SECOND World War veteran Bernard (Bernie) Simmons of Wilmslow, died last week at the age of 94. He is survived by his wife Hanne, 95.

The devoted couple lived at Chapel Court, Hawthorn Street, but it is ironic that during the Second World War they were on opposing sides.

While Bernie was carrying out bombing raids with 178 Squadron RAF Amendola in Italy, Hanne was aiming anti-aircraft guns at the enemy in Germany.

Born to a large family in Guildford, Surrey, Bernie, as a teenager, was working at an aircraft factory in Croydon before being called up to join the RAF.

Knutsford Guardian:

Bernie Simmons

He recalled: “On passing out, I and a pal were made sergeants and were asked if we wanted to serve in England or overseas.

“There was an old sweat on the course, and he told us that if we wanted to stay in England, tell them you want to go abroad because the RAF is awkward and will do the opposite to what you want.

“As I had a girlfriend nearby I chose overseas, believing what the old sweat had told us.

“Needless to say, shortly afterward we were on a ship to the Middle East, where we would find a pilot and a crew to serve with, then go on operational flying training.”

For members of aircrew expected to perform at their best, living conditions at Amendola could in no way be compared to UK airfields.

They lived in war-worn tents and slept on home-made beds, the best of which consisted of planking balanced on empty oil drums or spare boxes.

Water dripped through the porous roofs when it rained and they had nowhere to dry clothing or blankets.

In winter the freezing temperatures persuaded them to sleep in their flying kit to keep warm.

In the morning their wash-hand basin consisted of an upturned helmet filled with freezing water making shaving a painful business. They had no ablutions, and worst of all the latrines consisted of a hole in the ground.

They were told to forget the 'flying breakfast' of bacon and eggs promised to UK-based aircrew, and their food was cooked on field kitchens fired by oil with a diet of canned meat and vegetables with occasional corned beef or spam.

Dark brown ‘compo’ tea was the reward on arriving back at the base from an operation.

Knutsford Guardian:

Bernie with 178 Squadron in 1944

178 Squadron was involved in the Mediterranean Allied Strategic Air Force bombing over enemy-occupied Europe and also dropped supplies to the underground Polish Home Army in Warsaw.

Towards the end of the war Bernie was stationed in the Middle East where he met his first wife, Kathleen, who was a member of the Women’s Royal Air Force and a native of Alderley Edge.

After being married in the Holy Land they came back to England to live in Wilmslow.

The marriage after a good number of years ended in an amicable divorce and Bernie continued to work in the north west, eventually ending up as regional manager for Avis Car Rentals.

Bernie had a great interest in Germany and loved to delve into its history and collect books about the country.

He enrolled on a German course at The Wilmslow Guild and learned to speak German fluently. He also enrolled in an art class and learned to draw and paint from scratch.

One day he was in the Railway Hotel, Station Road, Wilmslow, where he met Hanne, his second wife to be, who hails from Bavaria.

She was working at the hotel and when she heard that Bernie could speak German they struck up a friendship that would lead to romance and eventually marriage.

In later years Hanne became well-known in the town as manageress of Silvio’s confectioners and café on Grove Street. Always the romantic, Bernie made Hanne a Valentine card every year since they met, including this year.

When Bernie retired, the couple decided to move to Germany and they lived in Rodental, Bavaria for 10 years, before returning to Wilmslow.

They moved to Chapel Court where Bernie and Hanne were popular figures with residents and visitors alike.

Just 18 months ago Bernie was diagnosed with bone cancer.

One resident said: “When Bernie died, a light went out in Chapel Court.”

Bernie’s funeral has yet to be arranged.