As a tiny child, Uncle Charles was in the same category to me as my father - a glamorous stranger who appeared at times in uniform and swung me up on his shoulders and generally made a fuss of me which I enjoyed enormously.
Like my father he had a capacity for playing with small children and I loved my rides on his shoulders from my grandparents comfortable flat in Hove, near Brighton down, past Brunswick Square to the sea front.
Although nothing had been prepared for my arrival and I spent the first six months of my life sleeping in a drawer in my grandparents flat, I had the distinct advantage of being the first baby in the family for many years. Not only that, but as far as my fathers family was concerned I was the girl that my grandmother had longed for when my father was born, so I was the willing recipient of a great deal of fuss and attention. My uncles were warm and loving and despite the insecurities and heartaches that wars inevitably bring there were happy family times.
As one of the youngest majors in the ‘British Army at that time Charles was with the British Expeditionary Forces and it wasn’t looking good, but Churchill was very clear when he spoke in his review of the war effort to Parliament in June 1940.
" We shall go on to the end.... We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...."
This speech was broadcast later over the wireless by a member of the BBC Repertory staff, Norman Shelley, as Churchill could not spare the time.
During seven days, 338,226 men had been evacuated, taken on what boats were available and which returned when they had deposited their human cargo, to pick up others, 800 civilian craft had joined 222 naval vessels, 6 destroyers and 243 other ships. 680,000 personnel had not been evacuated, but were missing, wounded or killed. This included my uncle who had been heavily involved in the fighting retreat of the 51st Highland Division to St. Valery.
Major Charles von Zweigbergk was a senior ordnance mechanical engineer with the RAOC of the 51st Highlanders at the beginning of May 1940 when the Germans had attacked France, the Division was between Comen and Lanustroff near the SAAR and he and the rest of the Division found themselves cut off.
They had been separated from the rest of the British Expeditionary Force. This had happened when the Panzers had broken through French defences at Sedan. Orders came through to move towards the Somme bridges to the North West, seize them and link up with the rest of the BEF. A great deal of information given to the Division was incorrect, intelligence was flawed and the orders out of touch with the reality of the situation, but against all odds the 51st Highlanders did unexpectedly and amazingly well in places, forcing the Germans to retreat as it made its way towards St. Valery.
‘Charles, in ensuring that those under his command did reach St. Valery, displayed exceptional courage and leadership’ and after the war was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery’. The RAOC, Royal Signals and Royal Engineers used their expertise and specialist knowledge in keeping lines of communication open, mining roads and demolishing bridges as they kept just ahead of the Panzers. At St. Valery, he was badly wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans, where he remained for most of the duration of the war, eventually being awarded the MC (Military Cross)for his part in the fighting retreat.
The uncertainty of not knowing whether Charles was alive or dead made the summer of 1940 particularly painful and difficult for my grandparents. The British Red Cross were to eventually inform them that their son WAS alive and a Prisoner of War and communication of sorts was set up.
Charles had been passed for dead on the beach at St. Valery by the British, finally, scarcely alive he was taken prisoner by the Germans and he owed his life to Scottish Surgeons at the Prisoner of war camp, where one kidney was removed and seventeen pieces of shrapnel which my grandmother kept after the war in her cabinet in the sitting room at Wick Hall.
In the rush to be taken out of Dunkirk, the BEF had left all its weapons behind. This had never happened before in military history and Britain was not in an immediate position to replace them. The RAF was missing three squadrons worth of fighter planes and serious warship losses had been suffered by the Royal Navy.
Towards the end of 1943 an exchange of sick or badly wounded German and British Prisoners of War had finally taken place in the Swedish Port of Gothenburg. Charles was one of the 5,400 British prisoners who had been repatriated, most of whom like himself had been badly injured on the beaches in 1940 or in the raid on Dieppe in 1942. 5000 Germans were repatriated at the same time.
It was a piece of unexpected luck that Gothenburg was where the exchange had taken place as from their introduction before the war, Charles had remained in touch spasmodically with Anna-Britta Andersen, courtesy of the British and Swedish Red Cross throughout his time in Prisoner of War camps.
With Charles eventual arrival at his parents flat in Hove 1943 , a civic reception was held by the Mayor of Brighton and Hove. Drained by the deprivations and harsh conditions of the Prisoner Of War camps and one kidney lighter he was exhausted but indisputably alive and like my father and others in the armed forces, very much aware of those who had NOT survived.
During his time as prisoner he had taken part in a proxy ceremony which had been arranged by the Swedish Red Cross and with a priest present. Events were rather hazy but he had become dimly aware that he was now officially engaged to Anna-Britta Andersen.
Anna had sent him regular parcels through the Red Cross. As courtship, socks and cakes were part of a wartime expediency and were the currency of romance. As symbols and metaphors they replaced the more usual getting to know you rituals of courtship and engagement with a language that spoke symbolically of warmth, containment and nourishment - all in short supply in POW camps and seized upon when they arrived via the help of the Red Cross with a gratitude that had the possibility of being transformed into love.
The worst was now over for Charles but recovery came slowly. As with most prisoners of war, internal conflict of a different kind raged when the flashbacks of trauma and near death threatened to de stabilise a fragile equilibrium. Survival in the reality of prisoner of war camps, with their harsh conditions, deprivation, illness, bleak, long days of incarceration, only became bearable if one could transport oneself internally to happier times - ‘The Prisoner is never in the place where he is beaten’
This rule was no longer necessary when one was back in familiar surroundings, but unfortunately, the safety and security of such surroundings could weaken the internal censor, so that vivid wartime recollections might persist with the awful zeal of a recurrent nightmare.
Charles, on his return remained with the British Army for a while. He was transferred to the newly formed Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and was in charge of a vehicle depot. He didn’t return to the fighting and in 1945 he was sent out to Germany as part of a force of Anglo American scientists and engineers after the allied advance, to ascertain what was useful and what should be kept secret. The work was a sensitive and absorbing business and had much to do with the past conflict and what was looming ahead politically - that of war of a different kind - a cold war which was indisputably on the horizon.
Charles married Anna Britta Andersen in 1945 and they had two sons, the eldest - Christopher, but always called Kit was born in August 1946 and Paul in September 1949.
He continued his interests in electrical and mechanical engineering, becoming the Director of the Electrical Inspectorate of the Ministry of Supply - becoming responsible for accepting electronic and electrical equipment into the armed forces. "On retiring from the army in 1960 he held various posts including that of director of the British Electrotechnical Approvals Board for Household Equipment which tests and certifies domestic appliances"