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‘The language of love’: The secret military romance that led Ilse Collinson to become first fraulein to fly into Aberdeen after the war

Ilse Collinson of Portlethen was the first German woman to fly into Aberdeen after the war.
Ilse Collinson of Portlethen was the first German woman to fly into Aberdeen after the war.

Ilse Collinson, the first German woman to fly into Aberdeen after the war, has died aged 98.

The Portlethen resident, who also lived and worked in the city centre, came to Scotland as a 21-year-old when she fell in love with an Aberdeen soldier stationed in Hamelin as the war neared its end.

Love at first sight

As Glen Miller’s big band music played Ilse Quest glanced over the balcony of her Hamelin apartment. In a split second – as she peered down through the glass dome of the next door hotel ballroom – the eyes of a young Scottish soldier looked up. Locked in a gaze, it was love at first sight.

The oldest of seven children for housewife Lena, and post office official Rudolph Quest, Ilse came from a loving household. Despite the already cramped conditions and challenges faced during the war, two of Ilse’s cousins also moved in when Hanover was bombed and their parents were killed.

A black and white image taken in Germany of Ilse Collinson and her parents, with siblings. She is standing behind her mother and next to her father as the oldest of the Quest children.
Ilse Quest as a young girl, back left, with her siblings and parents in Germany.

However, as a well brought up young woman it was deemed unbecoming for her to fraternise with British soldiers. It seemed their budding romance could be over before it even begun.

The language of love

A young Bill Collinson had other ideas.

Son of Isabella and Charles Collinson, a trawlerman, the 21-year-old from Aberdeen waited outside the front door of Ilse’s building.

Although Ilse knew no English and Bill only a few words in German they were sure they wanted to be together. They met again but agreed to keep their relationship a secret.

On one outing, however, their plans were foiled.

Dressed as a soldier so she could go for a ride in Bill’s military jeep, Ilse was spotted by her younger brother Rudy.

After the couple agreed to have tea with Ilse’s aunt, Bill was finally introduced to the family. Thankfully they also fell in love with the Aberdeen loon who stole their daughter’s heart.

As the war neared its end and Bill’s time with the Royal Engineers concluded, the couple agreed to keep writing to one another. It was within one such letter that Bill proposed to his fräulein.

Aberdeen calling

With a ‘yes’ in place he began making plans for Ilse to join him in Scotland.

He sent money for clothes and travel, and on the last day of September 1947 she left from her home in Hamelin for Berlin to fly to Scotland.

Her parents were already worried about the risks of their daughter being alone in Berlin. They told her to make sure her possessions were safe, so she asked the hotelier to lock up her chest in a cabinet overnight.

However, the woman she was sharing a room with broke the glass of the cabinet and stole Ilse’s chest during the night. This meant she arrived in Scotland with her handbag and not much else.

Ilse Collinson - then Ilse Quest - shown seconds after landing in Aberdeen looking lovingly at her future husband Bill Collinson. A black and white image.
Bill and Ilse in the moments after they were reunited when Ilse landed in Scotland.

Despite their lack of possessions it was clear to the raft of photographers awaiting her arrival on October 1, 1947, that they were very much in love.

Family life in Northfield

They married in the West Church of St Nicholas on Aberdeen’s Union Street a month later on November 8, and moved in with Bill’s family in Manor Avenue.

Although the wedding was well attended in Scotland, the situation was different in Germany.

Still suffering poverty because of war, Ilse’s family made a potato cake and used coloured water to look like wine, to celebrate their daughter’s nuptials.

Ilse and Bill welcomed son Brian nine months to the day after the wedding, and daughter Sylvia not long after.

Ilse Collinson pictured with her husband Bill, holding children Sylvia and Brian, in a black and white image.
The Collinson family including children Brian and baby Sylvia.

Bill, who had received a medal for his part in liberating the bridge over the River Arnhem, worked as a bus driver. Ilse remained at home with the children.

When Sylvia was six months old they moved to Bremner Crescent, Northfield. Ilse attended the German Church and as her family grew  she began working in Aberdeen. First for the Royal Infirmary’s doctor’s canteen, then later at the YMCA.

Homesick for Germany

A great saver, Ilse made sure her German heritage was always part of her children’s lives with regular trips to Hamelin, and visits from her parents to Aberdeen.

German traditions were always maintained, especially around Christmas, and when Brian and Sylvia left home following their weddings in 1969 and 1970, Ilse began to long for her life in Germany again.

Ilse with brothers, in Germany. Rudy, on the right, is the brother who spotted Ilse dressed as a soldier while she was courting Bill.

Sylvia Smith, Ilse’s daughter, explained. She said: “I remember coming round to see mum one day.

“She was holding a letter from home, in tears. I went home that night and said to my husband Eric… and we had only been married a year… ‘what shall we do? Get a job here, or maybe move to Germany with mum?’ We decided to move to Germany.”

Bill and Ilse, and Sylvia and Eric, all relocated back to Hamelin in 1971. Delighted to be home and able to see her siblings, Ilse enjoyed time in her vast garden.

Sylvia and her husband stayed for a decade but Bill and Ilse remained there for 32 years, returning to Scotland for a visit to celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary.

Ilse Collinson and husband Bill shown holding their wedding picture, on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.
Ilse Collinson and husband Bill, back in Aberdeen, for their 50th anniversary in 1997.

Bill passed away in 2001 and had his funeral at the barracks in Hamelin, supported by the British Legion. Then his body was repatriated and buried in Portlethen.

Return to the North-east

Ilse came back to Scotland when she was 77.  She initially lived with Sylvia, Eric and their daughter Laura before moving into her own home also in Portlethen.

Known as Oma to her grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren, in recent months she became a resident of Mowat Court, Stonehaven.

There she enjoyed trips to the beachfront in a rickshaw and spending time with Coco the dog, who also lived in the complex.

Ilse Collinson is shown wrapped in a warm coat, inside a rickshaw with two of her carers, smiling before a trip to Stonehaven seafront.
Ilse enjoying her rickshaw trip from Mowat Court, Stonehaven, into the town.

Ilse died on September 17. Although she had become very weak she blew one last kiss to Sylvia before passing away peacefully.

Her funeral took place at Portlethen Parish Church and she was buried alongside her beloved Bill.

‘They were wonderful’

Sylvia added: “My mum and dad held hands until the end. They were inseparable. We don’t take for granted what it was like to grow up with parents who loved each other as much as mine did. They were both wonderful.

Ilse Collinson and husband Bill kissing.
Bill and Ilse Collinson, very much in love throughout their marriage.

“I’m getting emotional just talking about mum because it’s hard to imagine her not being here. She was… they both were… wonderful. We miss them very much.”

You can read the family’s announcement here.