Interview with Helga Wynne and Gordon Atkinson


Interview with Helga Wynne and Gordon Atkinson


Helga (00:00-34:00) was born in Kiel in 1926. Her father was a sailor, who then worked at Krupp shipbuilding yard; her mother was a tram driver during the war. None of her brothers were called up, either because of age or disability. Mentions Hitler and daily life in pre-war Germany. While working on a farm she injured her back, was hospitalised, and then worked at a children hospital in Kiel which was bombed. Helga then met a Kriegsmarine serviceman and were going to get married. The train they were travelling on was attacked by an allied airplane which killed him but spared Helga. In 1947 Helga met Harold, a Royal Medical Corps paramedic who served in Kiel. They resettled in England and got married at Burton in 1948, an event which stirred much curiosity. Helga was welcomed by Harold’s family in Fieldby, and they also met Helga’s family in Germany. Harold worked at Scunthorpe steel works; she worked on a farm until retiring at 70. Harold passed away in 2000. Helga elaborates on the meaning of reconciliation, recalls the difficulties learning English and the reaction of villagers at her ‘lovely accent’.
Gordon (34:00-47:51) discusses family members emigrating to Canada and returning during the war. One served at 426 Squadron at RAF Linton on Ouse, a rear gunner on a Halifax who was lost in the North Sea. Gordon discusses his friendship with Harold and recollects seeing Bomber Command aircraft flying out and coming back during the war.




Temporal Coverage




00:47:51 audio recording


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AWynneH-AtkinsonG180508, PWynneH1825


HH: This is Heather Hughes for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive and I am in [ buzz] Flixborough with Helga Wynne and Gordon Atkinson, and it is the 8th of May 2018. Did I get all of that right? I think so.
HW: Yeah.
HH: Helga, thank you so much for agreeing to tell your story to us.
HW: Yeah. You’re welcome.
HH: Because I think it’s a remarkable story. So, if we could start with your very very early life. Would you like to tell us where you were born and when and something about your family?
HW: Yeah. I was born on the 10 7 ‘26 in Germany. In Kiel, and we lived right in centre in town. We lived about four or five years and then my father went to outskirts from Kiel and built a house. So that is where my life really began. In there. So —
HH: So, was your dad, what was, what profession was your dad?
HW: So my, my father in his younger days he was a sailor and he joined when he was fourteen years of age.
GA: On sailing ships that, wasn’t it?
HW: On the, yeah.
HH: On sailing ships.
HW: Yeah. And he never went back. That was in Danzig. It, it called —
HH: Gdansk.
GA: Gdansk.
HW: Gdansk. Yeah. In Poland.
HH: In Poland. Now. Nowadays Poland. Yes.
HW: But when he was born it belonged to Germany so that made him a German. So after that he got married and like I said already he built his own house. There were twelve children of us. Nine girls and three boys and I’m the ninth in the line.
HH: And in terms of the three girls, the boys and the girls where are you in the whole —
HW: Yeah. That was a big house what he built.
HH: And, and were you the youngest altogether?
GA: No. You were number nine didn’t you say?
HH: Or just the youngest girl?
HW: I more or less was one of the youngest one.
HH: Ok.
HW: The fourth youngest. Yeah.
HH: Ok.
HW: And of course, I had no brothers in the war because one brother who was deaf and dumb so they didn’t take him, and the other two were too young so, but I had all brother in laws in the war and several of them of course they got killed. And one day in my younger day I was in the kitchen with my mother and all of a sudden the door ripped open and the Nazis came in. So, we were frightened to death. We wondered what it was all about and they wanted to see my father. And so, my mother said, ‘Alright. He’s out.’ He was a shipbuilder. Told them where he was and they went and fetched him. So, they came back and he had to show the certificate that he was born in, in Danzig. What they called Gdansk but when he was born it belonged to Germany so that made him German so they were satisfied. They saluted and went out and took my father back. But I must say when first Hitler came in we were very poor. You know, at that time my father was out of work at that time but they looked after us. They brought us food. They brought us coal. And that’s how he got that job. So, he had his good points even if he had his bad ones. So, of course when I was fourteen I had to start working and I went on the farm. And all, all young girls before they started profession they had to go on the farm or they had to go and live with a family to see what life is all about, what they’re going to do when they get older and I chose to go on the farm.
HH: Was that, was that a long way from where you lived, Helga?
HW: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. And of course, I had a bad accident there. I was, we were going to feed the cows and it was a loft and go in the loft to get the straw down for the cows and while I was running over it I, it, I walked over a bale of straw and that covered the, the loft like and I didn’t know. Of course, I fell through, landed on my back and if it wasn’t for the bale of straw I could have been dead but that actually saved my life in a way so —
HH: So, did you land on a bale of straw?
