Friendship grows out of war-time ashes

At the end of World War II Aachen, the historic seat of the Charlemagne empire, lay devastated. In 1944, the residents had been instructed to evacuate their homes because of the heavy air-raids, which were at their fiercest in September and October that year. 42,000 out of its pre-war 52,000 buildings had been destroyed or severely damaged. Survivors had to exist amongst the ruins, living on their wits. Young people and the many orphans wondered what sort of future was in store. There were no schools and little food.

The fighting in Aachen had been long and fierce before the German army was finally forced to retreat further east. Only then could the Aacheners, who had sought safety in the cellars and surrounding countryside, return to the city. With the fighting over, planning the city’s reconstruction could begin.
Aachen lies at the western boundary of Germany, close to Belgium and the Netherlands. By 1945 it was within the British Zone of Occupation where it remained for the next ten years. A local lawyer Franz Oppenhoff was asked to take on the office of Mayor and lead the many tasks of reconstruction that faced the city. This he agreed to do knowing full well the risk of an SS reprisal. Sure enough, a small SS commando group returned secretly and murdered him for what they saw as a betrayal of the Reich.
One of the greatest problems to be tackled was the large number of rootless children who had lost their parents and were in need of care and support. In March 1946, Mr J A Eccles was appointed by the British as Youth Officer and one of his first acts was to acquire a building in which youngsters could be housed temporarily. The chosen building, the Gelbe Kaserne (Yellow Barracks), even though badly damaged had been used as an air raid shelter at the end of the war. Its restoration came to symbolize the beginnings of recovery and the starting point of sixty years of links between Aachen and Halifax. The early seeds of friendship planted at this time have continued to bear fruit ever since.