Tree on the Croome Estate with river in foreground reflecting the sunset and the tree

A family tale of triumph over adversity

Aren’t families amazing? I grew up with dad’s stories about his side of the family and even as a child, I was never bored by them. Because their tale was quite remarkable and it started in a little village called Oberharmersbach in Germany’s Black Forest.

The Black Forest - Europe's best kept secret

The meeting

When my dad’s great grandfather, Anton, was a young adult, he was called to a meeting by the village elders. Back then, elders were respected members of the community who advised on the day to day running of village life. When they made a decision, the rest of the village would honour it. And this day was no exception.

For as long as anyone could remember, families had grown up and taken on a trade within the village. Homes were built to accommodate several generations and nobody strayed far. Anton met up with friends as he strolled into the meeting. But as they entered, they realised the mood was tense. Something was wrong.

The elders announced that they had made a difficult decision. The village could no longer sustain the tradition of young people staying nearby and finding work. Anton and all the other first-born sons of his generation would have to leave the beautiful Black Forest and seek work elsewhere.

Road Trip Nostalgia and a Competition from Kwik Fit

The long journey

Anton was lucky to be aware of a watch maker who needed an apprentice. The only disadvantage was that he was so far away – in Holywell in North Wales. So, Anton left his family and journeyed alone to Holywell. Within days of arriving, he met the girl who would become his wife. He settled there and learnt his trade. He was later joined by his younger brother and the family name is still prominent in the town today.

Sadly though, he never saw his parents or sister again. As time went on, the news from Germany was all bad and eventually Anton’s new, adopted home was at war with his fatherland. Remarkably, the people of Holywell accepted Anton and his family into the village despite the war, and North Wales became home.

A family holiday to the Elan Valley

Future generations

I’ve always been impressed that my dad was so insistent that we all knew the story of how our ancestors came to the UK. He has always been proud of his German roots and visited the Black Forest in his younger days. But even by my dad’s generation, it wasn’t easy going to school in England with a German surname. I have heard tales of being beaten in school for no other reason than their name. And the beating was from teachers, not pupils.

In fact, I recently took the girls on a tour of National Trust Croome run by some gentlemen who used to be pupils at the school that was there. My dad had played football against the school as a child and had spoken to my girls about it, so they were fascinated to learn more about it. The ex-pupils’ experiences reminded me of what my dad’s generation went through and how lucky we were to grow up in a different time.

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  1. Always fascinating to hear family origins stories – I so often take surnames for granted and don’t think about the story they tell, or the stigmas that may have been faced because of them. I was about 10 before I knew my own surname was Irish (and not Scottish as I had thought given that I was born in Scotland) when we had a family history event at school and they told me.

  2. Hi Nat, what a positive story. It is sad that Anton never saw some of his family again, but he built himself a new life in a different land. My Mum came to the UK from Egypt during the Suez Crisis, after that her life was torn between Greece and the UK until she met my Dad. She doesn’t often talk about what she went through, but I know she left a lot behind. We never do know what goes on in the past unless we talk about it. It’s fantastic that your Dad shares his story.


    1. Oh gosh that’s so interesting about your mum, she must have gone through so much. It’s great to keep stories like that alive though, good to understand your heritage.

  3. I love hearing more about you and your family. I do find how people treat one another really sad. I met a German lady at a retreat I went to and she has lived here for a very long time and still is met with such vileness because of where she originates from. I felt ashamed to be English tbh. At least we are not all like that.

    1. Thank you Joy. That’s so sad about the German lady, what a horrible thing to happen. Makes me so disappointed that people are still like that when we should know so much better.