HW: Yeah. Yeah. But I still damaged my spine and that.
HH: And did you have medical attention?
HW: Yeah. And I was in hospital for a few weeks and I was in a plastic jacket for six months. Of course, when I got over all this problem I started, I went to, went to Kiel, in town to a Children’s Hospital as a student. And of course, one day we had a what do you call it — ?
GA: Air raid do you mean?
HW: Yeah. Air raid. Yeah.
GA: You’re jumping forward now.
HW: And we were all sheltering in a cellar. Well, it wasn’t really a cellar. It was halfway above the ground and halfway under but the Children’s Hospital, they all had children in there under the age of fifteen. And they all more or less scarlet fever, measles and things like that. It was a private hospital.
HH: And that was in Kiel.
HW: Yeah. That was in Kiel. And —
HH: Ok. So, when did you start working in the hospital? Was it before the war?
HW: During the war.
HH: So, you started work there —
HW: Yeah.
HH: During the war.
HW: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. Yeah, and of course they first they throw phosphor bombs like. All the building was on fire and I was on fire duty like but they wouldn’t let me go up to do anything because we knew the next lot of bombers was coming in with the heavy bombs. So, anyhow, we got all set looking after the children, the bombs dropped in and I got buried. So, luckily in the next room there was two students and they managed to got me out.
HH: They managed to get you out.
HW: Yeah. But next to me was one of the doctors and they couldn’t get her out.
HH: They didn’t make it.
HW: No. The burning steps came on falling. Falling on her. Anyhow, after when I got all over that I met —
HH: Now, when you say when I you got all over that did that take you a while to recover?
HW: Well, it did. Yeah. Yeah. I’ve been —
HH: So were you, did you have —
HW: Off sick and that. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: You were. Ok. Yeah.
HW: And then I met my late fiancé.
GA: That’s jumping quite a bit.
HW: Yeah. And —
GA: After the, after the —
HW: Yeah —
GA: Bullets had stopped flying when she met Harold. You know what I mean? It’d be after 1945.
HH: Yeah.
GA: Yeah.
HH: But, but you first, you, you had met somebody who was in the German Navy.
GA: Yeah.
HH: Is that right?
GA: You missed that out.
HW: Yeah.
GA: You missed that.
HW: Ok.
GA: Going to Westphalia.
HH: So, tell me about your fiancé.
HW: This is what I get to now. I met him and he was, he was on the ship called Prinz Eugen and it got bombed badly so all his mates got legs and arms off and he said that was too terrible to see so he decide to go to a submarine. He said, ‘I’ll either be killed or be alive.’ So, this is what happened.
HH: How did you meet him, Helga?
HW: He was in Kiel. In, in his—
GA: Kiel was a Naval base.
HW: Yeah. A Navy base. Yeah.
GA: They met —
HW: Training younger sailors like. Anyhow, I got, after a time I was three months pregnant so we decide to get married but it was very difficult, the war being still very heavy. So I went to Westphalia, near the Dutch border to his parents and that’s when we was going to get married. He came on a short leave, only for two days to get married and go back but while we were on the train together it got attacked by a plane during the night. I think it was American plane. Just one among and it fired machine guns.
HH: At the train.
HW: Yeah. And of course, we stood so close together how I didn’t get hit I don’t know. It just ripped my coat and the bullet went into him and killed him. So, two days later we should have been married but it didn’t come off. And anyhow —
HH: Yeah. That must have been really difficult for you.
HW: It was very very hard. Yeah.
HH: How did you cope?
HW: You do when you’re young don’t you? And you know you had to. Life goes on, doesn’t it?
GA: Did you, you stayed with his mother in law at that time, did you? Just after that tragedy.
HW: Did what?
HH: Did you carry —
GA: Did you stay with, with your mother in law?
HW: Yeah
HH: Did you carry on staying with his parents?
HW: Yeah. I had to because the war was really, they was all coming in in Holland and that and, in fact they came in Holland and then on the Rhine and that was near the Rhine where his parents lived. Of course, he got, he got buried there where his parents is because that’s where he got died. And the war finished there in March. Well, it was still going on in Kiel so I couldn’t get back home. So, I went back after the, you know everything was settled in June. I came back. Of course, I had a baby by then and no father to look after it. So, but his parents were quite well off. So —
HH: And did they, did they, did they look after you and the baby?
HW: Yeah. And he’s still there. We’re in touch. He keeps coming to see us. He’s married over there like.
HH: And what’s his name?
HW: Willy, after his father.
HH: His father’s name was Willy as well, was it?
HW: Yeah. Wilhelm. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
HW: And I’ve, one of my brother in laws he was on the Scharnhorst so he, he got killed of course.
