a scream in the night, loud Parisian sex, virtual shopping, and grand-dad saves Hitler’s life
THIS ONE will be compact compared to the usual – a mezzanine piece between the longer reads.*
It starts tightly factual and date-stamped, in the style of a police procedural, as if precise timings will have a bearing.
Hitchcock opens Psycho with an aerial shot of the Phoenix skyline. Onscreen titles slide into view, stating the day, date and time, as the camera closes in on a building in the city, to a room in that building. Like it matters precisely what time Janet Leigh meets her lover, given what Anthony Perkins will do later that day. The time-lining is just smoke in the viewer’s eyes. The provision of ‘facts’ a plot of obfuscation, to enhance the shocking narrative twists to come.
So, on Monday February the Twentieth, 11.12pm, I took two Clonazepam and six Circadin and went to bed. The eight pills are the nightly intake for sleep. (There are also heart pills on top.) I dutifully count them out each evening before sleep – it’s boring. (‘Those are the problems life shrinks to,’ writes cheerful Thomas Bernhard, ‘Take pills, don’t take them, when to take them, what to take them for.’) The sleep pills are to zonk me till morning, to prevent bad dream behaviours such as chucking myself out the bed.
At four am, however. Just after four am. Ok, at four oh two, the pills failed and I jumped up in the middle of a nightmare and screamed.
I woke up positioned on all fours, pointed diagonally across the bed, like an angry hound ready for a fight with the window. I was screaming – Why? It was a full-throat, both-lungs screaming. Just the single word, ‘Why?’ Or ‘WHY!!!!!?’
Perhaps there was more to come, additional complaints from the sub-conscious. But the screaming was so loud that I opened my eyes instantly to swiftly claw back the silence. Then began the usual process of getting past the shock – to make the world intelligible again. Straight after a sleep disturbance, you don’t know where you are, or who you are. You are multiple entities: the entity that just screamed isn’t the same entity stuck on all fours semi-awake and confused. You’ve just been chucked out of your dream: you’re sleep drunk with everything askew. Even the sensible you working to clear the fog differs from the regular you that you know so well from the rest of your conscious life.
|at the sound of the bell|
Coherence is fragile. Uncanny valley is the eerie sensation we experience when presented with imitation humans. It could be dolls, robots, or onscreen representations in games and films. The Last of Us, AI and Polar Express, all feature near-viable, yet creepy human replicas. The closer the plausible fake gets, the weirder it feels, the deeper the valley.
The befuddled subject straight after the latest REM sleep disturbance is me, but not quite me, my own piece of uncanny valley. I get back under the duvet and wait for sleep to come again. Mary Shelley was nineteen and about to nod off one night when she first had the idea for Frankenstein. Suddenly she saw the creature being brought to life, the images arising in her mind ‘with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.’ Horace Walpole conceived of The Castle of Oltranto after he dreamed himself ‘in an ancient castle . . . and that on the uppermost bannister of a great staircase I saw a gigantic hand in armour.’
You’d think you’d be afraid of sleeping – but it doesn’t follow. I close my eyes and picture me on all fours. It reminds me of An American Werewolf in London – the famous transformation scene where the infected hero turns from college backpacker to ravenous werewolf. The transmogrification on Jenny Agutter’s carpet is painful to watch, both the physical distress, but also the melancholy of loss.
Night terrors are a kind of transformation. Next day, I tell Silba about the latest – she says it sounds like a horror film. Exactly.
The details of the dream surface in pieces during the morning. I was fifteen again and my dad was shouting at me to turn the music down. I was listening to These New Puritans. (The band probably weren’t even born then – but in dream logic time gets screwed and chopped.) It was a track from the band’s second LP, Hidden. The really loud LP with the big Japanese percussion. Dad was shouting at me and I screamed back at him, WHY?!!!!**
|shut the door!|
The Why! wasn’t a grievance from the past, some unfinished business of the teenager years. No, it wasn’t like that. I understand the cause of the night terror, but can’t elaborate. There are so many things you don’t write about, so much Kompromat, even if using a fake name. My son’s life belongs to him. This also puts a block on the parent’s point of view. You also can’t write about your relationship, unfair; or your sex life, tacky.
|world renowned phallic symbol masquerading as popular tourist attraction|
Then again, it was around this time three years ago that I last went to Paris. I’d just broken up with Vela (Ex No2). We’d booked the trip to go away together, but then separated and couldn’t get a refund. But it was Paris, after all, and almost spring. So I went by myself – risking gloom, but at least it was all-paid-for gloom.
