On Sunday, 11th November, 2012, Tony Creed, from Norton, Stourbridge, hopes to raise the British flag to commemorate the Armistice on the exact same spot where his father did so 80 years ago to the day.
Tony’s father, also called Tony, came from West Bromwich and in autumn 1932 he embarked on a “world hike”, his aim to walk all around the world in around four years. He was a keen hiker and camper, working for the Milletts store in Bradford, and was also a member of the Manchesterbased hiking fraternity, the Phantom Crusaders. His two companions on the world hike were Fred Kitchen and Jim Brown, both from Bradford.
Fred was around Tony’s age but Jim was older and seems to have had a tough time on the hike, being forced to drop out when they were in Belgium.
During the hike Tony sent home regular extracts from the diary he kept and these were printed in the West Bromwich Free Press. His mother cut out the reports and pasted them in a scrapbook, and it was this that inspired Tony junior to try and recreate his father’s Armistice commemoration.
We reprint an extract from the diary which explains how Tony’s father came to mark the Armistice at a fairy tale castle on the banks of the Rhine. We pick up the story when Tony senior and Fred are in Brussels. They had begun their hike on Monday, 17th October, 1932, at the London Hippodrome, waved off by the actor Carl Brisson.
They reached Hastings and then Dover before crossing the Channel to Calais. From there they walked through the First World War battlefields and on to the Belgian capital ...
“31/10/32 (Monday), fine: Left Brussels 10am after a very enjoyable stay. The more I see of Brussels the more I am sure it would appeal to all English people. We have missed ‘Uncle’ (Mr Brown) quite a lot, as we have plodded along in sunshine and rain. The land here is just the same as that we have already travelled, all level and cultivated, the work of cart pulling is done by cows and all milk delivered by dogs harnessed to small carts. As we travel along the road we are stopped and asked if we are Germans. I suppose this is because we are making our way towards Germany.
“We do not pass through many villages, but at last we reach Louvain, which is quite a decent sized town. Things as regards ‘eats’ and clothing are much cheaper here, for what reason I cannot say. We have arrived here rather late, too late as a matter of fact to find a place to sleep, so we find our way to the police station. Here we explain our situation to them and they think it really funny to have ‘the world hikers’ as their guests. For the night, anyway, they made us very welcome and the one in charge wants me to teach him English, and so the lesson began. I will leave it to you to picture what a wonderful time we had, and so passes another day.
“1/11/32 (Tuesday), fine: After an official send off by the Louvain police we carry on to Tirlemont. Nothing really exciting happens to day. Arrive at Tirlemont about 6.30, rather late, but we decide to pitch tents. The night is beautiful and again we have missed ‘Uncle’.
“2/11/32 (Wednesday), very fine: We have a long hop today, so we start early, leaving Tirlemont 6.30am. I say early, but nearly all the workmen start about 5am; shops and school at 7.45am. We carry on through St Trond. Here again we find some beautiful buildings and so to Liege. This is a town about as large as Manchester, and a very beautiful town. There is a very big market held here and they sell everything. We camp just outside Liege.
“3/11/32 (Thursday), fine: We hear it is very difficult to cross the German frontier and really we are beginning to get the wind up, thinking they will make us return to England. We carry on our way to Verviers, where we camp at a farm. We find the farmers are very kind. After we have retired for the night at six o’clock the farmer comes and invites us to have a game of cards and some supper. Needless to say he does not have to ask us twice.
“4/11/32 (Friday), fine: We leave Verviers and carry on over land that used to belong to Germany before the War, but now belongs to Belgium. Eupen is the name of the village. We pass the old frontier and make our way towards the new one. At last we reach it and we are surprised to hear someone say ‘Good evening, gentlemen’. It turns out to be a young German who spoke English beautifully. He made quite a fuss of us. Much to our surprise we were only asked for our passports and did not even have to empty our rucksacks. So we crossed from Belgium to Germany and now all the French we have learned is no good to us. By the way all the people in nearly all Belgium speak French. This I consider is very strange. Tonight we stay at a German farm – ‘very welcome’.
5/11/32 (Saturday), very wet: We are stopped by a German reporter and give him a story, with the result everyone knows just what we are doing. Of course, in Germany hiking is very popular. We carry on through Aix-la-Chapelle and on to Juliers, where we stay the night. We are lucky here, for we meet a young lady that speaks English and she invites us to stay the night at her home, which we are only too pleased to do. We are made very welcome by her mother and we have a fine supper and spend a very enjoyable evening in their company. As a matter of fact we were very sorry to leave, but on a trip like this all good things have to come to an end.
“6/11/32 (Sunday), very fine: Today is a great day in Germany – election day. Everywhere you can see people going to poll. Everyone is forced to vote here. We camp just outside Cologne tonight and here endeth another week.
“7/11/32 (Monday), fine: We reach Cologne about 12 o’clock and it is a wonderful city, having 43 cathedrals and each of them a grand piece of workmanship. The traffic here is very well conducted and the roadstoo are very good, but there is a lot of unemployment. Of course the whole of Germany is suffering from this much worse than England. We are staying here for two days at least, just to have a look round the city. The police are very smart here both in their dress and themselves.
“8/11/32 (Tuesday), fine: Today we have spent a day looking around. There are many sights to impress one, particularly the cathedral which has two very big towers each 156yds high. The Romans commenced to build it in year 1248, and it was completed in year 1880. It covers and area of 6,165 square yds and is open for public inspection.
“Needless to say we had a stroll round. The city itself is very interesting and is well worth visiting. We met an Englishman staying at the same place as us. He came from Dover and he saw us while we were there. He has also read about our tour in the papers. He is spending three weeks in Germany on a walking tour, so of course he was more interested. Last night we all three went out together and had a wonderful time sight seeing.
