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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 June 2006, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
A German perspective: 'It's our heritage too'
By Hanna White
BBC News

Two German participants in events commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme say why they believe it is so important that they take part.

Jacob Zutt/Mario Zutt
Mario Zutt (right) in WWI uniform and his great-grandfather, Jacob

"Many people think the Germans were guilty but in my opinion all the European countries were guilty. The new generation think as Europeans - we want to go forward."

Mario Zutt, a 35-year-old accountant from Biskirchen, 100km north of Frankfurt, is going to France for the Somme commemoration as one of 10 German "re-enactors" on a march organised by the National Army Museum in London.

He will walk alongside about 100 British men, half of whom had ancestors who would have faced his own great-grandfather, Jacob Zutt and his great-great-uncle Herman Emrich across the front line.

Germans and British together will be dressed in their own reproduction uniform, set up Living History campsites along the way and share rations.

The irony is not lost on Mario but he points out he has taken part in war re-enactments with former "enemies" before - "We have a very good friendship, we re-enactors are like family," he says.

This week's event is different though - it's not just a get-together of people who share a hobby, who want to escape the daily grind by reliving the past.

The remains of three soldiers were found at Serre in 2003 - two German and one British. The British soldier has still not been identified.
He belonged to the King's Own aka Royal Lancaster Regiment and was killed on the morning of 1 July 1916.
He was carrying a Guernsey coin.
Contact Alastair Fraser of No Man's Land: the European Group for Great War Archaeology by email at frasersmountpleasant@tiscali.co.uk
It is a chance to pay his respects to all the "fallen".

"The war is not only [a part of] British and French heritage - it is ours, too."

Mario and his fellow Germans have also been invited to the main ceremony at Thiepval on Saturday 1 July.

"I am very proud to join the ceremony standing in line with British, French and other nations and my family feels the same," he says.

He believes that a few years ago a joint ceremony such as this was unthinkable. There has been little interest in remembering the Great War in Germany - 20th century history at school is dominated by the Holocaust.

"Recently my father-in-law told me nobody wanted to see uniforms after World War Two. Uniforms meant war, so the veterans [of both wars] couldn't speak about it," he says.

Now, he says, more and more German people are researching their family history and finding out about both world wars outside of the official education system.

Jakob Hoenes/Walter Rapp - Photo courtesy No Man's Land
Walter Rapp (right) and his grandfather Jakob Hoenes
One such is Walter Rapp, who went to France earlier this month for the unveiling of the only Anglo-German memorial on French soil.

It honours three men - one unidentified British soldier and two Germans - Albert Thielicke and Jakob Hoenes, Walter's maternal grandfather.

All three men were uncovered near the village of Serre by an archaeological team called No Man's Land in 2003 and their findings displayed at the National Army Museum last year.

Walter was invited to see the exhibition, "Finding the Fallen", last November and while in London attended a Remembrance Day ceremony that left a lasting impression.

"I got to know how the English were so proud of their heroes in the war. I saw the medals on their suits. That impressed me.

"Here in Germany there is no remembrance to the first World War - they want to forget this time. I think it was because they start a war twice. We learned that in school - so it is a path of shame - so they don't [commemorate] it. That's my interpretation."

Oberstleutnant Mayer of the German military attache - Photo courtesy No Mans Land
The Anglo-German monument was unveiled on 16 June
Now with the help of the No Man's Land team who commissioned the Anglo-German memorial, the fallen on both sides of the front line can be remembered.

Walter's speech at the ceremony summed up the sentiments of those who were there.

"Today we are standing here together as friends to honour with this commemorative plaque those killed in action during the First World War, who had no choice but to fight against each other on different sides.

"Never, never again should Europe experience the horrors of war."

There will be live coverage of the Somme commemoration march on BBC News24 and the BBC's One and Six O'Clock News throughout the week.


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