Eric and ‘Erbie

Dear Reader, inspired by a recent conversation with the JenEus Burger woman, in comments at the LoL last week, I thought I’d delve once more into Mother’s family remembrances of war.

This post will be about Herbert, my grandfather, and my great uncle Eric. He was born in Germany, but let’s start with some photo/images of Grandad Packer, Herbert… ‘Erbie…

The lad Herbert Stephen James Packer ran away to fight in WW1
Capt. Herbert S.J. Packer wearing a fez in Egypt in WW2
Mr H.S.J. Packer Importer/Exporter until he retired
Grandad Packer, with pipe, entertaining his grandaughter Roobee some time after 1967 and before 1977

Extract from ‘A Family History for Ruth and Julia (Gawd ‘Elp Us!)’, a.k.a. ‘The Ma Papers’ by Judith Eileen Newton (formerly Shewan, née Packer)

I do not know when or how Aunt Anne met Eric because she had been engaged before, but she met him and brought him home for tea. What a shock for Poppy Alger! He did not like strangers at the best of times, but when Eric arrived, and he turned out to be German, well for God’s sake…  Although we were not at war at that point, Poppy still remembering the First World War, and had not altered his opinion that the only good German was a dead one.

And Eric was very Germanic, he would click his heels when he shook your hand. There was even a strong suspicion that he was Jewish. It appeared that when Eric’s mother and father, on realising what was happening in Germany with the Black Shirts and the like, wanted to get Eric out. They sent him to England, to an aunt, when he was in his teens and she had brought him up.

He could speak English and German, of course, and was very upper crust. At this point Nanny Packer had not yet met Grandad, and I suppose that when she did meet him, Ann and Eric were the only people that knew that Grandad was already married. They set up a close friendship between them and used to go on holiday together. They were often in Switzerland and Germany.

On one trip to Germany in the thirties, they were all of them having dinner in a restaurant when the doors burst open and in marched a bunch of Black Shirts demanding everyone’s papers. They were all petrified because although Eric had changed his name from Erich Zonningfeld to Eric Summerfield, they were scared that someone would smell a rat – Eric had been speaking in German to the waiter. But, as luck would have it, the Black Shirts were only interested in checking passports; they believed the family four were all British and left them alone. However, none of them visited Germany again until after the war.

Eric joined the army and fought for the British. It was very important that he held a British passport – it would have been suicide to fight for England with a German passport. Grandad Packer said he worked in intelligence and translation, but we never did find out what exactly he did.

Anne and Eric got married in September 1939 on the day war broke out. The air raid sirens actually went off during the reception.

By this time, Grandad Packer was technically too old to fight as he was born in 1903, but because he had fought in the First World War and he was an army reservist officer, they asked him to come back as they were desperate for experienced soldiers to train the new soldiers. He re-enlisted and they had him training troops and other things to do with Intelligence.

He was a very intelligent man and trying to get information from Grandad Packer was very hard; to say he was a silent man was an understatement. My biggest regret is that when he was alive I did not talk to him enough. Basically I really was not interested, but now, of course, that it is too late, I would like to know everything.

Dear Reader, I searched through the Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin containing all the photos and papers that came to me following Mother’s death last year, but could find scant information and no images of Eric in his salad days…

Local news announcement of Anne & Eric Ruby Wedding Anniversary
Notice of Eric’s Death
Eric’s final resting place

Have a Song…


13 thoughts on “Eric and ‘Erbie

  1. Oh thank you for posting this Roobs! I just LOVE reading this kind of stuff! Roots…they connect us in the SOiL.

    Been trying to remember the poem my grandfather wrote…and I think it went something like this…paraphrasing here…

    “Somewhere over the frosty firmament…men have flown too close between heaven and hell before our time.”

    War is hell. There’s gotta be a better way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jen. Even though I’m lucky enough to have 80-odd pages of Mum’s ‘book’, I know exactly how she felt about wanting to know everything ❤


  2. Really fascinating.

    Can’t but help noticing the spit-n-polish shine on the Captn.’s shoes, even in dusty Egypt!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Roob the only thing I have left of my grandad is a newspaper cutting of his ship being sunk by the Germ ans and me wearing a fez in Egypt is probably the pic of me I hate the most…. I look like Stan Laurel so of course my girls have it as the pic that comes up when I call them 😦

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Roob

    In a sense, I think part of looking into the Family Tree is an investigation into ourselves and how we find ourselves where we are.

    And wartime stories are always the most interesting for me.

    ‘First, the Ordinary Boys. And now the History Boys. That’s crazy.’

    Liked by 2 people

            1. Had a nightmare day of handshaking last Friday. It went a bit bananas.

              And a handshake with a woman doesn’t feel right to me. It’s a hug or nothing. Sometimes it can’t be avoided though.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Oh hugging is good but it’s not always appropriate. I like to offer a handshake – palm to palm, the meeting of one person’s unique lines with another’s. I’m afraid fist bumps just don’t do it for me 😉


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