EASTERN Bay Life is publishing autobiographies from a Trident High School year 9 class who are part of a unit in English – ko wai au (autobiographical unit), in which students were encouraged to look into their personal history to help inform their understanding of who they are today.
Students took inspiration from the writing greats such as Roald Dahl and Witi Ihimaera, to name just a few, to discover how to use their personal voice and to craft voyages in time.
This week’s story is by Xavier Shepherd. This series will continue next week.
MY Grandfather, Christian Schneider, was a German who came from a small town named Gnadenfrei, which nowadays is a town called Pilawa Gorna and is a part of Poland.
He was born in 1940, a year after World War II started. When he was only four his mother, Gertrud, decided to flee to Dresden, a town further west, because the Russian army was growing dangerously close to his home town on the eastern outskirts of Germany.
One night on February 13, 1945 just as Christian and Gertrud were settling in with family, the city was attacked by 311 American planes.
The family took refuge in a dark cellar as each bomb made the earth groan and rumble with anger. The two days would have lasted for what seemed like months as the planes relentlessly discarded their firebombs over the helpless town.
As the sound of bombs grew quiet, my great grandmother made a crucial decision. To leave the cellar. Her family desperately tried to persuade her to stay but her decision was final.
So at the age of four, my grandfather walked through the horrors laying on his path out of town.
He said to me that he still vividly remembers all the metal structures still glowing with heat, the whole town in ruins and the streets littered with dead bodies. The pair took refuge in a nearby forest and just afterwards the town was attacked again by another 733 English bombers, killing 25,000 innocent people including, as they would find out later, their family in the cellar.
Fortunately, after dodging the second bombing, the couple found a small hotel to stay the night in. Just as the sun began to set, Gertrud noticed the Red Army just outside the window. Without a second thought, they fled the hotel and stayed the night in the forest in the middle of a frozen winter.
When they returned in the morning to pick up their baggage they found out all the women in the hotel were attacked and were presumably sexually assaulted.
Gertrud knew she and Christian weren’t safe in Dresden so the pair set off to Brakelsiek, where Gertrud’s brother lived, with what looked like a procession of people fleeing in the same direction.
After six weeks and around 420 kilometres of non-stop walking, with the constant threat of low flying planes, and the threat of the Red Army, the pair made it safely to Brakelsiek where they found Gertrud’s brother.
To have survived the most deadly part of the war the pair demonstrated an utter miracle. A second miracle came in 1947 when Christian and Gertrud were reunited with Christian’s father, Ewald, who had been sent to Norway for military purposes back in 1939 and had returned two years after the war had ended.
Personally, I am extremely impressed at the strength of my great grandmother who managed to, against all odds, survive with a four-year-old in a harshly cold winter, during one of the world’s most horrific wars. She made several crucial decisions that, in the end saved her and her son’s life.
Chapter 2: My parents
MY father, Ian Shepherd, is an Englishman born in Bristol, England. My mother, Yvonne Shepherd, is Swiss and German, born in Munsterlingen, a small town near the border of Germany in Switzerland.
In fact, she crossed the border each day to go to school in Germany. By the time they met, my father worked in a paper mill in France and my mother lived three hours away from where she studied in Germany.
Over the summer my mother lived with a flatmate named Gabi. My Father was workmates with Gabi’s brother Dieter. One weekend Gabi was moving out and Dieter came to help with my father. Luckily my mother was in the flat at the time and that was when they met.
After this serendipitous night, my parents went through four years of a long distance relationship before my mother moved to Colmar, France where they lived together.
Two years after moving together they had two children. When the youngest child, me, was one-and-a-half, they moved to New Zealand for what should have been a three-year experience. But they decided they loved the country too much to leave and have lived here ever since.
Without this chance meeting, my parents would have never known each other and my sister and I would have never been born.
Chapter 3: Me
ON one perfectly normal day in 2017, I was at my friend Zak’s house. Zak and I swam in his pool, played on his zip line and before long it was time to leave. It was pretty dark outside and Zak’s parents didn’t want me to bike home on my own so they offered me a ride home. I accepted and put my bike on their car’s bike-rack. Before we left Zak’s dad Rudy went inside to get something.
Because me and Zak were boys we started doing something dumb while we waited. We span the wheels of my bike really fast, then would hit the brakes and watch as the bike would rock wildly like an enraged bull.
Then Zak asked promptly, “Hey you should put your hand on the wheel and try to stop the bike from shuddering”. Now you’re probably thinking why on earth would anyone ever put their hands close to the spinning wheels of a bicycle, doing that would be a definite recipe for disaster.
But as I said earlier, I am a boy and our brains tend to switch off quite often. So without thinking I said “okay”. And sure enough the next second my finger was hanging on to my hand by a thread. Poor Rudy drove me home as my blood trickled out of my hand and into his car. My parents sped me to the hospital and before I knew it I was on a hospital bed inhaling laughing gas.
All that it did was make my vision super blurry and everyone’s voices muffled and difficult to understand. The next part of the story for me is just a blur but from what my parents said, I got a bandage made by a trainee-nurse that had to be redone as my blood was still pouring out of it. And then drove home to wait for surgery the next day.
When the sun rolled up the next morning dad and I drove to the hospital and ended up waiting five hours until I finally had surgery done on my right, index finger.
This all happened three years ago now when I was 10. I am now 13 but to this day my finger still looks very deformed.