English change luck

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The Schauinsland in winter. The village of Hofsgrund is further to the right outside the picture.
The English monument on the Schauinsland reminds of what happened, but in a politically colored version.

In the so-called English Change Luck on April 17, 1936, a group of 27 English schoolchildren at the Schauinsland ran into mountain difficulties after they had hiked up the mountain from Freiburg im Breisgau under the guidance of their teacher, despite an unfavorable weather forecast . On the ridge, the group lost their bearings in a meter of fresh snow, fog and blizzard. Thanks to the courageous action of the people of Hofsgrund , most of the students were saved, five died of exhaustion.

The behavior of the group was then reinterpreted by National Socialist propaganda as a heroic deed and celebrated with significant effect in foreign policy.



The students from Strand School , a high school in south London , had come together for a ten -day trip to the Black Forest during the Easter break , which also included a five-day hike. The group had arrived in Freiburg im Breisgau early in the morning on April 16 . Many of the students had little sleep on the night train ride and were overtired. April 16 was free for the boys, most of them strolling through town. The hike began on April 17th, the first day's stage of which was to lead via Schauinsland and Notschrei to the Radschert Youth Hostel in Todtnauberg .

The group consisted of 27 boys aged 12 to 17 years. The instructor and only adult supervisor was the young teacher Kenneth Keast, 27 years old, who was very popular with the students and taught English, German and sports. The oldest student, 17-year-old Douglas Mortifee, worked as a prefect as an assistant. The trip was not organized by the school, but was privately offered by Keast through London's School Travel Service . The Black Forest was already the best developed hiking area in Germany and an internationally popular travel destination.

The planned stage from Freiburg to Todtnauberg is well over 20 km long and, with the ascent to the Schauinsland of around 1000 meters in altitude, represents a demanding mountain tour even under favorable conditions. According to reports, the group of students was not adequately equipped for the company: Despite winter conditions, they wore Boys sometimes wear summer clothes, light shoes, shorts, no headgear. Instead of the detailed hiking maps of the Black Forest Association , Keast only used an overview map on a scale of 1: 100,000 provided by the School Travel Service , which showed the marked hiking trails but no terrain details. As provisions there were two rolls and an orange for each.

As one of the boys, Ken Osborne, noted in his diary, it was snowing when we left the youth hostel at 9:00 a.m. At first the children enjoyed it and went on snowball fights, but as the terrain increased, the snow became a serious, debilitating obstacle, especially since Keast lost his way a few times and took time-consuming detours.

Travel times after the reconstruction of the father of Jack Alexander Eaton
Time Waypoint
09:00 Departure from Peterhof Youth Hostel
09:45 Günterstal, first march past St. Valentin, then wrong way back almost to Freiburg
11:30 back to St. Valentin, Keast alone asks for directions
12:30 Cybfelsen , another wrong way
13:30 Sohlacker
15:00 Kohlerhau, meeting with forest workers
15:15 Lateral descent into the upper Kappler valley, meeting with Postmann Steiert
16:00 Daily goal abandoned, but decision to continue ascent. First student exhausted
18:00 Group reaches east ridge, loss of orientation. Four students must be carried
18:30 Evening bells of the Hofsgrund church
20:00 The first students reach Hofsgrund, the rescue operation begins
23:30 All dead and survivors recovered


Keast was warned of the weather several times before and during the hike, but he did not allow himself to be dissuaded from his plans.