HH: Yeah.
HW: And another one he was only six weeks on the mine sweeper and they run on the mine and he got killed. And another brother in law he was in Hamburg visiting like, my sister and the bombing was going on and he got buried somewhere but nobody ever found him.
HH: So, that must have been just terrible for, that your, for —
HW: Yeah.
HH: For the parents —
HW: Yeah.
HH: Who lost all of those sons.
HW: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you see, they are brother in laws but not my own —
HH: Yeah.
HW: Brothers you see.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
HW: And then my other one —
HH: How did your parents cope with that?
HW: They, they never spoke about that.
HH: They just didn’t speak about it.
HW: No. No.
HH: They probably just couldn’t.
HW: No. This is it. Yeah.
GA: Did your, did your mother drove a tram didn’t she? Didn’t your mother drive a tram?
HW: Yeah. My —
HH: During the war your mum —
HW: Yeah. She was a tram driver in Hamburg.
GA: Was your, was your younger sister set in the foot —
HW: Yeah.
GA: The footwell of the tram.
HW: She had one of my younger sister. She was only a year old. She used to sit her in a corner while she was driving a tram. Of course, it wouldn’t be allowed today.
HH: No. But what else could you do then?
HW: Yeah. That’s true. Yeah. You see. To earn a living, isn’t it? You have to help.
HH: Gosh.
GA: Your father was working in the Krupps ship building yards.
HW: Yeah. Of course, that all got bombed badly and so on but —
HH: Did your father survive?
HW: Oh yeah. My parents survived the war because, but he died I think a few years after the war from cancer like and my mother lived twenty years after that on, on her own.
HH: Gosh.
HW: Of course, she sold the house then and went to finish within a home like.
HW: When I met my late husband that was in 1947.
HH: And where was that?
HW: And that, he was a paramedic in Kiel. And we’d been out to a dance and that’s how we met. It was a few months later we got engaged. And then 1948 he brought me over to England and we got married and I think I was one of the first girls in Scunthorpe who got married to an Englishmen because crowds of people come to watch us.
HH: Gosh.
HW: Because I was German, you see. Yeah.
GA: That was at Burton Church, wasn’t it?
HW: Yeah.
HH: And that was at Burton Church.
HW: I got married in the Burton Church and the buses even stopped and looked and took photographs and it was —
HH: So, it was quite a celebrity wedding.
HW: It must have been. Yeah. And I couldn’t figure why but I realised later that I was more or less one of the first one in Scunthorpe who got married to an Englishman.
HH: Gosh.
HW: Anyhow, we got, I got three sons.
HH: You had three sons together.
HW: With Harold. Yeah.
HW: And of course, he, he died in 2000. He had cancer. I nursed him in bed for nine weeks. It was hard but I looked after him ‘til he died.
HH: And how did you find, how was it from your point of view as a German woman coming to live in, in Britain at that time?
HW: Well, when you’re young and in love you don’t see anything different. You’re just happy. I’ve never really been homesick. I’ve been very happy. I had a happy marriage.
HH: But you were made welcome, were you?
HW: Yes. His parents, yeah made me very very welcome. I couldn’t have been looked after any better. They thought the world of me.
HH: And where did they live? Your parents in law.
HW: They lived at Thealby. Not far from here.
GA: About three, four miles, you know?
HW: Yeah. Yeah. They really replaced my own parents. They did. Yeah. Because they never had any girls I was the only girl in the family so of course I would be welcome.
GA: They met your mum and dad, didn’t they? Did Harold’s dad, didn’t, did Harold’s mother or was it just his dad, yeah his dad went to Germany?
HW: Yeah.
HH: Did the families meet?
GA: Yes.
HW: Yes. Yes. I, we went to Germany. Twice we took parent in laws with us and my father in law enjoyed it so much he went on his own with a friend and stayed with my sister.
HH: Fantastic.
HW: And really enjoyed it. Yes.
HH: Brilliant.
HW: Of course, we went nearly every other year with the children like. So —
HH: To keep in touch with your family.
HW: Yeah. Yeah. So, they were in touch. And then with my late, with my eldest son of course they met him and they’ve been over here quite a few times.
HH: Have they?
HW: Yeah. And they still come. Yeah. They are coming again next month.
HH: Lovely.
HW: Yeah. And of course, then a year and a half ago I broke my leg.
HH: Oh.
HW: And of course, it put me back a bit in the wheelchair like. And Gordon looks after me like with doing our best what we can. Several, I broke my ankle. Got a pin in it. I broke my arm while I’ve been here. I broke my big toe. So, I’ve had quite a few breaks, haven’t I? Yeah. I had my eyes done. Cataracts. And now they’ve found out that I’ve got what do you call them? Floaters.
