This is published on what would have been Ted Winkler’s 100th birthday on 4 December 2020. Sadly Ted died two weeks ago. This is written in tribute to a man who was fascinated by the local history of his adopted Hedon home, but who himself had a fascinating life story. As well as the memories of those who knew him, the following piece is based on Ted’s own reminiscences recorded by the Imperial War Museum in 1998, it draws upon material from a 2017 article in Lincolnshire Life and various other source materials particularly relating to German prisoners of war in the UK.
Eduard “Ted” Friedrich Winkler was born in Hamburg on 4th December 1920. He became an apprentice with the German aircraft company Blohm and Voss and became a reserved worker during the war, but was later conscripted into the Luftwaffe in 1942 as an armourer. In March 1945 he surrendered to the British on the Rhine. Brought to England as a prisoner in 1946, he was finally released on December 31 in 1948. After a month-long trip back to Germany, he remained and worked in this country. Upon retirement, he was involved in voluntary activities from his Hedon home and followed several interests. He died in November 2020 just two weeks short of his 100th birthday.
When Ted left school at 14 in 1934 the National Socialist German Workers Party – the Nazis – had already attained power the previous year. His school was renamed the Adolf Hitler school in honour of the new Führer as that party’s influence enveloped the whole of German life. Ted’s father, a veteran of the Great War, had been an ardent Nazi joining the party in 1927 and helped it win the battle on the streets in an area of Hamburg that was staunchly Socialist and Communist. Ted recalls his father coming home one evening with a bloodied head after one particular street skirmish. The Great War had left his father with a wooden arm, and apparently, that was used as an effective weapon in many a fight. However, it was the disability that was the cause of his father’s eventual disgruntlement with the Nazi hierarchy. A Nazi parade in Hamburg to mark the success of the party’s rise to power saw his father excluded by party leaders, his father believing that it was his disability that had marked him out. So by 1934, his father had left the party. He died in 1937 from gangrene as a result of complications with his arm injury. In contrast, Ted’s uncle, his father’s brother, was a member of the Communist Party. He actually hung on to his old membership card which he hid in a copy of Mein Kampf. His father was on friendly relations with his brother; however, he refused to speak to his next-door neighbour who was also a Communist but an organiser for the party. This neighbour was arrested in the Nazi clampdown on opposition parties.
Ted himself said he had no interest in politics. He had an interest in Jazz music and was a supporter of what was known as the Swing Youth movement. However, such ‘alien music’ was frowned upon by the Nazis and jazz itself was actually banned from being played in 1937. His interest was in flying. He was a member of an air sports youth club that got him involved with building gliders and actually flying one. He harboured an ambition to become a pilot. But even this youth club was eventually absorbed into the Hitler Youth.
Ted’s first job was as an errand boy in a shipping company that operated on the docks – a Jewish shipping company. Ted remembers the boss as a kindly man who looked after his workers. It was at this time that the young Ted began to court a Jewish girl, Ingrid. Her father was a war veteran and would wear his Iron Cross awarded during that conflict. She and her family later disappeared whether through taking flight or having been arrested. In 1935 Ted became an apprentice building aeroplanes at an aircraft factory just outside Hamburg, initially working on rudders and elevators.
The onset of war with the English in 1939 passed without him taking too much notice. Ted recalled that the propaganda machine was full of stories about the persecution of Germans living in Poland so there was a feeling of indignation amongst the local population but this was before any air raids had taken place.
In 1942, Ted was conscripted to support the war effort and sent to an aircraft factory in Graudenz near Danzig (Gdańsk) in Poland initially as a civilian worker in the German air force – the Luftwaffe. Here he became a ‘flight-ready inspector’. His role was to test the planes prior to being passed as airworthy. That role developed to also include being trained as an armourer; as part of flight-testing he would taxi the planes to a shooting range and test out the sights and machine guns. Being a member of the air force 18th Field Division ground crew he was also required to do military training which included paratrooper training jumping from wooden towers. As an armourer, he was moved to jobs in Dresden, Leipzig, even Berlin. But it was whilst back in Poland in 1944 that he was recalled to Germany for essential war work as an armourer on the new Messerschmitt Me 262 – the world’s first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft.
In March 1945, with Germany clearly losing the war, it threw all the forces it could into stemming the allies’ advance. Ted and his field division were sent as part of the 7th Paratroop Regiment to the banks of the Rhine. On March 2 he was ordered to destroy his armourer’s tools and report with his pistol to the front line – and it was here that he was captured in Winnekendonk.
