Renate tells us about Paul Thuns

In this session we learned about Paul Thuns from Renate, his great niece who lives in Sawston. She showed us a map of where Paul had been based, and told us the following information about him:

Paul Thuns was born in 1891 in Peterswaldau/Silesia, now in Poland. He had 4 siblings: Karl and Emil, Bertha and Selma. Paul was the youngest in the Thuns Family. He trained as a shopkeeper/tradesman. After WWI when he had recovered from his war injuries he moved to Grossbeeren, south of Berlin. His sister Selma had married a Pharmacist who had his own Pharmacy and a Grocery shop. Paul’s father Herman and his wife Margarte had left Silesia in order to find work. Herman ran his son-in-law’s grocery shop and Paul was going to join the team. He had tried out various enterprises: showing films in villages near Berlin using a hand drawn cart for transport. For his brother-in-law he distributed groceries to customers using an ancient Daimler Benz lorry.

Eventually he started to train as a civil servant in the pension service in Berlin but again things fell apart for political reasons. He married in 1923 and in 1924 his son Günter was born. Paul built his own grocery shop in Grossbeeren (which incidentally is still standing) which he managed until the East German Government decided to take over the business. After that Paul worked in a local Bank where he became a manager. He died in 1967.

We then looked at a small part of Paul’s diary:

Mobilisation 1914

Soon increasing signs of the bad political situation were noticeable. Guards were moving with loaded guns and had strict instructions. The service was held near to the barracks, home leave was totally refused and helpers for the harvest were issued with a telegram saying: “Be ready to return; shooting exercise”. Going into town required leaving an exact address. 

One day, when we were already on duty, we were sent back to wait in our rooms. Everybody was waiting in happy anticipation. Today something was going to happen, everybody knew this. And soon it started. The border guards were ordered to move out to protect the frontier, clothes were handed out and the mobilisation of the troops begun, of course only within a narrow area, but very intensive. We all had our strict instructions. When we returned to the barracks loaded with blankets for the ambulances we found the whole town on the move. Hundreds were lining the entrance to our barracks asking us all sorts of questions and wanting to give us all sorts of lovely gifts. Very quickly everybody stood in orderly positions, receiving bullets and sharpened side guns. Field kitchen and bullet carts started arriving pulled by teams at a gallop, and then horses appeared; hundreds of bikes ordered from the town were standing ready in the yard. It was a delightful affair, which I loved. 

All of us thought we were of great importance, thinking only the most courageous thoughts.

At about 8 pm we stood ready to march. The commander of the battalion made a short speech with reference to the Kaiser and everybody agreed with an enthusiastic “Hurray” and off we went.

The way through town was a truly festive event. Thousands of people formed a lane, cheering and waving. We were covered in flowers thrown out of windows. Strangers pushed their way towards us to give us cigars, cake and money. Girls held their sweethearts tight and marched with them for miles and so did the children. We sang our songs and all the others performed. Everyone was in a trance.

After discussing this diary extract we then imagined ourselves witnessing the scene Paul describes and wrote letters about it. You can see our work here.