  • The day before he had been informed of impending storms and had replied that the English were used to worse weather.
  • The weather report posted in the youth hostel for April 17th clearly indicated a change in the weather. The mountain station of the Schauinsland cable car , which had opened 7 years earlier, reported 3 ° C, fog, snowfall and about 12 cm of snow in the morning, which Keast could have asked by phone.
  • In the youth hostel, hostel father Hermann Reichert and material manager Carl Rockweiler, both experienced mountain hikers, expressed their concerns to Keast and urged him not to use the snow-covered hiking trails, but only the cleared road (which Keast had already left in Günterstal).
  • When Keast in the east of Günterstal asked for directions alone at the St. Valentin inn, the landlady there also advised against a hike on the Schauinsland and pointed out that all the paths and signs were snowed over. He gave back, then he would just wipe the snow off. The landlady only noticed when he was leaving that he had a group of students with him.
  • At around 3 p.m. at the Kohlerhau, Keast spoke - according to his own statement - with two forest workers who had stopped their work because of the storm. He asked for directions, but saw no reason to stop the hike. This meeting is not mentioned in the prosecutor's report.
  • Shortly afterwards the group met the postman Otto Steiert in the upper Kappl valley, who came from the nearby Bergwerkzechenheim (a dormitory for workers from the Schauinsland mine ). Steiert warned urgently against an ascent, pointed out the increasing snowfall and offered to lead the group to Kappel, which Keast refused and instead had the further route to the Schauinsland described. He also did not consider staying at the Zechenheim.


Possible path of the group from the meeting with Steiert (S), reconstructed from testimony and local research
Steep scree slope in the Kappler Wand, top center is the Schauinsland summit

In the deepening snow above the Kappler Valley, the group made difficult progress, especially since some of the students who were not rested when they set out had reached the end of their strength after more than six hours of hiking. Keast realized that the schedule could no longer be adhered to - he had wanted to reach the Schauinsland summit, which was still ahead of them, four hours earlier, and walking in the waist-deep snow required time-consuming and strenuous track work. The main thing now was to get the group to safety. However, he did not return to the Zechenheim, but preferred to head for the Schauinsland summit (where he hoped to find a refuge) or the village of Hofsgrund behind as the closest settlement.

As the crow flies, it is about 1 km from the upper Kappl valley to the summit, and 2 km to Hofsgrund. However, Keast had not factored in the terrain: the summit was still around 300 meters above them, and on the direct route there, the steepest face of the mountain had to be conquered, the Kappler Wall with a slope of up to 70 percent . The strenuous, cross-country ascent through deep snow at temperatures around freezing point, blowing snow and strong winds soon made some of the students collapse. Keast, still convinced that the march to Hofsgrund was the safest option, continued the ascent and had the boys sing happy songs to keep them happy. Those who could no longer stand on their feet were carried in turn.

When the group finally reached the eastern ridge of the Schauinsland, they lost the mountain's slipstream and were fully exposed to the snow storm when the temperature was below zero. From here one could have got to the mountain station of the Schauinslandbahn and thus to safety without further difficulties, but because nothing could be seen in the fog and storm, Keast preferred to keep the rough direction to Hofsgrund, although he was probably not aware that which meant another 250 meters of descent over sloping and deeply snow-covered terrain. The group soon lost their orientation on the south-eastern mountain flank, especially as the daylight was also fading, and, giving in to the storm, ran eastwards, although Hofsgrund was south.

Rescue operation

The last mile of the drama took place on this slope. At the top left is the Eugen Keidel Tower on the Schauinsland summit, at the top right at the edge of the forest is the Little English Monument (the group was probably there when they heard the bell ringing), and at the bottom left is the Dobelhof.

At around 6:30 p.m., the evening bell of the Hofsgrund church penetrated the storm and indicated the direction to Hofsgrund. Below a height of 1,100 meters there was no longer any fog and the lights from Hofsgrund could be seen.

On the way there, the first arrived at Dobelhof around 8 p.m. When they reported that there were more people outside, the alarm was sounded and all the men available in Hofsgrund went looking with skis, as no clear information about the location of the rest of the group could be obtained. It was completely dark and the blizzard continued. Carrying the found students in the fresh deep snow proved impossible, so a horn sled was used. Gradually, 15 of the students made it to Hofsgrund on their own, others kept watch over collapsed and called for help, Keast himself stayed with two unconscious students.

A doctor who was on vacation near Hofsgrund took care of the emergencies. The boys out of danger to their lives were carefully warmed up and looked after by helpers. Shortly after 10 p.m. the police in Kirchzarten were informed by phone and in turn called for ambulances from Freiburg. Everyone was safe by 11:30 p.m. The police and ambulances together with another doctor, search personnel and a dog did not arrive in Hofsgrund until after 1 a.m. due to the winter road conditions.


  • Francis Bourdillon (12 Years)
  • Peter Ellercamp (13 Years)
  • Stanley Lyons (13 Years)
  • Jack Alexander Eaton (14 Years)
  • Roy Witham (14 years)

The first four could not be revived in Hofsgrund. It was so critical to Roy Witham and another student that they were transported to the Freiburg University Clinic in the ambulances that had moved out at night , where they arrived around 7 a.m. Witham died there ten minutes later, the other recovering quickly.

Three students, including Eaton, were found last and conspicuously high up, just below the ridge. Since it seems unlikely that they could get there under their own steam, it seems reasonable to assume that they stayed there when the group broke up.


Right from the start, Keast described the event as an unpredictable natural disaster to the press and authorities. He had expected the best spring weather, which had still existed the day before, and an onset of winter was not to be expected. As soon as the weather worsened, he did his best to get the group to safety. During the investigation in England, he stated that the planned route is normally considered a short day tour (which is not the case) and that German sources speak of the worst snow storm in 40 years. The latter is correct, but the claim that the storm came unexpectedly is incorrect - in fact, the weather development corresponded to the forecasts made.


In Germany, the National Socialists quickly recognized the opportunity to make political capital out of the situation. The Olympic Games in Berlin were just around the corner, and the German Reich wanted to show itself to the world as a strong but friendly and benevolent state. The official account adopted Keast's thesis of an unforeseeable misfortune that befell the group and the heroic act of rescue of their teacher. The rescue operation from Hofsgrund and all the indications that suggested misconduct on the part of the teacher fell under the table (although the Freiburg public prosecutor initially pursued this investigation). The willing discharge of Keast was politically motivated: allegations against the British side could have strained diplomatic relations , which had been strained since Hitler's seizure of power , that was not wanted by either side. In this way, Germany was able to present itself as a generous helper in need in terms of foreign policy. This trend came in handy for Keast, and the British government was also pleased that the Germans did not blame the English teacher.

The rescued students were brought to Freiburg on Saturday, where the Hitler Youth organized a distracting leisure program for them. It was only on Sunday that most of them learned of the death of some of their classmates. The German Reich also took over the return of the survivors to England and the transfer of the dead with almost military honors and a personal wreath of Adolf Hitler.

Before that, a true cult of the dead was staged in the media based on the fate of the fatally injured. For example, a press photo in which members of the Hitler Youth hold “honor guards” at the coffins of “fallen heroes and mountain comrades” was also printed in several English daily newspapers. In the years that followed, the pupils who had died in the accident were revered by the Hitler Youth as "fallen mountain comrades" who had lost their lives in the struggle for peace and international understanding.

The Freiburg Theater is planning the premiere on April 17, 2021, the 85th anniversary of the disaster, as part of the city's 900th anniversary under the title Schauinsland. The misfortune of the English a "mysterious audio and picture theater evening".


In England, what was happening internally was initially viewed critically. The school management had to be asked why a group of this size abroad was only accompanied by a single adult. When assessing Keast's behavior, it should be borne in mind that school sport at that time pursued different ideals than it is today, and in order to achieve the desired hardening and hardening of the body, it was generally accepted and customary to challenge young people to exhaustion . Nevertheless, Keast could be reproached for not having recognized in time that the sporting challenge for some of his students had turned into an emergency situation, and that later he had not kept the group together and did not take sufficient care of the exhausted - quite apart from the general one inadequate preparation and execution of the company.

As a consequence of the incident, a school trip to Austria under Keast's direction that was planned shortly thereafter was canceled, but ultimately all allegations against him were dropped. He remained active in the school service and died in 1971.

Jack Eaton, the father of the late Jack Alexander Eaton, did not believe the official account. After the accident, he traveled to Freiburg several times, hiked the route, interviewed witnesses, reconstructed what had happened and found confirmation of his suspicions. In a written protocol, which he publicly distributed as a call to bring Keast to justice, he summarized his investigations and accused Keast of having brought the group of students into a hopeless situation out of ambition and recklessness and of ignoring any advice out of arrogance towards the Germans while there was still time. However, his statements (which are essentially correct according to current knowledge) were politically undesirable and received little attention, especially since they also burdened tour operators and school management. Disappointed, Eaton finally went beyond what was allowed by publicly branding Keast as the murderer of his son and pursuing him incessantly. He died in the early 1960s. The parents of the other fatalities did not join Eaton's protests.

