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War widow fears pilgrimage to husband’s grave may be her last

War widow Wiltrud Kraft has made what she says could be her last trip to her husband’s grave at the German Military Cemetery on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.

Wiltrud’s husband Ignaz was a German pilot who died along with his crew when they were shot down over Kent in 1941 and is buried in the cemetery.

Mrs Kraft, aged 97, joined relatives and teenagers from Staffordshire and Bremen in Germany, for a special service to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the cemetery.

Wiltrud, who now lives with her daughter in Bavaria in Germany has made many trips to the county and also attended the official opening of the cemetery in 1967.  She said: “It was nice to be back in Staffordshire for the anniversary.  Being by Ignaz’s grave brings me closer to him.

“When we got married he only got one day off and we were only married for 15 months before he had to go and fight in the war. He loved being a pilot and he was a good father to our five-month-old daughter. Our love was very short.  I have visited his grave many times but I’m getting older and not sure if I will be able to come again. I put some small stones representing his daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter on his grave.”

The service forms part of the annual Bremen Exchange which brings teenagers from Bremen in Germany and Staffordshire together for two weeks’ worth of commemorations. The partnership between Staffordshire County Council and the German War Graves Commission has been running for more than 50 years.

Mark Sutton, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Children and Young People, attended the wreath laying service at the cemetery on Wednesday 26 July. He said:

“This is always a very special gathering of young people from Staffordshire and Bremen which has been taking place for more than 50 years now.

“The Exchange brings the teenagers together to commemorate the years of friendship between the two areas and it’s a chance to make new friends, share experiences, and learn from each other, while remembering those who lost their lives in both world wars.

“This year’s ceremony was particularly special as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the German Cemetery and welcomed even more guests including relatives of soldiers buried in the cemetery.”

Dietmar Werstler, Head of the German War Graves Commission, said:

“Bremen and Staffordshire share a very special relationship since the start of the works on the German Military cemetery back in 1967.  It’s wonderful to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its dedication with young people from both areas.  It’s thanks to the young people who are keeping this unique friendship going and I am looking forward to the next 50 years of the partnership.”

The 32 young people, all aged 16 and 17 will have the chance to improve their language skills, build new friendships, learn more about the history of the World Wars, and be involved in projects that concentrate on the theme of peace and reconciliation.

Teenagers will also visit the National Memorial Arboretum and take part in the Litany of Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral.  An exciting art project with Staffordshire artist Philip Hardaker will also see the creation of an intricate mosaic, where each young person will design and make a contribution. The final piece, intended to be permanently display at the German Cemetery, will be a lasting reminder of the significance of friendship and remembrance between the two countries.

Staffordshire Council for Voluntary Youth Services (SCVYS) has been responsible for organising the annual camp for three years now.  As an organisation they support the local voluntary children, young people and families sector, and also deliver several youth engagement activities.

SCVYS Chief Executive Phil Pusey said:

“We are very excited about the higher numbers of Staffordshire young people participating this year, as well as the enhanced programme for this particular year of this important international partnership.  The aim continues to be to encourage friendship, peace and ongoing collaboration between young people from the two countries, which is much needed in today’s world where people tend to focus on our differences instead of highlighting the things we have in common.”

The German Military cemetery, which was dedicated in 1967 contains nearly 5,000 German and Austrian graves and is the only one in the country.