A 93-year-old Sunderland lady who has tended German war graves in Castletown cemetery for more than 60 years has been honoured by the German people.

Mrs Mary Reid was guest of honour at a civic reception where the Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Doris MacKnight, invited the Military Attaché from the German Embassy in London and German Honorary Consul to present her with a medal – The Gold Cross of Honour of the German War Graves Commission.

Mary, who served in the Royal Ordnance Corps and was chairwoman of the Castletown section of the Royal British Legion, regularly visited the war graves and memorial in Castletown Cemetery for years. 

Among the Allied and Commonwealth war graves there are 10 German war graves, containing the remains of 10 aircrew and a serviceman from the German navy.

Luftwaffe raids

The aircrews were from German bombers shot down near Sunderland during Luftwaffe raids and patrols in the Second World War.

Sunderland’s shipyards were regularly targeted as a vital part of the Allied Forces war effort with hundreds of bombs dropped on Sunderland.

The families of two fallen airmen, Dieter Andersen who died on 15 November 1942, and Josef Wich who lost his life on 5 September 1940, sent parcels to Mary for decades containing wreaths and flowers which she put on the graves on their behalf every year.

Veteran of Dunkirk

Mary said: “I was always happy to do it. I served in the forces and my husband was a veteran of Dunkirk who returned safely home to his family so we were among the lucky ones.

“When I was demobbed from the army, I joined the Royal British Legion. We met every week and joined branches from across the region every year for the Remembrance Parade, marching behind the Colliery Band through the village to church and then the cemetery to lay crosses on all 90 graves of our fallen comrades.

“The German graves have their own little plot in the same section of the cemetery, and we paid our respects.

Appreciate their loss

“I’ve never met the relatives of those buried there, but with a family of my own, I appreciate their loss so have done what I can.

“I’m pleased that the German government have recognised my efforts and those of the whole Castletown community, in remembering all those who lost their lives during the war.”

Devoted more than six decades of her life

In presenting Mary with her honour, Military Attachéfrom the London Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Colonel Jörg Rütten, said: “Today, together we have paid tribute to Mrs Mary Reid who has devoted more than six decades of her life to caring for the graves of German servicemen she had never known personally.

Need for reconciliation

“She illustrates to us all the need for reconciliation, peace and above all ‘not forgetting’ and remembrance.”
The 48 war burials in Castletown cemetery include three British soldiers and 13 servicemen from RAF, nine airmen from the Royal Canadian Airforce, four from the Royal Australian Air Force, one sailor from the Royal New Zealand Navy, an airman from the Royal New Zealand Air Force and six airmen from the Polish Air Force.

At the south-western end of the cemetery nearby lie the graves of a serviceman from German Navy and 10 airmen from the Luftwaffe – one unidentified.

The list of names of those buried can be found at http://www.lostancestors.eu/memwar/C/Castletown.htm i

The Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Doris MacKnight said: “This was a very emotional occasion. Mary is a credit to us all, her community and the city and it was very good of the German people to honour her in this way.

“This medal presentation is an illustration of the close links between our two communities with Essen a twin city since 1949.”