Friday, 26 August 2016

Pork Butcher Descendants' Reunion part 2: Tales of pigs and family

This is the second part of Andrea and Carol's trip to the Great Pork Butcher Descendants' Reunion in Hohenlohe, Germany. Part 1 can be found here

Strange but true: whenever I see a German Christmas market, something deep and Teutonic within me forces me to visit each and every stall, sniffing the gingerbread with relish, admiring the green and red decorations and the twinkly lights, and risking frostbite in the cold north east air to nibble on wurst mit brod and sip a cup of gluhwein. So there was no way I was going to miss a genuine German farmers’ market.

But it was to be the Day of Pigs. 

By way of explanation, when Carol visited Germany two years ago for the first reunion, she liberated the very lovely Sir Oinks-a-Lot, a fluffy Hohenlohe-type toy pig. Sir Oinks-a-Lot had very positive vibes about the north east, so made his way by post to our Mother’s house where he lives a life of luxury, munching on windfall apples, and sampling her collection of Baden-Wurttenburg wines.
Sirs Scratch-a-lot and Scoff-a-lot enjoyed the Black Forest Gateau, photo by Carol and Andre
Sirs Scratch-a-lot and Scoff-a-lot enjoyed the Black Forest Gateau, photo by Carol and Andrea
Poor saps that we are, we had no way of knowing that a ‘net-pork’ had built up, and that Sir Oinks-a-Lot had alerted his nephews to the delights of life in the UK. So we were adopted without any consultation whatsoever by Sir Scoff-a-Lot and Sir Scratch-a-Lot, also Hohenlohe pigs. In the manner of escapees wishing to avoid being eaten and to embrace a better life, they were only too keen to follow us piggedly. Carol and I were of course already alerted to the comfort and importance of having family ties in a foreign land, however tenuous those ties might be in reality, and it is a fact that the Hohenlohe schwein is a close cousin of the English Saddleback pig. The Black Forest gateau we bought as a treat for ourselves proved too tempting for them. They were thrilled to be offered a drink of Lowenbrau beer by Richard, a passing friend of ours. 

Moving swiftly on…which we did, to Langenburg Castle the following day, the magnificent palace of the current Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. And lucky them, as the building is beautiful with one of the finest interiors. There is a small but perfect chapel with script and drawings from the Old and New Testament and a gorgeous painted ceiling. After coffee und cake in the café, we continued our ‘Princesses for the Day’ tour by visiting their summer palace. It is another beautiful, though smaller, home, now owned by a farming family who are gradually restoring and adding to the existing buildings. 

We then enjoyed a wine tasting with a twist: the wine was only 2% or so, but tasted deliciously of the flowers used. We drank elderflower, rose and meadowsweet, all of which were faithful to the scent of each type of flower. The schnapps was much stronger in taste and alcohol, and we had a slightly blurry ride back to Ilshofen for our final night of food and entertainment.

Our final dinner at the hotel was sublime, but everyone was feeling a little sentimental as it was our last night as a group. Karl-Heinz Wüstner gave an excellent presentation about our pork butcher forebears, explaining the circumstances in which they left the Hohenlohe region, mostly at very young ages, and took up butchery apprentices. 

I realised that far from being a solid English Rose, I am in fact a third-generation economic migrant. My history is a place where the mother tongue, German, was spoken at home, and where it seemed preferable to find a husband or wife with the same background. Many young girls travelled to the UK from Germany and secured positions as domestic staff to well off families, subsequently marrying the trained pork butchers. Our relatives chose to marry outside the comfort zone of others from the Hohenlohe region - did this make them bold entrepreneurs, seekers of a better life for their families? Or cheeky and sly newcomers who relied on charm and good looks to worm their way into a new society? Either way, they joined a revolution that was precipitated by the Industrial Revolution: the need for cheap, available food on the hoof; very appropriate for people from an area where the Hohenlohe pork is so valued. It was an improvement on carrying bread and cheese to work, a bread roll with a sausage for lunch, hot and tasty, cheap, and sufficient to carry you through to the end of the backbreaking working day. Fast food German style.
Frieda, Theodor Jr, and Caroline Fiedler, Theo Fieldler's children, from Carol Hunt's family collection
Frieda, Theodor Jr, and Caroline Fiedler, Theo Fieldler's children, from Carol Hunt's family collection
The two world wars impacted on the families who were still finding their feet in a new land. Carol and I had been told by our mother about people hurrying their children past the house, ‘because Germans live there’. Other pork butcher descendants were spat on, and our great-grandfather Theo was only one of the immigrant butchers who were interned on the Isle of Man and then exchanged by the German Red Cross for an English prisoner of war. Many others had spent time in Germany during and after the First World War missing their wives and children and the life they had forged in their adopted homeland. During the Second World War, Theo was subjected to the indignity of being compelled to register with the police after he had returned to the UK. He was over 70 and no threat to anyone, but despite his evident love for his English wife, his children and his adopted home, he was treated as a threat to national security. 