I arrived off the train late Friday afternoon feeling unloved – and given the ridiculous twist in my penis back then, unlikely to be loving again any time soon. The guy renting out the Airbnb met me at the cramped apartment with keys, some complimentary wine and eyebrows that were peaked and bushy. He glanced either side of me: it seemed he was looking for my missing co-traveller, now an empty space. I felt like a let-down. I lied and said something urgent had come up at her work, and he shrugged.
The apartment building was on a busy side street on the left bank; part of a bunched network of roads between St Germain and St Supice. The building was tall and narrow. The apartment was open plan with low ceilings, exposed beams and stuffed with tranklements which exuded job lot – a cracked rocking chair, hanging pots, a long shepherd’s crook in dark wood.
The carved double bed was an extra large and took up acres of space. Might as well be a single, I muttered, and tested it out. I thought about the wine. I had plans to visit a museum for an architectural show I’d read about. The museum was a short walk and open for another hour and a half.
I idled on the bed, listening to the noises rising from street level – the food shops, restaurants and bars, the loud scooters passing through. I started the wine and watched the sky turn deep blue. This trip, I told myself, is just one of life’s incongruous moments, a curious fragment in the overall mosaic.
Darkness began to accumulate in the apartment. The museum could wait till the morning. I should go to the shops though. For more wine at least, as the free stuff was nearly out. The Monoprix on rue de Rennes isn’t far. I took out my reading book and squinted at the text. I know the Monoprix well. It used to be my local grocery shop. What was the weirdest thing right now: that I was here alone, that a young version of me once lived in this quarter, or that so many years had passed away?***
I downed the last of the wine. The sky was dark like night. The book slipped from my hands, and I was on a period tourist boat under a huge waterfall and wearing a yellow rain jacket. The bright yellow jacket was heavily waxed and very, very yellow, and I didn’t know how to take a picture of the rainbow through the waterfall without the lens getting flooded.
Then abruptly the badly-timed nap was interrupted by the sound of screaming. Real life screaming coming from a woman close-by. I sat up and looked at the ceiling. A woman is screaming up there. What the fuck? Danger. Panic! What should I do?
She screamed again, but differently. I realised she was having an orgasm. She was screaming in ecstasy in the room directly on top of me. I also detected some manly panting in the vale of her shrieks.
I got off the bed and went out for a walk.**
|you didn’t really expect a pretty spring flower|
When I returned to London on the Monday, the weather had shifted dramatically from endless late winter to a warm early spring. It can change like that in days. The new flat was sunny and within a month or so we had a mini heatwave. And mid morning on a Saturday, I was taking a break from helping the Annoying Son do his homework, with a coffee and a cigarette on the go on the balcony – because then I smoked, and now I don’t smoke – when across the way in the building facing, a balcony door swings open and a man steps outside with a cigarette in his hand.
The man was young, mid 20s. He wasn’t wearing a top, just dark boxers. He had a big heap of hair on his head that was all sticking up from sleep. Shortly a woman of similar age joined him. She stepped through the door and into his arms. She also didn’t have a top on, just knickers, and her hair was similarly like bedtime. She embraced her lover and then stepped back and swayed on the spot. She danced for him. I think she was South American, but I didn’t have my glasses with me. She took a lug of his cigarette and then returned it between his lips.
She was happy and in love. But you could tell the young man was only semi enjoying her lavish attention. Something about how he shaped his body, and the tilt of his head, signalled that his mind was off elsewhere as she showered him with her youth and a desire that was so ardent she didn’t care if the world saw her boobs.
How could half his head be elsewhere? How do men get to be so young and dumb? I ought to know, I was once young and dumb for sure. But I didn’t take notes during my dumb period. I was too busy dreaming of writing the great American novel (to be set in Tooting). Maybe the indifferent lover had some ‘serious feelings’ on his mind, as Alice Munro describes them. Some serious feelings he couldn’t simply switch off. We don’t tend to allow young men to have heavy thoughts, especially when it’s sunny.
The couple went back inside the flat and I did the same, for more Maths with the Annoying Son.
|Teenager on a coffee break|
The dancing topless woman is true. But I do feel an urge to make things up. How would it be, for instance, if I bumped into a long lost lover in Habitat? We go for coffee and she tells me something shocking that puts a radical new spin on our time together? (The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett could be playing in the background.) Or, I choked on a fish bone at work and could’ve died – and the spluttering all over my desk was embarrassing.
