A crowdfunding campaign has launched to reunite two World War II veterans who fought against each other during the war and became as close as brothers after the war. The mission is to bring the two World War II veterans together again for a mini-documentary in Normandy, France.
They fought each other in Tunisia, Africa; however, they reunited decades after, and became friends, even as close as brothers. Sadly, there is not much time left, it may be even the last opportunity to do so. Graham lives in the United Kingdom and Charley in Germany, with their health decreasing and them getting older each day, it may be the last opportunity to have them meet again. But with your help, they may be able to reunite one more time and have their last encounter and story told in a mini-documentary.
This is their story
In late March 1943, Allied and Axis forces prepared for one of the fiercest battles of the World War II African campaign near Mareth, Tunisia. It was here, where after four months on the run, Rommel’s Africa Corps took one of its last stands. Enclosed on one side by rocky, hilly terrain and the Mediterranean on the other, capturing Mareth proved a difficult proposition for the British Eighth Army.
In order to outflank the Axis forces, the British 8th Armored Brigade, along with New Zealand infantry swung southwest and then north through an inland mountain pass to attack the Axis troops from behind.
They ran into the German 21. Panzer Division. Karl Friedrich “Charley” Koenig, only newly arrived in Tunisia as a 19-year-old officer candidate, waited for his first combat as a loader in a Panzer IV of Panzer-Regiment 5.
Across the hardscrabble Matmata hills, Sherman tanks of the Sherwood Ranger Yeomanry Tank Regiment readied themselves for the attack. In one sat machine gunner and co-driver Graham Stevenson. Graham had fought at the battle at El Alamein and bailed out of a tank as a 17-year-old. Taking part in the hard fighting all along the way from Alamein through Tunisia, he had just barely reached the tender age of 18.
On March 23rd, Panzer Regiment 5 and the Sherwood Rangers tanks stalked one another and engaged in individual tank battles. Shells whistled loudly by Charley’s tank, his experienced commander advising calm. Their Panzer IV would not be knocked out on this day, but it would not be for long.
The next day, a radio signal warned the Germans of an incoming RAF Hurricane IID tank buster attack. Scrambling out of their Panzer IV, Charley’s crew moved side-to-side as Hurricanes swept in from all directions at nearly zero altitude firing their powerful 40-millimeter cannon.
An accurate Hurricane pilot hit the rear of the tank, shortly before a lone British artillery shell, fired out of the blue, made a direct hit on their front deck. A half-track arrived in the night to tow them to the be repaired. Charley was now out of the way, while Graham and his crew took part in the Tebaga Gap battle on March 26th, the Shermans and the Maori infantry inflicting a severe mauling on the 21. Panzer-Division.
Graham survived Africa and returned to England with the Sherwood Rangers to train in Sherman DD swimming tanks for the invasion of Normandy. Due to a slight disagreement with a commanding officer that landed him in the guardhouse, he came in on Gold Beach, Normandy a bit later than his Sherwood Ranger comrades.
In his first day of hedgerow fighting, untested and frightened infantrymen escorting his tank fled under fire, leaving Graham and his tank commander to conduct their own reconnaissance. Just steps outside of his tank, Graham was hit and nearly killed by German machine gun fire. As an artery bled out, his life hung on a thread. Luckily, a nearby aid station saved his life. But his war ended there.
Charley’s career ended in May, 1943, when he was taken prisoner by the Americans and transported to camps in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Belgium, and England before returning home in 1947. Even decades later, he could never forget the war in Africa, and his honorable opponents.
In 1991, he sought out the Sherwood Rangers and found Ken Ewing, head of the southern branch of the Sherwood Rangers Old Comrades’ Association. It wasn’t long before they became like brothers. After Charley attended ceremonies for the regiment in Normandy and Holland, he was invited in as a member of the Association, where he was accepted wholeheartedly by the remaining British World War II veterans, including Graham, who was in the same tank crew with Ken.
Now, Graham and Charley are the only members of Sherwood Rangers Old Comrades’ Association left alive who fought in Africa 75 years ago. Their friendship, which has transcended the brutality of war to reveal that mutual respect, healing, and reconciliation can exist between former enemies, sends a powerful message to future generations.
Heather Steele, Founder and CEO of non-profit organization World War II History Project, has launched a $25,000 crowdfunding campaign to make this reunion and filming of a mini-documentary happen. You can help make this possible — I’ve spoken with Heather and she’s incredible passionate to make this happen. There are various perks available for your kind donations from getting personalized postcards from the Veterans to flying in a WWII bomber or riding a tank!