Nazi match opponent helped snare bombers
A MAN who recognised himself in a photograph as one of the schoolboys confronted by Nazi opponents in a Hitchin hockey match was responsible for later providing invaluable intelligence to the Dambusters bombers.
Graham Sainsbury, who is now 88, saw the picture of Hitchin Grammar School pupils being given the Nazi salute by the German team they were playing hockey against in last week’s Comet, and got in touch to tell his story.
Mr Sainsbury explained that he took photographs on the away leg of the hockey tour a few weeks later of the Baldeneysee dam, which he submitted to the government after the appeal for any pictures of German infrastructure.
Although the area itself was not targeted by the British, information about the construction of the dams was vital in ensuring the bombs would avoid defences and strike important points.
Speaking from his home in Weston, Mr Sainsbury told The Comet: “They asked for any photographs of the dams on the Ruhr and the Rhine and I had taken pictures from the top of the dam.
“I gave them everything I had. It allowed our people to look at the way the German dams were constructed. It might have helped the Dambusters.
“At the time I had no idea that the photographs would mean anything at all. I can’t really recall what the dam looked like, though I seem to remember some big spherical boulders. It was just part of the sightseeing trip.”
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The photograph of the salute was uncovered by Hitchin historian and former broadcaster Richard Whitmore, who discovered it while compiling a collection of vintage films and photographs to celebrate the centenary of the opening of Hitchin’s first cinema in 1911.
Mr Sainsbury believes he is the third boy along in the photograph.
He added: “It was just a routine hockey match. Beforehand, the dear old master Mr Bowker said, ‘They are going to line up and they will give you their normal salute. You are not to laugh, grimace or make any other gesture. Just be British and when they have done it, get on with the match’.
“There was no hatred. This is what they did, then they played hockey. We did not know then what it meant. We had no idea of the horrors to come.
“It is a shame but I think all the others in the hockey team have died. I can remember the names of some of them: Lester, Jackson, Waters, and Grant was the goalkeeper.
“It was so strange to see that photograph after all these years. I was flabbergasted. They were our guests and at that time I don’t think anyone was serious about the Nazis.”
Mr Sainsbury later served as an infantryman with the Essex Regiment, and saw action in Arnhem. He later worked for a bank and chemical firm, and also ran the village post office in Willian with his wife Olive, who is now 80.