Not a Gaelic one this time, as not in my words, but worth a read!

Rita’s Story

Just before Christmas I was sitting in a cosy traditional inn in Cologne’s Old Town, waiting for my old friend, Gill, who teaches German in Dorset and was over on a school trip with some colleagues and a class of 14-year-olds. The pupils were given an hour in the nearby Christmas market (one of five) while the teachers had a rest and some lunch. The introductions began. One of the teachers, Rita, asked me what part of Scotland I was from.
‘A bit north of Inverness,’ I said. (They were all from the south of England, after all. I just hoped they knew where Inverness was.)
‘Where exactly?’
‘Easter Ross.’
‘Do you know Fearn, at all?’ she said; ‘I was born there!’
And that was the start of a long, fascinating story.

Later I asked Rita if she would give me the details again by email so I could write it up for the newsletter, and after talking to her father, she obliged with a long report, which I’ll leave in her own words.

The Gawliks' wedding

My parents met in Perth in 1949.  My dad, Johannes Gawlik (known as Johnny or even Jack) had been a prisoner of war in Shaftesbury (funnily enough, not far from where we live now!) and after being de mobbed, he took up the option of staying in Britain.  (His family had become displaced persons, after fleeing from their home in Silesia, which had been handed over to Poland)  He had several reasons for staying: he had also been an anglophile at school, excelling at the language; he was horrified at what had been done in his name by the Nazis, and his own father had suggested he ‘hand himself over to the Tommies’!  He was also able to send food parcels from here to help support his family until they got on their feet again.
However, after being told to get on a train with others who had opted to stay, he eventually found himself in Blairgowrie!  Apparently, Scotland had become depopulated and needed some strong workers on the land!  Ever resourceful, he found work on a farm and gradually built up a thriving black market business with an old motor bike! 

My mother, Marianne, however had lived in Hamburg during the war and had been a secretary.  After the war, she met a young English soldier and became engaged to him.  She travelled to Norfolk with a group of other German women, and found that he was already married!  Undeterred, she decided to stay in England and found work in  textile factories, first in Middlesborough and then in Perth.  Not exactly the sort of work she was accustomed to, but as an ‘alien’ she was only allowed to work on the land, as a domestic or in a factory.  I believe there was quite a large number of Germans in the area, and she met my father and they married in 1950.

Bill and Liz McLennan, Roddy and Nancy McLennan, Grandmother McLennan, Rita as baby

They immediately moved to Fearn, where my father had obtained a job as a herdsman/handyman on Mounteagle Farm.  They moved into one of the Mounteagle Cottages, and their immediate neighbours were Bill and Liz McLennan.  These two became Nana and Bill and were a great support to my parents, especially after I was born in March 1951.  They had 3 grown up children, Roddy, Billy and Nancy.  I acquired my middle name from Nancy, who became my godmother! I was baptised in the church in Fearn.

My father looks back with fondness at his time in Fearn.  Although they did not have much materially, they managed to live well through barter and exchange:  he and the McLennans raised their own chickens and sold the eggs.  They exchanged the potatoes, kale and turnips they grew on the 2 acres allocated to the cottages, for meat from the butchers and he was a dab hand at shooting pigeons! 

Fritz, alias 'Ginger'

The owner of the farm was a stockbroker from Liverpool.  He was very wealthy, but a good employer.  Following a successful trip to the Agricultural Show in Dundee, he rewarded my father with the £50.00 he needed to enable him to apply for British citizenship.  (His naturalization papers were eventually granted 5 years later!!)

There were other Germans in the village, notably Leni and Georg Hlubeck and their daughter Karin and a man whom he called Ginger (possibly Fritz!) who used to play as the goalkeeper for the village football team.  

Rita with her German granny

My father’s mother decided that having settled her family in relative safety in Germany, she needed to meet her daughter-in-law and 1st  grandchild.  So without any English, little money and no telephones, she set off and made her way to Rotterdam and then to Hull.  Arriving at night, she was somehow found by police and managed to convey to them that she needed to get to Scotland.  They kindly gave her a cell for the night and put her on a suitable train in the morning – how she got to Fearn, lord only knows – my father certainly can’t remember, but it shows how understanding people must have been to help someone, who only a couple of years previously would have been classed as an enemy!

Godmother Nancy with Rita

After a couple of years, my parents decided that it would be easier to visit family in Germany if they moved further south.  My mother was dispatched back to Hamburg with me, and my father sold most of the household goods and left for a job in Lincolnshire.  We only stayed there for a couple of months, before moving to Cambridgeshire, where we spent the next 8 years.  Eventually we moved to south London, and when my parents retired, they moved down to Weymouth, where both my sister and I had gone to live with our families.  Sadly, my mother passed away nearly 5 years ago, but my father is still in good health and despite warnings, still gets up ladders to prune his trees or clean his gutters!
I do think, though, that his time in Fearn was a really happy time and he always speaks of the area and its people with great fondness.
If anyone still remembers the family and would like to get in touch, please contact Pat at the newsletter and she’ll pass on the message. They would also be delighted to hear directly or via further contributions to the newsletter from anyone else who has memories of Fearn at that time.

Afterword: In fact there was a response from someone who read this and got in contact with Rita – another ex-German POW who married and settled in Tain, and who was actually at Rita’s parents’ wedding!

Link to the Mounteagle Farm website: