- IN THE BEGINNING...
Neil Nimmo Helmut Bergmann
Self portrait by Neil Nimmo at 29 - shortly after he returned from liberated Paris.
Many years ago as my father Neil Nimmo fell ill we found working together on his wartime story a very positive project to share. However, in early 1992 Neil died, and it was after a long pause that I continued and widened my research, then working from Neil's original notes, my own notes, our taped discussions and transcripts I finally wrote his story.
With the help of my brothers Keith and Christian I initially compiled Perilous Moon as a piece of extraordinary but private family history, at that stage nothing was known of precisely who had shot my father and his crew down. The Luftwaffe side of the story would eventually begin to unfold some 10 years after Neil's death, it was at that point that I felt that the wider story could become a rare two-handed (and with the resistance a three-handed) account of life in WWII Occupied France, and during a key period - 1944 and what became "The End Game". Somehow I felt, this shared human experience must become a book.
A moment of almost spooky luck led me to Helmut Weitz's Hamburg military antiquarian gallery, where stashed away in three milk crates and almost untouched I was to find Luftwaffe night fighter pilot Helmut Bergmann's original personal papers, his photographs and his 3rd Reich documents. This find was the shattered Bergmann family's memories of their long-dead Luftwaffe son. I had recently discovered that Neil might have been shot down by a Luftwaffe pilot named Helmut Bergmann, but thought it impossible to trace further evidence - yet here it was in dusty crate loads! No matter who Helmut Bergmann was as a person, (this evidence lead to further research that points to him being a confirmed Nazi) it was all very poignant. As far as Neil's account and the wider story was concerned it was of course a priceless find. As with the final pieces of a difficult jigsaw puzzle, everything began to fall into place.
Helmut Weitz, the Gallery owner, who's own father was posted to the awful horrors of the Eastern Front, generously gave me full access to what proved to be a researcher's dream ... or possibly nightmare. Seeing and handling Helmut Bergmann's original papers, his family letters and Luftwaffe chum's photographs was a strange experience. When in particular I was leafing through the copious pages and suddenly found Bergmann's original report, the very one that Bergmann had carefully typed on war-time thin paper, describing in the freshest detail exactly how he had shoot my own father down, I was filled with conflicting emotions. I stood up stunned in that Hamberg gallery and wondered at what my father Neil would have made of this icy find? Then of course, Bergmann! Had he forseen me - his victim's as yet unborn son - standing there in rebuilt Hamburg, with the report in his hand... Much raced through my mind that day!
Following the war Neil had become a highly successful advertising photographer and as my own work has always been in television, making this wider story visually tempting now seemed vital. But there was a serious problem, I knew how very few French people had taken photographs during the Nazi Occupation - understandably too, even if they were collaborating the French were reluctant to point a camera at the occupiers. The few French images that I had seen had invariably been over used, or were of dubious origin, most likely faked - for example the many poses of heavily armed, fearless 'resistance' groups are almost all phony. True resistance workers did not arm themselves to the teeth and pose for group photographs, whereas those who urgently needed to reconstruct their history certainly did.
Hence I turned to Germany again and spent years combing and searching through thousands of German combatant's private photographs, hunting down shots of events in France that give an accurate, visual flavour of daily life during that dangerous period in WWII Occupied France. This still growing collection of unearthed, now repatriated and carefully restored images must be unique.
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