Page last updated at 05:36 GMT, Friday, 25 April 2008 06:36 UK

Bomber pilot's peaceful legacy

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Jon Kay meets the Blitz veteran as he returns to Bath

Dickon Hooper
BBC News

"The explosions shook the buildings. It was an incredible noise - the planes were at rooftop level and the whistling of the bombs made a tremendous racket."

So remembers John Cameron, just 11 years old when the Luftwaffe bombed Bath in April 1942, killing more than 400 people.

Willi Schludecker as a young pilot, and in 2008
Ex-Luftwaffe pilot Willi Schludecker has returned to apologise

Two sorties by the German air force in one night damaged about 19,000 buildings in the city. Some, like the Old Labour Exchange, still bear the scars.

"I'd been taken to the cinema to see Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde beforehand - which filled me with a sense of foreboding," Mr Cameron added.

"Then I was dragged out of bed when the alarm went and within one minute there was an explosion. It shook the building and it all came down on us."

Now 76, and having spent a lifetime in sales and marketing, Mr Cameron bears the Germans no ill-will.

"It's a long time ago. We're all Europeans now."

Good news for Willi Schludecker, an 87-year-old former Luftwaffe pilot who helped bomb Bath in the so-called Baedeker raids of 1942.

The Luftwaffe reputedly carried out the bombing of English cultural centres - Bath, York, Exeter and Canterbury - in revenge for the British raids on picturesque Lubeck and Rostock.

It is believed the Germans were furious the towns, which they regarded as tourism sites rather than military targets, had been wrecked and retaliated by choosing attractive English destinations to bomb - after consulting the popular Baedeker holiday guidebook.

It was a sad and bitter time
Willi Schludecker

Mr Schludecker has now returned to the city he helped partly destroy, to make a public apology at its annual remembrance service on Friday.

An enlisted man, the veteran flew more than 120 bombing and mine-laying missions over England, Russia and the Balkans.

He won two Iron Crosses and is a genuine war hero - just on the wrong side.

The average life span of a German pilot at the time was seven sorties.

But in July 1942, Mr Schludecker crashed and spent six months in hospital. He had flown his last mission.

Talking about the Bath raids, he said: "It is a thing to remember and think about. It was a sad and bitter time.

"I am here as we came in 1942 and we did a lot of damage. We didn't realise it at the time. I come again to say sorry. Thanks for the welcome. I never expected such a reception."

The veteran's life has been catalogued by a UK documentary team for several years now, as he wants to "leave a legacy for his children and grandchildren" according to one member of the team.

They helped put him in touch with various people in the UK, and, encouraged by the positive response he received, Mr Schludecker began visiting.

He came to the UK for the first time in 2000 and has returned every year since.

In 2007, he apologised in York and when he learned about Bath's remembrance service via the internet, he decided to come over again.

Richard Flohr-Swann (far left), Mr Schludecker (middle) and Mr Kilminster at Haycombe Cemetery, Bath
Mr Schludecker paid his respects at Haycombe Cemetery

Chris Kilminster, 61, who organises the service and lost several relatives in the raids, said: "This has to be done. Everyone needs to have this done. The eyes of the world are on Bath.

"He's very welcome and we are treating him with respect. There are no hard feelings in any form."

Mr Schludecker was held as a prisoner of war by the Americans after the war after they wrongly thought he was a member of the Nazi Party. He was later released to work on his father's farm.

After a time, he moved to Cologne, and worked as electrical engineer at a power station.

Now, he is participating in local history that will be remembered in the city of Bath for years to come.




SEE ALSO
Luftwaffe pilot sorry for bombing
23 Apr 08 |  Somerset
WWII pilot to apologise to city
28 Mar 08 |  Somerset

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