HH: Oh, those are horrible.
HW: Yeah.
HH: I’ve had those.
GA: Yeah.
HW: And they won’t operate because they said after they do it it wouldn’t do any good.
HH: No.
HW: So therefore —
HH: You just have to wait.
HW: Yeah. I’m gradually going blind now. Yeah. Because it’s really getting bad.
HH: Well, you know what my mother says? Old age is not for the faint hearted.
GA: It is. Indeed, it’s not.
HW: That’s right. And I have to use my magnifying glass for everything now.
HH: Yeah.
HW: But I —
HH: Tell me a little bit about your life between 1948. I mean your husband worked where?
HW: Yeah.
HH: Harold.
HW: He worked, he worked at the steelworks.
HH: In Scunthorpe.
HW: Yeah.
HW: He was, in the army he was in the medic.
GA: A medic. The Royal Medical Corps.
HH: So, so did —
HW: Yeah —
HH: Did he, he was demobbed was he?
GA: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. He was demobbed and then he sent for me.
GA: It was basically National Service he did, wasn’t it?
HW: Yeah.
HH: Oh, National Service.
HW: Just for two years.
HH: Ok.
GA: Just after the war you see.
HH: Just after the war.
GA: ‘47 48.
HH: Right.
GA: Something like that.
HW: And course —
HH: So, then he, he finished his National Service.
HW: Yeah.
HH: And then, and then went to work. Met —
HW: Yeah.
HH: Met you, married, you got married and then he was in the steel works.
HW: He was in the medic in the, in the Army like. He could, he could have carried on because they wanted him in Scunthorpe but the wages I’m afraid wasn’t very good.
HH: No.
HW: And the steelworks it was better.
HH: Much better.
HW: So he went to the steelworks.
HH: And you?
HW: As a smelter.
HH: What did you do when he was away at the steel mill? Looking after children?
HW: Yeah. This is, well I was only here a year when we had the eldest son like.
HH: And that was, what year was your oldest son born?
HW: We got married ’48. He was born —
HH: ’49.
HW: ’50. Yeah.
HH: Oh, ’50.
HW: No.
HH: ’50.
HW: ’50, yeah. Yeah.
HH: And the other ones? What years were they born?
HW: Two years later. Well, I’m afraid I lost him six months ago. He passed.
GA: 12th of August last year, wasn’t it? When he died.
HW: Yeah. He passed away. He had lung cancer and, yeah, I’m afraid.
HH: And that was the middle son.
HW: Yeah. That was the middle one.
HH: And then the youngest one?
HW: The eldest one lives in Wales.
HH: In Wales.
HW: Yeah. I’m afraid it isn’t very good news there because he’s got cancer in his throat.
HH: Whereabouts in Wales do they live?
GA: Near Swansea.
HH: Ok. South Wales.
GA: South Wales.
HW: Yeah.
HH: So it’s quite a long way away.
HW: Yeah. Yeah.
GA: Oh, a long way. Yeah.
HW: It is. Yeah. Well, he came about two weeks ago.
GA: Yeah.
HW: Didn’t he? They keep coming up like but of course it’s a long way. I mean he’s got three children and they’ve all got family. So I’m a great grandmother to six others.
HH: Six. Six times a great granny.
GA: Yeah.
HH: That’s wonderful.
HW: Yeah. Three. Three times grandmother.
HH: That’s wonderful.
HW: Yeah.
HH: So, you, you have a very large family.
HW: Yeah. Oh, yes and they come regularly to see us. Yes. Yes.
HH: That’s great.
HW: It is. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
HW: But they all live apart. Nobody near us like. They live in Goole and oh one lives in [unclear] doesn’t he?
GA: Yeah.
HW: The other one in Hull.
GA: Katie. She’s in Hull.
HW: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. That’s, that’s, that’s families today.
GA: Yeah. Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
HH: I mean it is remarkable I think that you have been so settled here for so long in the same house.
HW: Yeah.
GA: To work.
HH: Sixty seven years.
GA: Ever since you’ve been here you’ve always worked on the farm doing the potato picking and —
HW: I always worked on the farm.
HH: So, you went back to farm work which is how you started.
HW: Yeah. Yeah.
GA: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. In, whatever children went to school I went on the farm to work. I used to drive the tractor.
HH: Fantastic.
GA: Every farm had a team of ladies out of the village that did the potato riddling. Picking —
HH: Amazing.
GA: Sugar beet and things like that.
HW: Yeah.
GA: And that’s what you —
HH: That’s quite hard work.
GA: Oh yeah.
HW: Yeah. But I was tractor driving so it was easier. And I even saved a little boy’s life.
HH: How come?
