Throughout his life my uncle, Raymond Newland (born as Raimund Neumeyer), was haunted by the trauma of the Holocaust and the upheaval it caused his family.
He and his elder sister (my mother) Ruth were extremely close throughout their lives and only 15 months separated them in age. Yet their outlook and personalities were very different. Ruth I tend to remember as practical-minded and always seeing the positive side of everything. She seems to have grown up very quickly on leaving Germany and put a lot of the angst of those Holocaust years behind her, though I believe a lot simmered beneath the surface; she felt angry with her parents for failing to organise their own exit from Nazi Germany. Raymond on the other hand was intellectual and intense. He acutely felt the hurt caused to his parents, and throughout his life felt guilty that he had escaped while his parents stayed behind. Raymond was a very young 14 when they arrived in England on the Kindertransport in May 1939. When the two siblings were separated some months later, he missed Ruth enormously.
Raymond and Ruth had learnt English from their mother, Vera. They both would escort their blind father when he was no longer allowed to have a guide dog, and Raymond’s widow Ingrid tells me that these little excursions were occasions he always sought to make the most of. He was hugely fond of his parents, in equal measures (equal being a hallmark of Raymond’s overwhelming fairness). He helped Hans with braille and took music theory lessons from him, while Vera taught him piano. I always remember him as someone with an acute musical ear who liked improvising on the piano.
English schooling and flight from the farm: 1939-43
Raymond had a thirst for learning, but it wasn’t satisfied by the dismal standard of education he received at school in Dachau. In England, it was a different matter during his brief period at the private Strodes School in Egham. There he found a warm welcome among both teachers and pupils and he was never berated for being German. But within a few months circumstances force him to move on, first to a different family in Hanger Hill and then to work on a training farm in Hambledon in Buckinghamshire, as part of a scheme called ‘British Boys for British Farms’. Despite that name tag, all the other boys apart from one were foreigners.
This life in the country didn’t suit him one bit, and he ran away from the farm, much to the horror of Lady Simon, his sponsor. He fled on a bicycle, but was picked up by a policeman for having no lights. The policeman took him to his house, where his wife fed him, then the policeman lent Raymond a cycle light and told him to return to Birmingham. That act of kindness may have instilled Raymond’s high respect for the police.
He returned to Weybridge (1940-41) and found work in a radio shop, but in May 1941 the Refugee Committee required him to move to Birmingham and work in the machine shop of the Birmingham Bicycle Company in Chiseland Street until December 1943, putting ball bearings into cycle mechanisms. He was a lot happier there, and found the company genial. Lunch of tea, bread and dripping was consumed communally on a heap of old tyres. The foreman, Mr Deedes, was according to Raymond a ‘true gentleman’. Nevertheless Raymond desperately wanted to study instead, and spent his Saturdays studying hard for qualifications to compensate the yawning holes in his schooling.
Return to Germany with the British army
As an ‘enemy alien’ Raymond was restricted to certain types of employment. At the end of 1943 he joined the British army as soon as he was eighteen, as a volunteer. He was bound initially for Burma but on his request was permitted to go to Germany.
As soon as he joined he was given a telephone book and ordered to look through it and choose a new surname: if he had been caught on enemy soil with a German name it would have effectively been a death sentence. It was then that he changed his name from Raimund Neumeyer to Raymond Newland. He trained with the Shropshire Light Infantry during early 1944 and would have joined the D-Day landings were he not struck down by scarlet fever: that may have saved his life, for his unit was badly hit when landing in France. After that he always made a special point of remembering his colleagues on Remembrance Day.
In February 1945 he transferred to the Intelligence Corps in Brussels and Paris, then from October that year until August 1947 he worked as an interpreter for the Special Branch of the Military Police in Germany – including Bremen, Hamburg, Bad Oeynhausen, Goslar, Verden and Lüneburg. He said later on that he felt desperately lonely on VE Day.
Re-encountering Dachau in 1946
The army discouraged soldiers from travelling by themselves in Germany, but in 1946 Raymond managed to sneak away and pay a visit to Dachau. There he met the Steurers, who had been so friendly to his family, and who are described in an earlier post in this blog, and met up with the Wirschings, the family who lived in the Pollnhof in Dachau; Aranka and Otto Wirsching were artists, and their son Anselm was a vet who served in the German army and was held as a prisoner of war in Egypt up to 1947. I’ve recently found a stash of letters from Anselm to my mother, written from that POW camp during 1946 and 1947 and subsequently when he was back home in Dachau, and have yet to translate them – more to come, no doubt, on that in this blog.
Raymond went to the Neumeyer house for the first time since they were thrown out from it after Kristallnacht in 1938. The same tenant, who had been very unfriendly to the family, was still living in the basement and was alarmed to see Raymond.
Still furious at what had been done to his parents, Raymond found the Burgomeister of Dachau, Karl Dobler, SS-Sturmbannführer, who had thrown the family out of their house eight years earlier, and reported him to the authorities. Raymond wanted to appear in the court case but was barred from so doing, and gave a written statement instead. Justice won the day, and the Burgomeister to lost his job. I have yet to find out what happened to Dobler subsequently.
It must have been a haunting experience for Raymond to see the wreckage of postwar Germany. Photos from the family archive include him at Belsen concentration camp.
Raymond had a sense of adventure, and interest in travel, places and cultures. My earliest memories of him were of a family picnic somewhere in a forest near Canterbury, where we ended up spooning water out of a puddle to feed the boiled-over radiator of his Standard 10. A lot of these excursions were spur of the moment, inspired by Raymond’s love of spontaneity.
He loved nothing better than a really good argument, not because he wanted a fight but because he loved testing out ideas and saw interaction with other people as the best way to do this.
I first knew him as a typical bachelor but from this it was fascinating to watch his transformation into the caring and loving family man he became. In particular I have never forgotten my first trip across London in 1964 to visit Raymond and Ingrid in their newly acquired house in St Albans. His pride of ownership, and his commitment to setting up home, was palpable. Indeed he expressed his own sense of wonderment (with just a tiny trace of Raymondish irony) at having become a member of the ‘semi-detached class’.
Raymond was above all a man who was brilliantly perceptive of his own life, its ups and downs, and who in turn touched many others.
Stephen Locke (my brother), talking about Raymond at his funeral in 2011
The LSE and family life
Raymond’s career took a happier turn after being demobbed in 1947, when he resumed his studies and gained a place at the London School of Economics. He later took up teaching: while a teacher at Scarborough in 1952 he was called up for more military training and made a sergeant. He was not at all used to giving orders to other soldiers, and later cheerfully admitted he was hopeless at it, even falling flat on his face while attempting to salute others, but despite his many mishaps he was much liked by comrades. He now identified himself as British but retained a certain fairness to Germany.
Later he led ski groups for Erna Low holidays.
He married Ingrid Netzbandt in 1963. She had come to our family as a language student. Her father was a high-ranking officer in the German Navy, and was Chief of Staff on the Bismark when it sank. His first wife was half Jewish; she died but had four children, who would have been barred from certain jobs in Nazi Germany.
Raymond and Ingrid lived in St Albans and had two sons: Tobias (born 1966) and Oliver (1969-88). While suffering dementia in his final years he repeatedly thought back to his Dachau childhood. He died in 2011. Ingrid still lives in the family house in St Albans.
It was a very happy marriage and also an extraordinary one – my mother coming from a German naval family and my father coming from a family persecuted by the Nazis. But I suppose looking back on it, it was a living and continuing example of reconciliation from the deep wounds inflicted on both of them by the Second World War.
Tobias Newland, speaking at Raymond’s funeral in 2011