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Thursday, 28 August 2014

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How wartime foes forged friendship in Ulverston

TWO soldiers, who fought on opposite sides during one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, became fast friends when they met in Ulverston more than 50 years later.

When Ulverston couple Keith Raven and his German-born wife Rene first met, they had no idea of a family connection dating back to 1916.

When Mrs Raven’s grandfather, Albert Gustav Schultz, visited Ulverston in 1972 and met Mr Raven’s dad, Walter, it didn’t take them long to discover they were both veterans of the Battle of the Somme.

But despite the weight of history and a language barrier between them, the pair were soon swapping war stories over a beer.

Mrs Raven said: “I had to translate a little bit and that’s how we found out about it. One said ‘I was at the Somme’ and the other said ‘so was I’ and we worked out they would have been there at the same time.

“They were quite friendly about it and shook hands and I don’t know who suggested it but they went to the pub and had a pint.”

Mr Raven said: “It was like they’d known each other for years, they went out drinking together and they came back best of friends.

“One didn’t speak English, the other didn’t speak German but they got on like a house on fire.

“They were fighting at the same place at the same time so they could have been firing shots at each other.”

As a 16-year-old boy when war broke out in 1914, Walter Raven had marched to the recruiting office to join the army, but he was turned away.

“They told him to come back when he was 17,” his son said.

“The story is, as he told me, he went back home and plied his father with a few drinks and got him to sign a piece of paper to say he was 17.”

Walter served throughout the war, fighting at Ypres as well as the Somme and eventually becoming a Lance Corporal.

During that time, he served in the King’s Liverpool Regiment, the Manchester Regiment, the Cameron Highlanders and King’s Own Royal Regiment.

Later on, after being injured in a gas attack, he joined the Labour Corps.

According to his son, himself a former soldier with the King’s Own Royal Regiment, his dad retained a sense of humour about the ordeal: “It was mustard gas, because he told me he blamed it for losing his hair.”

Interviewed in 1984 by the Evening Mail, Mr Raven senior recalled another harrowing experience when German soldiers launched an attack from a nearby trench.

He said: “They broke into our trench and blew us up. I was in hospital for a fortnight then straight back to Ypres. You didn’t get home on leave.”

After the war, Mr Raven settled down in Bridge Street, Ulverston and worked in the Barrow shipyard as a riveter.

He ran physical fitness classes at the Parish Working Men’s Club in Church Walk and at one point exchanged correspondence with Winston Churchill.

He died in 1985 aged 88, but the tradition of serving in the Armed Forces lives on in his family. Mr and Mrs Raven’s son Mark, 41, joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and is now a Staff Sergeant with 17 years’ service.

lHave you got any stories about the First World War that you’d like to share with us in the run-up the 100th anniversary of 1914? Contact the newsdesk on 01229 840151 or at news@nwemail.co.uk.

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