HW: Well, they had a swimming pool there on the, on the farm like and while I was coming —
GA: It was —
HW: Back with the tractor these little kiddies come running and said one of the boys fell in water. So of course, I jumped off the tractor and run straight to the pond and there was a big sheet over the top and I said he couldn’t be in there but then we ripped the sheet off. The foreman and I ripped it off and luckily right in front of me he come up and he was all blue and that. Unconscious.
HH: Well, that’s where your nursing experience —
HW: Yeah.
HH: Would have been really helpful.
HW: Yeah. It did. I gave him the kiss of life and brought him around. We wrapped him up in blankets and somebody rang ambulance up. Of course, I had to get home and get changed because I was soaking.
HH: Wet.
HW: Yeah. Yeah. That was something. Anyhow, a few years later I met the mother and I asked how the little boy was going on. She said he was going on fine but he had a lot of ear complaint.
HH: Oh.
HW: Yes.
HH: Yeah. But he was alive and well.
HW: But he was alive. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
HW: Yes.
HH: Yeah.
HW: Yes. It was at the time the front page, wasn’t it?
GA: I think it was. Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
GA: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. The foreman —
HH: So, when did you stop working on tractors then Helga?
HW: I was, I was nearly seventy when I still went potato picking, wasn’t I?
GA: You used to help me. Yeah.
HW: Not picking but on the machines sorting them. I was nearly seventy and I was still on the farm helping. I enjoyed it. It was outing, plus extra pocket money as well.
HH: Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. You’ve had a very eventful life.
HW: Yeah. I presume I had.
HH: Yeah.
HW: But I enjoyed it whatever.
HH: And do you still keep in touch? Have you got any of your siblings still alive?
HW: I’m afraid all my sisters and brothers all died. I’m the only one left.
HH: Oh, so you’re the last one.
HW: Yeah. One went —
HH: Gosh.
HW: One went to Australia. That’s the youngest one and the others all stayed in Germany. One was married to a Greek but she came back to Kiel with her husband and family. But they’ve all passed away I’m afraid.
HH: Gosh.
HW: So, I’m the only one left.
HH: Well, that’s remarkable.
GA: You’ve one or two nieces and nephews that you still —
HW: I’ve got quite a lot of few nephews and nieces.
HH: And you still, you still keep in touch with them.
HW: One or —
GA: One or two of them anyway. Yeah.
HW: One or two.
GA: Yeah.
HW: Because there’s so many I could not keep up writing to them all.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
HW: And if you’re on telephone it becomes quite expensive, doesn’t it? To ring them.
HH: Indeed it does. Especially because you’ve got your own large family too.
HW: Yeah. Well, this is it. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
HW: Yeah. I’ve got my own family over here so they come first.
HH: Yeah. Yeah. Do they know your stories? Does your family know your stories? All these stories?
GA: Yeah.
HW: Well, they would do, wouldn’t they? Yeah.
GA: Yeah.
HW: But —
HH: So you’ve talked to them about your life.
HW: Yeah.
GA: Briefly.
HW: Yeah.
GA: Given them bits and pieces over the years.
HW: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
HW: That’s it. Yes.
HH: Yeah. It is a remarkable life.
HW: I did. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
HW: But it’s like I said I enjoyed the good so you had to take it bad if it comes
HH: Yeah. But you lived through some very difficult times in the world.
HW: Yeah. Well, that was during the war that was hard. When, when I met my late husband we were actually nearly starving because that week I met him we was a whole week never had nothing to eat at all. And I went to see him where he was in the hospital like and I just collapsed so —
HH: Because of hunger.
HW: They said, yeah, he said, he went to his mates and said, ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with the girl. She collapsed.’ So, he said, ‘I’ll tell you what’s the matter. They’re starving.’ ‘No. No. No. She would have told me.’ He said, ‘They wouldn’t,’ he says, ‘They’re too proud.’ So of course, he got one of the cooks to give me some dinner.
HH: And that helped.
HW: And, yeah it did. Yeah. And after that he did Black Market with cigarettes and soap and different things.
HH: To get food for you and your family.
HW: Yeah, because I lived with my sister. She lost her husband and she had three little children so we were all in the same boat. So, he looked, brought food for them as well which is —
HH: Yeah.
HW: Was very very nice.
HH: So, what, what did you think of, what did you think of Britain when you first arrived?
HW: I couldn’t find much different really. No. Because I mean people had their own houses and garden the same like they have in Germany.
HH: Could you already speak English?
HW: Not a lot. No. Harold, he spoke very good English and I learned, I learned it rather quickly because you’ve got to.
HH: So, did he speak German?
HW: He spoke German. Yes. Yes, and —
HH: So, that’s how you communicated.
