Battle of the River Forth: When Swastikas were paraded through the streets of Edinburgh

The remains of two German airmen killed in the Battle of the River Forth on October 16 1939 were buried with full military honours in Portobello, with their coffins proudly draped in Swastikas, the German flag of the time.

Thursday, 17th October 2019, 11:45 am

Under Officer Kurt Seydel, 26, and Radio Operator August Schleicher, 22, were buried on October 21 as pipers from 602 and 603 squadrons, the outfits which had shot the men down, played Over the Sea to Skye.

Amazingly, more than 10,000 people lined the streets to pay their respects to the fallen soldiers, including then nine-year-old Richard Demarco, who may have been the last person to see the faces of the two men alive as he witnessed Spitfire planes fire on the Luftwaffe from Portobello beach.

The chaplain for 603, Reverend James Rossie Brown, spoke at their graveside at St Philip’s Church and later wrote to their mothers to assure them their sons had been buried with full honours.

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Thousands lined the streets as the coffins of two German soldiers were brought to Portobello Cemetery.
Thousands lined the streets as the coffins of two German soldiers were brought to Portobello Cemetery.

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A pair of wreaths laid on the graves from Scottish women bore the messages: “To two brave airmen from the mother of an airman,” and “With the deep sympathy of Scottish mothers.”

Later on in the war, German soldiers were not buried with such ceremony.

Some have suggested the respect paid to the soldiers, especially from the mothers of young Scottish men, may have been borne of painful memories from losses in the First World War only two decades previously.

READ MORE: Battle of the River Forth: German gave gold ring to thank Edinburgh fishermen who saved his life in 1939

Louis Costello, an Edinburgh funeral director and embalmer, was faced with the difficult task of finding two Nazi flags in Britain in 1939, recalls his son, Alan Costello, 79.

Mr Costello eventually managed to source two enemy flags from the German Embassy in Norway.

During the procession through the streets of Edinburgh he walked alongside the coffins, dressed in his black funeral director uniform.

Beyond the bare details, he did not often talk about that day to his family.

“My father never talked about the war ever, they were personal things,” Mr Costello Junior said.