At mid-day on 28 April 1945 ona bright and sunny morning,a column of tanks from theFree French Second Armoured Division rolled down the main street of the small German town of Wurzach, led by three men on foot. One was a French soldier carrying the French tricolour, a Jerseyman with a Union Jack and the town mayor with a white flag. A large white cross had two days before been painted on the roof of castle indicating that this was not just a Hitler Youth camp (they were located at the back of the castle) but contained civilians.
Earlier that day the French officer in charge had stopped his tank at the castle gates and after speaking to a small group of Jersey prisoners waiting impatiently behind the gates, kicked these in allowing the Jersey folk to pour on to the little square and taste freedom for the first time in 2.1/2 years.
After such a long incarceration, everyone in the camp took in the sights and sounds of freedom in their own way : the joy and emotion of the camp adults when the French tank Saint Malo trundled down the main street over the cobble stones; the new shopping experience in the local shops to spend their few precious Reichmarks on materials and silk stockings.
Teenagers, exhilarated by their new found freedom, explored the surrounding villages, some completely demolished by tank fire and still smouldering. Young Jersey lads having commandeered abandoned German army motorbikes roamed around the countryside, even arriving at the Mengen airfield where American troops plied them with food and fruit juice (causing stomach upsets due to such rich food).
The camp children who had known nothing of the big world outside were confronted with completely new sights and sounds : the biggest impression was of the fierce looking North African soldiers (Goumiers) dressed in their traditional long flowing robes and headwear many mounted on smelly, bad tempered mules. They were weighed down with several rifles, bandoliers of ammunition, knives and pistols in their belts and an array of watches on their arms, camping out with their mules at night and playing cards by the roadside by day.
Many of those very camp children who today are in their early 80s have been back to Bad Wurzach (now a spa town) to visit the castle with its grand entrance hall and staircase, locating their dormitories and looking out over the area where the Hitler Youth camp was located and where the Jersey kids marched up and down along with the German boys (some no older than the Jersey lads) picking up their marching songs and only separated from each other by a sturdy barbed wire fence.
Fast forward to 2020 when a special 75th anniversary trip to Bad Wurzach had been under preparation organised by the St Helier – Bad Wurzach Twinning Committee to enable those internees who were still strong enough to make the trip, some of whom had never yet returned to the camp since leaving in 1945 to revisit the town and relive old memories. In the party also were to be many children and grandchildren of internees themselves too frail to travel or who had passed on. 28 April 2020 being the special day, as was the tradition, a commemorative ceremony was to be held in the beautiful Gottesberg chapel on the hill with an ex-Mayor playing the beautiful organ, followed by wreath laying in the ceremony. In the town cemetery the names of the 11 Jersey internees who did not return would be read out and the visiting internees would lay a single red rose on each of their graves. That evening a tattoo ceremony was to be organised in front of the castle with the town’s marching band (Stadtkapelle) followed by a nightcap in the Hotel Adler opposite.
The 4 day programme was to include a day’s excursion to Lindau, a picturesque town on Lake Constance with its old town and yacht marina. There would of course be dinners with speeches and lively entertainment with lots of time for everyone to talk, walk, relax or take a mud bath in the Spa Hotel.
This year Bad Wurzach’s new Lady Mayoress, Frau Alexandra Scherer, would have met the visiting internees, members of the Twinning Committee and Jersey dignitaries for the first time. Jersey would have been officially represented by the Bailiff Tim Le Cocq, the Deputy Chief Minister Constable Richard Buchanan, the ex-Bailiffs Sir Philip and Sir William Bailhache and their wives. In total there were to be just over 30 in the Jersey group visiting Bad Wurzach for the 75th anniversary. Sadly, it remains to be seen whether many internees will be strong enough to visit in 2021 since it was anticipated that the 2020 trip would be the last official visit.
On a positive note, the Twinning Committee intends to organise a get-together later this year for all those internees who would have travelled in the group, those who were physically unable to travel and the children and grandchildren of internees who would have been on the trip. When the date is known, details regarding this event will be posted this website