Monday, June 13, 2016

Hans Werner Stettin: A life well lived

These notes were gathered and written down by Rhonda Pilgrim who was a good friend of Hans for many years and his carer in his final years. Max Hedt read them out aloud at Hans memorial lunch held at the club rooms on Sunday 12 June 2016. 

As per Hans final wishes his ashes were spread over Horsham Aerodrome from the club's Twin Astir. An aircraft Hans spent many happy hours in. It was Max Hedt who took Hans for his first flight at Dooen in 1966 and it fell to him to take Hans on his last flight. One of the most spectacular things I've even seen. In a gentle turn over the club hanger, the ashes streamed out like a glider dumping water on final glide.

So Hans completed his final glide. 

Now to Hans life as Rhonda knew it. This is lengthy, but please stick with it. 

Hans was born on 24 February 1926 at Ragnit, East Prussia a son for Hans and Minna (later known as Ina) Stettin. Soon after his birth Hans was passed onto his maternal Grandmother, as the situation in Germany at the time was, either work hard to get enough food to eat, or perish. This enabled his  parents to work to get money for food. The family was later reunited. 

In June 1927, a sister was born, her name was Walraut, but she was to small to survive, and died at 13 months old. By 1929 the family moved to Berlin, where they occupied an apartment which consisted of one room. The apartment housed his grandparents, one of his father's brothers, his parents and Hans himself. In October of that year the a younger brother, Harry was added to the family.

In 1932 aged 6 Hans began his schooling, which was at a State School about 15 minutes walk from his home at Katzlerstrabe 4, Kreutzberg. When Hans was 10 year old his father ordered hm to go and find a music teacher. He was to learn the violin and his brother Harry the piano. Their father wanted 'Haus Musik', and proudly showed off his boys when the became good musicians. Hans always said he was glad he had this opportunity, as music became a big part of his life. 

Hans education continued until the age of 14, when his father secured an apprenticeship for him with BMW as an aircraft engine mechanic, this was in 1940. Hans enjoyed the challenge of his apprenticeship and after three and a half years he was awarded a scholarship, but unfortunately due to the war further study was impossible. At the completion of his apprenticeship he was sent to the Messerschmidt factory at Augsburg for four months as the Messerschmidt used BMW engines. Hans did recall seeing people from the concentration camps being herded into a huge shed, where they were put to work pop riveting the planes, he said the noise was deafening.

During his apprenticeship, Hans was encouraged to join 'The Flying Hitler Youth'. He was 15 years of age. During this time he learnt to fly the SG38 Primary Glider. Flights were between 5 and 10 seconds in duration. Launching was from the top of a hill using the bunny method. During three years of gliding he accumulated just two hours of flight time. This was all preparation for going into the Luftwaffe.

In 1942 the family was bombed out of their apartment, but they continued to live in the rubble, on the first floor, with rats as big as rabbits. They lived in terror during the night air raids, not knowing if they would again be targeted. In 1944 at the age of 18 Hans was being trained and made aware of weaponry, how to run on command and obey orders. He was sent with hundreds of others in cattle cars towards Holland. Hans decided to leave the train while still on German territory, so he ate part of a cake of soap, rendering himself really sick, and therefor unable to stay with his company. He was hospitalised, but was discharged after seven days with orders to rejoin his company. His marching orders sent him through Berlin, where he had the opportunity to visit his "Darling Mother".

On the journey to rejoin his company he and his companions had to beg at farm house doors for a slice of bread or two. The farmers generously complied. Hans has stated that he was not particularly pleased about this episode. Later Hans and another young soldier were left to guard a bridge over the Rhine at Arnheim. The both fell asleep, but were rudely awoken by superior officer who threatened to incarcerate them for misconduct. The same superior officers decided to send them across the river by canoe. His friend was sent first but was drowned in the attempt. Hans luckily succeeded, but on return to report there were no troops over there, he landed in a mine field. German troops called to him warning him "Do not proceed any further, go back", this saved his life.

Shortly after he became very ill and was sent to hospital suffering from Diphtheria. Hans could not recall Christmas 1944, being unconscious, awakening around February 1945. Once out of hospital he was sent to a convalescence company headquartered at Baarn in Holland. He became a "Lacky" cleaning officers boots, brewing coffee, dishing out food, serving intoxicating liquor, but also getting the pick of the food. This was obviously to his benefit. During the celebrations of Hitler's birthday he said he imbibed way to much and vowed  and declared never to drink alcoholic beverages again.

After leaving the convalescence company he was accompanied by another young soldier As they made their way back to his company. They were offered a ride by a couple of Dutch 'Hobos' in a horse down cart. This was 5 May 1945, they were offered cigarettes, but detoured towards a farmhouse. they heard one of their new 'Dutch Friends' say, "Oh let them go, they are too young". They realized that their intention was to shoot them. Two days later on 7 May 1945, the German High Command capitulated. The war was over and Hans was still alive.

Hans was made a POW and sent by boat to Esens to live in tents and under British supervision mine peat. Hans absconded from the camp and made his way back to Berlin. His mother was worried that he would be found and shot. But within days Hans found a job with the British Contol Commission, becoming a lift attendant in a six floor building. Hans said, "during the war we were hungry, but after the war we starved". So working the black market was a way of surviving. Germany was a mess, Berlin just rubble and work impossible. 

