The Long Read: In 1936, local schools group from south London went on a hike in the Black Forest. Despite the gallant rescue strives of German villagers, five sons succumbed. Eighty times on, neighbourhoods are still asking how it happened
The lilac was in full bloom when a group of boys from the Strand school in Brixton and Kenneth Keast, their 27 -year-old master, left Freiburg for the opening hike of their 10 -day Easter trekking tour in the southern Black Forest. It was the morning of 17 April 1936, as they set off for the village of Todtnauberg, over 15 miles away, across the summit of the Schauinsland mountain. By the time they emerged from a wood about three hours later, snow was falling steadily but they were full of spring-time optimism. The sons interrupted ranks to throw snowballs.
Keast have also pointed out that some of his boys who wore shorts, mackintoshes, and even sandals, rather than appropriate gear for hiking through snowy mountains were beginning to find the going tough. With the snowfall aggravate, he put a stop to their skylarking and urged them to concentrate on the course ahead.
When they had set out from their youth hostel that morning, Keast had been was indicated that the snow would make his planned itinerary hazardous. Even without snow, the locals considered it certain challenges. The weather chart for 17 April that hung in the hostel passed clear indication that conditions were going to turn. The previous epoch, the tourist office had alarmed Keast about the approaching storm, to which his reply was: The English are used to sudden changes in the condition. The 13 -year-old Ken Osborne, who had already written his first postcard dwelling, wrote in his small pitch-black notebook: Had breakfast. Left Freiburg about nine oclock. It was snowing and we lost our way.
With snow now descending heavily, and having lost the footpath and curved back on themselves, they were soon behind planned. Keast stopped at an hostel to ask for counselings. The landlady advised him that the footpaths and signposts would be buried in snowfall, at which the schoolmaster shrugged and indicated that they would brush it off.
By now the latter are forced to knock their method through the snow. On an open hillside, they met two woodcutters honcho dwelling because they could not continue their work. They advised Keast to take a direction to the left of the hollow. At around 3.15 pm, they delivered the neighbourhood postman, Otto Steiert, who urgently informed Keast against continues its ascent. Steiert offered to help the party return to Freiburg, or to deliver them to the shelter of the miners hostel, where they would have found bunks and food. Keast declined.
He had not yet started to panic, but the slippery, slow-going status motivated the teach to stop and interrogation each boy as to how he find. Some complains of coldnes. But Keast has been determined that to go back would be more risky than continuing towards the nearby village of Hofsgrund, where he hoped to find shelter in a hotel or peasants room. Unfortunately, the map Keast had received from the School Travel Service in London, which had organised the journey, had a scale of 1:100, 000, signifying major routes were shown, but not the gradients or the smaller pathways. This make he failed to realise that between them and the village rose the steepest and most dramatic ridge of the Schauinsland. As a result the boys , now weary, cold and soaked, took a gruelling route up the Kappler Wand, a 600 -metre, 70% gradient face.
The firstly boy to collapse was Jack Alexander Eaton, the schools 14 -year-old boxing champion. He was given an orange and a piece of cake and told to buck up.
When they left the protection of the rock and “re coming out” on to the crest, the bedraggled radical was exposed to the force of the wind. Had they moved easts into the wind, they would have arrived at the safety of the summit terminal within less than a mile. Instead they were pushed westwards and they rapidly became disoriented. By now Eaton and two of a very young boys had to be carried. Three more sons were in great difficulty.
Hofsgrund was a usual Black Forest village of merely 300 tenants, consisting of one hostel, a church and a scattering of farmhouses with steeply sloped slate ceiling, where animals and humen shared living quarters over the long wintertimes. On that desolate April evening, the 7pm gongs of Hofsgrunds church buzzers were carried on the wind. Keast transmitted two of the older sons to follow the instructions given by the bells down the hill, leaving most of the others on the slopes trying desperately to revive those who had collapsed.
It took about an hour for the two sons to reach a farmstead on the outskirts of Hofsgrund. Like most villagers, Eugen Schweizer had spent the working day at home, and was poising himself to go out to meet the weekly food give when two sons, bareheaded and dressed in short trousers, knocked on the door, and spluttered in busted German: Zwei Mann, krank am Berg( Two humen sick on the mountain ).
Schweizer summoned “states parties ” of saviors, hammering on the window of the Gasthaus zum Hof, the hamlet inn where he had is evident that torches were igniting and people were playing cards. They put on skis and foreman out towards the road. By now the trekking radical was strewn across a wide stretch of terrain. Some of everyone else who has collapsed were almost completely covered in snow. Some of the boys were making such a route down the hill, and Schweizer stumbled across two lying motionless in the snow. Hermann Lorenz, the grocer, brought one unconscious boy into his store, while a farmer, Reinhold Gutmann, carried the other on his back to a nearby farmhouse. The guys had planned to use their skis like stretchers and lie the exhausted boys on them, but the snow proved too deep and powdery. Instead they retrieved a sledge in order to be allowed to drag them down. Stanley Lyons, who had collapsed about 10 gardens from the tavern, was perhaps dead before we ran over them, but the saviors tried to revive him.
Schweizer, along with four other local farmers, headed further up the mountain, carrying one carbide lamp between them. They learnt the schoolmaster Keast next to two other subconscious boys. In German, Keast told them the size of the group. After clambering alone up the mountain for a full 45 times, Hubert Wissler, one of the first to have heeded the screams for help, noticed three boys suffering from exposure. The salvage endeavour lasted until well after 11 pm. The savers clothes were soaked from the snowfall, their bodies drenched in sweat.
A doctor holidaying nearby was summoned to attend to the most serious cases. The residual of the boys were pulsated with brooms to shake off the snowfall and get their circulation starting, before being allowed anywhere near the huge woodburning stove. They were wrap in blankets and sacrificed nutrient and coffee prior to being put to bed. In spite of these efforts, by the end of the night, four of the sons shot dead: Francis Bourdillon, 12, Peter Ellercamp, 13, Lyons, 14, and Eaton, who was two months away from his 15 th birthday. Arthur Roberts and Roy Witham, both 14, were still dangerously ill.
Roberts and Witham were taken to the university hospital in Freiburg the next day, but Witham died without regaining consciousness. The bodies of the dead sons were placed in the cellar of the Hofsgrund village hall, and later transported under Freiburg and laid in the chapel of respite at the primary cemetery. The survivors were taken a number of sledge to a nearby hamlet, where the road was clear enough for them to travel by omnibus to Freiburg, where the government has medical checks. So stupefied were the survivors , none of them had taken in the gravity of what had happened. They didnt understand until two days later that five of their institution acquaintances were dead, and one was fighting for their own lives. Nor could they have known that they would become mired in a Nazi propaganda coup of magnificent proportions.