My dad was born in November 1923, as the only child of a working class family in Warrington. He finished his own school education at 16, and stayed on to tutor at the Grammar School he’d attended, thus earning the money he needed to train as a teacher. In 1944, he qualified and left St Mary’s College in Twickenham.
He’d been in the Home Guard for much of that period, and it was now time for him to join the army proper. After a short period in Italy, he was enlisted as a sergeant into the Intelligence Corps, I guess because of the high level of German he had taught himself. I say, I guess, because my dad was a weaver of stories, and as kids it was hard to distinguish embellished fact from hard reality.
Our childhood, that of me and my two brothers, was filled with stories that seemed straight out of a 1940s movie; we heard them so often that I often feel like I lived through those World War II years myself.
In 1982, he was asked by the council of Weiz, a small town in the east of the Austrian province of Styria, to write a chapter for a book on its history. His work would focus on the post-war years, when he was one of the first British soldiers to enter the town. As they marched in, the Russians marched out, and my dad would tell us how fervently the natives had cheered their arrival, in the hope of a gentler occupation force than that which had just left.
Aged 21, he became head of the Weiz security headquarters, and in his chapter he recounts the adventures that this posting led to. But Weiz played a larger role than that in my dad’s history. Part of his job was to hunt down and, often, imprison former national socialists. In the course of that he arrested both the father and the brother of the woman he would shortly after marry. In fact, he had to write to his future father-in-law in prison to ask permission for his daughter’s hand in marriage. They were part of the richest family in the town and welcomed my dad into a life far removed from his Warrington childhood.
This woman was not, however, our mum. Their love story ended after less than two years of marriage, when Ingrid died, leaving my dad an inheritance he later used to go to University in Graz, where he met his second wife. They went on to have us three – my elder brother was born in Graz – and in 1958 the family moved back to England, where we grew up.
All of this is covered in his writings – this website is a translation from the original German published in Chronik der Stadt Weiz. My dad’s absolute love of Austria and all things Austrian never ended, and in the summer of 1982 he was invited to visit Weiz, at the town’s expense. I went with him, and the impression he had made almost 40 years previously was clear from the warm reception he got from the many people who remembered him. He died in November 1987. – Karen Yelverton