6A Text

My father Harry Petzal left it dangerously late to leave Germany. I do not know why and to my eternal regret, I never asked him. I have his German identity card, stamped in Berlin on 4th May 1939, and all of the official papers made out earlier in the year, when he was packing up the family home at 13 Tile Wardenberg Strasse. At that point, his mother, brother and sister in law had been living in The Hague, in Holland, for some time.

My mother Lore Isakowitz, living in England since 1936, still used her German passport, stamped with a J for Jew, to travel between the UK and Belgium and Holland to see Harry and his family, or maybe just his family. There is a stamp from Hook of Holland as late as the 21st July 1939. The story, which has no written proof, was that my mother obtained false papers for Harry, which he
used to enter Britain in August 1939.

On his arrival he had one suitcase and the clothes he stood up in. He did however have a kind family of future in-laws and he had despatched the contents of the Berlin flat to the UK. War broke out shortly after his arrival and he immediately gave himself up to the authorities and volunteered for the Army. This was before the start of ‘enemy alien’ internment. He spoke English and had useful skills as a metallurgist and was placed in the Royal Pioneer Corps (bottom left and centre). He served in various places, including Dumfries in Scotland and Carmarthen in Wales, where he made lifelong local friends. He dug out dead bodies from bomb sites, built walls and kept watch. He also kept diaries and wrote letters, full of his admiration for the British countryside and, as specifically told not to in the ‘Helpful Advice to Every Refugee’ (top left), commented unfavourably on the work ethics, tidiness, diet and drinking habits of the British. In 1943 the Pioneer Corps became an active fighting unit and Harry (with his unit, bottom right) was deemed unfit because of his asthma. However, being a metallurgist, he was sent to work at Lucas, which would later become Lucas Aerospace, to do war work.

Fortunately for my mother, the Lucas factory was close to where she lived with her parents. Lore and Harry married in July 1943 at Hampstead Registry Office (centre left) and celebrated not long after at the house they rented at 14 Wellgarth Road, Hampstead Garden Suburb, which was to become our family home. The wedding was simple but stylish and must have used up many of their clothing coupons and rations points (see Ration Book centre right). The house’s location was not as desirable then as it was to become. It was directly next to the Heath Extension, which from 1939 had an anti aircraft battery of four guns, searchlights that criss-crossed the night sky and a radar installation. A barrage balloon hung in the air close by.

Whilst Harry was serving in the Pioneer Corps and then working at Lucas, Lore and her parents were enduring the Blitz. Sometimes they retreated to the London underground shelters, but often they took refuge with one of Harry’s distant cousins, a doctor and his wife with two small girls, who had moved out to Berkhampstead. Later, in Wellgarth Road, Harry was busy ‘Digging for Victory’ (top left), growing vegetables. Painfully aware of the lack of gardening experience from his urban Berlin upbringing, he tackled it with his usual systematic thoroughness and became a committed gardener for the rest of his life.

My parents, given that they had both escaped from Nazi Germany and were offered safe refuge in Britain, had a ‘good war’. However, they were in a constant state of high anxiety, preoccupied with the course of events and the fate of their family, friends and homeland. Halfway through the war my father made out a will in German, which makes heart rending reading. Aged thirty-five, in a foreign land, with no hope of seeing his family again and with the war stretching ahead, he could only contemplate that he too might not survive and he wished to disperse the small amounts of money and pieces of jewellery he possessed to his wife and oldest friend.