One of the boys rescued, Stanley C. Few, later joined the British Army, but told his superiors that he could not be expected to fight Germans because he owed Germans his life. It was used in Asia.


Outside the Schauinsland region, history was forgotten until the Freiburg teacher and hobby historian Bernd Hainmüller came across it at the beginning of the 21st century while studying the records of the Freiburg Hitler Youth. Since the presentation there was obviously politically constructed, he set to work to reconstruct the processes from individual records and oral traditions and presented his results on April 17, 2016 in Hofsgrund, according to which the traditional interpretation as a tragic, no fault of his own was no longer available is tenable and instead confirms Jack Eaton's unheard accusations of amateurish preparation and irresponsible execution of the hike. The astonishment that such an inadequately equipped group of students had made it to the Schauinsland under the circumstances is still remembered in Hofsgrund.

The aspect, which Hainmüller also repeatedly mentioned, is unclear, what exactly happened on the “last mile”, between hearing the bells and the Dobelhof. According to witness statements, groups of collapsed people, each with an older student as a guard, were found. But since there is little point in leaving the exhausted with a guard in the snow instead of dragging them in the group to the rescuing house, according to Hainmüller there is much to suggest that Keast had completely lost control of the group by then and that the group had lost its grip disbanded individual troops, each of which had to get to safety on their own, leaving the exhausted behind. One of the 21 questions in the Eaton paper also relates to which of the pupils turned out to be “true Englishmen” and helped the weaker in need. What is certain is that there were secret agreements between Keast, the school management and the survivors. Even after Keast's death, nothing was known about the content of these meetings.

Two daughters of the surviving student Kenneth Osborne, who kept his diary, were also present at Hainmüller's lecture and reported that although their father did not talk about the tour very often, the friendliness and helpfulness of the Hofsgrunders stayed in his mind all his life. At the age of 12, he was one of the youngest at the time, but may only have survived because he had borrowed a rain cape to protect him from the wind. All his life he cherished a small cast model of a church, which the daughters only identified as an image of the Freiburg Minster when they visited . In the period that followed, Osborne put together an extensive archive of all British newspaper reports about the accident that were available to him, a copy of which is available to Bernd Hainmüller.

The British correspondent Kate Connolly published a detailed article reflecting Hainmüller's findings in the British daily newspaper The Guardian on July 6, 2016 . In the reader comments on the website, other former Strand School students said they had never heard of the incident before. Nothing in school reminds me of it.


On September 30, 2017, information boards with a brief outline of what was happening and the respective historical significance of the location were attached to the two monuments on the slope.

English monument

The pompous English monument in a prominent place was designed by Hermann Alker on behalf of Baldur von Schirach and the Hitler Youth and was to be inaugurated on October 12, 1938 (this event was canceled for political reasons). A rune-like gate made of two pillars and a crossbeam stands on a hexagonal platform surrounded by a wall. The pillars bear, on the left in English and on the right in German, a representation of the accident, with no mention of the Hofsgrund rescue operation, as well as the names and dates of birth of the five deceased students. The English text also incorrectly describes the casualties as “English Boyscouts”. The crossbar originally showed an imperial eagle and swastika , which were later removed.

"Little English monument"

The stone, about 1 meter high memorial cross that Jack Alexander Eaton's father had erected in May 1937 near the spot where his son was found dead is called the “Little English Monument” or “Eaton Cross” . It bears a German inscription on the slope side and an English inscription on the valley side. With the lineup, Eaton wanted to express his protest against the official presentation of the event, which exonerated the teacher from any complicity. He wanted to end the English text with a sentence that, in German translation, reads: “Your teacher failed in the hour of probation”, but he was refused because it contradicted the official version of what happened. The free space on the cross below the English text is clearly visible.


In the entrance area of ​​the Hofsgrund church, the bells of which led to the rescue, the parents of the rescued students had a memorial plaque put up, on which - as the only one of the monuments - they thank the Hofsgrund residents for their selfless help.


