A British soldier reads in the Daily Mail a small article about a certain Miss Anny Rutz moving from Oberammergau, a small town in Bavaria, to Slinfold, Sussex, England in order to work there as a domestic servant. The economic crisis and situation in Germany was very bad at that time.
A year before, in 1930, Anny Rutz played the role of Virgin Mary in the world-famous passion play of Oberammergau. At the time she was very famous and she even got offers from Hollywood. She refused these offers so that she could take care of her sick mother.
The last name Rutz drew the attention of Charles, the British soldier, and he decided to get in touch with her. The name reminded him of what happened 13 years ago in Flanders fields, close to Ypres, on the 14th of October 1918.
On this day, on the liberation of Ledegem, around 9am, Charles finds behind a farmhouse a young dying soldier, Wilhelm Rutz. Charles promised him to send his belongings back to his parents in Germany. Unfortunately, he got wounded and was unable to send it back straight away. Also, the pay-book of the German soldier didn’t mention any address where he could send the belongings to. Until he read the newspaper article about Anny Rutz moving from Oberammergau to Slinfold.
So he contacted Anny Rutz and asked her if she lost a brother during the Great War.
Anny was not a relative of Wilhelm, but she knew him and helped Charles to get in touch with the parents. The personal belongings, the iron cross 2nd class, the pay-book and a photo of his sister who passed away in 1916 due to tuberculosis, were finally sent back to Wilhelm’s parents. News of this story got around the world at the time.
After 20 years of research, the historian Jan Vancoillie published the book “Menen Wald”.
Menen Wald is the biggest German cemetery of WW1 in Europe (more than 48.000 German soldiers are buried here).
Because of the beginning of the commemoration ceremonies concerning the end of World War I, this was the ideal moment, not only to publish the book, but also to tell the story of the people from the other side. Wasn’t it Winston Churchill who said that history is always written by the victor?
A number of amateur actors, Peter Vercaemer amongst them, were asked whether they were willing to play a few small stories of the book at the cemetery.
And so the city of Ledegem got in touch with Peter Vercaemer who will bring the story of Willi and Charles. Peter introduced the story to the 1418 work-group which, among other things, coordinates the commemorative initiatives around the end of World War I, because this story took place in Ledegem.
After 4 years of intense research by Peter and a number of commemoration ceremonies organized by the municipality of Ledegem, the workgroup 1418 wants to share this story with the people during the last weekend of September. Moreover, through the story the city of Ledegem does not want to merely represent the commemoration of the end of the First World War as a liberation party, not a message from a winner and a loser, not us against them. Through the story, Ledegem wants to use the commemoration ceremonies to call for respect, humanity and responsibility, just as the English soldier goes to the German soldier, in order to keep the peace.
On Friday, September 28, the story of Wilhelm Rutz will be told as it happened on October 14, 1918, through a theater performance. The performance takes place at 7.30 pm in the church of Ledegem (the church was used as a field hospital during the occupation of the German troops)
On Sunday 30 September at 5 pm a peace monument will be inaugurated on the site of the Capellehof, next to the church in the heart of Rollegem-Kapelle. The monument is not only erected for the local population, it also symbolizes humanity, respect, and responsibility as a source of peace, just as the English soldier assisted his German mate. That the knowledge of the historical facts is also important, we also accentuate in our monument to ultimately culminate in the importance of a European unity that preserves peace in the Union through constructive cooperation, today and in the future.
Who thinks of the future thinks of our youth. Also the youth has been involved in the creation of the monument. On the basis of texts, poems, drawings, etc., English, Irish and German children, together with the children of the schools of Ledegem, have shown how they see, feel, understand, describe peace. These peace messages are encapsulated in the monument in a time capsule, where the message will be given to our great-grandchildren to retrieve the messages after 100 years.
The grandchildren and families of the German and English soldier who met on the 14th October 1918, will be present at the inauguration.
More information about the weekend can be found here