I once worked as a commissioning editor for a publisher and turned down writers all the time. You grow a thick skin. There was one author whose fiction showed real promise but didn’t fit with the list. I didn’t use my standard rejection letter, but wrote personally, offering heaps of praise, while still making it clear we wouldn’t be offering to publish her short stories. She took it badly. She sent her manuscript back, but cut up in the shape of a cross. ‘Your rejection was my crucifixion,’ she wrote in the attached cover letter. ‘I can’t go on like this.’
This violent gesture could be interpreted in many ways. It simply made me gasp. I felt worried and called her up. (This is actually true.) We talked for an hour, perhaps longer. She was young and bright and quirky and I told her the truth, that her writing was good, but not suited to our line-up and short fiction usually doesn’t sell anyway. The young writer didn’t seem suicidal but she was low. I suggested other places to send her stories. She interrupted me, said, what are you doing?
Trying to help.
No, the noise you’re making – the breathing?
I’m smoking, I said. You should try it. Fags are the best thing I know for low moods. (Because for years I was also a cigarette evangelist.)
A few weeks on, she called again and said now she was furious because she’d started smoking. And we spoke at length again.
It was several months later that she sent me a white card in an envelope saying, Thanks. Just that. And I never heard from her again.
For years I have waited for this woman to get published and become a success. To see her reviewed in the paper. (I wasn’t certain it would happen, but I believed in her, that she had a special ability.) It’s probably too late by now. But an overdue success – that would be a good story.
Maybe it’s the fag end of winter that makes us want stories, adventures, narratives of change. We’ve been wrapped in blankets and dark evenings for months and spring can’t come quick enough. So I think of drama and fantasy. I keep dreaming of an outing. An adventure would be best. I plan trips. I check the flights for cities, and scroll the Airbnbs, and leave open the tabs with the best deals. They sit there in my browser for days. And then I close the tabs – the idea’s gone stale.
‘I spent all morning putting in a comma,’ wrote Oscar Wilde, ‘and all afternoon taking it out.’ His complaint was the torment of writing. But that’s me and online shopping. I fill digital baskets with trainers, trousers, socks, only to change my mind. Upscale coffee beans, handmade tumblers with coloured swirls, reversible jackets, pillow cases and bath sheets, books, gadgets, films, whole box sets of DVDs covering the careers of second-tier film-makers – French or Iranian or Indian or Japanese film-makers. And then I take the items out again the day after; or simply kill the tab.
It’s nugatory anxiety perhaps – if you must be negative. Advertising provokes fake wants creating an angst best soothed through spending. ‘Anxiety is fear without an object,’ wrote Søren Kierkegaard. It’s a sealed box of frogs – that springs open when individuals feel free to decide who they want to be. Such autonomy can be exhilarating. But Kierkegaard also refers ambiguously – as a caution perhaps – to the ‘dizziness of freedom’.
|we are all very anxious|
I tell myself it is not so bad really – simply enjoy the idea. That it would be pleasant to have a new blue jumper. Would be fun to know it’s making its way to me, in attractive wrapping, to arrive soon to the post room downstairs at work. Then one of the post room staff will bring it to my desk on their trolley and its moment of arrival will be exciting. But then already the best bit will be over as the anticipation segment completes.
However, as I didn’t finish the payment transaction, none of this will actually happen. Having reached the last button, the one to press for purchase, I backed out. This happens a lot, I fold at the last. It means I can still look my bank balance in the eye.
Still, you almost had that blue jumper for a few hours. That’s how I explain the process – not as consolation, but as an improved way of thinking. Arguably you even had the blue jumper for three whole days – the 72 hours it lay in your basket on the browser. That’s how it felt, a cyber ownership, my virtual blue jumper. Maybe this is all I need. The garment itself could be considered largely superfluous. After all, as Silba says, new clothes are like small children, who has time to look after them?
But an adventure would be something. Has such an allure that I cracked finally and booked a flight to Madrid. I want to see Goya’s black paintings in reality (see Goya Hands Solo). It’s the kind of act a pretentious character in a certain style of self-conscious novel would go for. Writers like Geoff Dyer or Teju Cole live off this type of city hopping. Do they have kids though? I don’t think so.