  • Bernd Hainmüller: “English Change Luck ” on the Schauinsland April 17, 1936. A documentation. April 2016.

Web links

Commons : Engländerdenkmal  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Evidence quotes from the Guardian report

  1. ^ The weather map for April 17, that hung in the hostel gave clear indication that conditions were going to turn.
  2. The first boy to collapse was Jack Alexander Eaton, the school's 14-year-old boxing champion. He was given an orange and a piece of cake and told to “buck up” - translated: “Jack Alexander Eaton, the 14-year-old schoolmaster in boxing, was the first to collapse. He was given a bite to eat and was told to clench his teeth. "
  3. User Polygruff writes: At no time was I aware of this tragic story from the schools past. I might be wrong but I do not remember it ever being mentioned or a plaque of remembrance to the terrible events of 1937 being anywhere on the school premises. It was a profound shock to read about it today. I have contacted a couple of Old Strandians and sent them the story but they too have no recollection of it ever being mentioned during their time at school. It is as if it has been willfully expunged from the schools 'proud' history , translated: “At no point was I aware of this tragic event in the history of the school. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't know that it was ever mentioned or that even a plaque commemorated the terrible events of 1937. I was deeply shocked to read this today. I brought it up to some other former students, but they couldn't remember it ever being mentioned. It seems that this episode has been deliberately erased from the school's 'proud' tradition. "

Other individual evidence

  1. Bernd Hainmüller: “English Change Luck” on the Schauinsland April 17, 1936. A documentation, April 2016. From p. 32
  2. according to research by the Freiburg local historian Bernd Hainmüller
  3. BRouter by Arndt Brenschede gives the shortest possible route 22.1 km, the shortest hiking route 23.7 km and the probably recommended route via Horben and Gießhübel 25.7 km.
  4. The Schauinsland summit is 1284 m above sea level, the Peterhof Youth Hostel at around 280 m.
  5. This probably does not mean the pass road to the mountain station, which would have significantly lengthened the hiking route due to its many serpentines , but the relatively easy western ascent via Horben, Eduardshöhe and Gießhübel, which mostly runs on fixed roads and always near farms
  6. ↑ based on a sketch of a map owned by Bernd Hainmüller
  7. The Schauinsland-Ostgrat is at an altitude of 1250 m, the Dobelhof in Hofsgrund at around 1000 meters.
  8. At first they spoke English and were not understood, then they picked up their German and said: "Two men sick on the mountain", by which they probably meant the exhausted.
  9. a b according to the protocol from Sergeant Malter, Police Post in Kirchzarten
  10. a b Bernd Hainmüller: April 17, 1936: Migration to death on the Schauinsland. In: hainmueller.de .
  11. He literally spoke of an "act of God": a legal term for a damaging event for which no one can be held responsible, see Act of God in Wikipedia
  12. A report from the “Manchester Guardian” from April 22nd (p. 14 top right) quotes Douglas Mortifee as saying that Keast had already told the three oldest students on Saturday morning and they had decided together, the younger ones only on Sunday in Freiburg accept. This coincides with Ken Osborne's diary, which Bernd Hainmüller has in original: “Sunday. We were told this morning the tragic news of the death of our comrades, and had a service in their memory at 11.00. "
  13. printed in the documentation by Bernd Hainmüller
  14. Bernd Hainmüller: “Engl Change Luck” on the Schauinsland April 17, 1936. Documentation, April 2016. P. 37: At this point at the latest [Hitler's birthday on April 20] the survivors were part of the staged campaign, which increased by the dead were transfigured as "fallen for friendship among peoples": "They fell in the struggle for open, honest and decent behavior among peoples", according to the corresponding message from the Reich Youth Press Service.
  15. Music theater. In: Preview season 20/21. Theater Freiburg, accessed on August 21, 2020 .
  16. in German translation contained in the appendix to the documentation by Dr. Bernd Hainmüller
  17. Tour description on tourismus-bw.de , accessed on September 2, 2016: It was built by the boy's father, who wanted to erect his own memorial for his son because of the unresolved question of guilt for the accident. However, he was denied a specific reference to the reason for this as an inscription.