Theft from Guernsey’s German Occupation Museum…

As I alluded to in a previous Tomahawk Film’s Blog, in recent years an unfortunate shadow has been cast over the valiant efforts to preserve Guernsey’s German war-time history through the despicable theft of one of the Occupation Museum’s most treasured exhibits several years ago…

The steel helmet of former German Harbourmaster Kapitan Obermeyer was stolen from a locked glass-case in the central display room of the museum and was the only item taken, despite other more valuable artefacts being displayed in the case, namely the helmet of the Channel Island’s Kommandant, General Graf von Schmettow, leading owner & proprietor Richard Heaume MBE to believe that it was stolen specifically to order on behalf of a steel helmet buff somewhere within the III Reich collecting fraternity.

Various stories are circulating as to whom might be responsible but what is known is that a visitor from a nearby island was arrested on suspicion of involvement and was questioned by that island’s police but released through lack of evidence. However it is believed in some quarters that the helmet may still be on that neighbouring island, perhaps because its planned onward journey to an unscrupulous collector somewhere in the world was interrupted by media focus on this tragic case at the time…

Richard takes up the story:  “Whoever was responsible got into the locked glass-case without breaking it and even though the helmet was hanging up high, managed to get it down and spirit it away without us noticing anything untoward until later in the day. I am absolutely devastated at this loss as the helmet is of the greatest importance to me and my museum, for we have had it on display since 1966.

It is instantly noticeable as it is a large size, mint condition, double-decal marine artillery helmet in pre-war apple green; inside is written Kapt. Obermeyer, so if any collectors or dealers are subsequently offered this item, they would recognise it as being from our museum. I offered a reward at the time for any news and have put up a £500 reward, (approx. 700 dollars), for any new information leading to its safe return to the museum and I’d like to renew that appeal via Tomahawk Film’s Blog if I could..?”

Kapitan Obermeyer was born in Hamburg and served in the pre-war German Merchant Marine, then between the years 1940-45, he served as Hafenkommandant in Guernsey, working alongside the local Guernsey Harbourmaster Captain Franklen. Both had served in the square-rigger sailing ships of old and actually discovered that they had met years before when their two vessels had tied up alongside each other in Hamburg’s harbour.  According to Richard’s research, Obermeyer was a typical ‘old sea-dog’ who liked his drink & was a very hospitable & friendly chap along with it!

Certainly a Nazi, he played very fair with the local fishermen to whom he issued fishing permits from the town’s Crown Hotel, which he made his office when not out on the Quay. Throughout the occupation Kapitan Obermeyer lived in a house on the Strand, later used as a Kriegsmarine Hospital in 1944, and it was in this house that his steel helmet and gas-mask were left and later found after Guernsey’s liberation in May 1945.

This particularly underhand and upsetting theft, which has denied visitors to Richard’s museum the chance of viewing an important helmet in the island’s history in addition to forcing him to invest in advanced security measures, is something that the trusting and welcoming Channel Island of Guernsey should never have had to consider.

Collectors and enthusiasts who may not have had the opportunity of enjoying Guernsey’s German Occupation Museum can however view many of Richard’s ultra-rare and much prized artefacts, including Kapitan Obermeyer’s helmet, in my TV documentary, ‘Channel Islands Occupied’ which is available both from the Tomahawk Films’ website and through Richard’s museum itself, where he also runs a 20’ highlighted version of the longer 50’ documentary in his little cinema..

At the time of writing this Blog, valiant efforts to trace Kapitan Obermeyer’s steel helmet are still on-going with local whispers on the ground lending additional credence to the belief that the helmet may indeed still be ‘hiding out’ somewhere in the islands, so fuelling fervent hopes that it may be recovered at some point in the future.

However there is a much more cheerful note for the museum and exciting news for many collectors still holding fast to the belief that there are still wonderful items of III Reich militaria to be found hiding in lofts & attics:  Richard was presented with a superb example of a Wehrmacht trumpet banner issued to Pionier-Battailon 15, who were the resident army Musikkorps in the Bailiwick between 1940 and 1945 and I’m delighted to say he kindly allowed me to include a  photograph of this beautiful banner in my book The Military Music and Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933 to 1945.

Originally ‘liberated’ by a small boy in the early years of the German occupation when members of the band where called away from an official concert in the town’s Candie Gardens to an incident down in the harbour at St Peter Port, this ornate black and silver banner has lain quietly in the boys’ family home since war’s end. Believed to be one of only two that may still exist on Guernsey, this exciting example has made a welcome appearance and has been accepted by the Occupation Museum on temporary loan, providing a small piece of cheer in the wake of the despicable and disgraceful helmet theft.

In closing this particular Blog I’d like, on Richard’s behalf, to appeal to any collector who might possibly have heard something on the grapevine and therefore might have any helpful leads or news as a result as to the whereabouts of Kapt. Obermeyer’s steel helmet. It is still out there hiding somewhere and anybody with any leads are invited to contact Richard Heaume MBE directly at the German Occupation Museum, Forest, Guernsey, Channel Islands GY8 OBG… thank you!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013