One of the privileges of serving in a parish, is the opportunity to hear extraordinary stories. Often these stories come from older members of the community.

Barbara Fosdick is a Veteran of the Second World War who lived and served through the war years and their immediate aftermath in England. Yesterday I sent Barbara a story from Portsmouth about a member of the Hitler Youth who became a POW in England and eventually an English Vicar.

Here, with Barbara’s permission, is my original email and her two replies:

This is a remarkable and touching tribute to the British response to Germans in England immediately following the war from a German POW who became a British Vicar and said:

‘The people of Hampshire were so kind and accommodating. There was just no animosity whatever, even in the early days.

‘That still amazes me and will until the end of my days here on earth – the war hadn’t been over 12 months, there were still heartaches and remembrances of those who didn’t return, there were still bomb sites that needed to be cleared, and still they made me welcome.’

In her first response Barbara wrote:

Ah it takes a Brit to have a generous heart. Actually tho you must remember that many Germans were as reluctant to fight as we were. Thousands were brought over as POWs and many  put to work in farmer’s fields. I remember when our AckAck batteries were  “stood down” in 1945 we were sent out to help with the harvest and tho we were not allowed to fraternize did work side by side with many prisoners , there was really no animosity  in fact we would sometimes all start singing together.
Our favourite song was Lili Marlene, in both languages.
Perhaps the only animosity came when a couple of the farmers’ wives became a little too friendly with the prisoners!!
In our day, when we so often seem determined to cling to our identity as people who have been wronged or hurt, Barbara bears testimony to a remarkably resilient and practical spirit. After the war, it was time to get back to living. For some, it appears, there was little time to continue harbouring bitterness, resentment, and anger.
After her initial email, Barbara followed up with a further story:
Further to our exchange of emails this morning, I have taken another of my walks down the Memory Lane of 75 years ago. The surprise of the P.O.W. / Minister who found no animosity in the people of Hampshire is not so surprising to me.
When the Luftwaffe bombed Coventry and reduced its glorious Cathedral to rubble in November, 1940, we could hardly believe that a nation could be so barbaric. But in May, 1942 our allied air forces attacked Cologne – and the magnificent Cathedral was destroyed. London was bombed. Berlin also, Liverpool, Munich, Bristol, Stuttgart, Hull – devastated, but nothing would compare with the damage inflicted on Dresden in the dying days of the war.
It seemed a case of an eye for an eye and who then were the guilty? I am not saying that we all loved and forgave the Germans – the bestiality of the Holocaust – the slaughter of so many innocents will never be forgotten, – or forgiven – I think. But when the defeated German prisoners began arriving in Britain, they seemed so like our own brothers and sons, many of whom would never be reunited with their own families again – We could not forget – but we could forgive and I believe that is why the people of Hampshire (my own birthplace) could accept this man without animosity. In fact, it is rather surprising  how many P.O.W.s did not return to Germany – but stayed and made a new life in England.
Let him who is without guilt cast the first stone. . . . .

The wisdom here, even in the face of deep pain and the struggle to forgive, is profound and touching. The ability to observe that “the enemy” “seemed so like our own brothers and sons,” is crucial to healing.

As Barbara points out, we are no different than our “enemy.” There are few clear rights and wrongs in war. Even in the Second World War when the evil on one side seemed so obvious, the line was fuzzy and there was wrong and guilt on all sides. There is a darkness and violence that exists in us all that we ignore at our peril.

Only when we are willing to acknowledge our own violence, will there be any hope of creating a more peaceful future. Then perhaps we will all be able to sing together each in our own language and share a common willingness to embrace one another across the apparent divisions of nationality and politics.

Thank you Barbara for this beautiful testimony.