Ruth - a school in an occupied country


A Canadian Teenager in Germany

In September 1946, when I was 15, my mother, two sisters, younger brother and I set sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, to join my father in Dusseldorf, Germany. He had been posted there as part of the Military Government established after the war to help with the re-settlement and re-organisation of Germany.

We were excited and somewhat apprehensive of this new world we were about to discover so soon after the end of the war. Our father had certainly not embellished the facts, but we were not prepared for the appalling destruction that we saw, or the hatred that we encountered.


At times the loneliness and boredom would bring on waves of homesickness. I had no books to read, no friends at first, just 2 hours of German lessons every morning and a piano lesson once a week. Occasionally an evening at a club in Dusseldorf, a Church Army service on Sunday, once in a while a movie in one of the 2 remaining theatres in town or a symphony concert in the bombed-out opera house. This was before TV, of course, with only the British Forces Network on the radio. We walked around town a lot I remember.


I recall our first Christmas in 1946. We found and cut down a tree, not as big as those we had had for Christmas in Canada, but it was an evergreen. Of course we had no decorations, but thanks to an ample cigarette ration, we were able to make balls of the silver paper from cigarette packs and cut very thin strips of silver paper for icicles. We made paper chains from coloured pages cut from the Eaton's catalogue that we had brought with us.


Wolfgang, the German boy who lived across the road, made clamps and holders for tiny candles which, as I recall, were never lit. Looking back it really wasn't much of a tree, but it was our first Christmas together as a family since 1939 and we were happy. For Wolfgang and our German neighbours we were a source of cigarettes and liquor and the occasional good meal; we were tolerated only. I think they were glad when we finally returned to Canada, because by that time their life was slowly beginning to improve and return to normal.



Then in July 1947 I was sent to Prince Rupert School in Wilhelmshaven, a school set up for the children of the British Forces of Occupation. I look back now on that time as a most unique experience. The Colonel's daughter and the Sergeant's son were thrown together with no social or racial barriers and I have happy memories of those months at the school and how the whole "German Experience" changed my life forever. I often wonder what happened to my friends there --Josie, Pauline, John and so many others.

  I returned to Germany once in 1984, and visited Dusseldorf and found the house where we had lived in Mettmann. Time didn't allow for a trip to Wilhelmshaven. Maybe another time.  

Ruth Warburton (nee Trendell)
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
October 2002

A post-script:
since writing the above Ruth has managed to reach some of her school-friends by email. You can write to Ruth if you would like to ask her any question.


Stories Map Food ELDERS