So, I press Pay and shortly the email arrives confirming I’m going to Spain. It’s exciting but also I feel guilty. I get up and stretch by the window. Outside there’s a burst of hail from the platinum sky. I tell myself (the ceaseless interior monologue) that making a travel plan is positively investing in the future. Which is actually equivalent to voting for life. And who would baulk at voting for life? Under these terms, it would be spoilsport to feel bad about the nasty ding to the bank account. And anyway, it’ll soon be bonus time at work.
|Hitler conclusively disproves theory of the wisdom of crowds|
The real adventure though, the big one some day, is when I head for Germany and attempt, I don’t know how, to work out the truth about Hitler and my German grand-father.
I return to the idea every six months. Time’s running out. It might have passed already. A year ago, I posted a question on Quora and Reddit: Grand-Dad Saved Hitler’s Life. Or Did He?
It was a speculative first step. I’m not sure where to. The Quora comebacks were surface and vague, but Reddit coughed up a load of stuff. On a serious and straight-laced History subreddit, the replies were many and detailed.
‘I found this video of Hitler flying to Frankfurt in a Junker JU-60 passenger plane,’ writes an early contributor to the chain. He says he lectures on twentieth century European history. His long, judicious response is pitted with ifs, buts and qualifications. The film he links to is from 1932, featuring broken footage taken from inside the plane, with Hitler looking bored staring out the window at the grey fields and rooftops below. He’s headed for a Nazi rally in the Waldstadion (stadium in the woods). It’s an interesting piece of archive, but only proves that Hitler often flew in an airplane, which we knew already. The poster is game, but his information is general and loose. ‘I was able to find some other pictures… of another ‘election rally’ in Frankfurt that is indoors, also in 1932… it is not out of the realm of possibility he would have flown to Frankfurt for another rally later in the year… But…’ But the facts dry up on him: ‘I am having trouble actually placing Hitler in Frankfurt (or Nuremberg) in November.’
It’s not clear why he cites Frankfurt, because the city doesn’t feature in the family legend. About which the early flow on Reddit is largely vague and mostly dubious. Was grand-dad’s terrible (but unwitting) intervention in the dark, stinking heart of the 20th-century simply a myth?
The first time I heard the story, my mum was reminiscing about some other family event from her German childhood. Hitler was only mentioned in passing. I asked her to back up and say that again, please. Her father worked at Nuremberg airport through the 1920s and 1930s. He was the chief meteorologist. One day in 1931, or probably 1932, Hitler had just spoken (ranted) at a rally in the city and was set to fly out that evening. Only for grand-dad to pipe-up and report that this would be dangerous as a violent electrical storm was stirring on their flight path.
Hitler changed his plans and travelled by car. The plane was sent on ahead and crashed in an electrical storm and the pilot perished. So, grand-dad saved Hitler’s life.
Often I’ve wondered is the story too neat? That it could use some corroboration from outside the family. Or better still, be flatly refuted as fabrication. Saving Hitler isn’t something you would choose as a prized family object, surely. Certainly not to boast about. But I pretty much have boasted about it, each time I tell the tale. Like now.
Asking for help on Reddit was intended as a test and not the last word. However, the early signs weren’t encouraging for the family heirloom as contributors politely suggested the facts didn’t stack up. ‘Something I have been considering,’ suggests a long poster, who didn’t miss a word itemising every fact and counter fact, ‘is whether there is only half-truth to this… that the story got embellished along the way – ie the Grandpa did get Hitler to drive due to weather, but no crash occurred; or perhaps a plane did crash that night but it had no connection to Hitler, and so on.’
‘I think the story was embellished a bit by the grandad,’ suggests a short poster fresh to the conversation. ‘But its possible that Hitler should have been on the plane. Either way, wouldn’t have mattered much, as the plane landed safely with no injured or killed…’
Built up over decades, dismantled in hours. I should be glad. But it didn’t feel gratifying to be restoring the family from infamy, or much needed – after all, the backstory was that grand-dad was just being professional sharing the storm warning. It seemed instead I was helping to push a long dead ancestor deeper inside their coffin by being made less significant.
(My mum told me before that as a toddler in her push chair Hitler patted her on the head a few times. I think that makes it two degrees of separation between me and him. Should I also doubt the veracity of this too?)
|another Nazi rally|
Back on Reddit the speculation continued. A couple of the historians had gone off and dug a lot deeper; and with it the plot thickened: someone had found a plane crash inside our timeline.