HW: Yeah. Because I lived with mother in law and it was hard sometimes. She used to say, ‘Set table.’ Told me fetch some plates. Of course, I brought no end of things in. ‘No. No. Plate.’ You know. Eventually you got to —
GA: She taught you English money didn’t she and how to shop? Sent you into the shop.
HW: Yeah.
GA: And stood back, you know. Didn’t she?
HW: She, I had to go shopping on my own like. And when I couldn’t tell them what I wanted I used to point. And I wanted some cotton in the market once and I knew how much it was because I quickly learned about the English money. I thought well I have to learn that quick. Of course, when I got my cotton that lady gave me short change. So, I come out and I said to mother in law, ‘This is not right,’ I said, ‘I should have —' so and so. So, the following week the same happened again. So, mother in law told, told that lady then so she said why didn’t she tell me? And the same when we went in, in one of the shops, in the chemist, I wanted something and I said to mother in law, ‘What do I say?’ And she told me in English what I had to say. Of course, I went in and could I have so and so. And they all looked and said, ‘What did you say?’ So, they made me repeat it again. Of course, I changed my tune and they still didn’t understand so I had to repeat it again. So, I came out and told mother in law. I said, ‘They don’t understand what I said.’ So, she said, ‘What did you say?’ So I told her. Well, she said, ‘They should have understood that. Come on I’ll go in with you.’ So, she went in with me and explained. Why? They said, ‘Oh, she had such a lovely accent we liked to hear it.’
HH: So, they were just making you say it over and over again.
HW: Yeah. Anyhow, I didn’t mind after that but I thought at first well shall I ever learn the language?
HH: Yeah.
HW: But —
HH: Do you ever get the chance to speak German now?
HW: Yes. Yeah. When they ring up from Germany of course I speak English and at odd times, the odd word you forget but it, naturally it comes back. Your mother language always comes back, doesn’t it?
HH: I think so.
HW: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
HW: Same when I write a letter. You know, I can write without any problem.
HH: Yeah. It’s amazing. Yeah. And Gordon now you’ve got an interesting connection with that part of the war as well with your uncle.
GA: Yeah.
HW: Was it an uncle? So tell us about your —
GA: My mum’s —
HW: Tell us about your —
GA: My mum’s cousin it was.
HW: Oh, it was your mum’s cousin.
GA: Cousin’s sons it would be. Yeah.
HH: So, tell us a little bit about that.
GA: Well, it was I think about 1913 or so that my mother’s cousins sold up in Scunthorpe, Ashby and lived with my mother’s parents and such like for a, and such a time and they sailed from Liverpool, I think it was Liverpool on the Empress of Ireland and emigrated to Canada. And this was only sort of a year or two years after the Titanic disaster and it was six months before they got to find out for definite but the Empress of Ireland sank in the Gulf of St Lawrence and, but it turned out that my mother’s cousin had landed in Canada. I don’t know whether it was Toronto, Quebec or where it was but, and the Empress of Ireland had smashed in to a coal ship in the Gulf of St Lawrence and sunk with about hundreds of lives on it. But it was six months before they found out and that was the start of these three lads that came over during the war you see. Because I think Leslie who died in the air crash would be twenty four when, when he died so that would have put him, you know born you know, I haven’t work out the exact numbers out but you know, 19 —
HH: Yeah.
GA: ’15, something like that wouldn’t they? And there was Leslie, Hughie and Frank. Two came as soldiers in the Canadian forces and Hughie was in the Canadian Air Force.
HH: Air Force.
GA: And —
HH: And he was at Linton on Ouse.
GA: Linton on Ouse where he flew from. Yeah. I’ve got, I’ve written off to Cranwell to get his full record but it’ll be another few weeks before we, we receive those, I think but —
HH: So, you learned all of this from your visit to the IBCC. You didn’t know.
GA: I knew. I knew, my mother knew he’d flown from, she thought it was an airfield somewhere near Newcastle.
HH: Yeah.
GA: You know.
HH: North.
GA: Because all this east coast is, is just littered —
HH: Yeah.
GA: With bomber airfields, isn’t it? If you know what I mean. And to the best of her knowledge he’d flown out there. She didn’t know whether it was a Lancaster or, it turned out it was a Halifax. And I still haven’t found out what he was but we thought he was a rear gunner but we don’t know for certain. We’ll probably get that clarified when we get the Cranwell details back but, and presumed lost in the North Sea and that’s all she ever knew. And she said, ‘I would like to know where he —’ you know. And I’ve never been able to find out or ever gone in to such detail. And then when we went to this Canwick Hill, you know, the bomber thing there the lady helped us there find it on the computer and we saw it on the thing.
HH: On the wall.
GA: On the wall and everything and got more detail and then got all that detail printed off.
