Tribute to Bedfordshire legend and war veteran Eddie Petri

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The founder of the Great Barford/Wollstein twinning group sadly passed away on January 2.

In common with quite a few veterans aged 93, Edmund Petri’s life story encompasses colourful and life threatening experiences.

Boyish tricks and pranks suffered by residents in his hometown of Wöllstein situated in the wine growing area of Germany gave way to the young man driving a tank across Europe.

Eddie had considerable good fortune, his two brothers failed to survive the conflict however Eddie managed to survive.

However Eddie was wounded late in 1944 and was hospitalised for a short period and never returned to his tank, eventually he was captured evading the Russians by an American soldier with a pistol.

He ended up in England in a Prisoner of War Camp (POW) and was released at the end of the war.

Eddie was a very keen footballer and Manchester United supporter, had the war not intervened he may have played professional football, instead he and likeminded sportsmen in the camp played some matches against the local village of Great Barford.

As time passed Eddie and a friend from his home village were asked to play for Great Barford in the Beds League in 1946.

Eddie befriended many people in the area especially Great Barford, he also made friends with a local girl, Joan Lovell who had a young daughter Marjorie.

Events took their ‘natural course’ and they married.

Eddie and Joan tried to build a life back in his home village in Germany but things but it did not work out, so they returned to Wilden where he built a business installing plumbing and central heating in numerous homes around the area.

In 2013 Eddie received an invitation to attend the 65th Arnhem pilgrimage by the 5th Battalion the Rifles; he was royally entertained and travelled from Paderborn around the area pointing out where the Gliders landed.

Eddie was very surprised how well he was treated as a POW and nurtured the thought of creating friendship and better understanding between the two villages.

In 1973 Eddie arranged a football match played in Great Barford versus his home village of Wöllstein.

This began reciprocal visits between the two villages, and soon Eddie and many new friends decided to join hands with an official twinning signing in Great Barford in 1978.

Eddie often spoke about the futility of the conflict and how similar the two nations were in many ways, and it was through football that the Great Barford/Wollstein partnership began.

Football was in his blood, as a direct result of the first match here in Great Barford, Wollstein laid plans for the installation of a grass stadium.

A tournament was organised to open the stadium and Eddie went to ask Bobbie Robson of Ipswich Town to represent the UK - unfortunately they were committed elsewhere, Kempston Rovers attended on their behalf.

Throughout the 70s and 80s Eddie spearheaded and drove the twinning organisation, his contacts in his home village helped families to come together.

Many people from Great Barford had never been abroad when the twinning partnership began but now long standing friendships endure and the organisation thrives with new young families enjoying overwhelming hospitality and a genuine German experience.

On May 25, a coach will depart Great Barford for Wollstein but sadly the front left hand seat will be unoccupied for the first time.