“9/11/32 (Wednesday): Today we again carry on with our journey, making towards Westphalen. The weather is very cold compared with England, but hiking is far more popular over here than in England. Feeling is running very high regarding the elections though Hittler [sic] up to the time of writing is being defeated, I must say he seems very popular, particularly among the middle class.
“While staying in Cologne, we received an introduction to an English gentleman connected with a club called the ‘World Explorers’, whose headquarters is a real German castle on the river Rhine. He gave us a special invitation to spend a few days with him and considering it was near the 11th, we decided to celebrate the Armistice there. Of course this meant a great detour as regards our future plans, but we think what great fun it will be to sleep in a real castle, so we pack our rucksacks and away from Cologne. We make our way to Bonn, a distance of about 22 miles south where we stayed the night with a very nice lady who was kind enough to give us a lift on the way in hard cash.
“10/11/32 (Thursday): Before we leave Bonn we were taken to see the house of Beethoven in Bonngasse Strasse. I must say from the outside I was very disappointed, but the inside proved to be far more interesting.
“Following the Rhine all day down the valley for a distance of about 30 miles, we arrive at Koblenz. I must say the scenery here is very beautiful and well worth a visit, the grape vines growing on either side of the road. As it is rather late, we decide to take the train to St Goarshausen, as we really wanted to sleep in this wonderful castle. So we travel by rail for a distance of about 18 miles (27 kilometres). On arrival at the station at St Goarshausen, where the castle is situated, we are met with a beautiful sight. The castle can be seen from here standing high and mighty on the top of a great rock about 1000ft above sea level. Really, it was wonderful. Lights were twinkling in nearly all the windows, it looked real fairy like, just the kind of thing one often reads about in books, but very seldom sees, and so we made our way after climbing about 600 steps. I might say this was a real ‘he’ job with a 60lbs pack on our backs.
“We reached the castle door and as we rang the bell we were greeted with the barking of what sounded like about 50 dogs and then we heard footsteps coming down the hall. At last, after much rattling of chains, the door was opened by one of the servants and we were conducted along five passages and finally we saw the gentleman whom we had met in Cologne. He gave us a real German welcome (a big feed and plenty of wine). All the wine is made at the castle and all the grapes are grown in their own vineyards.
“The name of the castle is ‘Burg Katz’, and likewise that is what the name of the wine is too (some wine). After a very interesting chat with our host, we are shown to our bedroom. Gee! what a room. Really I cannot describe its beauty, but I think if one tries to imagine the most fairy-like room with all wonderful drapings and pictures, well one would have some idea of what it is like (‘Good night!’)
“11/11/32 (Friday): after dreaming all about fairy godmothers and ghosts and that sort of thing, we awake to find on looking through the window a grand view of the Rhine which flows right past the bottom of the grounds. We realise that today is the 11th and decide to celebrate the Armistice by having the two minutes’ silence. We fly the Union Jack at half-mast on the top of the keep and at 12 o’clock German time, which is 11 o’clock English time, we stand to attention in honour of our heroes who gave their lives in the Great War.
“I think this is the first time the Armistice has been observed on German soil. We notice that as the French barges came down the Rhine they dipped their flags in salute to our Union Jack flying on the top of the castle. I must say it was a very impressive sight. We noticed quite a crowd of people had collected in the village far down below us and looking with great interest at the castle. Later in the village we were asked who was dead. We are staying here until Monday, when we make our way to Kassel on the way to Berlin.”
Tony Creed senior received a warm welcome in Germany, at a time when the nation was undergoing a significant transformation. Relations between Britain and Germany were cordial and everywhere in Germany that Tony went he got a good reception on account of his being English.
Tony arrived when Adolf Hitler was just months away from achieving power, although he was still an obscure figure to most people in Britain, so much so that Tony did not know how to spell his name.
The German federal elections that Tony witnessed in November 1932 were the last free and fair elections in Germany before the war. Hitler’s Nazis suffered a setback, losing more than 30 seats in the German parliament but they remained the largest party.
However, no party had a majority and no one was able to form a government until 30th January, 1933, when Hitler was appointed the head of a coalition government.
From that point the Nazis were able to suppress and intimidate their opponents and in the two elections of 1933 engineer a total majority and transform Germany into a dictatorship.
Unfortunately, Tony Creed was incorrect in his assertion that his flag-raising was “the first time the Armistice has been observed on German soil.” It is true that the Germans, understandably, do not commemorate the Armistice, but from 1926 the Germans held a national day of mourning for the dead of the First World War on the second Sunday of Lent. Since 1952 the Volkstrauertag, commemorating all who have died in armed conflicts or as the victims of violent oppression, has been held on the second to last Sunday before Advent, generally the closest Sunday to 16th November.
However, Allied forces occupied the Rhineland from 1918 to 1929. The British Army of the Rhine was based in Cologne and British and French forces both marked the Armistice while they occupied German soil. These services were generally held in barracks so it could be that Tony Creed’s was the first public Armistice commemoration in Germany.
Castle Katz, or Burg Neukatzenelnbogen, to give its full German name, in St Goarshausen, was built around 1371 by Count Wilhelm II of Katzenelnbogen.
The original castle had a massive 40m Bergfried, or tall tower, rather similar to an English castle’s keep but only used for defence and not generally lived in. The castle was shelled by Napoleon in 1806 and largely destroyed but was rebuilt in its present condition in the 1890s. It is now in private hands and Tony Creed junior has written to the Japanese owners in the hope of recreating his father’s Armistice Day flag-raising.
We shall keep you updated of his success and print further extracts from his father’s world hike diary.