In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
An English Garden
He looked again at the Arrivals screen, for perhaps the sixth or seventh time. The message hadn’t changed. BA 8614 Bremen. Expected 1844. He checked his watch and did some calculations. All right, ten minutes to landing, ten or fifteen minutes fooling around getting to the gate, and the same amount of time with Immigration and Customs. These shouldn’t be too bad as they were coming from the EU, but still, it would be around a quarter or twenty past seven.
“Right, do I get a coffee, or just continue to walk up and down like an expectant father?” He did neither, but inspected in a disinterested fashion the books in W.H. Smith. He went over in his head his prepared little speech of welcome, and wondered if he should follow John Cleese’s advice about not mentioning the war. Difficult in the circumstances.
It was funny where his purchase of the house in Clapham had led. The problem had been the old oak. It had looked pretty sickly, and the tree surgeon had confirmed his worst fears. So, it came down, and the gardening experts had decided a small charge of explosives would ‘loosen up the roots. Some experts! They lifted half the bloody back garden and cracked most of the windows in the house. Still, it certainly lifted the tree roots, and left a bit of a crater. That was when they found the engine. Big bugger it was. It was obviously much too big for a car, and they found a large plate with the legend, ‘Daimler-Benz A G.’
He glanced at the TV monitor, and noted that the BA flight had touched down at 1841. It was getting closer, and he practised his speech to himself. Around him was the murmur of the North Terminal mixed with the occasional more strident public address announcements, and the coffee aroma from the café informed him that he might have made a mistake.
It had been the plate on the engine which had clinched it. It was a German aero engine, and for a while he speculated if an entire aircraft was down there. It wasn’t, as the enthusiasts from the Aircraft Historical Society were quick to inform him.
“You see, Richard, a Heinlel 111 was shot down here on 4th September 1940, but as far as the records show, it was taken away and the remains put on display on Clapham Common. It had been taking part in a raid on the railway junction.”
“What happened to the crew?”
The head anorak consulted his notes. “All killed. A three man crew and they were buried at Brookwood Military Cemetery.”
“I thought that was just for British dead.”
“No, they used it for all sorts, American, French, Poles, Czechs as well as Commonwealth guys. And a few Germans and Italians.”
“If they removed the aircraft, why did they leave the engine?”
“I don’t know, but people had a lot on their minds in September 1940, and someone probably intended to come back for it and forgot.”
They had rooted around for several days, finding all sorts of bits and pieces, ammunition, metal parts, and, amazingly a wallet. It was badly deteriorated, but recognisable, and it contained a letter addressed to a woman in Osnabruck, and poignantly, a photograph of a mother and little boy, about two years old.
Richard moved towards the railing dividing airside from landside, and held up his little sign, rather like the limo drivers. ‘Herr Junge.’ He had gone out to Brookwood and found the graves of the three Germans, Karl Bremser, Michel Junge and Karl Bohring. Unlike the other dead, their headstones were placed together, touching each other. It was moving to think that the three men who had lived and died together also lay together in their final resting-place. He had taken a photograph, and when the German authorities traced the son of Michel Junge, he had sent it with a letter, offering to send on the wallet.
Two men approached him and he held up the sign hopefully but they walked past him without stopping.
Herr Junge had replied through his son asking if he could come to England to collect the wallet in person, and visit where his father had died. Richard could not refuse. And then they were with him, a big man in his sixties, who gave a little bow, and said haltingly, “I am Eric Junge.”
Richard made his little speech and the big man replied in German. He offered his hand.
The younger man spoke. “My father thanks you for your kindness, and for all your efforts on our behalf.”
Richard offered the wallet. “This is yours. The letter to your mother is a little late I’m afraid.”
Written by my Father B.M