HH: That’s great. So, his name was Arthur Leslie Horton.
GA: Arthur Leslie Horton. Yeah. And he was in the Thunderbird Squadron I think, wasn’t he? At Linton on Ouse.
HW: It is a lovely place, isn’t it?
GA: Yeah.
HH: Did you enjoy your visit?
HW: Yeah. We went to the, what was it?
GA: Where the video and all that is.
HW: Yeah.
GA: That was —
HW: Well, that brought memories back to me.
HH: Well —
GA: You know, when we saw all these you know on the ceiling. On the —
HH: The thing is that, you know one of the things that we were trying to do in that exhibition was to tell the story from both sides.
HW: Yeah.
GA: Yeah.
HW: This is it.
HH: As a way of achieving some measure of reconciliation. But listening to your story Helga you are, your family and your own story is a story of —
HW: Yeah.
HH: Reconciliation in and of itself.
HW: It don’t matter —
HH: You know, you are a walking model of reconciliation.
HW: It doesn’t matter what country you come from they all got mothers haven’t they? And we’re all born the same way.
HH: I think that’s the important thing is that too often people are made out to be heroes or villains but actually they are humans.
GA: Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
HH: And we all have human emotions, don’t we?
HW: This is it. Yeah.
HH: And we all have, feel pain.
HW: It’s just different nationalities, isn’t it? That’s all it is.
HH: Yeah.
GA: The ordinary, you know the ordinary soldiers on either side they would shake hands with one another, wouldn’t they? Didn’t, didn’t your mother have a friend who had how many sons killed?
HW: Yeah. My mother’s friend had eleven children. She had, no twelve, she had one girl and eleven boys and they all went in the Army and got killed bar one. And the one what was life was deaf and dumb and all the others got killed. And when I went over with my late husband she took me to see her and she hugged my husband and said, ‘You can’t help the war.’
HH: Yeah.
HW: ‘You are like us,’ she said.
HH: Yeah.
HW: And I really felt that. That she really welcomed him.
HH: Yeah. Which is —
HW: My father actually didn’t want me to come to England because leaving home and all that but when we came over and back and forward he was quite happy to see I was happy and —
HH: That’s good.
HW: And particularly when he met the parent in laws as well.
HH: Which is great.
HW: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. And you were a friend of Helga’s late husband, Harold.
GA: Yeah. Yeah, Harold was —
HH: Did you work together?
GA: Yeah. We helped one, yeah we both had country pursuits in common. He was a rabbit trapper, you know. In the war rabbits was the diet of most people you know with having ration books. Rabbits weren’t on that. He worked as a rabbit catcher very early. I mean his —
HW: Well, your parents and Harold’s parents were —
GA: Yeah. Yeah.
HW: Friends, weren’t they?
HH: Oh gosh.
GA: Harold’s, Harold’s grandmother lived next door but one down the village. You know, just a cottage just across the road. So, we’ve known them all, well you as well haven’t we, ever since that time and that.
HW: Yeah. They all lived down the —
HH: A long time.
HW: Yeah.
GA: Being on the farm and that, Harold had long weekends off and he used to come over and stay over with me didn’t you and such like because it was, I’ve enjoyed working on the farm. I’ve been on the same farm ever since 1960 if you know what I mean.
HH: Gosh.
GA: And it’s been a way of life and you worked fifty, sixty hours a week and such like and you’re quite happy to do it.
HH: And what, and what jobs have you done on the farm Gordon?
GA: Well, we’ve had pigs, cattle, sheep. We’ve had all sorts of livestock and, and the arable work. I’ve done all that you see. And Helga’s helped like when we were doing like we used to have to chop sugar beet out and Helga has helped me doing that haven’t you?
HW: And looked after the —
GA: And Harold’s helped me in the garden.
HW: On the —
GA: And such like. He loved gardening and he helped me there sort of thing. We helped one another.
HH: Well, you’ve still got a beautiful garden.
GA: We’ve tried our best to keep it a bit nice, yeah.
HH: It’s so pretty.
GA: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: It’s so pretty. To come in and see such a pretty garden.
GA: Yeah. It’s just coming to the end of the bulbs and that. It’s next, the next couple of three weeks and it all gets changed to summer bedding and such like.
HH: Yeah.
GA: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
GA: Yeah.
HH: So, you are still working on the farm?
GA: Only a few hours a week sort of thing. Just go and —
HH: But still you are.
GA: Trim the grass and things like that. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: And how far away is the farm?
GA: Just down the, in the village there. Yeah. Oh, it’s been a way of life but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed doing. I did what I wanted to do all my life sort of thing.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
GA: But when we was, you know when that photograph was taken and that we used to stand out there and see these thousand bombers going out.