Problem is the crash was in the wrong part of Germany. ‘Well, I think that the most plausible scenario is either that a) No crash happened, and it was simply that a weatherman persuaded Hitler not to fly, or b) Hitler canceled his flight, and a plane did crash that day, but not Hitler’s plane (the Nov. 2nd, 2932 crash being the best candidate).’
Straight after this, another poster pitches in with a different plane and a better match: ‘I’m beginning to think that flight D-724 fits. It was entour from Nürnberg to Frankfurt. It crashed 02.11.1932, about 12.50 p.m. An article from “Flugsport” says the pilot flew in clouds during heavy wind. He thought he would have passed the mountains (the Spessart) and dived under the clouds. He hadn’t passed the mountains, in fact. He presumably saw trees suddenly, pulled back urgently. The left wing broke. He goes down. So, this fits. But 12.50 p.m. is not night, as in the original family story, which has the crash happening in the dark. And this event was a (wind)storm not a thunderstorm.’
Shortly another poster lays out a detailed time line they’ve diligently stitched together: ‘After some editing: here’s a reconstruction of his timetable. Hitler spoke in Pirmasens and Karlsruhe and flew to Berlin in the evening. Then, in the night of 1.11 to 2.11 he hears that Eva Braun tried to kill herself in Munich. He drove to Munich somewhere before 4 am, visiting Eva Braun in the hospital before noon. Goebbels wrote about it in his diary. He was back in Berlin that evening, 2/11, as Goebbels’ diary praises a speech by Hitler in the Kaiserhof Hotel.
‘So, maybe he flew or drove from Munich to Nürnberg (maybe drove because of the bad weather). Didn’t take that flight, because he was advised not to, and drove to Berlin. So, the story could be possible, after all.’
Reading this, for a moment I felt vindicated. But as more posts arrived carrying their own doubts, tweaks, twists and hypotheses, any hope of certainty receded. It was interesting and exciting to see a long gone tale get kicked around, but also a bit boring. It brought back to me why I loved history but stopped studying it. The subject is an uneasy, fluctuating combination of facts, omission and interpretation. And this can be too much. ‘Finding any truth to this is most likely going to be a matter of detective work,’ sez a Redditor, ‘not just opening up a book on Hitler and saying ‘Here it is!’
Yeah, I know. But ‘Here it is’ is precisely what I’m looking for – a neat answer that will be satisfying. Years ago I read Part One of Ian Kershaw’s two volume biography of Hitler, and straight after I wondered, wait a second, what happened to grand-dad saving Hitler? It’s not there. Did Kershaw miss it? (This kind of slip up can happen – Nabokov’s biographer Brian Boyd owned up to making a crux error in his monumental story of the author’s life) It can’t be easy admitting to an oversight. But I’ve seen Kershaw on TV and he appears affable enough. Should I just write and ask? He must know. He’s an established expert. Maybe there’s a reason he left the anecdote out.
As the Reddit Hitler groupthink petered out, I thanked everyone and said all this effort and enthusiasm left me feeling newly galvanised, ready to go again, to somehow finally flush out the truth.
But what was I also thinking, truly? No ways this is actually happening. Let’s just put it like this – perhaps some things are better viewed as the stories we tell and left at that. I mean, what am I going to do, go live in a library, bury myself in archives, learn German, go microfiching for the next five years, write to all the leading historians across the world like a nut, and keep writing until they write me back, all the while carving out my own little niche as a world-leading expert on plane crashes in southern Germany circa 1931-32?
All of this to perhaps have it finally confirmed – that grand-dad saved Hitler’s life, and there’s nothing I can do about it, folks. Or so much labour and learning to discover the story’s a crock? That it never happened. Or, version three, the worst of the bad-case scenarios, I expend all this time and effort to find out that still no one can say one way or the other. To find myself left hanging. That’s the past, that’s how it rolls: there are things that happen that no one can prove happened.
‘Thing is,’ writes a wise Redditor, ‘if one really sits down and searches through archives you might be lucky to find something – or unlucky and the history of this specific accident was lost in the war.’
Grand-dad eventually ended up in a Russian prisoner of war camp, somewhere south of the Urals. And he probably died there. But no one can say for sure. I’ve known of this uncertainty all along. And yet I continued to think it possible to figure out everything – that all mysteries have their solution. And they don’t.
