Now 85, Geoffrey Perry fought in the wake of the D-Day landings and was among those who witnessed the horrors of Belsen concentration camp after it was liberated. He was born Horst Pinschewer and grew up in Berlin, before coming to Britain as a Jewish schoolboy evacuee.
Perry was part of a special unit, called Tforce, whose brief in the closing stages of the war was to take Radio Hamburg. They did this in May 1945 and he read the first Allied boradcast from the same microphone which two days erlier Britain’s most wanted traitor and Fascist, William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) had used in his last message to the German people.
It was Mr Perry who captured William Joyce – otherwise known as Lord Haw Haw. In May 1945, he and a British officer encountered an odd-looking figure in a forest near the German border with Denmark.
“I shot him in the bum,” Mr Perry recalled gleefully. “It was one shot. I’d asked him if he was by any chance Lord Haw Haw. His hand went to his pocket as if to pull out a gun – so I fired.”
Harry Rossney was born Helmut Rosettenstein in the Baltic port of Koenigsberg, and partly raised in a Berlin orphanage. Even now, nearly 88 years later, he still speaks with a heavy German accent. Six decades ago on a moonless Devon beach, his accent nearly cost him his life. As a member of the Pioneer Corps he was dispatched to the North Devon coast one evening, armed only with a pick-axe handle, and ordered to keep watch for an enemy invasion. Unfortunetly, a squad of soldiers was also patrolling the beach. “Halt! Who goes 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…I thought that was it – this was how my war was going to end. But a sergeant’s voice shouted ‘Hold your fire!’, which allowed me to explain who I was. I don’t think they understood, but that split second saved my life.”
Mr Rossney, a craftsman and signwriter, was drafted to Normandy on D-Day, where his skills were employed to hand-write the names of fallen Allied soldiers on the temporary crosses that eventually became Commonwealth War Graves. There were so many, he said, he could barely keep up.
“I loved my country but it rejected me,” said Mr Rossney, who married 53 years ago and still lives in North-West London. “Now, I’m as English as I can possibly be. But it was different back then. My Christian name couldn’t really be more German, and everyone at that time was suspicious. 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 picked one out.”
Born Willy Hirschfeld on August 17th 1920 in Bonn. At the age of 18 Willy was arrested the day after Kristallnach and interrogated by the Gestapo. Willy was beaten and sent to Dachau concentration camp where they shaved his head, stripped him naked and hosed him down with ice cold water. After his former employer was able to secure his release, Willy left Germany for England. He was never to see his parents again; like most of his family they were murdered in concentration camps.
Once in England, Willy worked on various farms in harsh conditions then moved to London where he was arrested in June 1940 and sent to Australia on the infamous internee troopship Dunera. Living conditions on the Dunera were horrific. Willy stayed in Australia for one year and returned to England on the 29th November 1941. He immediately signed up to join the British forces and was sent to the Pioneer Corps at Ilfracombe.
Willy transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps on 26th August 1943. He was assigned tank driver to C Squadron 8th Hussars. Three days after the first D-day landings, Willy’s unit arrived in France and advanced through Normandy where C Squadron suffered numerous attacks by the German army. During this attack they lost five tanks and eight personnel.
In September 1944, while travelling to Nijmegen in Holland Willy’s Tank was attacked by a German anti-tank gun and suffered a direct hit. Willy was the only survivor. Once recovered Willy returned to the front line and headed through Belgium and Holland towards Germany where he took part in the liberation of Hamburg.
He was demobilised in 1946 and returned to England.
Bill Howard was born Horst Adolf Hezberg in 1919 in Berlin and was forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1938 after being put under surveillance by the Gestapo. He volunteered for the British forces in 1940 and was sent to join the Pioneer Corps. In 1940 he was sent to France, with duties including unloading of freight at the Le Havre docks but was evacuated shortly after Dunkirk.
During the height of the blitz Bill took an active part in clearing bomb damage in the East End with 88 Company. In 1943 he volunteered to join the Royal Navy and was posted on HMS Tanatside, a destroyer operating in the English Channel on anti E boat patrols.
He was employed in the interception of enemy radio transmissions at sea and was posted to HMS Bellona. Despite being an ‘enemy alien’ Bill was entrusted with information marked Top Secret containing the latest naval code sent from the Enigma team at Bletchley Park. From this information Bill was able to intercept coded interchanges, which contributed to the destruction of enemy ships off the coast of Norway.
In June 1944 Bill took part in the Normandy invasion and on D-day HMS Bellona fought alongside US 4th Division task force. The Bellona took part in the landing at Omaha Beach where US forces suffered 94% fatalities.
After a week along the Normandy coast HMS Bellona joined the 10th Cruiser Squadron for the remainder of the war. During this time Bill’s translation work led to the sinking of a number of enemy ships. On the 6th August 1944 HMS Bellona wiped out a German convoy off the Brest peninsula. Bill feels that until this point his colleagues didn’t really believe his work was important. In autumn 1944 Bill was approached by a Naval commander to teach the crew German so they could converse with local people.
Due to his outstanding service in the Navy Bill was recommended for a commission to captain but because of his birthplace the request was denied. At the end of the war Bill was demobilised with rank of petty officer and received British citizenship in 1946.
Colin Anson, born Claus Leopold Octavio Ascher in Berlin, left for England with the Kindertransport. In December 1940 he joined the Pioneer Corps. In 1942 he volunteered for 'special duties', training in a German-speaking Commando unit. He took part in the invasion of Sicily, suffering a serious head injury. He later served in Italy with the Intelligence for Bomber Command. After the war he returned to Germany as part of the British Control Commission, engaged in the denazification process.