A former German soldier also remembers on Nov. 11

A former member of the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War has his own memories on Nov. 11.

Port Alberni resident Herb Albrecht has a photo of himself in his German Luftwaffe uniform from the Second World War. Albrecht has his own memories on Nov. 11.

Port Alberni resident Herb Albrecht has a photo of himself in his German Luftwaffe uniform from the Second World War. Albrecht has his own memories on Nov. 11.

The scene and tension are something that Herb Albrecht never forgot.

Working as a plane spotter with an anti-aircraft unit during the Second World War, he’d see a wave of bomber aircraft or fighter planes approaching in the distance.

An alarm would sound, sirens would shriek and flak guns would pound the air with an unceasing whump-whump, whump-whump.

Some planes were shot down, but others would make it through the phalanx of flak fire, and bombs would rain from the sky, exploding on impact with a loud crack.

“You’d be nervous wondering what section of the city they were going to bomb and if you were going to be in that section,” Albrecht said of the mercurial tension he felt during those incidents.

“It was hell on earth — I saw hell on this earth.”

Albrecht, 92, has been confined to a wheelchair since a stroke at age 59. He’s lived quietly at Tsawaayuus Rainbow Gardens seniors’ facility in Port Alberni for the last four years.

His body is slow to move and his right side is paralyzed. The memories come slow over three afternoons, but they come. Because what he saw as a member of the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War is burned into his retinas and into his mind.

Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, marks the day Commonwealth citizens remember members of their armed forces who died in the line of duty since the First World War.

Locally, veterans and supporters gather at a memorial service at the Alberni District Secondary School auditorium then lay wreaths at the Field of Honour and merchant marine memorial.

As the Last Post echoes, the thinned ranks of old soldiers stand in stillness for the minute of silence, remembering past battles and mourning friends who never survived the war.

Nov. 11 is a day for the victors to commemorate, but the vanquished have their memories as well.

Herbert Albrecht was born Sept. 10, 1919 in Kassel, a small town in the state of Hessen, Germany. He was one of three siblings, and had both an older and younger sister.

Albrecht’s pure white hair and ruddy complexion contrast with his neat checked shirt and black slacks as he peers out the window of his room, muted sounds drifting through his open doorway.

Albrecht recalls his childhood, particularly the boys he went to school with. A picture of a castle hangs on his wall. “That’s located in my hometown; I’ve been there several times and remember it vividly,” he said.

The rise of Adolf Hitler and the German Nazi party served as a backdrop as Albrecht grew up. Unions were smashed, other political parties crushed and their leaders jailed, and the air was rife with militarism as the country marched inevitably into war.

When Albrecht was 16 his younger sister Ilsa died, an event that devastated the family, he said. He told his father he wanted to join the military and his father suggested the ground corps of the Luftwaffe. “He didn’t want to lose a second child,” Albrecht said.

War broke out and Albrecht served at several posts across the European theatre. He remembers the Allied bombings, particularly the continuous thumping of anti-aircraft guns.

He remembers planes being shot down. Some crew members survived and were taken prisoner, he said.

But Albrecht remembers something else — the bonds he forged with the men with whom he served. “We fought together, talked, and we even got drunk together,” he said.

A soldier always has a buddy, he said, and his was Karl Heinz Haas, a boyhood friend from Kassel. “He never survived the war, he was wounded and died in the hospital,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht eventually became a dispatch messenger with the Luftwaffe, a duty he continued with until the war’s end. He earlier attained the rank of Seargent but advanced no further. “I had no military ambitions at all,” he said.

Albrecht’s unit was captured by the British near the war’s end and sent to a POW camp in Yugoslavia. He was there only a short time before he escaped with a few others and was spirited back to German lines.

The flight to freedom was shortlived, though. Albrecht’s unit surrendered to the Allies and the war was over.

