Johnstone History Museum
Johnstone History Society • Scotland
The Strange Story of Max Schiller
October 17, 2021
On Sat., 2nd March 1946, fifty German POW’s from POW Camp No 188 at Johnstone Castle who had been working in the Bow Farm housing scheme at Greenock, held a memorial service at Greenock Cemetery for the 23 German sailors who were killed when a U-Boat was sunk off Pladda, near Arran on 12th Feb. 1940. The POWs sang the German song of remembrance ‘Ich Hatt’ Einen Kameraden’, observed a minute's silence, and were addressed by an officer in their own language.
The U33 sunk off Pladda had daringly penetrated the Clyde Defences before it was detected. It was brought to the surface early in the morning of Feb. 12, 1940 by depth charges from the minesweeper HMS Gleaner. Being raked by machine gun fire, and dynamite charges set off by the crew, it sunk below the waves. Seventeen surviving crew members were taken prisoner. Twenty-three bodies were recovered and buried at Greenock. Four men including the Captain Wilhelm Von Dresky were missing and believed to have gone down with the sub. The name of Max Schiller appeared on one of the grave markers, but he did not perish with the U33 and survived the sinking.
Max Schiller was born on 17 July 1922 in the village of Hollebend near Halle, East Germany and moved when his father was appointed railway station master at a small town near Schonebeck. Max left school on his 15th birthday and became a baker at Schonebeck. With regards to what happened in the Firth of Clyde on 12 Feb. 1940, Max, an 18 year old Matrosen Obergefreiter (Seaman 1st Class, equivalent of Lance Corporal) in the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) , service no. N2602/32S, was a crew member of the U33, on its third and final mission. Rescued after the sinking, he was one of 17 crew members landed at Greenock, taken by bus to Glasgow, put on a train at Glasgow Central, and sent to the London Cage for interrogation. The 23 dead crew members were buried on 16 Feb. 1940 at Greenock, by which time the survivors had been sent to London. From London, being separated from the officers, Schiller was sent to POW Camp 127 in Oldham, Lancashire. Allocated POW No 37396, in early 1942 he was sent to Canada, being reunited with the officers of his crew at Camp 30, Bowmanville, Ontario. He was then transferred to Internment Camp No. 133, Lethbridge, Alberta, which was in effect a large POW Camp.
In January 1946 he was brought to Scotland, and, after spending 3 days at POW Camp No. 188, Johnstone Castle, he was transferred to Hallmuir Camp No. 68, Lockerbie, Dumfries-shire, where prisoners were sent out to work. Max went to work at Barrasgait Farm, Cummertrees, near Annan, where he met his future wife Jessie, a farm maid. On his release in 1947 he remained in Scotland and married Jessie, raising a family together.
Max gave his story to The Bulletin newspaper in 1959 and in it he stated that he had heard the story that his name was on a cross in Greenock Cemetery about 5 years after the sinking of U33, possibly during his short stay at Johnstone Castle. He didn’t do anything about it until years later in 1959 when he visited Greenock Cemetery and was astonished to find that he was looking at his own grave. He notified the staff of his discovery.
Greenock burial records confirm that ‘Schiller’ was buried in Lair No 933 being given grave ref. 933A, together with 3 other crew members, Walter Kunick - 933B, Heinrich Kampert - 933C, and Williband Steiner - 933D.
All 23 bodies of the deceased crew members of U33 were exhumed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for transfer to the German War Cemetery, Cannock Chase, Staffordshire in October 1962. The exhumation list prepared at Greenock for the CWGC shows that Schiller’s name had been removed and replaced by ‘Unknown’ in 933A.
The others, Kunick, Kampert and Steiner were the same, being 933B, 933C and 933D respectively.
At Cannock Chase the graves were relocated in Block 3, Row 11 of the German War Cemetery by the CWGC, being buried in reverse order of exhumation from Greenock - Williband Steiner - Grave No 328, Heinrich Kampert - Grave No 329, Walter Kunick - Grave No 330.
Grave No 331 contains the grave of Friedrich Braun. He was one of the 4 missing bodies of the crew of U33 thought to have gone down with the sub. The CWGC have identified ‘Schiller’ as Friedrich Braun, born 29.11.1917, machinist Matrose. The other three missing have been commemorated on gravestones with the initials ‘I.M’ before their names - I.M. Hans Wilhelm Von Dresky (the Captain) - Grave No. 340; I.M. Johannes Johne - Grave No. 342.; I.M. August Winterhoff - Grave No. 344.
These letters ‘I.M’ stand for ‘In Memoriam’ meaning their bodies were not found. The gravestone of Friedrich Braun does not have these initials, indicating his body was finally identified and lies in the grave so marked.
One theory is that Braun’s body may have been recovered wearing a piece of uniform belonging to Schiller, perhaps a jacket with his name inside, hence the reason for the wrong identification.
The Schillers lived in Dumfries-shire until, their deaths, Jessie, Max’s wife dying on 18 Dec. 1991, and Max Schiller himself finally on 1st August 2002.
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