2nd May 2009
I’m trying to work out who was the first British soldier or civilian member of the Control Commission to marry a German, after the end of the Second World War, and when the first wedding took place.
Two years ago I conducted an oral history interview (now held as part of the Imperial War Museum sound archive) with an elderly gentleman who married his wife in Germany on 28th June 1947. He believed he was the first serving British soldier to have been given permission to marry a German woman, but I am not sure that is correct, as in her autobiography, Lucky Girl Goodbye, Renate Greenshields describes how she, and fourteen other German women, travelled to Britain on the ship the Empire Halladale on 18th December 1946, to marry British men they had met in Germany. Her wedding took place on 6th January 1947. But she was married in Britain, so perhaps the rules were different for couples marrying in Germany.
The ban on fraternisation was relaxed on 25th September 1945, permitting British soldiers and members of the Control Commission to mix socially with German men and women, but intermarriage with German women was still forbidden, at least until August 1946.
The first official reference I have found on the subject is a file at The National Archives entitled Marriage with ex-enemy nationals. It starts with a copy of Hansard (the official record of proceedings in the British Parliament), for 31st July 1946, in which Lord Nathan, the Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for War, said in the House of Lords, in answer to a question by Lord Faringdon, that the matter had been considered by the government and he was now:
“… able to state that it has been decided that local military Commanders should be authorised to relax the present ban on marriage between British servicemen and alien women, other than Japanese, in cases where the reasons for marriage are good and there is no security objection.”
In reply, Lord Faringdon said that:
“I should like to thank the noble Lord very much indeed for his reply, which I believe will give great satisfaction, both in this country and to members of the Forces abroad.”
Although the government had decided in principle that the ban could be relaxed, in the British Zone of occupied Germany, specific approval in each case was still required from “Commanding officers with the rank of Commander, Lieutenant Colonel or Wing Commander” or above, and marriage was only permitted under certain conditions.
A note from the armed forces Chiefs of Staff Committee to the Military Governor of the British Zone, Sir Sholto Douglas, entitled “The conditions under which British Service men may marry German women in the British Zone of Germany,” stated that:
“This approval only to be given if the marriage is in the interest of the man concerned, subject to security examination and to specific conditions:
- No marriage until after 6 months from date of application, during which time the man is to go to the UK on his normal leave
- Married accommodation available on the same conditions as apply to British families, and the applicant is entitled to it (to prevent members of the occupying forces living with Germans)
- Medical certificate by a British medical officer to be submitted for the prospective wife
- A certificate of good character to be signed by the Oberbürgermeister or other relevant official
- Pregnancy not to influence above conditions
- Conditions to apply even if a form of marriage has already taken place”
The Military Governor, Sholto Douglas, suggested a minor amendment, (which was agreed a few days later on the 29th August), in a reply which also revealed something of his own attitude to the matter:
“I consider that the words ‘in the interest of the man concerned’ should be deleted from the conditions. A Commanding Officer might hold the view – which indeed I am inclined to share – that in no case is it in the interest of a British officer or man to marry a German girl, and so might prevent any of his men from so doing. This would not be in accordance with the spirit of the Government instruction. The sentence would now read ‘This approval only to be given if the marriage is subject to security examination etc etc’”
As one of the conditions was that marriage could not take place earlier than 6 months after the date of application, it seems unlikely that any marriages were permitted in Germany before 1st March 1947 at the earliest. However, Renate Greenshields described how she and her husband-to-be, had originally applied to be married in May 1946, so maybe there was some flexibility in how the date of application was interpreted.
Mr Jan Thexton, the gentleman I interviewed, had great difficulty securing approval to marry his wife, not only from the British, but also from the German authorities. He remembered the announcement being made in the House of Commons, rather than the House of Lords, and told me about the reaction of his local commander:
“When I first got engaged to my wife we weren’t allowed to get married. And then it was announced in the House of Commons that people could get married to Germans … And when I applied I was told I couldn’t get married. They didn’t accept the parliamentary … what had gone through parliament they didn’t accept …
I had to apply to, well fundamentally at that time the local commander, who was a brigadier I think from memory; this was in the Control Commission of course. And he said I couldn’t get married, and in fact … I knew him quite well ... he said ‘Look I’d much sooner you married a wog, rather than marry a German. They’re quite terrible people.’ I said ‘I don’t agree.’ Anyway I got fed up with this. I knew the thing had gone through Parliament and I had a neighbour who was an MP … my parents had a neighbour who was an MP, so I went home and told him the story …
Anyway he said he’d take it up, and when I got back to Germany there was a big notice on my desk: ‘Here is your authority to get married. God help you.’ So I started to sort things out, and then I was told that the Germans were still operating under the laws of the Third Reich, so the Third Reich forbade German citizens to marry foreigners. So I had to take a car and a driver and go all over the place in Germany to sort out the legal situation. I finished up at what amounts to … what would be the equivalent over here … a sort of district legal office … and I sat down with the German civil service lawyers and we thrashed out a method of doing this….
When we’d sorted it out I went back and applied and got married in a German registry office. I set up a sort of … established notice of how to do it and this was circulated. I was told three thousand other couples married in that year … based upon what I’d negotiated with the Germans.”
Imperial War Museum sound archive
Interview with Mr J M G Thexton, 7th November 2007
The National Archives
Marriages with ex-enemy nationals
Lucky Girl Goodbye
First published 1988