In an interesting aside to this story, our paternal Granddad, Charlie, who fought for the British at Ypres in the First World War, never had any time for our mother as she came from a German family. His motto was, ‘the only good German’s a dead German’. One of his drinking pals turned out to be the policeman to whom Theo reported week after week. He told Granddad Charlie that Theo was the nicest man you could meet; an all-round good egg, following which Charlie decided that not all Germans deserved to die, a seismic shift for a First World War veteran.

During our time in Hohenlohe we met many lovely people. Some were German, some were English, but there were also Scots, Irish, and Welsh. Everyone entered into the spirit of adventure, we all wanted to hear each other’s stories and learn something new. Everyone was aware of the importance of travelling hopefully over arriving.

The next morning, we were set to leave the group at Schwabisch Hall station. The medieval city of Schwabisch Hall was one of our father's favourite places, and it is easy to see why. We enjoyed our walking tour, the famous steps of the Protestant church, the wear across the river Kocher. We were able to marvel at seven storey medieval buildings, canals cut into the fronts of buildings to provide easy access to transport, and a modern reproduction of the Globe theatre, decorated with Shakespeare's lines in English and German. Although the story of salt is pivotal to understanding the history of the town, its beauty made it difficult to focus on anything else.
All the World's a Stage, The Globe Theatre, Schawbisch Hall, photo by Carol and Andrea
All the World's a Stage, The Globe Theatre, Schawbisch Hall, photo by Carol and Andrea
At the Schwabisch Hall museum they had a Picasso exhibition with his paintings displayed against complementary works. There were works by Max Beckmann and Otto Dix, commenting on the Third Reich which made for uncomfortable and thought-provoking contemplation.

Our father joined the RAF at the start of the Second World War, and successfully trained to become a navigator. He had absolutely no sense of direction, as a child I used to ask him how on earth he could navigate such a sophisticated piece of machinery, and he said he simply told the pilot, 'follow that plane', as they flew in strict formation. He was involved in the programme of bombing that Winston Churchill and Arthur 'Bomber' Harris determined, although he refused to talk about it. However, he travelled widely in Germany in the 1970s and loved the country and the people. He willingly did his duty to his nation, but his feelings about what he did in the war were at best ambivalent.

We walked back to the coach rendezvous following the course of the Kocher. Our great-great Aunts were known as 'Kocher Queens' as they swam in the river at Kunzelsau every day. Neither Carol nor I were tempted to recreate their feats as the cloudy green water did not look welcoming.

I was sad to leave Schwabisch Hall. Leaving marked the beginning of the end of our holiday, and we said goodbye to the majority of our pork butcher descendant peers. But we had the journey still ahead of us, another night in Stuttgart to look forward to, and two porcine passengers to look after.

Friday, 19 August 2016

The Second German Pork Butcher Descendants' Reunion part 1

Theodor Fiedler, from Carol Hunt's family collection
Theodor Fiedler, from Carol Hunt's family collection
Theodor Gotthilf Fiedler was a German pork butcher in Shadforth prior to the First World War. He had married Annie Lowes of Newcastle, and they had four children. Theo still had German citizenship, so that when the war began his property was confiscated and he was interned on the Isle of Man. Annie took the children back to Newcastle to get away from the harassment they were receiving. 

Theo’s great-granddaughter, Carol, submitted the story to Durham at War ( and told us that she and her sister, Andrea, were going to attend the Second German Pork Butcher Descendants' Reunion in Germany, 3-7 August 2016, and they agreed to write a blog for us about the trip. The reunion combined the historical background of the Hohenlohe region, where many of the emigres came from, with a culinary, cultural and sightseeing programme.

Over to Carol and Andrea…

After travelling from London to Stuttgart we were ready for some food and a sleep. Sadly, late night food at the Hotel Unger was sparse, but happily the breakfast was sumptuous, with every type of breakfast imaginable plus yummy cinnamon pastry whirls.

