Britta Von Zweigbergk:



Tony Zweigbergk

Tony Zweigbergk was born in Preston, England on April 22nd 1916. He was the youngest of three brothers and of Anglo Swedish extraction. He had a happy and comfortable childhood. His father and uncle had come over from Sweden as young and talented electrical engineers in a new and rapidly flourishing industry. His Uncle Torsten in particular had displayed a gift for invention and innovation which was to prove very successful. He and Tony’s father Gillis had spent some years in America before finally settling in England. Life was not without its difficulties - not least having a Germanic sounding name. This was not helpful in the early twentieth century in connection with WW1 and in later years with WW2. World wars have a habit of inciting strong feelings and it was decided to drop the von in the surname in favor of a more anglicized version. Life as a Swedish immigrant was not always easy or straightforward. The von was not re instated until the late fifties.

Tony inherited his mothers artistic ability and also his strong sense of humor which derived from her Yorkshire roots. He enrolled at the Slade School of Art in 1934, but two years later his love of flying had overtaken his artistic inclinations and after taking the required number of flying lessons he was issued an aviators licence by the Royal Aero Club in May 1936.

When war broke out in September 1939, Tony , already in the RAFVR, waited for his call up papers and joined the RAF where he had a distinguished war career as a fighter pilot and Squadron Leader. He was a popular commanding officer, well known for his love of local hostelries and practical jokes (see’ Tony’s War).
Although possessing the best of intentions, he found domesticity and the practicalities associated with setting up home and consolidating family roots after the intense business of surviving WW2 very difficult though he made numerous attempts to do so. His occasional forays in to the multiple mysteries of ordered domestic existence did little to clarify the situation for him. When faced with unexpectedly providing lunch for his two children, he served them brussel sprouts on toast. His brief attempts at DIY consisted of a protracted stint of varnishing a two foot square area of wooden floorboards, taking most of the day to do so while the rest of the family moved in around him.

Despite having taken a plane apart and put it together again as a pilot - he had no clear idea of changing a washer on a tap and faced with the prospect of furnishing a large and empty flat in Primrose Hill, it was not to the homely comfort of chintz and cushions he turned to, but antelope skin covered shield and spears, brought over from Nairobi, not to mention fly swats and carved elephant tables from tree trunks originating from the Masai tribe of Kenya.

He played his part after the war in helping countries like India and Burma develop their own airlines and worked with the successful car ferry business Silver City Airways at Lympne and Ferryfield airfields in Kent.

Tony’s overall strategy remained unchanged throughout however. When things got too difficult - move on and the family did - on many occasions.

The truth was - Tony’s peace had a darkness about it that never shone as brightly as his war.

Tony Zweigbergk
Tony, Squadron Leader of No.1 Squadron based at Lympne, Kent 1943/4
Nita Zweigbergk
NITA ZWEIGBERGK (nee Howatson) 1914-2001

Nita Howatson was born in the Holy City of Benares on November 6th 1914 and did not come to England until she was two. Her earliest memories were of the heat and dust of India . She was the third child of a family of seven. Two siblings died in childhood. One older sister Winifred died at the age of six in 1917 and the youngest child, Douglas died at the age of 4 in 1929.

Her father was a doctor, born in Calcutta, West Bengal, of Anglo Indian descent. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and practiced medicine in the north of England, dying tragically early at just over forty. His younger children were sent to boarding schools financed by the British Medical Association. Nita and Dottie to the Royal Masonic Institution for Girls and Marjorie, Hugh and Douglas to the Royal Infant Orphanage at Wanstead.

Never entirely happy with the prosaic sturdy quality of school life, she parted company with the Masonic Institution by mutual consent at the age of fourteen and was enrolled at the Italia Conti School for Stage Training. For the next four years she immersed herself in ‘ Dancing, Elocution, Acting, Class Singing and Class Fencing. She shall be thoroughly trained in Classical and Character dancing and Musical Comedy Dancing’

Such notable screen stars at the time as Margaret Lockwood and Jack Hawkins had already passed through its distinguished portals and Nita hoped to follow them.

Of a glamorous disposition, she made the very most of her dark and sultry good looks and was a well known figure in pre war North Soho (later known as Fitzrovia) then frequented by a broad spectrum of artists, writers and sculptors such as Augustus John, Dylan Thomas and Jacob Epstein, among others.

She never lost her glamour though fame on stage and screen eluded her.

