Birdwood Military Museum – Geraldton, Western Australia

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One of the earliest known purpose-built Returned and Services League (RSL) halls in Western Australia is also home to one of the state’s regional military museums.

Built in 1935, Birdwood House in Geraldton, was named in honour of much respected soldier, Field Marshal Sir William Riddell Birdwood, who commanded the ANZACs at Gallipoli and I ANZAC Corps in France until he was succeeded by Lieutenant General John Monash in May 1918. It is still used by the local RSL but some rooms have also been set aside to showcase their collection, which is a constantly-evolving depiction of Geraldton’s and the Mid West’s military history.

Geraldton Volunteer Rifle Corps 1890

Geraldton Rifle Volunteer Corps camp at Separation Point circa 1890. Established in 1877, the Corps served in the Boer War in 1899 as ‘A’ Company 16th Battalion and was one of the most active in the State. The Corps, later renamed the Geraldton Rifle Club, continued to use the Army rifle range at Separation Point until the late 1940s. During World War II the Army called on local members of the Rifle Club to perform voluntary military roles in the town. Photo Courtesy Geraldton Regional Library – GRL, P 851

Like many RSLs, Birdwood House features various military artifacts spread around the building that reflects and reinforces the connection between the members and its history. At Birdwood House this includes a ‘rogues gallery’ of some of their members, past and present including interesting characters such as Derek Andrews, who after serving as an infantryman with 3RAR in Vietnam, travelled to Rhodesia in 1976. Derek first joined the Greys Scouts and then transferred to the Selous Scouts until he discharged in 1979 with the rank of sergeant. In 1981 he moved to South Africa and served as a pathfinder in the 44th Parachute Brigade alongside well known former SAS soldier and author of  Beyond No Mean Soldier by Peter McAleese who mentions him in the memoir. Derek returned to Australia in early 1984, then moved to Victor Harbor in South Australia in 2001 where he became a member of that RSL Sub Branch.

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Geraldton RSL’s ‘rogues gallery’ picture of 54909, Ronald Lindsay Gammie who served with SASR, completing a tour of Borneo with 1 SAS Squadron and 3 SAS Squadron’s first tour of Vietnam in 1966. Some of his personal items are also in the museum. Photo: Julian Tennant

The bulk of the Birdwood Military Museum’s collection on display is contained in two rooms that are packed full of artifacts including uniforms, photos, medals, weapons and personal effects. There are many more in storage and Treasurer Glenn Law says that display space is an issue, particularly as the number of items being donated by local veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts continues to grow.

The number of items crammed into a small, volunteer run, museum has created challenges for display which can create a sense of disorder. But the ‘staff’ are very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and happy to answer questions about specific pieces. Look closely and there are some fascinating treasures to be found such as the Darnley Dixaline.

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The Darnley Dixaline (Mark IV) made by Signalman Walter Darnley of the 2/28th Battalion during World War 2. Photo: Julian Tennant

This unique handmade banjo type musical instrument was made by Signalman Walter Darnley, who served with the 2/28th Battalion during World War 2. Sig Darnley made what he called the Darnley Dixaline (Mark IV) from battlefield remnants, including the skin from a discarded drum, wooden crates, and toothpaste containers. His wife, Thelma, sent the strings to him. The instrument, believed to be the only one of its type in the world, was crafted sometime between 1941 and 1942 and is believed to have been used at Tobruk. It is signed by all 29 members of Sig Darnley’s platoon and has a further 12 signatures of men from the battalion.

Naturally, being located in regional Western Australia, units such as the 10th Light Horse, 11th, 16th and 28th Infantry Battalions which recruited from the local population base, are well represented in the displays. But there are also some interesting pieces from as far away as the British Army of the Rhine and souvenirs brought back by returning servicemen.

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10th Western Australian Mounted Infantry beret and badge. The 10th W.A.M.I. was formed in 1949 and equipped with Staghound Armoured Cars and Canadian Scout Cars. In 1956 the unit was re-designated with its previous title, the 10th Light Horse. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Post WW2 Australian paratrooper’s beret. This beret quite possibly belonged to a member of the early SAS Company based at Swanbourne who wore the maroon beret and RAINF badge for a time after their formation in 1957. The ‘dog tags’ appear to be unrelated to the beret. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Composite ‘Vietnam’ Australian SAS uniform which includes a US ERDL camouflage shirt used by Corporal Ron Gammie who completed a tour of South Vietnam with 3 SAS Squadron in 1966-67. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Insignia belonging to 5/588 Corporal K.C. Burgess who served with the Royal Australian Regiment in Korea. Note the IRVIN parachute pin which was often presented to individuals who had undertaken parachute descents using rigs made by that company. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Royal Australian Navy is also reasonably well represented, and the displays include two very detailed scale models depicting the HMAS Sydney and German auxiliary cruiser/raider Kormoran (HSK-8) which both sank after an epic clash off the WA coast on 19 November 1941. A very impressive memorial to the HMAS Sydney is located on the hill about 900m away from the museum and a visit is recommended, along with the Museum of Geraldton which also includes a 3D film of the wrecks, detailed information about the battle as well as other artifacts and aspects of the city’s wartime history.

