Devoted couple’s funeral - record-breaking grandparents are buried together

Hans and Josie Schaffer from Bedford.
Hans and Josie Schaffer from Bedford.

A couple from Bedford who set a family size record with nearly 140 grandchildren were buried together in the same coffin this week.

Relatives said that Hans Schaffer, 92, passed away with a broken heart just 72 hours after his wife Josie, who was 83 and suffering from a chest infection.

Hans and Josie Schaffer from Bedford, on their wedding.

Hans and Josie Schaffer from Bedford, on their wedding.

Their massive family said the German-born former prisoner of war gave up his fight against cancer.

Hans and Josie were buried together after a funeral service at Christ the King church in Bedford on Monday, attended by around 25 of their grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

A horse and carriage transported their shared coffin the two miles from their bungalow in Bedford to the catholic church, where their son Carl read a eulogy to them.

The coffin, made of light oak and with roses in the shape of a cross on top, was then taken to the Norse Road Cemetery in Bedford.

More than 60 members of the family stood at the graveside to say goodbye, including some of Hans’ relatives from Germany.

Nine of their children were reunited for the occasion but two of their children, who live in Australia and America, were unable to attend.

Son Jonathan, 55, said: “It was a brilliant send-off to two loving parents. And the grandkids got to say goodbye to their granny and granddad. There couldn’t have been a better way to say goodbye.

“There were a lot of tears, it was very emotional. It was good to have almost all of us siblings there, there were no arguments today, we were just there to say goodbye.”

The couple, who raised 11 children, made headlines in 2008 when their family numbered 56 grandchildren and 43 great-grandchildren.

In the eight years since it has grown even bigger with at least another dozen great-grandchildren – although it is now so huge no-one seems able to keep count.

The pair of soulmates had been together since the Second World War when Hans was a German prisoner of war in a camp in Worcestershire and Josie was 14.

Hans was released in 1947 and they got married and had their first child in 1948, before moving to Swindon, where they settled down.

When Josie died on September 25 at the age of 83 from a chest infection and with dementia, Hans got into her bed and lay next to her as he said his goodbyes.

His son Jonathan, 55, said it was at that moment his father “gave up” the fight against stomach cancer which he had been battling for three years – and he really died of a broken heart.

Jonathan, who works as a car mechanic, said: “I think they had it planned, they were soulmates who were utterly devoted to one another.

“They were inseparable.

“When mum passed away dad was very ill but he understood and we put him in the bed with her so they could lay together. He said his goodbyes. You could see the sadness in his eyes, he was heartbroken.

“It was then he gave up. He was given six months to live in 2011 and he survived for three years, he was a fighter. That’s how I know he really died of a broken heart.”

After his release from the camp Hans spent years working as a farmer, before he went on to work for Vauxhall.

Altogether they had 13 children, but two – Shirleen, born in 1948, and Carleen, born in 1961, died at birth.

The other children are Shannette, 65, Roberta, 63, Veronica, 62, Bernadette, 61, Paul 60, Katrina, 58, Adrian, 56, Jonathan, 55, Carl, 54, Donna, 50 and Stephen, 48. In the 1980s the couple moved to Perth, Australia, but decide to return to the UK and settle in Bedford 13 years ago for retirement.

Guinness World Records said: “There is no existing record for the living couple with the most grandchildren. But this pair may clinch it.”