The Germans Who F Led. and Fought Hitler for Us

Daily Mail (London), September 5, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Germans Who F Led. and Fought Hitler for Us


Byline: Paul Harris

24,000 German PoWs chose to stay in Britain at the end of WW2 THEIRnames could hardly sound more British - Harry, Geoffrey and Sid; Ernest, Willyand Eric.

In their uniforms they looked just like any of their chums, united in wartimeagainst the common enemy of Hitler's Germany.

But they shared a fascinating secret. For this was an unsung army of refugeeswho fled the Nazis to fight for Britain during the Second World War. And onlytheir real names - among them Horst, Helmut, and Ernst - betrayed the story oftheir German links.

Yesterday - most of them still proudly bearing the home-grown names theyacquired to blend in all those years ago - they came together for the firsttime in a unique tribute to the part they played in Britain's victory overGermany.

Their service was recognised by the Imperial War Museum in a ceremony to markthe courage of more than 100 surviving men and women who joined British forcesin the liberation of Europe. The event coincides with the publication of abook, The King's Most Loyal Enemy Aliens, that tells their stories for thefirst time.

These were not merely evacuees seeking safe haven in England, but a generationof Germans and Austrians determined to do their bit for the war. Some sawfrontline service as commandos, marines or tank crew.

Others fought in the D-Day landings, or played vital roles in communicationsand code-breaking, using their native German in aid of the Allied cause. One ofthem even the dark. Harry identified himself - has the distinction of being theman who shot and arrested 'Lord Haw Haw', the traitorous propagandist WilliamJoyce.

But being an 'alien' in Britain during wartime - not to mention having a Germanaccent - meant that this particular band of brothers sometimes faced dangerfrom both sides.

Harry Rossney was among them. He was born Helmut Rosettenstein in the Balticport of Koenigsberg, and partly raised in a Berlin orphanage. Even now, nearly88 years later, he still speaks with a heavy German accent.

Six decades ago on a moonless Devon beach, it nearly cost him his life. MrRossney joined the Pioneer Corps after coming to England in 1939. He wasdispatched to the North Devon coast one evening, armed only with a pick-axehandle, and ordered to keep watch for an enemy invasion.

Unfortunately, a squad of soldiers was also patrolling the beach. 'Halt! Whogoes there?' was the cry that rang out in the dark. Harry identified himself -and immediately heard a rifle being cocked in front of him.

'He heard my accent and thought he'd found the enemy,' Mr Rossney told meyesterday. 'I thought that was it - this was how my war was going to end. But asergeant's voice shouted "Hold your fire!", which allowed me to explain who Iwas.

'I don't think they understood, but that split second saved my life.' MrRossney, a craftsman and signwriter, was drafted to Normandy after D-Day, wherehis skills were employed to hand-write the names of fallen Allied soldiers onthe temporary crosses that eventually became Commonwealth War Graves. Therewere so many, he said, he could barely keep up.

'I loved my country but it rejected me,' said Mr Rossney, who married goesthere?' was the cry that rang out 53 years ago and still lives in North-WestLondon.

'Now, I'm as English as I can possibly be. But it was different back then. Mychristian name couldn't really be more German, and everyone at that time wassuspicious.

'I suppose it was pointless to have an English name with an accent like mine,but that's the name I took. I just looked through the telephone book and pickedone out.

'I'm proud of what I did, although there were so many others like me who did somuch more, and exposed themselves to great danger.

But I'm very grateful someone has acknowledged that we existed.' Some 75,000German and Austrian refugees arrived in Britain during the 1930s, many of themJews fleeing Nazi persecution. …

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