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English and German churches link for joint activities during the First World War centenary

Hands touching

The Diocese of Blackburn has linked with the Lutheran church in Braunschweig, Germany. During 2014 it is hoped to organise a poetry competition for young people, British and German, to reflect on the "lost generations" of 1914-18. Margaret Ives reports:

As we begin a new year there will no doubt be many reminders in our newspapers and elsewhere that 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

It was supposed to be “ the war to end all wars”, but sadly that was not the case. On the contrary, new and deadlier forms of warfare were developed ( for example, tanks and aerial bombardment) and millions of lives were lost on all sides.

This is not therefore a centenary to be celebrated. We should rather lament the appalling loss of life and reflect as to how we can prevent such terrible tragedies in the future.

My grandfather was a trawler skipper out of Grimsby and on the outbreak of the war saw no reason why he should not continue fishing where he had always fished, in that area of the North Sea known as the German Bight. The German navy, however, thought otherwise, arrested Grandfather’s trawler as a spy ship, and took Grandfather and his crew off as POWs to a camp in Mecklenberg.

They were well-treated and were allowed, through the Red Cross, to send postcards home to their families. I still have one or two of these, reminding my father (then aged seven) and his brothers to be “good, brave boys” and look after their mother.

After the war Grandfather returned to Germany several times, visiting the families of his former prison wardens and, I suspect, helping them through the turmoil of the Weimar Republic and the massive inflation which brought hardship to so many. He learnt to speak German really well and during and after World War Two himself became a warden, later a welfare officer, for German POWs held in a camp near Grimsby.

Many of these did not wish to be repatriated after 1945 and Grandfather helped many of them apply for naturalisation papers. Growing up in the 1950s, I remember going to his house on Sunday afternoons where there would always be groups of sad young men seeking his aid and guidance, and I suppose this is where my own interest in the German language and German history started.

I would say that his whole life at this time was dedicated to the reconciliation of former enemies, and he would certainly wish that any commemorations we undertake in 2014 bear this in mind.

Our diocese currently has a partnership agreement with the Lutheran church in Braunschweig, and during 2014 it is hoped to organise a poetry competition for young people today, British and German, to reflect on the “lost generations” of 1914-18 and to express their own hopes and dreams for the future. If anyone would like more information about this, please contact me.