Ted was ordered to join a unit of anti-tank gunners but as he arrived at the front he saw hundreds of enemy troops supported by tanks advancing under heavy fire towards his position. Seeing no chance against an overwhelming force, many in his unit had sheltered in a nearby root cellar. But Ted chose to surrender. He carried with him a leaflet dropped by the allies promising safe passage for those surrendering, so he raised this above his head and walked towards the enemy troops. The advancing troops of the Lincolnshire Regiment comprised 400 troops and 15 Churchill tanks. The soldiers accepted his surrender while grenades were thrown into the root cellar almost certainly killing those hiding there. The soldiers capturing him talked together about what to do with their prisoner, and whilst Ted didn’t speak English then, he now believes that they were threatening to kill him. One of the soldiers took his watch.
Life as a Prisoner.
Between the outbreak of war in September 1939 and December 1948, some four million German Prisoners of War (POW) were held in Britain. Generally, the experience of prisoners kept by the British was far more humane than other countries with fewer fatalities. A programme of re-education sought to eliminate any POW affiliation to National Socialist ideologies and promote democratic thinking and contribute to the rebuilding of a peaceful and tolerant German nation upon their repatriation. It is estimated that some 25,000 German prisoners remained in the United Kingdom voluntarily after being released from prisoner of war status.
Ted’s first experience of Prisoner of War life was in a camp in Tilburg, Holland, POWS were interrogated to see if they might hold information that the allies could use in the war effort. Whilst nothing happened to him other prisoners reported being put up against a wall and threatened with execution with blanks being fired. At a camp outside Brussels, he was among a crowd of prisoners cheering on as a Me 262 flew over, possibly with guns fitted by himself, destroying two allied aircraft and flying safely away. At a camp in France, he was part of a group of prisoners collecting bodies and taking them to war graves. Conditions in the camps were generally good but that changed after the German surrender in May 1945. Up until then supplies of soap and razor blades were regular. A camp in Belgium, Jabbecke, was an experience which Ted described as ‘the worst experience in my life’. A non-working camp with the prisoners kept locked up all the time, the German POWs were kept on concentration camp rations. With 16 men billeted together, a daily food ration would consist of a small loaf of bread and a boiled potato, beetroot or leek broth which had to be divided between them all. There was not enough to drink. During this time desperation would mean Ted joining other prisoners in eating rat and pigeon. One positive highlight from Jabbecke was receiving his one and only Red Cross parcel ever – his enjoyment of two Argentinian cigarettes would endear him to the Red Cross organisation throughout the rest of his life. When Ted left Jabbecke to ship to England in May 1946 his weight had fallen to 7 stone.
Ted would experience 16 camps in England as a POW. In Leicester, as they were marched through the streets people would spit and throw stones at the prisoners. In contrast in Carperby in North Yorkshire, the prisoners were allowed out of the camp to visit the village where residents invited them to tea. Fraternisation between POWs and local populations had been prohibited by the Government, but this was relaxed in late 1946. However, Ted attributed this contrasting northern hospitality as the reason he later stayed in Yorkshire. With time, and particularly the practice of working out in the community, the relations between prisoners and local populations improved. In one camp Ted would go out shooting rabbits with a local farmer. At another he befriended a local farming family and made a wooden farmyard for the young daughter, Valerie, to play with. Years later he met up with the grown-up Valerie who had children of her own and discovered that the same toy would come out every Christmas as a decoration. In February 1947 Ted, along with a force of German POWs and British troops, set about clearing snow from the roads and railways as part of a national effort to get coal to power stations during the harshest winter ever recorded up to that time.
Camp life tended to comprise going out to work as labourers quite often in local farms, firstly under armed guard, but eventually under minimal supervision. Prisoners would swap and trade for what they needed. Swapping soap for flints, Ted began making lighters which he would ‘sell’ to the more well-off officers. He would also repair watches. At one camp he made a clock from parts and sold it to the camp Commander.
Ted’s first Holderness POW camp was at Roos. By this time, after using every opportunity to learn the language, he’d learned to speak English and so acted as an interpreter liaising between the camp authorities and other prisoners. He used to walk to Withernsea to work. It was here Ted met his future first wife. He also made friends with the manager of a local picture house who was also a member of the Lions. He would also be based in camps at Kilnsea where he worked on coastal defences and also at Ryehill. By this time Ted had extended his skills to the repairing of grandfather clocks and so although still a POW, he was earning an income.
