An ex-soldier who helped guard Hitler’s imprisoned deputy, Rudolf Hess, in post-war Berlin is calling time on active service with The Lincolns.
For the last 10 years, Ken Willows (82) chaired Spalding branch of The Royal Lincolnshire and Anglian Regimental Association, having previously been secretary for three or four years.
On Wednesday, Ken steps down when the association has its Christmas lunch but his life-long love of The Lincolns means he will continue to attend informal gatherings.
He did two years’ National Service with The Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, starting in November 1953, but had permission to be 10 days late because he had been invited to Goslar, Germany, to join the regiment for a week’s training while a member of the Army Cadet Force.
Ken said: “I went in about a fortnight later than my intake. Basic training was at Lincoln’s Sobraon Barracks, which were old, Victorian barracks. It was winter time and it was blooming cold ... we had a four-inch pipe that went right round the room, just one single pipe, and that was the heating.”
Following basic training Ken did his NCO course, known as a “cadre course”, in Warwickshire, and says that meant he was late joining his regiment in Goslar.
Ken, by that time a Lance Corporal, was sent with his comrades to Berlin and was stationed in barracks close to Spandau.
It was the height of the Cold War and Berlin was split into four zones, controlled by Britain, America, France and Russia, and Ken says forces from each main power took turns to guard Spandau for a month.
Hess was one of a handful of Nazi war criminals in Spandau and although Ken remembers seeing him, he says soldiers were not allowed to fraternise with prisoners.
Ken says: “We were not allowed to speak to them and we were told ‘while they may look like innocent old men, this is what they did’ and the Army showed us film of the Nuremberg Trials and they showed us what they had done, their atrocities.”
Away from prison duties, The Lincolns patrolled zone borders.
Ken, who left Germany as a full Corporal, originally set his sights set on becoming an Army regular until he met his wife to be, Audrey Howsam.
The couple married in 1956 and Ken opted for a career largely in retail, but his links to The Lincolns remained as he returned to the Army Cadet Force and did five years with them.
Ken said: “I got my old rank back as a Staff Sergeant.”
Love of The Lincolns made Ken a devoted student of regimental history, which three years ago saw him play an active role in uncovering a renowned battle honour, The Sphinx, on the front of the old drill hall – now the Lighthouse Church – in Haverfield Road, Spalding.
Lincolns still wear The Sphinx badge to reflect distinguished service under Wellington in Egypt in 1801.
In 2012, Ken and fellow Spalding veterans fundraised for a memorial to The Lincolns to go on Sobraon Park in Lincoln as a lasting record of the regiment’s 10 heroes decorated with the Victoria Cross, battle honours and march past lyrics from The Lincolnshire Poacher.
For the last five or six years, Ken has been in charge of the standards at Spalding’s Remembrance Sunday parade.
He’s currently playing an active role in a project to provide a brand new memorial in Ayscoughfee Gardens to Spalding’s Second World War dead.
Ken is stepping down as Lincolns’ chairman “because he’s not getting any younger” and is looking forward to retirement.
He and Audrey celebrated their diamond wedding last year.
They have a son, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.