For all serving military officers, of whatever Service – Navy, Army or Air Force – and from whatever country, the greatest privilege and pleasure comes from the responsibility of commanding people. I was lucky enough to command both a Harrier squadron and a main operating base here in Germany – a country that is like a second home to me, to my wife Alison, and to our 3 sons. And it was whilst I was serving at RAF Laarbruch that we had the great good fortune to become friends with the Hettlich family.
The first time that we met was at a dinner party. And I have to admit that I was slightly taken aback by the fact that the guest list included “a local German dentist and his wife from Kleve, named Frank and Dorise”. Not perhaps, to the un-tuned English ear, the most Germanic names I could have imagined. But then I could not have imagined either, that first time we met, how much that family would become such an important a part of our lives.
Soon after that first meeting, we were invited to come over for tea one late Spring weekend. Apart from the fact that we were unable, initially, to locate the house at “Am Deich” (and, like a Baronial manor, we had to ring a bell and wait outside the automatic gate before being allowed inside) we soon found ourselves in that beautiful home. The firm and immediate impression was of a man – indeed, of a whole family – with the most enormously intelligent, eclectic interest in the world around them.
Certainly, it was impossible not to be mightily impressed by Frank and his family. Whether it was the beautiful bright yellow antique Porsche in the entrance lobby, or the man-eating sized dogs that would only lick you into submission, or the fact that the garden was stocked not with wisteria but with wallabies, everything was……well, interesting. The unusualness even extended to the fact that he asked me to remove my shoes before entering – Englishmen can be very odd about being asked to remove their shoes – but this for not any other reason than he wanted us to enjoy, to the absolute maximum, his beloved under-floor heating. And, of course, as a fellow pilot I was also mightily impressed by the fact both that he had his own aeroplane, and by the patent professionalism with which he addressed all his flying activities.
In truth, everything about Frank was, just, different to anybody I had ever met before. But different because he was better in each and every regard – because he was a more attractive personality, more interesting, more intelligent, more friendly and, perhaps above all, more honest.
Certainly, I have never met – before or since – anyone with a more generous spirit than he. But he could be very disarming too, not least with his unerring ability to recognise, for example, whether I was stressed or – in his opinion – was working too hard. He was never wrong in those judgements, for we probably had more than our fair share of misfortunes at Laarbruch but I knew that, in having Frank as a friend, I would always be given the most honest and invariably sound advice.
And there were so many happy times too. Alison and I (and our three sons) enjoyed many activities with the Hettlich family – ranging from Café and Kuchen on a weekend morning, to delightful dinner parties with interesting and varied guests (and, I have to say, interesting cuisine). Or just making a complete fool of myself trying to ice skate on the frozen lake at “Am Deich”. All immensely happy memories now locked away for the rest of my life.
So I stand here today not only to say goodbye to Frank but also say a deep and heartfelt thank you to the whole Hettlich family for your friendship and for your kindness. And I do this not just on behalf of Alison and myself but also on behalf of the many RAF personnel who had the great good fortune to have had their lives touched by Frank and his marvellous family. Thank you.
Sir Clive Loader