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A Memorable Visit

Gill James – Secretary St Helier/ Bad Wurzach Partnerschaft

2022 has been a memorable year for many reasons but it holds especial meaning for 2 towns in different countries linked by a moment in history. Recently a group of people returned from visiting Bad Wurzach  in Southern Germany, a town which has unique links with St Helier and Jersey.

When, during the Occupation, in September 1942, 620 islanders were deported to Bad Wurzach , they could have no idea that 80 years later we would still be commemorating that event; or indeed that in the future we would be so closely linked by friendship that a formal twinning group or “Partnerschaft” would be established between Bad Wurzach and St Helier in 2002 – this year also marks 20 years of Partnerschaft.

The reason for the deportations was as a reprisal for the Allies interning German civilians in Iran and on the direct orders of Hitler. The 620 internees were men, women and children, some born in Britain, many born in Jersey, of all ages, from babes in arms to the elderly.   After three days travelling by boat to St Malo and train through France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, and weeks at Biberach , a camp not far from Bad Wurzach, they finally arrived and were marched from the station, through the town to their internment camp in the Schloss (more like a stately home or mansion than a castle) where they would spend the next almost three years. The local townspeople were shocked that women and children were in the group and so many of them did all they could to help the internees with food and many other acts of kindness. In fact, when the camp was liberated in April 1945, the internees owed their lives to the people of the town   who warned the Free French liberators that there were British people in the castle and not Germans (thinking it was a Nazi HQ they were going to shell it.) In return the internees explained to the Free French that the townspeople had been very kind to them. Perhaps this was the beginning of the subsequent friendship and Partnerschaft which exists today and perhaps accounts for its uniqueness amongst our Island’s many twinning groups.

People have been making informal journeys to and from Bad Wurzach from the 70s onwards and from small beginnings the Partnerschaft  has burgeoned with exchanges of students, musical and youth groups, the establishment of bursaries and visits between each town and the hospitality shown to each group by the other is legendary. Covid put paid to the last planned visit in 2018 so this year was all the more special.

Our group consisted of three internees – Lola Garvin from the St Helier Partnerschaft who organised the trip, Roy Newton and Angela Thom who was born in Bad Wurzach.  Also with us were relatives of the original internees and their families. We were accompanied by the Constable of St Helier, Simon Crowcroft and his wife Angela, and St Helier Deputy Mary Le Hegerat . At Heathrow we met up with some more relatives and when we arrived in Bad Wurzach we joined others who had travelled earlier, including two former Bailiffs and their wives and Angela Francey who, with the late Michael Ginns, was one of the founders of the Partnerschaft. Michael’s widow Josephine was also in our group and reporter Rod McLoughlin accompanied us to record the visit for the JEP, which he did admirably.

Our visit was memorable for many reasons.  For many in both the St Helier and Bad Wurzach groups it was so good to reconnect and re – establish friendships after the last two plus years of Covid enforced separation. The welcome and hospitality shown to us from the German group was incredible and we enjoyed many informal gatherings as well as the more formal ceremonies. One memorable evening was a wonderful buffet prepared and served by the German group, who catered for around 75 people.  Some of us particularly enjoyed the choice of puddings, going back for seconds!  A very large chocolate cake decorated with the crests of both towns was ceremonially jointly cut by Simon and Frau Scherer the Mayor.  We were entertained that evening by a very talented and enthusiastic group of young brass players. We also had organised visits to Lake Constance for a day trip to Mainau Island celebrated for its beautiful gardens, a guided walk around the local wetlands area – known as the Moor and a visit to the nearby town of Memmingen.

 We were very well looked after by our German friends who organised everything, including ensuring that one of our groups who had walking difficulties received personal assistance and was able to enjoy our activities.

A highlight for most of us was the guided tour of the Schloss by Gisela Rothenhausler, a member of the German Partnerschaft and an expert historian who has written a book describing the history of Bad Wursach’s Schloss. She was able to show us the rooms where the internees lived during their years in the castle and although it has now been beautifully restored, we were able to imagine what it would have been like then. It was a very moving and emotional experience especially seeing those rooms that were used as hospital wards. We were so impressed with the restoration of the main entrance hall and staircase – adorned with murals of gods and goddesses in the Baroque style complete with carved marble columns. Apparently, it was called Marble Arch by the internees and used as a meeting place. It is now used for official civic occasions and wedding ceremonies. An official ceremony was organised for us so that Simon could sign the special Golden Book of Bad Wurzach reserved for important visitors to the town.

