In 1944, Nazi stormtrooper Heinrich Steinmeyer was caught by the British hiding in a foxhole in Normandy.

The British probably expected Steinmeyer to put up a fight. Instead, he surrendered.

But Steinmeyer was amazed by the kindness shown by the British soldiers after they had told him to empty his pockets, containing a grenade and two apples. A soldier handed back the apples to Steimeyer, telling him that he'll be needing them.

Steinmeyer was then sent to the Cultybraggan PoW camp in a remote area of Perthshire, in Scotland.

He stayed there until the end of the war. Conditions weren't indeal but they were infinitely preferable to being on the frontline.

There were over 1000 PoW camps in Britain during the War, each one was numbered. Cultybraggan was Camp 21.

After the war, he was free to leave Britain, but instead he decided to stay.

For seven years he stayed in the village of Comrie and the town of Stranraer, where he was amazed by the generosity of the locals.

Now, 65 years later, he has bequeathed his home in Bavaria and life savings – worth a total of £430,000 – to the elderly residents of the tiny Highland village in a remarkable act of gratitude for his treatment there.

Nazi PoW bequeaths £400,000 to the British town where he was held

EXCLUSIVE by Michael Woodhead in Delmenhorst, Germany
26/09/2009 (external - login to view)

Sentimental Heinrich Steinmeyer never forgot the kindness of the people of Comrie

Caked in mud in a Normandy field, Nazi stormtrooper Heinrich Steinmeyer clambered out of his foxhole, handed his rifle to a Scots Guard and surrendered.

It was 1944 and, says Heinrich: “I was one of Hitler’s elite soldiers and was expected to die at my post in defence of the Führer and the Fatherland.”

Instead he gave himself up…and was treated with the kind of extraordinary humanity he found almost impossible to believe.

Heinrich was asked to empty his pockets – containing a hand grenade and two apples. Then the soldier he surrendered to gave him back the fruit, saying: “You’ll be needing those.”

And so began Heinrich’s long journey to Cultybraggan PoW camp in a remote corner of Scotland – and a lasting bond between the former stormtrooper and the villagers of Comrie, Perthshire.

Now, 65 years later, he has bequeathed his home and life savings – worth a total of £430,000 – to the elderly residents of the tiny Highland village in a remarkable act of gratitude for his treatment there.

“I always wanted to repay the generosity they showed me,” Heinrich, now 84, tells the Sunday Mirror at his home in Delmenhorst, near Bremen. “They deserve everything I have to give them. And it is far better they have it than anyone else.

“Cultybraggan was a holiday camp compared to the fighting. The whole place was so beautiful. It went straight to my heart, and I thought, ‘Why have I been fighting this bloody war?’”

He said of his captors at the camp, which housed 4,000 German PoWs spread across 90 acres of farmland: “They were tough, but always fair. I didn’t expect to find this attitude – I was not just the enemy, but a Nazi as well.

“Such friendliness was a surprise, but it is in the British nature. They fed us well and it was so much better than being told to lie in a filthy foxhole – and to die there.”

So when Heinrich dies, his ashes will be scattered at Cultybraggan and his entire estate will pass to a special trust he has founded to help the elderly in the area.

“I want my ashes to be spread across those black hills and for a piper to play Amazing Grace while it is being done,” he said.

He had offered to pay a funeral director to scatter the ashes – but villager George Carson, 80, one of the many locals he counts as a friend, insists it will be “an honour” to do it for free.

Heinrich’s incredible love affair with the wind-swept, isolated village has its roots in the bitter and bloody fighting that followed the D-Day landings.

He was a 20-year-old member of the Hitler Youth SS 12th Panzer Division of 20,000 men which included some of the most fanatical Nazis in the German Army.

He had joined the Hitler Youth when he was 17 in 1941 on a misplaced wave of national pride.

“At the time, everyone worshipped the Fuhrer,” he said. “We thought he had saved Germany … until we found out the truth.

“Before Hitler we had nine million unemployed. My father had no work, we had no money to live off and my parents, myself and my three sisters survived each day on soup.”

The young Heinrich was perfect SS fodder – blond, tall and strong. “They had strict criteria. You had to be over 5ft 9ins and prove that you were of pure Aryan heritage back to 1800.”

He left his home in Silesia, which is now part of Poland, and was posted to the Western Front. His father had been killed fighting the Russians in 1942.

But by the time young Heinrich’s war took him to Caen in Normandy, the truth had become clear and he realised Hitler was a lost cause.

Heinrich remembers Caen as a living hell. He was ordered to defend the river and found himself straffed by fighters during the day and bombed at night.

“When we saw what the British had for equipment, we knew it would be impossible to stop them,” he says.

“I knew then the war could never be won.”

But they did indeed fight to the last man – almost.

“Only 12 of us came out those foxholes alive. The Scottish soldiers said, ‘Come out or we shoot!’ My comrades who shot back were killed.”

Then came the moment that has lived with him for the rest of his life, the return of those two apples, a small gesture which spoke volumes for the British way of doing things.

“It was an act of kindness that astonished me. I didn’t expect it,” he says.

He was stripped of his Nazi regalia – the SS flashes on his collar and the swastika on his tunic and sent to Cultybraggan, built specifically for ‘Category A’ PoWs, men deemed high-risk Nazis.

Heinrich and his fellow prisoners were given three meals a day, full medical care and slept in snug sleeping bags in row after row of Nissen huts.

And he wasn’t alone in preferring life in Cultybraggan to fighting on in Hitler’s futile cause.

A telling 1945 report by Red Cross inspectors reveals ‘No complaints’ from PoWs at Cultybraggan, who had formed two orchestras using instruments donated by locals and had set up their own theatre troupe. The PoWs did building work locally and were sent to work on farms.

At then end of the war, Heinrich was free to leave but decided to stay in Scotland.

“I had lost my home, now part of Poland, my father was dead and my mother was a refugee driven out of her homeland by the Russians into East Germany,” he said.

He found full-time work as a farmhand and was won over by countless small acts of kindness.

“I went to watch a local highland games and stood on a hill so I could catch a glimpse.

“A lady came up to me and gave me a ticket to go in and watch,” he recalls. “And not only that, but a ten shilling note as well to spend. I was utterly astonished that people could be so nice.”

He went on: “The farmer would give me half a crown as extra money. One day I asked him if he could change my half crowns into a ten shilling note as I wanted to buy some new shoes. The next thing I knew he’d bought them for me.

“Another time I wanted to go to a football game but could not afford a ticket. It didn’t matter to them and they told me to go on into the ground anyway. I would be walking in the streets and people would offer me a cup of tea and sometimes give me money to buy something.”

The kindness didn’t stop there. When Heinrich, whothe locals called Heinz , told them about his mother’s plight, they sent food parcels to Germany on his behalf.

“My mother was living in poverty. I finally had to go home because she was very ill and needed looking after.”

So, after seven years doing a variety of jobs, eventually settling in Stranraer where he had worked for a firm building a river dam, Heinrich went home.

He got a job as a docker in Bremen – but always dreamed of returning to Comrie, which he did in 1988.

“It was exactly the same,” he says. “I got a warm welcome as if I had never left. Naturally some people had died but others knew me and said, ‘Hello Heinz’. All my memories came back to me.”

He has been back regularly ever since and has become ‘Uncle Heinz’ to five families, sending huge boxes of sweets every year.

Heinrich married in Germany, but later divorced. He has no children or direct relatives to leave his estate to.

He said: “The Scottish people gave me everything and never asked for a single penny in return. I had nothing and they gave me a home. I always wanted to give something back – and now I can.”