard to sit and write your loved one ( dad ), a letter, and tell him things you always wanted to say, and go to his grave and read it to him. Your dad lives still through you, he is still with you and your family in that respect. He has passed down many traits that you have shown us in yourself in your blog. Now you have the chance to keep passing them down to future generations. Thanks for the post, Gina

  2. What a great writing about your father and your family's history. It is so good that you are putting it down so your family will know about him and you and the rest of your family. One always want to know more about those we love. Your writing sounds like you got the essence of him very well.

  3. Dear Gary, thank you so much for this moving and beautiful writing, which has moved me to tears. Of course, you carry your father and the love that you shared with you always, and I'm sure that, without speaking of it, he will have known your qualities and the strength of your heart. I knew my own father very well, we were 'like two peas in a pod'! He lived to the ripe old age of 91 but I still miss him dreadfully and talk to, and of him, often.