Leaving Stuttgart we had an opportunity to admire the Hauptbahnhof [main railway station], a building designed by an ancestor of a relative-by-marriage of ours. The Hauptbahnhof is currently undergoing expansion and makeover. Hopefully the exterior will be restored, not replaced, as there are other buildings in the region built in the same style and designed by the same architect, August Bayer, whose brother Friedrich commissioned him to design and build a house for him in Kunzelsau. Friedrich made his squillions of deutschmarks as a pork butcher in Bradford. People here think of it as a little bit of Bradford in Baden-Wurttemberg.  [Our writers have been informed that it will have been the previous station building that was designed by August Bayer]
Hauptbahnhof (main railway station), Stuttgart, photo by Carol and Andrea
Hauptbahnhof (main railway station), Stuttgart, photo by Carol and Andrea
We were fortunate enough to be driven by our friend Gertrude from Kunzelsau, where we spent a night at the excellent Anna Sophie Hotel, to the Hotel Flair Park in Ilshofen where the German Pork Butchers' Descendants’ Reunion is being held. It is on the outskirts of Ilshofen, a pleasant, modern building combining a nod to the local architecture with an efficient but relaxed attitude towards guests. 

We were met by Karl-Heinz Wüstner, the architect of the Reunion, greeting us like long lost cousins, which of course some of us are. Once everyone had ‘sampled’ the welcoming (and welcome!) sparkling wine, we ate and exchanged information about our Pork Butcher relatives. Some, like Carol, had already managed to trace family trees and had a lot of knowledge about their forebears. Others were at the very beginning of the journey and merely knew they had German relatives, probably from the Hohenlohe region. The meal was an excellent demonstration of some of the area’s local produce: red pepper foam soup, local pork steaks with vegetables, jus and Schwabian-style dumplngs and excellent apple fritters with chocolate ice-cream, all accompanied by Reisling wine. 

We got used to being asked if we were ‘relatives’, not as in sisters, but direct descendants of the emigrant Pork Butchers. Everyone’s story was different: some had great or great-great grandparents who left Germany never to return; some had left as married couples; others had met up and married German partners in the UK. Our great-grandfather Theo left when he was 15 and made a home in north east England, only to be interned on the Isle of Man during the First World War. He was then repatriated by means of being exchanged with a British prisoner of war, and was away from his British wife and children for about 13 years in all.

After raising many glasses to each other, to our German roots and as the night wore on, to passing waiters, local dignitaries and local newspaper and radio reporters, we needed to go straight to bed as the first day of our trip began at 8:45 the next day.

We slept as well as two sisters sleep when they have had a good German meal washed down with a glass or two of sekt [sparkling wine] and a flagon or two of Reisling, and awoke ready to experience the ‘official’ walking tour of Kunzelsau as opposed to the unofficial one we had done ourselves. We quickly established that Germans are as adept at speaking Deutsche/English (‘Dinglish’ for short) as we are, and very silly it is, too.

Starting the day with a healthy breakfast seemed an excellent idea, but starting it with bread, scrambled eggs, and smoked fish was clearly The Way Forward. 

We travelled by coach back to Kunzelsau and enjoyed seeing the Hohenlohe countryside in all its glory: Hansel and Gretel houses, locals tending their gardens and smallholdings, and flat vistas punctuated by rocky hills and mountains. The Hohenlohe plain is rich in sandstone, and its use in housebuilding as can be seen everywhere in the typical gingerbread-style houses. On arrival, we were formally welcomed at Kunzelsau Town Hall. 

Crests of the six historic ruling families of the Hohenlohe area, photo by Carol and Andrea
Crests of the six historic ruling families of the Hohenlohe area, photo by Carol and Andrea
We visited the town boarding school, which has a half-timbered interior to die for, and the original Rathaus which is decorated with a plaque showing the symbols of the six ruling families in the area and the head of St John the Baptist. The town centre church, St Johannes, was perhaps one of the more thought provoking parts of our visits to Kunzelsau. Partly because it was the church our great-grandfather Theo was baptised in and went to each Sunday; and partly because among the statues there is a plaque commemorating the death of triplets in 1644, an event at that time so rare that they were never expected to live but that required to be marked in some way. The inscription reads, ‘born too young, taken too soon’.

Leaving Kunzelsau once more, we stopped briefly for a lunch of schnitzel by way of food before the delights of an afternoon wine tasting.
Wine tasting, photo by Carol and Andrea
Wine tasting, photo by Carol and Andrea
Full of schnitzel, we arrived at the wine tasting to be handed a glass of excellent sparking rose wine which was light, and rather inevitably given the hot weather (but surprisingly given the substantial lunch), went straight to our heads. After a pleasant greeting we were asked to get back on the coach for a drive around the local area to view the owner’s vines. 

