FROM THE BLOG

Facebook reunites mum with family of war-time German nanny

So here’s a beautiful and moving story I want to share …. It’s not a travel story as such but it’s certainly a story that’s travelled a long way and over a very long time ….

Several days ago a lady from Kiel Germany contacted me via Facebook to ask if I was the granddaughter of Wing Commander Edward Gordon Gedge and his wife Eileen – which I am.

Her name was Dagmar and she said she was the daughter of my mum’s nanny from more than sixty years ago and had been searching for us.

Her mum Cristel cared for my mum when she was five and her two older sisters (Janie and Elisabeth) when they lived in Kiel with my grandparents during the occupation of Germany.

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My grandfather was a Wing Commander in the British Airforce and was stationed in Kiel after the war. Dagmar’s father Hans was also my grandfather’s driver.

I contacted my Mum in New Zealand who was quite moved and emotional by Dagmar’s message for reasons that will become clearer later in this story.  I connected her with Dagmar and they are now chatting and reminiscing about their life in Germany via Facebook!

It’s such an extraordinary story but it’s also a story marred in tragedy.

Janie (pictured on the right with my mum below) was a sickly child all her life with severe asthma.  She and my mum – both blonde and near in age – were exceptionally close. After Germany, my grandparents took their daughters to live in the mountains of Austria where the air was much clearer so that Janie could breathe easier. But the steep roads and long travel became too much so they decided to move to New Zealand in the hope the air there would cure Janie’s asthma.

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The voyage to New Zealand in 1953 on the HMS Rangitoto would take six weeks, but tragically Janie died only a week into the trip when she suffered a severe asthma attack one evening. She was only six and as was the custom in those days, was buried at sea. I often think how devastating it must have been for my grandparents to watch her little body being lowered into that vast ocean.

Heart-broken at their loss, my grandparents remained in New Zealand. They’d always longed to live in England again but perhaps the pain of losing their daughter was too much or the return voyage would only remind them of what they’d lost.

None of the family ever saw Cristel again and we’re unsure whether Christel even knew that Janie had died.

Sadly my Mum’s sister – my wonderful aunt, Elisabeth – also died last year in Wellington at the age of 71 and never got to hear this amazing reunion story. She would have loved to have been part of it!

My mum is the sole survivor.

Cristel also died in 1997 as did my grandparents in 1991 and 2004. When my grandfather died aged 94, he asked that his ashes be scattered at sea so he could be close to Janie.  As my grandfather was also Wing Commander of New Zealand’s first airforce base, Ohakea, he was given a military funeral and the New Zealand Airforce arranged for his ashes to be taken out to sea as a sign of respect.

And now more than sixty years later, Mum and Dagmar have been reunited. Their connection will keep everyone’s memories alive and we look forward to watching their friendship blossom across the seas.

Thank you modern technology and Facebook for bringing to life a story that spans more than sixty years!

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Cristel at a friend’s wedding on the left in Germany

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