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  • Helen Fry

A Tribute To Harry Rossney

Harry Rossney, who passed away last November 2013, was one of 10,000 Germans who fought for Britain in WW2. He was terribly proud of his role in the British Army for 6 years during the war. He fled Germany, the country of his birth, after the Nazis were about to call him up for army service – not a wise move because he was half-Jewish.

Ironically, his Christian cousins died fighting for Hitler at Stalingrad. Harry was a craftsman and sign-writer by trade, and as such, this skill enabled him to come to England on a visa in early 1939. He arrived at Kitchener Camp near Sandwich in Kent and helped to rebuild this derelict WW1 camp to enable over 3,000 refugees from Nazism to take temporary refuge there. It was from this camp that he himself volunteered for the British Army’s Pioneer Corps – a labour unit, and the only one open to him as an “enemy alien”. Harry moved with the training camp and the Pioneer Corps to Ilfracombe on the North Devon coast, then moved around the country on essential labour duties.


He was reluctant to leave his mates in the Pioneer Corps when the order came for him to transfer to a new unit after they had landed on the D-Day beaches of Normandy. 


He graphically described his war in a series of moving poems which were published in an autobiographical work, Grey Dawns. Harry was transferred from his Pioneer unit to 32 Graves Registration Unit in charge of the sign-writing on the graves of the thousands of Allied soldiers who were being buried in France every day. He worked on the graves of the fallen in the cemeteries of Bayeux, Hottot and Ranville.


He himself admitted that it was a soul-destroying time to see so many young lives gone.


Yet, he did an invaluable service in honouring the war dead that few people have the hour of performing. Now he himself has gone. But he has left his mark on the world in his poems, his autobiographical work Grey Dawns, and in the documentaries in which he took part for National Geographic and BBC South-West. I knew Harry for over a decade and we travelled a journey together with his fellow veterans who entrusted me with their stories. Thank you Harry for sharing so much of those days and ensuring that I was able to record the stories of you and your comrades.