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Norbert Wagner was the son of Max and Rosa Wegner and was born in Vienna, Austria on 9 July 1922. Norbert fled from Austria in 1936 and made his way to Merthyr Tydfil. He had been sponsored by the Reverend Emlyn Davies, minister of High Street Chapel who lived at 29 The Parade, Thomastown. Norbert attended Cyfarthfa Castle Grammar School and it was there that he met and fell in love with Rita Phelps who was a pupil at the girls’ school there. Her father was a sidesman at the Quar Church and had fought in WW1, so was not happy at all when his precious younger daughter was courting a German speaking boy. However, sympathy got the better of him and he soon came around.

In July 1940, aged 17 years, Norbert was playing football on the Pandy field inside Cyfarthfa Park when he was suddenly arrested as an “undesirable alien“. He was deported to Canada (probably from Hoyton, Liverpool on the Duchess of York as one of 2,500 internees). He was sent to Camp Q Montieth POW camp which lies 700 km north of Ontario. He was now a prisoner of the British.

This postcard was sent on the 2nd of August 1940 from Norbert to Rita: “My dear Rita, When I left you on Monday night I never thought that this would be final and that I would not dance with you on Tuesday night. I was taken straight to a camp near Liverpool and a week later to Canada into this camp. I feel very well as far as health goes but I must not think much about you and the old days in Merthyr because the memories are too nice. [Name illegible] is here too. How are you! And what is going on in Merthyr? I hope you still remember me a bit because I always think of you, little girl. Please write very soon and long. Put no signs [?] whatever and no photos in the letter; that is prohibited; and write no politics, please. My name and address in block letters. One day I may return and then I shall cash in all the kisses I can only send you on paper for now. If you still want me to, that is. Cheerio for now Phelpsie. NORBERT WEGNER, CAMP: Q …”

Norbert was assessed as eligible for release under category 12 - “Internees accepted for enlistment to the Auxiliary Military Pioneers Corps”. Many Jewish German and Austrian nationals who had fled persecution enlisted and they were known as "The King's Most Loyal Enemy Aliens”. It was particularly dangerous for them as they were likely to be shot if captured. He was released on 4 March 1941 and returned to Britain on the S.S. George, embarking on 5 March. He invested in the Pioneer Corps and by the 1 April 1941 he found himself in Douglas, Isle of Man, as a corporal in the British Army. He was later made a sergeant in the Intelligence Corp, probably due to his fluency in German.

He visited Merthyr and took Rita to the Peter Pan restaurant which was opposite the Town Hall. He told her that he would be away for some time and might not be in touch. She noticed that he had no insignia on his uniform. Now we know that Norbert was a member of Churchill‘s Special Operations Executive (SOE). His name was changed to Norman Willert to disguise his Jewish origins. We do not know what mission he was on, but it is likely that he was dropped into Holland to make contact with the Dutch Resistance, in preparation for the Allied advance into the Netherlands: SOE units were involved in such intelligence gathering throughout this period.Norbert was killed in action aged 22 years on the 1 or 2 September 1944. At the time of his death, the Allies had just broken out of Normandy and were sweeping into the rest of France and Belgium. There was a fierce debate among the Allied commanders about what was the best plan for invading Germany: whether to slowly attack across a broad front between Belgium and the south of France, or to launch a single thrust across the Rhine, likely through the Netherlands. While Field Marshal Montgomery was developing plans for what would eventually become Operation Market Garden, they were still only at a very early stage when Norbert died.

Given that he has no known grave it is possible that the aircraft he was being carried in was shot down or crashed, or that he may have been ‘mis-dropped’ and died in a landing accident: possibly coming down in a canal or deep watercourse from which he couldn’t escape. He is recorded on the Groesbeek Memorial, which is near Nijmegen (see the link below). He was commemorated on the WW11 Memorial on the ground floor of Cyfarthfa Castle where his name is recorded as Norbert Wagner, and he is also on the Cyfarthfa Castle School Roll of Honour: (with three spellings of his name) at . This account has been compiled with information provided by Rita’s niece, Joyce Bourne, who also supplied the photographs of the postcard, Norbert and Rita. Military advice provided by Jeremy Konsbruck. His date leaving Austria is from Cyfarthfa Castle School Roll of Honour. The alien index card is reproduced with permission.

Citation: The National Archives; Kew, London, England; HO 396 WW2 Internees (Aliens) Index Cards 1939-1947; Reference Number: HO 396/133.

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