Nita and her sister Dottie
Nita and her sister Dottie
Nita and her sister Dottie on Primrose Hill circa 1948


12th November 1911 - 5th November 1992

Uncle Charles

Charles Arthur von Zweigbergk was the middle brother of three (see middle of photograph on left) Torsten, the eldest and my father Tony, the youngest - both physically resembled my grandmother Florence Helen, a Yorkshire woman. They had inherited, not only her sense of humour but her looks. Uncle Charles on the other hand, resembled my grandfather - Gillis Sebastian Thor, had his features and bone structure and his slight spare frame. Much of his schooling was at Mill Hill and he was then sent to Switzerland to finish his education and to improve his weak chest. During this period he became fluent in German which was helpful in the dark days of WW2 when he was a prisoner of war.

The three brothers had a happy and settled childhood with strong connections to my grandfathers large family in Sweden. After leaving school, Charles studied for a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Manchester University followed by experience working with two well known engineering firms before deciding on a career in the British Army. In 1936, he was commissioned as an Ordinance Mechanical Engineer in REME.

My grandparents were not above match making as their three sons got older, and coming back from Sweden, on the boat in 1937 they struck up a friendship with a young Swedish woman - Anna-Britta Andersen who was not yet twenty and had a
degree in domestic science and had worked as a manager in a large catering establishment in Stockholm. She was travelling to England, to extend her experience and to improve her English. An only child, her father was chief of police in Tidaholm and her childhood had been spent acquiring a love of animals and nature. With land and lodges owned by her family she spent a good deal of her time in the vicinity of local forests, riding and being generally adventurous and tom boyish - aware that her father had longed for a son.. She appeared an eminently suitable match and my grandfather was particularly impressed, she reminded him poignantly of his youngest sister, who had also been called Anna (Anna Inez Ultima) and who had died in 1904, after marrying a mill owner Otto Akerlund in London, four years earlier.

Before the voyage was over they had struck up a firm friendship and invited Anna to stay with them in Hove, while she was in England. The plan being to introduce her to their sons Torsten and Charles - my father had already married my mother, despite being the youngest and as the baby of the family his unexpected marriage had caused some waves. Torsten was
rather shy and though of a very kindly and well meaning disposition he could appear gruff and abrupt. However, it was Charles who had caught Anna’s eye almost immediately. In his Captains uniform, his neat figure, inherited from his father, his blond hair and Swedish features, small blunt nose, nice mouth and laughing eyes, it wasn’t really surprising that Anna - Britta who was of a clear and focused disposition decided very quickly that she wanted to marry him and though it was to take some time, with a world war intervening in between, marry him she did.

As a tiny child, Uncle Charles was in the same category to me as my father - a glamorous stranger who appeared at times in uniform and swung me up on his shoulders and generally made a fuss of me which I enjoyed enormously. Grandparents Like my father he had a capacity for playing with small children and I loved my rides on his shoulders from my grandparents comfortable flat in Hove, near Brighton down, past Brunswick Square to the sea front.

Although nothing had been prepared for my arrival and I spent the first six months of my life sleeping in a drawer in my grandparents flat, I had the distinct advantage of being the first baby in the family for many years. Not only that, but as far as my fathers family was concerned I was the girl that my grandmother had longed for when my father was born, so I was the willing recipient of a great deal of fuss and attention. My uncles were warm and loving and despite the insecurities and heartaches that wars inevitably bring there were happy family times.

As one of the youngest majors in the ‘British Army at that time Charles was with the British Expeditionary Forces and it wasn’t looking good, but Churchill was very clear when he spoke in his review of the war effort to Parliament in June 1940.

" We shall go on to the end.... We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...."

This speech was broadcast later over the wireless by a member of the BBC Repertory staff, Norman Shelley, as Churchill could not spare the time.

During seven days, 338,226 men had been evacuated, taken on what boats were available and which returned when they had deposited their human cargo, to pick up others, 800 civilian craft had joined 222 naval vessels, 6 destroyers and 243 other ships. 680,000 personnel had not been evacuated, but were missing, wounded or killed. This included my uncle who had been heavily involved in the fighting retreat of the 51st Highland Division to St. Valery.

Major Charles von Zweigbergk was a senior ordnance mechanical engineer with the RAOC of the 51st Highlanders at the beginning of May 1940 when the Germans had attacked France, the Division was between Comen and Lanustroff near the SAAR and he and the rest of the Division found themselves cut off.

They had been separated from the rest of the British Expeditionary Force. This had happened when the Panzers had broken through French defences at Sedan. Orders came through to move towards the Somme bridges to the North West, seize them and link up with the rest of the BEF. A great deal of information given to the Division was incorrect, intelligence was flawed and the orders out of touch with the reality of the situation, but against all odds the 51st Highlanders did unexpectedly and amazingly well in places, forcing the Germans to retreat as it made its way towards St. Valery.

