Gift from German prisoner-of-war to Norfolk nurse will help our county’s war veterans return to Normandy
In war they were enemies, but in the field hospital in Normandy they were simply patient and nurse, forging a bond that remains almost 70 years after they met in the bloody aftermath of D-Day.
A heartfelt gift given to Margaret Dickinson, who lives in Cromer, by her young German prisoner-of-war patient remains one of the 90-year-old's most treasured possessions.
Bearing the German swastika and Hitler's signature, the medal was given to the German soldier's mother for her services to the Reich, and he carried it as a good luck charm to see him safely through the horror of war.
British bombs had killed the soldier's mother, but Margaret's care had repaired much of his heartache and he insisted that she take the medal as a keepsake: a reminder of how kindness can transcend war.
'I didn't even think for a moment that he was the enemy – to me he was my patient and I treated him in exactly the same way as I would have treated a British soldier,' said Margaret, who was stationed at a French field hospital 10 days after D-Day.
'He was really seriously ill but I knew I could help make him better. He was only 18 and I was absolutely determined that he'd get well - and he did. One day, he looked up at me and said: 'I want you to have this.' He gave me his mother's medal – it meant such a lot to me.
'He said to me: 'Your bombs killed my mother but you have got me better and I am grateful and thankful and would be so pleased if you took this.' It was a moment that I will never forget – our countries were at war, but here was an act of kindness.'
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The Mother's Cross of Honour was awarded to women by the German Reich to honour a mother for 'exceptional merit' to the German nation for producing at least four or more children.
It features blue and white enamel and, resting on the centre radiant starburst rays, a roundel decorated with the words 'Der Deutschen Mutter' (To the German Mother) next to a black swastika.
There were three class orders for mother's medals – gold crosses for mothers with eight or more children, silver for those with six or seven children and bronze for those with four to five children.
'The young German could speak a little bit of English and so we were able to have little chats. He told me that he hadn't wanted to fight in the war and I told him that our boys hadn't wanted to fight either,' said Margaret.
'When he was better, after about six weeks, he left the hospital and that was the last I saw of him. I used to think about him quite often and wonder what had happened to him – whether he'd made it through the war. I still think about him.'
Margaret was stationed in several European countries during the war and finally returned to Britain where she became a district nurse for 30 years. She has never returned to Normandy, although she dreams of being able to travel back to France and Brussels, where she was also stationed.
The EDP is backing the Norwich and District Branch of the Normandy Veterans' Association's bid to raise �20,000, to take our veterans back to France for one last emotional trip.
'I would love to go back, but the money is an issue and I am 90 so I worry about walking – but to go back, to be there again would be wonderful. I have so many memories of that time,' said Margaret.
'When people talk about D-Day they usually talk about the men who fought on the beaches but of course there were women there too.
'At the Normandy Veterans' meetings, I am the only female veteran, and I often wonder where the others are. For me, being around people who know what we went through is very important
'The other veterans know what we've been through because they've been through it too. For us, it's a way of remembering what happened and the people who didn't come home or who are no longer with us.'
Margaret and friends George Gallagher and John Eastbury are organising a quiz this afternoon at 2.30pm at The Cottage in Louden Road in Cromer to raise funds for the appeal, and she stressed how important the trip was to veterans fit enough to make the journey back to France.
'People look at us and see old people without knowing what we've been through and what we've seen,' she said.
'You never forget what happened and it goes with you through your life. Going back gives the veterans a chance to remember – when people see them in uniform there, they understand.'
If you would like to donate money to help Norfolk's veterans return to France to mark the 70th anniver-sary of D-Day in 2014, send cheques made payable to Archant Community Media Limited to Sandra Mackay, PA to Nigel Pickover, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.
If you would like to organise a fund-raising event, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Stacia Briggs at the above address.