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.
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.
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.
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.