Two Second World War tank veterans who fought each other in the same battle in World War Two are now best friends and admit: ‘It’s a damn good job we missed each other that day’.
German soldier Karl ‘Charley’ Koenig, 94, decided to track down members of the British squadron that he fought against in the Battle of Mareth in Tunisia in March 1943.
And now, he and British ‘Desert Rat’ Graham Stevenson, 93, are the only remaining members of their respective squadrons – but are the best of friends.
They hope their story of peace, mutual respect and honour will inspire future generations.
German soldier Karl ‘Charley’ Koenig, 94, (right) and British ‘Desert Rat’ Graham Stevenson, 93, (left) fought each other in battle but are now the best of friends (pictured together in Normady last year)
Karl (left) and Graham fought against one another in the Battle of Mareth in Tunisia in March 1943.
Graham Stevenson enlisted at just 16 and became part of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry Tank Regiment.
But it wasn’t until decades later when he would meet and befriend Karl Friedrich ‘Charley’ Koenig – a German soldier.
At 18-years-old Karl had been a part of the German 5th Panzer Division, but was soon captured and became a prisoner of war whereupon he became a makeshift translator.
He originally sought out the Sherman Rangers in 1991 and after meeting them they soon realised that they shared a deep bond.
Graham said: ‘Karl is now one of my closest friends. We joke now that it’s a damn good job we missed each other that day.
‘When we first met, we just clicked. We figured out that in the battle, he was on the left flank and I was on the right flank, so there was a very good chance we would have come across each other that day.’
With Karl in Hamburg, Germany and Graham in Walsall, England, the two see each other yearly at Normandy for military ceremonies.
Now, a fundraiser has been set up to reunite the friends and to record their story to share with future generations.
Graham added: ‘Karl was a POW and eventually he finished up in a POW camp in England – he actually got in with a couple that had a son the same age who was away at sea and they took a shine to Karl.
‘Years later somehow he wanted to get in touch in my regiment as we were fighting against each other in the western desert.
‘People are people and it’s the circumstances that cause you to go to war to shoot one another – it just shows how damn ridiculous war is.
‘Germany’s record in the 20th century was diabolical, but it was the country and not the people.
‘People aren’t natural enemies; you’re only shooting at one another because your country has ordered it.
‘I can only say that I think my feelings wouldn’t be any different from the rest of the regiments.’
Karl, 94, said: ‘I was thinking of what was practised in Africa – they used to call it a gentleman’s war – and it was up to a point.
‘It was a mutual understanding of respect and I wanted to meet the other people as human beings – they were honourable soldiers and I wanted to find them.
‘I telephoned a lot of people and I eventually managed to find them – there was a feeling of camaraderie between us.
‘It was unusual for a German soldier to seek out English soldiers and to become friends.
‘But they became my closest friends in my life and it is hard to believe that we had to shoot at each other.’
Karl was made an honorary member of the Sherman Rangers and was given a beret and cap badge by his new companions.
Karl and Graham first met at the Regimental Headquarters in Nottingham when they were looking at an artist’s interpretation of the battle of Tebaga Gap.
The World War Two History project is run by Heather Steele and she hopes to bring the two men back together again to record their story for future generations.
Graham and Karl enjoy a drink together and are the only men left from their regiments in 1942
Heather said: ‘The Sherman Rangers gave Charley acceptance and respect – they recognised him as an honourable opponent in Africa.
‘There was a mutual respect in friendship that’s and often it seems in the world right now, everything we do is so divisive and people don’t understand how to reach out to those on the other side.
‘It’s important for their story of their friendship go on after their deaths, – use it is school.
‘Graham is very modest and fought in El Alamein at just 17 and trained in swimming tanks.
‘This is a way to honour him and his service and for me it’s one of the most important things – to remember the sacrifice that was made in World War Two and to all those who lost friends.’
You can find out more about the project and donate HERE