‘Charles, in ensuring that those under his command did reach St. Valery, displayed exceptional courage and leadership’ and after the war was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery’. The RAOC, Royal Signals and Royal Engineers used their expertise and specialist knowledge in keeping lines of communication open, mining roads and demolishing bridges as they kept just ahead of the Panzers. At St. Valery, he was badly wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans, where he remained for most of the duration of the war, eventually being awarded the MC (Military Cross)for his part in the fighting retreat.

The uncertainty of not knowing whether Charles was alive or dead made the summer of 1940 particularly painful and difficult for my grandparents. The British Red Cross were to eventually inform them that their son WAS alive and a Prisoner of War and communication of sorts was set up.

Charles had been passed for dead on the beach at St. Valery by the British, finally, scarcely alive he was taken prisoner by the Germans and he owed his life to Scottish Surgeons at the Prisoner of war camp, where one kidney was removed and seventeen pieces of shrapnel which my grandmother kept after the war in her cabinet in the sitting room at Wick Hall.

In the rush to be taken out of Dunkirk, the BEF had left all its weapons behind. This had never happened before in military history and Britain was not in an immediate position to replace them. The RAF was missing three squadrons worth of fighter planes and serious warship losses had been suffered by the Royal Navy.

Towards the end of 1943 an exchange of sick or badly wounded German and British Prisoners of War had finally taken place in the Swedish Port of Gothenburg. Charles was one of the 5,400 British prisoners who had been repatriated, most of whom like himself had been badly injured on the beaches in 1940 or in the raid on Dieppe in 1942. 5000 Germans were repatriated at the same time.

It was a piece of unexpected luck that Gothenburg was where the exchange had taken place as from their introduction before the war, Charles had remained in touch spasmodically with Anna-Britta Andersen, courtesy of the British and Swedish Red Cross throughout his time in Prisoner of War camps.

With Charles eventual arrival at his parents flat in Hove 1943 , a civic reception was held by the Mayor of Brighton and Hove. Drained by the deprivations and harsh conditions of the Prisoner Of War camps and one kidney lighter he was exhausted but indisputably alive and like my father and others in the armed forces, very much aware of those who had NOT survived.

During his time as prisoner he had taken part in a proxy ceremony which had been arranged by the Swedish Red Cross and with a priest present. Events were rather hazy but he had become dimly aware that he was now officially engaged to Anna-Britta Andersen. Grandparents Anna had sent him regular parcels through the Red Cross. As courtship, socks and cakes were part of a wartime expediency and were the currency of romance. As symbols and metaphors they replaced the more usual getting to know you rituals of courtship and engagement with a language that spoke symbolically of warmth, containment and nourishment - all in short supply in POW camps and seized upon when they arrived via the help of the Red Cross with a gratitude that had the possibility of being transformed into love.

The worst was now over for Charles but recovery came slowly. As with most prisoners of war, internal conflict of a different kind raged when the flashbacks of trauma and near death threatened to de stabilise a fragile equilibrium. Survival in the reality of prisoner of war camps, with their harsh conditions, deprivation, illness, bleak, long days of incarceration, only became bearable if one could transport oneself internally to happier times - ‘The Prisoner is never in the place where he is beaten’

This rule was no longer necessary when one was back in familiar surroundings, but unfortunately, the safety and security of such surroundings could weaken the internal censor, so that vivid wartime recollections might persist with the awful zeal of a recurrent nightmare.

Charles, on his return remained with the British Army for a while. He was transferred to the newly formed Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and was in charge of a vehicle depot. He didn’t return to the fighting and in 1945 he was sent out to Germany as part of a force of Anglo American scientists and engineers after the allied advance, to ascertain what was useful and what should be kept secret. The work was a sensitive and absorbing business and had much to do with the past conflict and what was looming ahead politically - that of war of a different kind - a cold war which was indisputably on the horizon.

Charles married Anna Britta Andersen in 1945 and they had two sons, the eldest - Christopher, but always called Kit was born in August 1946 and Paul in September 1949.

He continued his interests in electrical and mechanical engineering, becoming the Director of the Electrical Inspectorate of the Ministry of Supply - becoming responsible for accepting electronic and electrical equipment into the armed forces. "On retiring from the army in 1960 he held various posts including that of director of the British Electrotechnical Approvals Board for Household Equipment which tests and certifies domestic appliances"

‘Besides his other civilian posts, in 1972 Charles took up a consultancy with the Economic Intelligence Unit and went to the eastern Caribbean to assess the feasibility of setting up electrical component factories.
Three years later he joined the United Nations Industrial development Organisation and spent long periods abroad advising on safety tests for electronic and electrical appliances’

(From The Daily Telegraph Obituary page circa 1992)

Charles and Anna moved from Poole in Dorset to Majorca and lived near the Port of Andraitx in a large converted farmhouse where they enjoyed an idyllic retirement and Charles could continue his love of art in general and painting which he did with enthusiasm.