Comment: The modesty of Britain’s war heroes

Heinrich Himmler
Heinrich Himmler
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PEOPLE sometimes ask why, with all the opportunities of ‘internet publishing,’ I don’t aim for megabucks by penning some lascivious ‘bonk buster.’

Well, I suppose the short answer is that my knowledge of erotica could be written on the back of a microdot.

But more essentially is the conviction, or perhaps calling, of the need to preserve a few tales of this region’s heritage for future generations, and not least because of the concrete changes wrought over the past few decades by the New City.

And another reason is to remember the generations who sacrificed so much to preserve the freedoms that we now enjoy.

In fact in my schooldays nearly every classmate had a grandfather who had fought in the First World War and a father who had fought in the Second, and it seemed that regular ding dongs with the Germans were just an accepted way of life.

But looking back it seems that the persons I knew were unassumingly modest about their wartime feats and always in a typically British understated manner. So it was not until many years after that I discovered that one of my early teachers at the Bletchley Road Schools had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He was William Burns, who having joined the RAF in 1941 became a bomber navigator and, mostly on daylight raids, flew 93 missions. Using special radar his role was to pin point targets and he was often responsible for the accuracy of the whole flight.

Making his home at Newton Longville he joined the Bletchley Road School staff in November 1948 and the following year was elected vice president of the Bletchley association of the National Union of Teachers.

He duly progressed to become a headmaster and in 1961 he and his wife moved to Little Brickhill. There he became secretary of the Brickhills Gardeners’ Club, indeed winning a cup for the best kept garden in the three Brickhills.

The story of Carl Moser as a wartime prisoner of the Japanese has been recently told and although the treatment of prisoners in German POW camps was more humane, after his fourth escape Lance Corporal Stan Corby, of Oxford Street, Bletchley, was sentenced to be shot on Himmler’s orders.

Thus with little to lose just before VE Day he and others hid a revolver and shot their way out, killing a guard. They were then rescued by the Americans and flown home. It was ironic that Himmler would be the one who came to a sticky end, an episode in which the father of one of my classmates was involved.

As a platoon sergeant in the Welch Regiment, one night in May 1945 he was serving in an interrogation centre set up by the special headquarters defence company in a house in Lueneburg, near Hamburg. At about 10pm an officer told him to prepare some provisions as an important prisoner was about to arrive and sometime later a small man was marched in, wearing an army shirt and covered by a blanket.

The sergeant overheard him called Himmler during the interrogation and about 20 minutes later an officer ran out telling him to get a needle and thread. Himmler had taken a cyanide and they needed to pull his tongue from his throat. The sergeant stood outside the door while this was done but after a while he overheard an officer say “The bastard has beaten us.”

With the death officially recorded, a couple of days later the body was wrapped in chicken wire camouflage and put on the back of a lorry, to be taken to a spinney a few miles outside Lueneburg.

There the sergeant and another soldier dug a shallow grave and “We tossed him in it and spat on him. We felt no compunction. That man was responsible for the deaths of over six million people.”

Both men were then sworn to secrecy, to prevent the location becoming a shrine to fanatical followers.

So penning bonk busters, no thanks. At my time of life the only sheets I’m romping between are the paper ones that form the fascinating pages of history.