So the family legend was left to dangle. Time passed, the usual turnover of seasons. Until one drowsy afternoon this winter just past, in my parents’ overheated lounge, once again I asked my mum about Hitler’s plane. I went through the story piece by piece. And she said, no dear, that’s not what happened.
No. It wasn’t like that.
I had the family legend wrong. The account I’d been given and owned and tended for so long had been inaccurate. Wrong, for all these years.
What happened was this: Hitler’s in Nuremberg. The rally finishes. Hitler has leased a plane (a Juncker 52) for the duration of his autumn election tour – Oct-Nov, 1932. He recruits commercial pilot Hans Baur as his personal flyer for the whole election. The former World War One fighter ace had already flown two elections with Hitler. The two men got along and Hitler was Baur’s best man at his wedding.
After the war, Baur spent ten years in a Russian jail. Later he was also detained in France for a spell. He lived to as old as ninety five – a career flyer and veteran of two world wars. He wrote an auto-biography, I Was Hitler’s Pilot (or, if you prefer the original repugnant title, I Flew with The Mighty). The book is not a deep or edifying work of literature. But there’s one thing that sticks out, for me that is, and this is how Baur was a pilot with a keen eye for air safety. That’s how you survive to ninety five. When my grand-father mentioned a storm, mum says Baur took note and cancelled the flight. It was Baur’s understudy pilot, a young reckless mug, who refused to be grounded by rumours of a storm. He insisted on flying off ahead by himself. And he crashed and died.
And that’s the actual ‘guaranteed’ story. Maybe grand-dad did save Hitler’s life. Except, Baur doesn’t mention anything remotely like this in his memoirs; and you’d think he would. I should take this newsflash back to Reddit. But I’m too embarrassed to confess to previously feeding the serious historians sloppy facts. Plus they’re terribly busy right now figuring out if Trump is actually Hitler. *****
|random artist picture: Joseph Beuys, action hero|
In the end, what’s all the yearning about? I don’t actually want to go on a long journey through history to finally settle a wartime family detail. What I would prefer is a convenient escape hatch, a nice little back door to slip out and leave the game for a while. Go missing from reality which, I’m sure we’d agree, is quite disagreeable currently. Go, duck out, poof… Come back in a while to find everything worked out okay. I needn’t have worried.
Don’t check in, check out – it’s the new time travel, the ultimate break. A much better adventure.
|Goya’s not messing around|
* The mezzanine is the space between, a locus for otherness, or productive irrelevance says Foucault – who described such places as heterotopias. These heterotopias are not ideal spaces, or utopia, or places where it’s all gone wrong either, dystopia, but other spaces to slip away to and be different. Foucault argued the more heterotopias the better, spaces where we can know things differently, haunts for multiple meanings where synthesis isn’t required.
**These New Puritans. In an interview from 2013, when asked about leasing one of their songs for A Victoria’s Secret commercial, the band’s leader Jack Barnett says he’s not bothered. He doesn’t see a dilemma: he needs the money and will take the money: ‘Arms trade, people traffickers — if anyone wants to give me money for music, I will accept it! I’m never averse to that kind of thing, it’s the world we live in.’ In another interview he confesses to supporting Arsenal.
*** I’ve used the Monoprix several times down the years. Once on a mini break I bought a red coat for the Annoying Son. Another time a school bag with a footballer on the side. He loved the bag. He said he didn’t mind how old and scrappy it got, he’d keep it for ever. Of course the bag got ditched eventually. The young Annoying Son also said he’d always play with his Lego forever, even when he was thirty, shortly before he stopped playing with his Lego.
**** In Paris, the woman upstairs, her orgasm lasted a long time and then ended and then started up again as I gathered my things to get out for a walk.
***** When my mum left Germany and moved to Britain in the 1950s, she first found work as a nanny for a Jewish family in Golders Green. (The irony was not discussed apparently.)
The husband and wife had escaped Germany in the late 1930s and quickly became settled in London and were enthusiastically Anglophile. When war broke out between Britain and Germany, the husband volunteered to fight for his adopted country. It felt both strange but also the correct thing for him to do.
Many Germans resident in Britain did the same. It’s one of those many forgotten stories from the war that should be made into a TV documentary. The German volunteers were gathered together into their own battalion and kept separate from the rest of the regiment. They were also sequestered from the general population as there was a risk that people might be confused by a bunch of Germans marching around dressed as British soldiers. They might think the enemy had invaded and taken over and panic. It’s an episode of Dad’s Army really.