Albrecht returned to Kassel, but bombings had reduced it to a bleak and blasted landscape. He points to a picture in a book of a bombed Kassel and it resembles a charcoal sketch more than a photograph.

He made his way to Munich where he went to university and studied law. But Germany was flatlined after the war and there were few opportunities, so he travelled to England, where he worked as a butler for 18 months.

While in England Albrecht visited Canada House in Trafalgar Square and decided he would move to the land of the maple leaf.

“Canada was a country of many nations of peoples, not just one nation of people,” he said. “It seemed like a place for everyone.”

Albrecht joined some 350,000 other Germans who made their way to Canada after the war. He arrived after a nine-day boat ride in Halifax on March 23, 1952.

Albrecht worked a series of jobs in Toronto, Calgary, and Edmonton before landing in Vancouver and finally deciding that Port Alberni was where he wanted to put down roots. Alberni was medium-sized and growing.

“I bought my tickets — one way,” he said.

The first place he lived was the Somass Hotel and his first job was at the Somass Mill, he said.

Albrecht joined the two dozen post-war Germans who lived in the Valley at that time and the number kept growing, he said.

Most post-war Germans got on with their lives in their new country, but Albrecht noticed a schism between pre- and post-war immigrant Germans. The former felt the old nationalism that was brutally displaced. The latter were trying to detox themselves of the poisoning of the same nationalism.

Albrecht’s bride-to-be, Ellen, who he met in England, joined him in 1953 and the two were married in Alberni that same year. She visits him daily at Rainbow Gardens, referring to him often as “schatzie” (love).

Albrecht became a Canadian citizen in 1957. “I’ve been Canadian longer than I was German,” he said. “I’m proud to say I’m Canadian.”

Albrecht left the Somass Mill to work at the plywood division, where he would spend the rest of his working life, eventually rising to the position of production control manager until his stroke in 1978.

He attended Remembrance Day ceremonies before his stroke. He felt awkward at first, then at ease, he said. He attended not as an interloper, but to pay respect to fellow soldiers, he said.

He thinks of the men he served with but today he’s alone with his memories. “There’s no one left but me, they’re all gone now. But I still think of them,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht and his wife never had any children, but have a circle of friends with whom they’ve stayed close.

In 2003, Albrecht self-published a memoir of his experiences entitled Growing Roots. In the tome, published in Germany, he describes how he doesn’t feel culpable for the atrocities the German military perpetrated.

He was a plane spotter and dispatch driver with the Luftwaffe and “…I did not feel responsible for the excesses and crimes of the SS and Gestapo,” he wrote.

Amidst his wartime stories, a blue clad Rainbow Gardens orderly comes to the door and announces that it’s dinner time. Time to put the past away for now, and live again in the present.

Regardless of the victor, war achieves only one thing, Albrecht said: “It is unholy because it destroys all life, that’s what it does.

“It’s disastrous and no good comes out of it.”


Just Posted

AW Neill Elementary School in Port Alberni. (NEWS FILE PHOTO)
SD70 chooses new name for AW Neill School in Port Alberni

New name honours Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples’ connection to region

Douglas Holmes, current Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District chief administrative officer, is set to take on that position at the Regional District of Nanaimo come late August. (Submitted photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo’s next CAO keen to work on building partnerships

Douglas Holmes to take over top administrator role with RDN this summer

Ron MacDonald fields questions at a news conference in Halifax on Sept. 27, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Finding ‘comfortable’ indigenous monitor tough task in Tofino-area shooting death

Julian Jones case hampered by difficulty finding a civilian comfortable with privacy protocols

Port Alberni RCMP officer in command Insp. Eric Rochette presents longtime community policing volunteer Louie Aumair with a OIC appreciation certificate. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni RCMP honour longtime volunteer

First responders receive support from broader community

The Dock+ is located on Harbour Road in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
PROGRESS 2021: Port Alberni’s food hub still growing a year later

The Dock hopes to open a retail store on Alberni’s busy waterfront

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read