In their uniforms they looked just like any of their chums, united in wartime against the common enemy of Hitler’s Germany.
But they shared a fascinating secret. For this was an unsung army of refugees who fled the Nazis to fight for Britain during the Second World War.
And only their real names - among them Horst, Helmut, and Ernst - betrayed the story of their German links.
Yesterday - most of them still proudly bearing the home-grown names they acquired to blend in all those years ago - they came together for the first time in a unique tribute to the part they played in Britain’s victory over Germany.
Their service was recognised by the Imperial War Museum in a ceremony to mark the courage of more than 100 surviving men and women who joined British forces in the liberation of Europe.
The event coincides with the publication of a book, The King’s Most Loyal Enemy Aliens, that tells their stories for the first time.
These were not merely evacuees seeking safe haven in England, but a generation of Germans and Austrians determined to do their bit for the war.
Some saw frontline service as commandos, marines or tank crew.
Others fought in the D-Day landings, or played vital roles in communications and code-breaking, using their native German in aid of the Allied cause.
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One of them even has the distinction of being the man who shot and arrested “Lord Haw Haw”, the traitorous propagandist William Joyce.
But being an “alien” in Britain during wartime - not to mention having a German accent - meant that this particular band of brothers sometimes faced danger from both sides.
Harry Rossney was among them. He was born Helmut Rosettenstein in the Baltic port of Koenigsberg, and partly raised in a Berlin orphanage.
Even now, nearly 88 years later, he still speaks with a heavy German accent.
Six decades ago on a moonless Devon beach, it nearly cost him his life.
Mr Rossney joined the Pioneer Corps after coming to England in 1939. He was dispatched to the North Devon coast one evening, armed only with a pick-axe handle, and ordered to keep watch for an enemy invasion.
Unfortunately, a squad of soldiers was also patrolling the beach. “Halt! Who goes there?” was the cry that rang out in the dark.
Harry identified himself - and immediately heard a rifle being cocked in front of him.
“He heard my accent and thought he’d found the enemy,” Mr Rossney said. "I thought that was it - this was how my war was going to end. But a sergeant’s voice shouted ’Hold your fire!’, which allowed me to explain who I was.
“I don’t think they understood, but that split second saved my life.”
Mr Rossney, a craftsman and signwriter, was drafted to Normandy after D-Day, where his skills were employed to hand-write the names of fallen Allied soldiers on the temporary crosses that eventually became Commonwealth War Graves.
There were so many, he said, he could barely keep up.
“I loved my country but it rejected me,” said Mr Rossney, who married 53 years ago and still lives in North-West London.
"Now, I’m as English as I can possibly be. But it was different back then. My christian name couldn’t really be more German, and everyone at that time was suspicious.
"I suppose it was pointless to have an English name with an accent like mine, but that’s the name I took. I just looked through the telephone book and picked one out.
"I’m proud of what I did, although there were so many others like me who did so much more, and exposed themselves to great danger.
“But I’m very grateful someone has acknowledged that we existed.”
Some 75,000 German and Austrian refugees arrived in Britain during the 1930s, many of them Jews fleeing Nazi persecution.
Most were interned when war broke out - the Government failed to distinguish between those who had fled and those who might pose a threat.
But many were determined to fight for Britain.
So in 1940, more than 4,000 were allowed to enlist in the non-combatant Pioneer Corps, with many later drafted into fighting units in the Army, Royal Navy and RAF.
All signed a loyal oath to the King, and mischievously nicknamed themselves The King’s Own Enemy Aliens.
Geoffrey Perry, now 85, was born Horst Pinschewer and grew up in Berlin, before coming to Britain as a Jewish schoolboy evacuee.
He was educated at Buxton College in Derbyshire, where, he said, “the headmaster made it his duty to turn us into little Brits”.
It was Mr Perry - who became a Press photographer and broadcaster - who captured William Joyce.
In May 1945, he and a British officer with the unlikely name of Bertie Lickorish encountered an odd-looking figure in a forest near the German border with Denmark.
Mr Perry had been drafted in to broadcast from Radio Hamburg when the Allies liberated Germany, and did so from the same microphone that Joyce used to transmit his sneering, English-accented propaganda to Britain.
“I shot him in the bum,” Mr Perry recalled gleefully. "It was one shot but four holes - in one cheek and out the other side; then through the other cheek and out again.
“I’d asked him if he was by any chance Lord Haw Haw. His hand went to his pocket as if to pull out a gun - so I fired.”
Mr Perry, who is widowed with two sons and four grandchildren, and also lives in North-West London, is modest about his role in the war, even though he fought in the wake of the D-Day landings and was among those who witnessed the horrors of Belsen concentration camp after it was liberated.
“I had a personal and national motivation for joining the Army, and I’m proud that I did, but I don’t regard it as a big deal,” he said. “I’m sure that the next generation would do precisely the same thing if the need arose.”
• The King’s Most Loyal Enemy Aliens: Germans Who Fought For Britain in the Second World War, by Helen Fry (Sutton Publishing)
THE KING’S OWN ENEMY ALIENS
• Ernest Goodman, now 82, was born Ernst Guttmann in Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland) and evacuated to England in 1939. He served with the Coldstream Guards, and was on the front line through France, Belgium and Holland. He was wounded during the assault on the Rhine.
• Eric Sanders, now 88, was born Ignaz Schwarz in Vienna and arrived in England in 1938. Joined Pioneer Corps and later volunteered for “hazardous duty”. Trained for the Special Operations Executive to be dropped behind enemy lines, he was one of 30 “refugee” SOE men. At end of the war, returned to Vienna in British uniform as a translator with a unit reconstructing Austria.
• Geoffrey Perry, now 85, was born Horst Pinschewer and grew up in Berlin before being evacuated to England. Took part in D-Day landings and carried out prisoner of war interrogations. On May 28, 1945, he arrested Lord Haw-Haw. “Historically, I think I’m more excited by the fact that I broadcast from his actual microphone when we took over Radio Hamburg.”
• Harry Rossney, now 87, was born Helmut Rosettenstein in Koenigsberg. Partly brought up in Berlin before coming to England in March 1939. Joined Pioneer Corps before serving with the Graves Restoration Unit in post D-Day Normandy. “I was not a hero,” he said. “I would rather see this in the wider context as a history lesson for the younger generation.”
• Sidney Graham, now 83, was born Szaja Gumpricht in Danzig, West Prussia, (now Gdansk in Poland). Evacuated to England in February 1939 and was one of only two known “aliens” to serve in the Royal Navy, decoding enemy transmissions. All his family, except for his sister, were murdered in the Holocaust. He said: “My life belongs to England - they saved me from certain death.”
• Willy Field, now 87 and a keen Arsenal fan, was born William Hirschfeld in Bonn. Sent to Dachau concentration camp in 1938, allowed to emigrate to England in 1939 - but arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Australia. Volunteered to fight for Britain, and trained as a tank driver with the Royal Armoured Corps 8th Hussars. Fought in Normandy. He said: “I’m very British.”