During this time he decided to go to interpreter school and learn the English language. This was for around four months, which would help in his next plan. He applied to work in Canada or Australia in 1951. Australia accepted him and he would work for H.C. Sleigh on the Victorian Railways. Hans left Germany from Bremerhaven abound the passenger liner 'Anna Salen' with 3000 other migrants. Hans celebrated his 26th birthday during a stopover in the Canary Islands. The journey to Australia took six weeks. His first sight of Australia like many who made the journey both before and after him was Fremantle. The ship continued on around the southern coast and Hans disembarked at Melbourne's Station Pier on 1 April 1952.

The next day he went by train to Ararat where he lived in a Nissan Hut and after an induction to the work he would do he was sent on to Warracknabeal. The days were long and hard with the railways, he shoveled tons of coal into the tenders of locomotives. Han said it was "hot as hell" and earned him twelve pounds a week. After paying off the indenture he owed to H.C. Sleigh for his fare to Australia, he decided the railways were not for him.

Being a talented musician, he soon found others in Warracknabeal with similar talents. Horrie Schmidt, being one of them and he found Hans a place to board with Mrs Gunner, a local widow. He found work with Amor Motors as a motor mechanic. Hans worked for Amor's for around 12 years. Hans was also part of a band that played at dance functions around the district. Hans played the Piano Accordion, saying he was always nervous on stage, so was happy to be accompanied by other musicians.

Hans returned to Berlin in 1957 to see his family. He returned on the 'Aurelia', but this time he travelled with his brother Harry. Harry went to Bonegila and later lived in Berkley on the central coast of New South Wales. In 1958 Hans became a naturalized Australian citizen and proudly proclaimed that Warracknabeal, Australia was his home.

During his time as a motor mechanic Hans was eager to learn more and went to night school in Horsham, gaining the VACC Motor Mechanic Certificate in 1960, Senior Motor Mechanic in 1962 and became a Member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in 1964. Hans left Amor Motors  and started as a motor mechanic at Daniels Motors for around 12 years. After Daniels he moved on to the Victorian Oat Pool, first in the workshop, then later he was given a position in the office doing the books and wages. He enjoyed this work very much and continued with the this work until he retired at 65 in 1991.

Hans joined the Wimmera Soaring Club in 1966 and gliding continued as his one passion, despite having a take-off accident in 1966 when serious concerns were held for his spine. Hans always said gliding at Horsham were the best 30 years of his life and that members of the club were his 'family'. Over the years he received many awards for his contribution to gliding. He was awarded the Victorian Soaring Association Bob McCullough Memorial Trophy, He was also awarded the club's Clade Ballinger memorial Trophy in 1973. Hans was also awarded the Gliding Federation of Australia's W.P. If gulden Award in 1990 for his contribution to gliding in Australia. Hans became an instructor in 1971 and instructed over 400 students, and still had many reintroducing themselves to him over the years and praising his guidance.

In 1983 Hans, along with Dick Smith, Werner Grossenbacher and Tony Tabart bought shares in a Schemp-Hirth Nimbus 2, 'Tango Tango'. Hans spent many hours every weekend soaring over the Wimmera plains alone in Tango Tango or in the back seat of the club's various two seat gliders. Hans finally said goodbye to his regular flying in 1996, having flown over 3727 hours.

During his years of retirement Hans always kept busy, he made gates and other intricate pieces from wrought iron, he used his lathe for many repair jobs in both steel and wood. His workshop was the place he loved most to tinker around in. He continued to be a career for Mrs Gunner, taking her on outings and attending to her appointments. After Mrs Gunner passed away in 1992 aged 94 Hans wanted to go back to the 'Fatherland', so began 52 days of tripping through Europe, first to Berlin, the through Switzerland and Holland.

He found enjoyment in learning to use a computer, thanks to Gary Albrecht who set up the computer and a gliding simulator. So Hans spent many hours still enjoying his passion of his life, gliding. Craig Leak was also a frequent visitor and helped Hans learn to use his computer and also fine tuned the "Condor" gliding simulator program.

Hans also spent many hours playing his organ and always said, "you are only as good as the time you spend practicing". He did well at this too. He joined U3A in Horsham and weekly would attend chess classes, where he taught many how to play and throughly enjoyed a 'Check Mate'.

Last November he was thrilled to have a flight in a glider with Arnold Niewand. Once up in the air Hans took over for an hour, then Arnold landed the glider. He was 'on a high' for days after this. During Horsham Week in February he viewed the take-offs and landings and took great pleasure from seeing this.

Over the past three and a half years Hans has been plagued with ill health. He stoically soldiered on, but it was a roller coaster from month to month. Having both eyes operated on for cataracts was a highlight, which improved his vision so much. The fact that he had his driving license renewed last December, made him very happy, as he was going to be able to drive for another three years.

During April Hans became ill and was admitted to Warracknabeal Hospital, then to St John of God in Ballarat where he battled on until he passed away peacefully at 11.45pm on Sunday 15 May.

A true Gentleman who will be sadly missed by all his friends, so many wonderful memories we will all have of Hans.

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