It was lovely to have the opportunity of effortless travel throughout our stay in Ilshofen, as the coach driver took us from place to place. However, there were frequent reminders of the floods which only last May caused so much distress and disturbance to the region. They have had a devastating impact on some roads as the fragile sandstone was all too easily swept away by sudden and unremitting deluges. Often the coach driver had to make diversions to avoid closed roads or missing bridges, all of which he negotiated with skill and good humour.

The scale of the vine groves seemed vast compared with the workforce who produced the many types of wine they sell. The coach took us halfway up tiny winding paths surrounded by many different varieties of grape, until it wasn’t possible to make any more progress other than on foot. A walk to a stone marker at the top of the groves was rewarded with an alfresco wine tasting, complete with Reisling, an excellent summer’s day light red wine and a fantastic view of the vineyard’s valley and beyond. By the time we had all walked back down to the coach, we were ready for a short drive back to the Winery kitchen for the staple three different kinds of sweinfleisch [pork] served with dumplings, potatoes and brod.

By the time we travelled back to the Hotel Flair Park, Dinglish was being spracken very fluently, und we alles agreed ein Frohelich time had been had by alles.

Friday, 12 August 2016

An afternoon with a Somme veteran

Steve Shannon brings us a personal recollection.
Map of Contalmaison area with annotations by Second Lieutenant Frederick Rees, 1916 (D/DLI 7/560/8)
D/DLI 7/560/8 Map of Contalmaison area with annotations by Second Lieutenant Frederick Rees, 1916
Among the letters, diaries, photos and official papers that make up the Durham Light Infantry’s archive, catalogued and cared for by Durham County Record Office, is a stained and faded trench map printed in late July 1916 of part of the Somme battlefield north of Contalmaison. Trenches and belts of barbed wire are printed in red, but other pencil and ink lines have then been added by hand.

This map is easily overlooked, but look closely and it becomes an evocative reminder of the severity of the fighting on the Somme that lasted throughout the long summer and autumn of 1916.

Towards the top of the map is a particularly worn spot surrounding a small circle drawn in pencil and numbered ‘41’. Here too the trenches, including part of Munster Alley, have been over-drawn in pencil, for the simple reason that dirty fingers have rubbed and smudged the original printed lines.

At this point ‘41’, during the night of 4/5 August 1916, a young officer, Second Lieutenant Frederick Rees, and soldiers of B Company 13th Battalion DLI fought a desperate battle. In the long hours of fighting, this map must have been examined and point ‘41’ touched over and over again by Rees and his sergeants.

The fighting had begun about 9:15pm on 4 August, when 13 DLI’s four companies attacked towards German-held Torr Trench and Munster Alley. From point ‘41’, Rees led B Company’s bombers up Munster Alley for 60 yards, taking five prisoners, before a German barricade, heavily defended by barbed wire and two machine guns, halted the advance. B Company then hastily made its own barricade little more than 50 feet from the German position and held on all night in spite of repeated attacks.

During that night, Rees received what he later described in a letter to his mother as “a nice cushy little wound” [D/DLI 7/560/6(1)]. Other 13 DLI soldiers, however, were not so fortunate and over 120 were killed, wounded or reported missing in the fighting, including Rees’ friend, the composer Lieutenant George Butterworth, killed by a sniper on 5 August.

Second Lieutenant Frederick Rees (D/DLI 7/560/12)
D/DLI 7/560/12 Second Lieutenant Frederick Rees
In the late 1970s, I had the pleasure of meeting Frederick Rees twice, when he visited the DLI Museum. On the second occasion, I was just about to run through a 16mm film ‘The Battle of Ancre and Advance of the Tanks’ that I had hired from the Imperial War Museum. I used to hire this film (in those long ago days before videos, DVDs, etc.) to show to secondary school groups visiting the museum. As the film was silent, I used to give a running commentary and I was just rehearsing my lines, when Frederick Rees arrived unannounced.

So, that afternoon, we sat, and drank tea, and watched the hour long film together in my office. He had never seen the film before and he talked about what was happening on the screen, about places on the Somme he had visited, about the tanks, about the DLI, about himself and about the friends he had lost over 60 years before. For me, it was an incredible afternoon but all that remains after 40 years are my fading memories, as sadly in those days the museum had no way of recording what this old soldier was saying. After Frederick Rees, however, any other DLI Great War veterans I met or became aware of were quickly reported to the Imperial War Museum and interviewed for the IWM’s oral history project.

