From the front lines of World War II to working on the Snowy Hydro Scheme, Mollymook’s Klaus Bucke has an incredible migrant story.
The former German soldier celebrated his 99th birthday with family in Mollymook on Sunday, November 18.
Mr Bucke, who hails from Hamburg, was one of 13 million soldiers who served with the Wehrmacht during World War II.
A carpenter by trade, Mr Bucke remembered working on a five-storey building in Germany in 1939 when he was told he had to conscript.
“I said, ‘What about my tools?’ and they said to leave them,” Mr Bucke said.
From 1940 he was assigned to a tank division. Mr Bucke recalled spending 18 days on the Belgian-French border, “very close to Dunkirk” where he could see the English army from afar.
In 1941 he was sent to the Eastern Front to fight against the Soviet Union and its allies – the largest military confrontation in history.
When the war finished in 1945, Mr Bucke returned to carpentry and completed his masters degree in Germany.
A few years later the Australian government was advertising for tradesmen to build the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. Despite Germany’s need for tradespeople to rebuild the country, Mr Bucke said he elected to move to Australia.
“This time I do what I want to do,” he said.
He signed a two-year contract, leaving his wife Ursula and daughter Krastane in Germany, and moved to Cooma in 1951. Australian slang posed some difficulties early on.
“A German fellow would say, ‘Learn the language in the first six months or you never will’,” Mr Bucke said.
With his first wage, he took out a deposit on a block of land in Cooma. About nine months later his wife and five-year-old daughter joined him.
The family spent 12 years in Cooma, welcoming a few more children into the family, before they moved to Canberra.
“I made a mistake, in Cooma I was well-known, in Canberra I was just another [builder],” he said.
When his daughter started her own family, Klaus and his son-in-law decided they would be build a place together. The pair searched “up and down” the coast for a spot to build a weekender and settled on a block of land in Mollymook 42 years ago.
Mr Bucke and his wife then moved to his home in Mollymook 32 years ago. “It’s the best place, we always liked to see the ocean and beaches,” he said.
Although his wife died 20 years ago, Mr Bucke enjoys family time with his four children, nine grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.