The repatriation of German POWs began in 1946 and most of the men had been returned to Germany by the latter half of 1948. But listed as one of the only 2,790 remaining POWs in June 1948, it would be another six months (December 1948) before Ted received notification that his POW status had been revoked.
Life after being a POW.
In January 1949 Ted went back to Hamburg. With no possibility of work there, and in pursuit of friendships he’d made particularly his girlfriend in Withernsea, he returned to England. He got a job first of all making tools for Blackburn Aircraft at Brough, then working nights on the shop floor at Priestman Brothers in Hull. He was soon promoted to work as an office-based engineer and would stay at Priestman’s for 13 years. He then worked in metal plating and retired in Hedon in 1979. His first marriage sadly broke up, but his second to Thelma was a happy relationship. Ted had become a British citizen in 1951.
Retirement was just the start of Ted developing his interests, particularly local history. He was a founder member of the Hedon Museum Society. He became an expert on coins and medals. Medieval Hedon had its own Mint producing coins of the realm and Ted had obtained one of only three surviving pennies bearing the legend of King Stephen. This Hedon Penny was later acquired by Hedon Town Council to complement its unique silver collection.
Dr Martin Craven of Hedon Museum paid this tribute: “Ted Winkler was a founding member of the Hedon Museum Society in May 1988. He was much involved in fundraising for the planned museum and in 1990 produced the first publication for the Society “Hedon Revisited”, an excellent compilation of how travellers and historians saw the town from 1540 to 1840. In keeping with his past life in aviation, Ted wrote “A Civilian Affair” in 2003 with editorial assistance from Barry Ketley. This book is not only a very valuable one from an historical point of view but also a highly technical account of the building of small aeroplanes by the Civilian Aircraft Company, including much information on their work at Hedon Airport Garage in the 1930’s. Ted was a great collector, not only of crested china, but old photographs and memorabilia of Hedon. He was also a serious medal and coin collector.
“After reading a booklet written by Philip Whitting ‘Coins, Tokens and Medals of the East Riding of Yorkshire’ Ted learned that Hedon had once been a Royal Mint town in the reign of King Stephen producing silver pennies. When the booklet was first published in 1969 only two of these rare coins were known to exist. Ted’s interest was much aroused when he heard that a third coin had been found and was being put up for sale at auction. In 1995 Ted went to the auction and bought the coin for a total price of £4,029. In the following year, Ted generously offered the silver penny to Hedon Town Council for the same price he had paid for it. Today the coin is proudly shown at all the Silver Shows in the Town Hall and thus has become Ted’s lasting legacy to the people of Hedon.”
In 2003 continuing his interest in aviation Ted published a book “A Civilian Affair” (Crecy Publishing) about the history of the aircraft manufacturing company based at Hedon aerodrome in the 1930s. To coincide with the launch of the book and to mark the occasion Ted arranged for the only surviving Civilian Coupe aeroplane – the 82-year old G-ABNT nicknamed ‘Bunty’ – to fly into the area landing at Ottringham.
He continued to mend watches, a skill he’d learned as a prisoner. He would carry out repairs on watches donated to Dove House and other good causes.
An avid reader, his friends report that Ted said he had to strengthen the floor of his loft at home to take the weight of all his stored books. He was also not averse to new technology and became adept at restoring old photographs using his computer.
Following the death of his wife Thelma, Ted with like-minded colleagues established a charity in her memory. The Hedon Flyer Trust brought a 7-seater minibus and later a 15-seater which would provide a transport service for the elderly and people with disabilities. The charity ran for seven years from 1995 – 2002.
Friend Margaret Raymond and husband Stan met Ted over 20 years ago after someone recommended him as an expert on old medals. “A colleague had found these medals and a suspected German dagger while metal detecting and Ted was immediately able to identify them. He was meticulous and methodical about the details of anything he was interested in. We became real friends with Ted. He used to repair watches and had quite a collection of them. For our 40th Wedding Anniversary, he gave us his mother’s dress ring which he’d gold plated himself. We feel really sad that Ted has died just before his 100th birthday. He’d have loved to have celebrated that. He had applied to the Queen with his birth certificate and British citizen naturalisation certificate for recognition.”
Upon the announcement of his death on the Hedon Blog Photos Facebook Page there were dozens of tributes paid to Ted particularly referring to him as a real gentleman about town. John Stobbs of Sheriff Highway, said: “Ted did a lot of good things for Hedon but was always a silent friend to the village.”