Frederick Llewellyn Forsaith Rees
Born in Barmby Moor, near York, in 1891, Frederick was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry in February 1915. He saw action on the Western Front and in Italy with the 13th Battalion and was wounded twice in August 1916 and October 1918.

Before the war, Frederick had studied theology at Durham University (where he had also been a member of the Officer Training Corps). In 1919, he returned to his theological studies and was ordained a priest in 1922. He then worked in several parishes in Nottinghamshire until his retirement.

After Frederick Rees died in 1983, his medals (including the Military Cross he had been awarded for his bravery on the Somme in August 1916), letters, photographs, maps, and other items were presented to the DLI Museum by his son.  The letters, photographs, and maps are now part of the regimental archive at Durham County Record Office.  The DLI medal collection is moving to Durham University Library on Palace Green, close to the DLI memorial chapel, in October 2016.

Friday, 5 August 2016

The Lads in their Hundreds

Steve Shannon writes about composer George Butterworth, who died on this day 100 years ago.
Lieutenant George Butterworth, 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (D/DLI 7/75/26)
D/DLI 7/75/26 Lieutenant George Butterworth, 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
Born in London in 1885, George Sainton Kaye Butterworth grew up in York, where his father was the General Manager of North Eastern Railways. After attending Eton, he went to Trinity College, Oxford but he preferred composing music to his studies and was elected president of the University Music Club. He also joined the Folk Song Society and later helped found the Folk Dance Society, becoming a close friend of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

In 1910, after working briefly as a music teacher, he became a student at the Royal College of Music and for the next few years composed his still memorable pieces - ‘A Shropshire Lad’, ‘The Banks of Green Willow’ and ‘Bredon Hill’.

When the First World War began in August 1914, George Butterworth immediately volunteered and was sent to join The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Sadly before he left home, he destroyed many pieces of his music that he did not think were good enough.

In September 1914, Private Butterworth was offered a commission and soon joined the 13th Battalion Durham Light Infantry at Bullswater Camp as a Second Lieutenant. He noted in a letter home that 90% of his Platoon were miners from County Durham, “our men are wonderfully good, physically strong, mentally alert and tremendously keen.”

After months of training, the 13th Battalion DLI was sent to France in August 1915, with George Butterworth now promoted to a Lieutenant in A Company.

In early July 1916, the battalion moved to the Somme and on 12 July, his 31st birthday, George wrote to his father, “We have been up to the front line for a few days…the ordinary placid routine of trench warfare exists no longer…shells fly about day and night. Add to that wet weather and mud that requires all one’s energy to wade through”.

During this early Somme fighting, Lieutenant Butterworth was awarded the Military Cross when his Company Commander was wounded by shell fire: “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He commanded his company after his Captain had been wounded with great ability and coolness. By his energy and utter disregard of danger he set a fine example in organising the defences of the front line. His name has previously been brought to notice for good and gallant work.” [London Gazette 25 August 1916]

At the end of July, A Company moved to Munster Alley, a ruined trench that ran east from the newly-taken British front line to the German held trenches, and began to dig a new trench. By 3:30am on 28 July, Lieutenant Butterworth reported that 200 yards had been dug at the cost of ten men wounded. This new work was quickly named “Butterworth Trench”.

Back in the ruined town of Albert, he wrote to his father, “In the trenches again...No trouble at present except intermittent shrapnel. This morning a small fragment hit me in the back and made a slight scratch, which I had dressed.”

D/DLI 7/560/7 Map from 11 July 1916 showing Munster Alley on the outskirts of Pozieres, annotated by Second Lieutenant Frederick Rees
On 2 August 1916, the battalion returned to the front line around Munster Alley, with A Company once again in Butterworth Trench for an attack on 4 August. The attack began in the evening and went on throughout the night, and, despite bombs, machine guns and British artillery shells falling short, some progress was made. However casualties were heavy with the battalion losing over 120 men killed or wounded. One of the dead was George Butterworth, killed early in the morning by a sniper’s bullet.

Brigadier General Page Croft of the 68th Brigade later wrote to Butterworth’s father, “I could ill afford to lose so fine a soldier”.

You can read more about George Butterworth in ‘Banks of Green Willow: The Life and Times of George Butterworth’, a biography of George Butterworth by Anthony Murphy, Durham County Record Office reference: E95. You can listen to ‘The Lads In Their Hundreds’ on the Durham at War website: 

Find out more about Butterworth's music and see a film of him demonstrating folk dances at:

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have produced a short film about Butterworth: