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Zeppelins and Nazi Germany in 1936

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:59 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Zeppelins at Friedrichshafen -- Our grandfather Walter Powell of Llandrindod Wells had friends in Switzerland. As a child in the 1970s my favourite hat was given to me by my Mum Liz, or by Walter her father, a traditional Swiss blue felt skullcap. In Walter’s papers are typed letters from Switzerland, with notes showing when Walter and his wife Gwynedd wrote back. These letters are from Lucy and Alois Kamber-Karli, CH-4616-Kappel/Olten, Switzerland.

Walter was a veteran of the First World War. He had lost two brothers and uncles and many friends during that War. Talking of the Nazis and the Second World War Walter would say that the Nazis in their uniforms and jackboots were “thugs”. They “pushed elderly people and children off the pavement”. This always seemed such a random and a specific and lived memory that I have always believed he had visited Nazi Germany - probably from Switzerland. Going through Walter’s papers I found these notes. Local historian Ruth Jones recorded all Walter could remember, on a variety of topics. Ruth’s papers are cared for by The Radnorshire Society. Walter would write memories on scraps of papers, then work them up into better copy on another sheet with Ruth’s notes, and so on.

Walter writes:

"In 1936 I went to Switzerland to stay with a Swiss family that we knew at their farm at Olten near Lake Constance. We had many lovely jaunts in their Fiat car to Austria and Germany. It was a 6 seater, and had 6 gears, so was able to get up to several of the high mountain resorts.

One day, the brother of our host phoned to say that he had obtained two tickets to view the Graf Zepplins [sic. Zeppelins] at Friedrichshafen. I was very excited about this as the only experience I had of Zepplins was during the war [First World War 1914-1918]. (I was stationed in Bromley, Kent and one evening we were in the YMCA canteen. About 9.30 pm there was a loud explosion and all the tins and jars came flying off the shelves, and rocked us in our seats. We all rushed outside and saw a huge fire and clouds of heavy smoke. A Zeppelin had been shot down by one of our planes, and had come down at Cuffley, Herts, near Potter’s Bar [1916]. These Zeppelins had been dropping bombs on London.)
We drove to Lake Constance, and then over the ferry into Germany and on to Friedrichshafen. [Now there is a Zeppelin Museum Friedrichshafen, Seestrasse 22, 88045 Friedrichshafen, Germany].

When we arrived there I noticed many members of the Nazi party around, in their brown shirts, giving the stiff armed ‘Hail Hitler’ [sic. Heil Hitler] salutes to all the notables!
We were about twenty people in all, and were lined up and given all the information about the Zeppelin flying at the mast. Then as we passed into the huge hangar we were carefully searched by the uniformed soldiers who were armed.

We passed slowly along viewing the gondolas and then were allowed inside. The interior was extremely luxurious, and the restaurant was lovely. Then we were allowed to see the huge engines, but had to pass through more quickly in this area. (More soldiers on guard here.)

Then we were assembled on picnic chairs outside, and given another little talk. We were told that short flights over Germany, France, and Switzerland would be made. The roar of the powerful engines when starting up became a pleasant purr in flight.

[Walter then notes how Zeppelins were discontinued because of the fire. He is referring to the Hindenburg disaster 1937, in New Jersey, USA.]

This rare treat was followed by a drive to Baden Baden, where Uncle Karli had booked tickets to a splendid circus. The grand finale was wonderful - The stage coach was held-up [robbed] by 8 mounted Indians [Native Americans] who divested the occupants of all their fineries, then set the coach on fire and galloped off!

It was Very exciting.

When in Switzerland they told me that Hitler was selling as much as possible in order to get build up his army. A pal of mine [Elvet Hughes?] drove from Yorkshire down to Southampton Wharf to buy a car. German car agents were selling direct to the public Opel cars at ₤98 each. He bought one and it ran well for about six years."

History

Item list and details

Transcript of an oral history interview by Ruth Jones, with Walter Powell

Person the story/items relate to

Walter Powell

Person who shared the story/items

Liz Edwards

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

My father

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID

118317