Tertiary - Old enemies become new friends for silver surfers

12th November 2010 at 00:00
While most of us mark the war with a poppy for Remembrance Day, others are more pro-active

Some memories can still bring tears, but these veterans can usually find something to laugh about in their wartime stories.

They are off to Germany soon to share their experiences with their old enemy and hope to come back having made new friends.

The Kincorth Computing Group meets in Aberdeen every week and the members have been sharpening their skills on the internet. They are all between 75 and 85 and this morning, at Kincorth Community Centre, they are trying to book their flights to Munich.

They are good students - within half an hour, they have found five flights from Edinburgh to Munich for about pound;350 for everyone. Their tutor, Moira Turner, is impressed.

Aberdeen City Council has run this adult education class in ICT for several years. On their classroom wall is the group's Certificate for Achievement in Adult Learning, awarded by the Scottish Adult Learning Partnership.

Now, thanks to funding from the council's international twinning budget, they are off on an educational visit to the city's twin town Regensburg, near Munich.

Their oldest member, Albert Donald, 85, has been using his computer skills to correspond with a lady who attends a similar class in Regensburg. Now the group will meet Gerda and her friends when they visit the adult education centre as part of their programme.

The Germans won't know what's hit them when Kincorth's silver surfers arrive in town. They can talk for Scotland and enjoy the kind of social life that would put most teenagers to shame.

Their tutor Moira (an infant at 65) is going with them and is delighted the council is supporting their venture: "They have all had amazingly busy lives. They have brought up families and they have been exemplary citizens. They arrange social events, they try to include other people all the time. It's not just in this class, it's in everything they do. They are amazing and I find them inspiring," she says.

This morning, the group is busy planning the trip, using organisational skills to complete another course - Working with Others, a core skills unit awarded by the SCQF (Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework). As they discuss travel dates, they reminisce about life in wartime.

Widower Albert Donald describes how he left school at 13 to become a message boy and then an apprentice with a marine engineering firm. In 1943, when he was 18, he was called up to join the Navy and posted onto the battle class destroyer HMS Barfleur.

"The ship was patrolling the Pacific, looking for Japanese submarines. The war was just coming to a close by that time," says Albert, who did basic training in Skegness at one of the Butlin's holiday camps the navy took over for training.

"I had more trouble ashore with the bombing in Portsmouth than I had at sea," says Albert.

He feels no resentment about the war. "I would have, if anything had happened to my family. Sometimes when you see a programme about the war, about the concentration camps you think `How could people do that?'

"But you have got to try and forgive and forget. You can't keep harbouring it. The average German is just like you and me - just ordinary people," says Albert.

Beside him is Les Middleton, 83, who left school at 14 and worked as a message boy. He then joined the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) and was a messenger for one of the mortuaries. "It was for the fatalities from the bombing," says Les.

When he was old enough, he joined the Home Guard. "I was issued with a scaffolding pole with a bayonet on the end of it - to defend the country," he laughs.

Les joined the Air Force and served in Germany after the war where he was horrified by the ruined cities. "What we did to them was diabolical. In Hamburg you couldn't see a house," he says. "Nobody wins in a war - nobody," says Albert, sitting next to him.

Another party member, 76-year-old June Ross was just seven when her father was killed during the war. Her eyes fill with tears as she speaks: "He was torpedoed, so we lost him and there were nine of us left. I remember the telegram boy coming and mum getting it and just screaming. It was very sad and she went through a very bad time.

"I have no resentments against the Germans at all, even though my dad was killed. I am sure hundreds and thousands of them were the same as we were," says June, who now has 15 grandchildren and recently became a great- grandmother.

During the visit, the group will visit a school and take questions from older pupils about their wartime experiences. They are all dog lovers, so they will also visit a kennel club and hopefully fit in some dancing.

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