We could all do with the empathy and courage shown by war 'enemies'
PUBLISHED: 20:59 18 July 2019 | UPDATED: 20:59 18 July 2019
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
The lovely story of a German soldier protecting an English soldier has reminded Nick Conrad that we could be much more honourable when it comes to dealing with the UK's situation regarding Brexit and leaving the European Union
Like many others I was inspired by the amazing story of Peter Garland. Norfolk's former chief constable cheated death four times in the Second World War, returning to this country to climb the ranks through our police force. His story is all the more incredible because the bravery of a young German soldier who protected 'the enemy' - a young Peter - from fellow countrymen who were baying for blood. What underpins this extraordinary story is courage and honour.
Allow me to summarise the story - Peter was in a bomber which exploded over Germany. How he survived was a miracle. As he fell to the ground, locals armed with knives and pitch forks scoured the countryside hoping to locate and kill allied airmen who had parachuted out of aircraft.
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Once Peter was found, his life was in peril. If the young German soldier, who stumbled across the scene, had followed orders he would have killed the British airman.
Luckily it was Gerhard Fricke who stepped forward. His 'moral code' was at odds with his superiors and he didn't follow orders warding off the marauding locals. Gerhart saved Peter's life. As the medics placed Garland into the vehicle Fricke introduced himself. Grateful, the injured Brit gifted the only two items he had on his person to the young German: a two pence piece and a wooden screwdriver with his surname engraved into the handle. The innocuous tool is a pivotal part of the story.
Garland spent the rest of the war in captivity. He was one of the notorious 'Great Escape' inmates and survived the devastating 'death marches'. This guy was clearly special. On his return to the UK he remained quiet about his encounter with the young German officer until decades later when he was reunited with the man who saved him. That exchange between the two men must have been charged with emotion. The whole of Peter's family has Gerhart to thank for their very existence! Both Gerhard Fricke and Peter Garland are no longer alive, but their tremendous legacy lives on.
On Saturday the symbolic screwdriver was presented to Norfolk Police by Fricke's nephew, Gerhardt Grebbin. He told those gathered in the room that he felt very proud to retell the story. He also touched on the most inspiring element of the story, of how one young man protected the other, despite the understandable resentment and animosity towards the 'enemy'. Garland, after all, was on-board an aircraft bound for a German city. How wonderful that his nephew seven decades on stood among friends in Wychwood House to remind us of the power of unity. Gerhardt in a subtle tone gently pressed those gathered last Saturday to think upon the elements of the story which very much apply today.
The current division in Europe is not comparable to the turmoil that Fricke's and Garland's generation experienced. Nevertheless, the importance of understanding the continued need for compassion towards each other is as important today as it was then. Screwdrivers fix things. Where British and continental politicians may have failed, within us all, we have the 'tools' to heel rifts and strengthen bonds. No different to those two men who in the Second World War - It starts with empathy and courage.