So, in 1944 at the age of four, my father had lost his mother, my grandfather was discharged from armed services due to injury in 1945 and was promptly investigated by the British army for his Nazi involvement and given twelve months hard labour from my Dad’s birthday the 23rd of April working in the peat fields east of Hamburg.
In April 1945 my grandfather remarried and in 1946 my father and his brother were sent off with the families Polish maid and friend on bikes, cycling past burnt out planes and tanks, travelling the seventy five miles to his grandmothers parents’ house in Wolfenbüttel. Opa Willhelm and Oma Lilly lived opposite an agricultural smallholding and had a large half acre garden, this served my father well.
As I talk with my father about the history of our family, I asked my father ‘did your grandparents grow their own food?’ My father’s eyes light up and I can see that in amidst all of this heartbreak, as a young boy who had lost the mother he adored, he had a happy time with his grandparents and they ate well. Of course there was rationing in Germany as well as in England at this time but he now tells me of all of the different fruit trees they had in Wolfenbüttel, Pears and Plums for making compotes and mousses. Boskop Apples which his grandmother baked on the fire and he says he can still conjure up the smell in his memory today. He remembers helping to grow Potatoes, Peas, Carrots, French Beans, Runner Beans, Sweetcorn and even a grapevine scrambled over my great grandfathers old shed. Opa Wilhelm also used to grow his own Tobacco, drying the leaves in his shed and rolling his own cigars.
As my father tells me of his grandparents garden, of finding a Salamander in an old bath tub at the side of his grandfathers old shed, I can see that he was as happy as he could be considering the huge changes he had been through. Of course, having a full stomach does help hugely! We continue to talk about his return to Uelzen and his father with his new wife and now another brother to meet. He remembers that the diet was now often limited to pieces of sausage meat and Cabbage and life was harder to deal with in a large family with no half acre garden to grow plentiful produce.
As I ask my Father all of these questions (we have had many conversations about our Family Book and this certainly won’t be the last), we are sat in The Vinery of the plant nursery which I own with my husband Monty. Our nursery is set within a Victorian Walled Kitchen Garden, a rare historic survivor of times gone by, we have the third most intact collection of Foster and Pearson glasshouses in the country boasting a Peach Case, Melon House, Vineries, Fernery and more. We grow the plants which we sell in our magnificent glasshouses which have survived the Great War and the Second World War. Who played a major role in the creation of our rare historic gem? A German, Charles Gunther who lost both of his sons fighting for our country in the Great War but that is a story I will save for another day!
At Pig Row we'd like to thank Emma and her Father for telling this story. Many domestic stories from the war have been lost and if you have one, please do contact us here or via our Facebook Page. Emma will be back with us soon to tell us more about the history of her Walled Kitchen Garden, you can find them on Facebook too.