A WEARSIDE soldier who may have helped capture Nazi military commander Heinrich Himmler at the end of World War Two is the focus of an appeal for help.
Historian Chris Mannion has discovered five members of 196 Battery of the Royal Artillery’s 73rd Anti-Tank Regiment were responsible for bringing down Hitler’s No.2.
But, although he has identified four of the men, including his grandfather Patrick Mannion, the last remains a mystery - and could be Lance-Sergeant A. Gettings from Sunderland.
“I’m writing a book on Himmler’s capture, and would like find out exactly who was with my grandfather at this historic time,” said Chris, a freelance for the Imperial War Museum.
“Everyone knows who Himmler was, and his role in the Holocaust. So, to find out that my grandfather and his battery had something to do with his capture was shocking, and elating.
“L/Sgt Gettings was definitely serving with 196 at this time, so it is entirely possible he was at the capture. If any of his family can share his story, I’d be delighted to hear from them.
“Other possible candidates include Gunner L. Wells, of Hazel Grove in Cleadon, and Gunner R. Martin, of Pareter Street in Stanley. I’d love to hear from their families as well.”
Himmler served as commander of the Replacement (Home) Army, General Plenipotentiary of the Third Reich administration and was the mastermind behind the Holocaust of the Jews.
Once Germany lost the war, he fled into hiding - donning an eye patch and carrying false papers. On May 21, 1945, as he tried to cross a checkpoint, he was stopped and detained.
“I always knew my grandfather landed in Normandy on D-Day, on his birthday of all days, and he once mentioned to my mother something about a senior Nazi officer,” said Chris.
“One day I decided to have a look at the records of arrests at the Royal Artillery Museum in London. I started reading a report about Himmler’s, and there was my grandfather’s name.
“Despite a great deal of research, however, I still haven’t been able to trace the name of the fifth man who was with my grandfather at that time. I’m desperate to find out who it was.
“There could be a family in Sunderland who, like I did, have no idea of this amazing thing their husband, father or grandfather did. I very much want to trace the Gettings family.”
Sadly, little information has yet been unearthed on A. Gettings. It is known he was living at Beachville Street when he signed up, and may have been called either Alfred or Archibald.
L/Sgt Gettings is likely to have seen action in North Africa in 1942, before taking part in the Normandy landings and battling his way across France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
“Through my research I now know everything from what fields the 196 camped in, to who was killed in battle. But, so far, I have yet to track down the elusive fifth soldier,” said Chris.
“Hopefully, if the Gettings family gets in touch, we can work out if the L/Sgt was involved in the capture. In any case, I’d love to see old photos, and hear any old stories of that time.”
Himmler was moved around several camps after his capture, until being taken to the British 31st Civilian Interrogation Camp, near Luneburg - where he finally admitted his real identity.
But, during a medical examination, Himmler bit into a hidden cyanide pill and collapsed to the floor - dying within 15 minutes. He was buried in an unmarked grave near Luneburg.
“I know some of the soldiers would have killed him, if they knew who he was when he was captured. In the event, though, Himmler only survived for a few more days,” said Chris.
“It is now approaching the 70th anniversary of his capture, and the Imperial War Museum is planning an exhibition. It would be wonderful to put a name to the mystery soldier in time.
l Do you have any information on L/Sgt A. Gettings or the other men? Chris can be contacted via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
PENSHAW-born Ronnie Campbell was shelled, machine-gunned and sniped at during the Second World War.
But, despite a wartime career which included helping to liberate Rome and serving as part of Field Marshall Montgomery’s final assault on Hitler, one highlight stands out for him.
“The day I was allowed to view the dead body of Himmler was a day of pure happiness,” said the former Green Howard, pictured below, who served alongside England footballer Wilf Mannion.
“We were taken into a large room guarded by two armed soldiers.
“I remember thinking this feller must be important, or dangerous, and it was Himmler laid out on a concrete slab!”
Born in Penshaw on April 20, 1921, Ronnie – son of pitman James Campbell and his wife Dorothy - grew up in Grey Avenue, Murton with his three brothers Ken, Jim and Les, plus sister Dorothy.
Ronnie joined the East Yorkshire Regiment at 17 before volunteering for the Green Howard’s Special Air Service.
Stints in India, Persia, Bagdad, Palestine and the Sinai desert followed, but his first brush with the ravages of war came with the invasion of Sicily - followed by time in Germany.
“Himmler was a main architect of the Holocaust, and I had to go to one of his camps – Bergen-Belsen – at around the time it was liberated. It was a terrible experience,” he said.
“There were dead bodies piled into mass graves, and survivors were in various stages of starvation. Those who could walk were gorging themselves on food in swill bins.”