HH: You remember that.
GA: I remember them all coming up there because I should be, I should be five when Leslie visited us. I remember him clear as anything playing ball with me in the back garden and such like. And you don’t realise all the things that’s going on but, but you used to see these bombers going. I think they used to come up from Suffolk, Norfolk and go out over the Humber with a fighter. You know, squadrons of fighters.
HH: They probably used the Humber for navigation.
GA: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
GA: And then you used to see them coming back in the morning. Some with only one or two engines going and things like that. Limping home and that. And obviously we didn’t know how bad it was but we never realised how many didn’t come home and that.
HH: Yeah. Yeah. Losses. Terrible losses on both sides really.
GA: There was, wasn’t there? Yeah. Yeah.
HW: When they came over Kiel we used to watch them come over like and we used to shoot at them but when they got a bit close we had to go in the cellar quick.
HH: And you had, you had warnings did you with sirens?
HW: Yeah. We did. Yeah. About half an hour before time. Of course, we had shelters to go in to.
HH: What were the shelters like?
HW: They wasn’t bad at all. Mind you we had no bombs near the common but in the hospital where I was when they dropped three bombs there, just the three hospitals, they dropped three bombs there and there was a big shelter only five minutes away from there and they reckoned it just rocked but nothing, you know, got disturbed.
HH: In the shelter.
HW: So, they must have been pretty strong. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Because I’ve seen pictures of some of the shelters in Germany that were quite tall. So, were these underground ones that you are talking about?
HW: No. They were on top or they were underground as well and on the top?
HH: And they were. Oh, ok.
HW: Yeah. High underneath as well.
HH: Ok. So, they went down underground.
HW: Yeah.
HH: And they were up.
HW: Yes, there was a few —
HH: I understand.
HW: A few hundred people in them. Maybe a thousand or so. Yeah. Yeah. They were very strong. Yeah. Some of them in Hamburg are still there. They managed to get windows in and I don’t know what they are using them for. Flats or what. I’ve no, no idea.
HH: Goodness.
HW: It’s amazing, yeah.
HH: So when was the last time you visited Germany?
GA: When we went on that cruise wasn’t it?
HW: Yeah. Yeah, about —
GA: We went, well Harold died in 2000, didn’t he?
HW: Yeah.
GA: We’ve been here. We’ve been on several cruises and there was one, we’ve been out to the Baltic. We did the Baltic and one calling places was Warnemunde, wasn’t it?
HW: Yeah.
GA: And you got in touch with some of your, well Willy and that and also Herta’s son.
HW: Yeah.
GA: And such like. How many of us was there at —
HW: Twenty three.
GA: Twenty three of them. Not, you know about an hour’s car drive from Warnemunde. We met at one of her niece, her great —
HW: My nephew’s house.
GA: Nephew’s house.
HH: That’s wonderful.
GA: And about twenty three of her relations were there and that.
HW: For a day like.
GA: And then they took us back to our cruise ship that was docked there.
HW: And we had a day outing and we’d chosen to see my nephew. Well, all the other of the cruise ship went to see Berlin but I wasn’t interested in going to Berlin.
HH: You wanted to see your family.
HW: Yeah. Well, that’s it. Yeah.
HH: Fantastic.
HW: Yeah. We had altogether ten cruises, didn’t we?
GA: I think. Yeah. We have done between us. Yeah. So —
HW: So, we had a good life after all.
HH: And the next cruise?
GA: No. I think we’ve —
HW: No. I’m afraid I won’t be managing anymore. I’ve got a heart problem as well so I’ve got to be very careful now what I do.
HH: Well, it’s wonderful that you were, you went as far as the IBCC.
HW: Yeah.
HH: So that’s jolly good.
HW: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
HW: Yeah.
HH: And I’m glad you enjoyed your visit.
HW: Well, we did. We enjoyed —
GA: It was very —
HW: What we’d done. Yeah.
GA: Yeah. Really good. Yeah. Took your, not your grandson’s wife and your great grandson, didn’t we?
HW: Yeah.
GA: Have you got a picture of them there? Where was them pictures that you took? I don’t know where they are now but —
HW: Which was them?
GA: When Luke and Liz were there.
HH: You, you all went together, did you?
GA: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: What did they think of it?
GA: Oh, they was really thrilled with it, weren’t they? Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve got that —
HH: Oh, well, that’s wonderful. Well, thank you very much for talking to, to us, both of you, Helga and Gordon. Thank you for sharing all of these stories with us. They, they are remarkable and we feel very privileged to have them for our archive. Thank you.
HW: Yeah. Thank you. That’s all.



Heather Hughes, “Interview with Helga Wynne and Gordon Atkinson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 2, 2023,

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