War came - but some families were banned from living at Sunderland's coast

In time of war, national identity and loyalty can become confused.

Tuesday, 3rd January 2017, 10:00 am
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 11:41 am
Wilhelm Jung's shop in Dundas Street.

Today, Trevor Thorne from the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, looks back at the effects of conflict on local Anglo-German families.

Gottfried Jung arrived in the North-East in 1883.

Fritz Lang's shop in Southwick.

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Many new German arrivals at that time had been peasant farmers but were attracted by the city’s economic growth.

They needed to find new work in England, and as there was a growing demand for pork butchers in Sunderland and the surrounding district, several families opened shops.

Gottfried married Mary Steinbrenner. She his friend’s daughter who, either because her mother was English or through choice, never spoke German.

Gottfried and Mary opened their own shop in Thornton Place near the Sunderland Empire.

Godfrey Young.

They had a son, Wilhelm, born in 1887.

He was confirmed in the German Protestant Church and Seaman’s Mission in the East End of the town in 1913. The family became British citizens in 1912.

Some years after the First World War, Wilhelm married Katie, whose father Alfred Fischer had also arrived in the town in the late 1890s.

Katie was born in 1908, when the family were living in Cardwell Street, Roker. In the years leading up to 1914 the Fischer’s themselves opened a butchers shop in Ferryhill.

Fritz Lang's shop in Southwick.

The outbreak of war in August 1914 brought great difficulty for those of German origin or descent.

The Jung family were British citizens and were free to stay and work but were prevented, by the Defence of the Realm Act, from living within five miles of the coast.

They were forced to relocate, moving to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire.

The Fischer family had not taken British citizenship so Alfred was interned on the Isle of Man from 1914 to 1919.

Godfrey Young.

His wife was unable to run the pork butcher business and also look after their four children so she returned to Germany to live with relatives, having very little money.

After the conflict was over, their three sons remained in Germany and eventually went on to fight for Hitler’s Army in the Second World War (two of them were to be killed).

Katie Fischer who was only six years old in 1914, when war broke out, eventually returned to Sunderland to marry Wilhelm.

By that time the family surname had been changed from Jung to the Anglicised ‘Young’.

Many of the German families inter-wed and Lena Steinbrenner married another immigrant Fritz Lang, who progressed to own his own butcher’s shop on The Green in Southwick.

They also had not taken out citizenship and were interned on the Isle of Man, after which they both returned to live in Germany.

When war was declared in 1914 there were attacks on anything German, particularly businesses.

Lang’s butcher shop in Southwick was badly damaged by an angry mob. The German church in the East End closed soon after the war started as a result of this hostility and falling congregation numbers.

In August 1914, Conrad Steinbrenner was visiting family in Germany, while his brother-in-law was on a reciprocal visit to Sunderland. Both were interned for the duration of the war in the country they were visiting.

Late in August 1939 as the Second World War loomed, Katie Young, her son Godfrey and their cousin Beryl were attending a family wedding in Bavaria.

Despite staying in a small village which had little communication with the outside world, they were warned that war was imminent and were able to take one of the last trains out of Germany, home to England. The nearest large town to where

they were staying was Heilbronn.

Another family division during the Second World War took place when Fritz Lang’s daughter, Erica, became a typist for the Luftwaffe. His son Frederick had returned to England to live. He joined the British army but, because of his accent, was treated with particular suspicion by his fellow soldiers.

Thanks to Godfrey Young for his family history. Godfrey, 78, was for many years a Veterinary Surgeon in County Durham. He has fond memories of his early life in Sunderland.