I only met one German during the war. It happened in rather a strange way which later caused me to reflect a good deal on the fate of this man, our enemy. It was at the height of the ‘Battle of Britain’ when every day we watched the dog fights in the skies above us and then the BBC broadcast an appeal asking anyone who saw a German airman baling out of his plane to make a note of where he landed and then inform the authorities. This was because apparently many German airmen who had been ‘shot down’ were found days later wandering around the countryside.
Shortly after hearing this broadcast I was out in our garden when I heard the harsh rattle of machine guns and saw two planes roaring out of the sky. In front was a Messerschmitt 109 being hotly pursued by a Hurricane, all guns blazing. Just at that moment I heard my Dad come home from work and so I rushed to tell him what I had just seen. Whilst talking to Dad I spotted our neighbour, Mr. Hardy, who was also the Town Surveyor, getting out of his car. My Dad went over to talk to him and then we all piled into his car and set off to see if we could find where the Messerschmitt had come down and what had happened to the pilot. Mr. Hardy had joined the newly formed Home Guard and had acquired a rifle from them which he brought along with one clip of ammunition. My Dad brought a German Mauser pistol which his brother had brought home from the First World War although he had no ammunition for it.
We made inquiries from the ‘locals’ as we drove along the Canterbury road but had no response until we arrived at the Denstrude turning when we encountered an old countryman wearing a smock and carrying a pitchfork. “He be in that there meadow .He’s a cool one he be, smoking his cigar. He offered me one too but I’m a bit wary of accepting anything from someone I haven’t been properly introduced to, cos you never know what’s coming next, like fraternisering with the enemy’. With this dire warning the old fellow marched off leaving us to cope with the dreaded Hun.
He did indeed seem remarkably self possessed. He eyed our weapons with a rather amused grin on his face and then threw down his own rather deadly looking pistol.”There’s no need for any unpleasantness”, He spoke faultless English with only a slight accent. “Of course, I will come with you now, I’m hungry and tired but soon I think the boot is on the other foot, I mean when the invasion comes and the German army takes over this silly little Island with its population of country bumpkins. I agree, your RAF has fought very bravely but they are now down to their last few squadrons and so soon it will all be over, Ja?”
We did not know how close the German pilot was to the truth until after the war and how near the RAF was to defeat. We escorted this very cock- sure young German flier to the car. When he had ensconced himself with my father sitting right behind him holding Mr. Hardy’s Lee Enfield rifle, The German remarked ironically,’ I knew the Mauser wasn’t loaded, they don’t make ammunition for that old model any longer’. He gave a cynical little laugh and then turned to me and asked if I had ever been to Germany and did I not realise that Hitler would make Germany the most powerful country in the world. Therefore , he emphasised it was essential that I should learn German as soon as possible. He wished he could stay and teach me but soon he would be on another and much more important mission. Having delivered his lecture on the glories of the Fatherland he relapsed into silence until we arrived at the local police station where he bowed to us on the steps and wished us ‘auf wiedersein’.
My Dad and Mr. Hardy were fuming and Dad commented that it was a good thing he had no ammunition for his Mauser. However, I noted that Dad never took this old pistol out with him again, which was a good thing.
As the war years slowly dragged by I often wondered how our very self confident, young Nazi was coping with the disenchantment and doubt generated by the unfolding situation. No German invasion of Britain, the German army after some initial success being torn to pieces by the Russians. The German army being defeated in North Africa, losing Italy and finally the intense bombing of Germany itself and the allied invasion of Europe leading to the total collapse of the German armed forces and the overthrow of the whole regime.
Would he go mad, or perhaps he would immerse himself in study and become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. Could he even possibly become a priest? Could a man such as he find solace in religion? Yes, of course he could. If I had his address I would send him a copy of Richard Rohr’s work, ‘Falling Upward’ which describes how the second part of life can open new revelations after all the certainties and ‘ego fixes’ of the first part of life are often revealed to be very shallow.