The more formal ceremonies were also very moving. A very special church service was held in the restored chapel attached to the Schloss, which was led by two Roman Catholic priests from Bad Wurzach and the Rev Dr Sarah McClelland, herself the daughter and granddaughter of internees. The service, which included hymns, prayers and readings, was conducted both in German and English and seemed to be a perfect symbol of the way our two communities have come together with friendship and mutual respect.

A more sombre ceremony was held in the town cemetery to commemorate those internees who did not return home at the end of the war but remain buried in Bad Wurzach. We gathered in front of the cemetery’s memorial wall, inscribed with the names of all those from Bad Wurzach who died in two world wars, and which includes the names of 11 internees. A wreath was laid jointly by Frau Scherer and Simon Crowcroft; readings were given on the theme of Hope by Lola Garvin an internee, Judy King, the daughter of an internee, and prayers were said by Rev Dr Sarah McClelland. After which white roses were laid on the gravestones as a mark of respect and remembrance. The cemetery is beautifully maintained and our section of it is immaculate. For those of our group whose family members lie here, this was especially moving.

One of our final events was the opening of a very special exhibition curated by Partnerschaft member and local historian, Gisela Rothenhausler, who has extensively researched the history of Bad Wurzach’ Schloss and its war time role as an internment camp. The exhibition consists of photographs taken of pictures and cards drawn and painted by the internees. The originals remain in the collection of Jersey Archive and due to their fragile state were unable to be transported so copies were made. They depict local scenes around the Schloss as well as everyday life inside it and are a vivid representation of the conditions and activities of the internees. There were many artists who recorded their experiences, the principal ones being Harold Hepburn and TS Webber whose daughter Angela Thom, was among our party. The exhibition is remaining open in Bad Wurzach for local townspeople to view it but it is hoped that soon it may travel to Jersey to be put on display here so that islanders can view it too and gain an impression of what life was like for the internees.

This visit was a wonderful experience for all of us – we were all overwhelmed by the kindness and friendship shown to us by the people of Bad Wurzach .The Partnerschaft has proved to be stronger than ever, and it seems an appropriate way forward in these uncertain times to encourage future interaction between our two communities. For me, personally as the granddaughter of internees and a first-time visitor, this has been an unforgettable experience and I look forward to future gatherings.

Gill James September 2022

The article below has been published by kind permission of the Jersey Evening Post

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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

This years Liberation memorial service and afternoon tea will be held at the War Tunnels. Sunday 28th April 2019 Commencing at 15.00

Welcome – Clive Armstrong, Chairman

Internment reading – Clive Armstrong

Extract from “A Jersey Child Interned by Hitler Gloria’s Story” Susan Symons 2018

Service of Remembrance – Deacon Iain MacFirbhisigh

Reading – Former internee Francelise Davison

Readings by members of the Jersey Arts Centre youththeatre

Tamsin Hollyman – reading ‘1980’ by Abraham Sutzkever

Mac Galvin – reading ‘On Hearing A Name Long Unspoken’ by Leonard Cohen

Gen Hargreaves – reading ‘The Bridge Builder’ by Will Allen Dromgoole

Life in the camp Reading – Former internee Mrs Lola Garvin

Names of Those who did not return – Clive Armstrong

A Minute’s Silence for reflection – Deacon Iain MacFirbhisigh

Liberation reading – Clive Armstrong

“Extract from Three years behind barbed wire” Joan Coles 1985

Closing Prayer– Deacon Iain MacFirbhisigh

FOLLOWING THE SERVICE, THERE WILL BE A LAYING OF ROSES IN THE GARDEN OF REMEMBRANCE

YOU ARE INVITED TO JOIN US FOR AFTERNOON TEA.

Bad Wurzach, Germany 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Internment camp Visit by the Bailiff Michael Birt and Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur , and the Concordia Singers PICTURE: TONY PIKE 28/04/2010

Sadly due to the Covid-19 Outbreak 2020 we have had to cancel this visit for the protection of all those involved.

The ceremony began in the Occupation Tapestry Gallery at the Jersey Maritime Museum.

Proceedings then moved outside to the Lighthouse Memorial, where wreaths were laid by the Lieutenant Governor, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, on behalf of the Crown; Deputy Bailiff Tim Le Cocq, on behalf of the people of Jersey and Chief Minister Ian Gorst, on behalf of the States of Jersey. 2 former internees (David Peacock and Roy Newton) were in attendance and laid the above wreath.

On Saturday 26th January, the Partnerschaft attended the local history fair at the Jersey Library.

We were kept busy with many questions from visitors wishing to learn more about the internment events, a number of visitors raised questions with regards relatives that had been at Bad Wurzach, giving them details and the POW numbers for their research.

We met with some interesting individuals who had interesting stories to tell.

Many thanks to Clive, Lola, Sarah, Sandra and Lillian for helping making our attendance at this even a success.