My aunt Minny McCormack, who died aged 102, was among the first German women allowed to marry a British soldier after World War II and was one of the last living war brides. This soldier, my uncle, Jim McCormack, fell in love with her shortly after knocking on her door and asking for a cup of tea in war-torn Aachen in September 1945.
His unit had taken over the adjacent mansion. A year later she left Germany for Jim’s home in Liverpool. They married in 1946 and she remained in the UK for the next 75 years.
Born Berta Wilhemine Roessler, abbreviated as Minny, in Aix-la-Chapelle, in Berta (née von Knappen) and Emil Roessler, a driver and property manager, she went to secondary school in the city, leaving at 16 to start an apprenticeship with a local pharmaceutical company.
Aged 19 when war broke out in 1939, Minny got through the early years with no more difficulty than other German civilians. But things got worse for her after D-Day. In October 1944, American troops captured Aachen, the first German city to fall into Allied hands. She fled east on bicycles, on foot and in the back of trucks, carrying only essential personal effects in suitcases. For four months she spent nights in woods, barns and abandoned buildings, once sheltering under a railway carriage during an Allied air raid.
It was not until May 1945, once Germany had surrendered, that she slowly returned to her home in bomb-destroyed Aachen, where a period of desperate hand-to-hand existence mouth started in a kneeling country.
Enter Jim, whose fluency in the German language helped the couple get to know each other quickly. The romance blossomed as Minny worked for Jim’s Intelligence Corps section in exchange for food, cooking for them as they hunted post-war Nazis fleeing the border to the Netherlands .
After their marriage, Jim and Minny settled in Carshalton Beeches, Surrey, raising their only child, Ingrid, bilingually and biculturally – a brave move in post-war Britain. Jim died of a brain tumor in 1972, leaving Minny a widow for 50 years. But she stayed in the UK, staying close to the wider McCormack family, teaching German at Sutton College of Learning for Adults and getting involved in her local church.
In the mid-1990s, she moved to the Cotswolds to be closer to Ingrid, who wrote her parents’ story in The Bride’s Trunk: A Story of War and Reconciliation.
Minny is survived by Ingrid and her grandchildren, Matthew and Gabriela.