For those with an interest in military history visiting Geraldton, a trip to the Birdwood Military Museum should be on the agenda but it is important to plan ahead. Formal entry times are restricted as the ‘staff’ are volunteer members of the RSL however if you do wish to visit outside of the times noted below contact them and see what can be arranged. If possible, try to visit on a Friday evening as this coincides with their BBQ night which is also a good opportunity to meet with some of the local veterans for a feed and a beer or two. If you are visiting Geraldton and have some flexibility with timings, try to arrange your trip to coincide with the third Saturday of the month as this is when Leane’s Trench, which is run by the Geraldton-based 11th Battalion AIF Living History Unit, is open to the public. The trench is about 30km outside of the city, just off the road to Mullewa. Unfortunately, my Geraldton stop-over did not coincide with the opening times for the trench visit, but it has given me the incentive to plan another weekend away from Perth.

Birdwood Military Museum
Birdwood House
46 Chapman Road
Geraldton
Western Australia 6530
Australia

Phone: +61 (0)8 9964 1520 (Mon. and Thurs. 0900 – 11400) / 0427 612 479 or 0408 222 653 (all other times)
Website: https://www.geraldtonrsl.org.au/

Open:
Monday 0900 – 1400
Thursday 0900 – 1400
Friday 1700 – Late
Sunday 1200 – 1500
Other times by arrangement

HMAS Sydney II memorial Geraldton

H.M.A.S. Sydney II Memorial overlooking the Geraldton town centre and waterfront. The memorial is less than a kilometer away from the Birdwood Military Museum and can be reached within a few minutes by car or about 10 minutes if walking.

Geraldton 11 bn Leanes Trench

Members of the 11th Battalion AIF Living History Unit and visitors to ‘Leane’s Trench’ near Mullewa. Photos: Ken Lawson

Members of the the 11th Battalion AIF and the Gallipoli Trench P

Members of the the 11th Battalion AIF Living History Unit, Dr Stewart Adamson, Ian Wright, Mark Long, Phil Eather, Karl Edwards, Chris Cox. and Michael McGilvray. Photo: Elise Van Aken/Geraldton Guardian

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African Special Operations Insignia #3 – Portuguese Mozambique’s Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas 1971 -74

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Portugal’s presence in Africa dates back to the 15th century and their colonies (Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique) held important economic and status value to the country causing resistance to the international opposition to colonialism that emerged at the end of the Second World War.

Supported by the Communist bloc, violent opposition to Portuguese rule began first in Angola (1961), followed by Portuguese Guinea (1963) and finally Mozambique in 1964, when the Marxist-Leninist Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) carried out its first attacks on Portuguese targets on 25 September.

Initially, Portugal’s African wars were fought with basically conventional forces, but as the conflicts dragged on it became clear that specialised counter-insurgency troops and doctrine would be needed. This included the ‘Africanisation of the troops’, part to limit ‘metropolitan’ casualties of conscripts sent from Portugal. In addition, this multi-racial army countered the criticism of a race-based war and importantly, created a connection to the local population, providing obvious tactical advantages.

Footage from a 1970 film showing counter insurgency operations conducted by Portuguese forces in Mozambique at the border areas adjoining Tanzania. This is most likely from Operation Gordian Knot (Operação Nó Górdio) which was an operation intended to close down the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO)’s infiltration routes across the Tanzanian border and to destroy permanent FRELIMO bases inside Northern Mozambique.

One of the units developed in the Mozambique province in the latter half of 1969 was the Grupos Especiais (GE) or Special Groups. Trained at Dondo and the Monte Pvez Commando Training Centre, these units were employed in many roles including raids, ambushes and acting as guides and interpreters for regular forces on operations. They initially consisted of an officer, nine NCOs and eighteen enlisted men but some of the Grupos Especiais grew to between fifty and sixty men.

At the start of 1970, General Kaúlza de Oliveira de Arriaga took over as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in Mozambique, replacing General António Augusto dos Santos. The following year, concerned by the lack of airborne reinforcements being sent from Portugal to bolster his two parachute battalions, Para-Hunter Battalion 31 (Batalhões de Caçadores Pára-quedistas de Moçambique 31 – BCP-31) and Para-Hunter Battalion 32 (Batalhões de Caçadores Pára-quedistas de Moçambique 32 – BCP-32), he authorised the formation of locally recruited Special Parachute Groups (Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas – GEP) under the command of Colonel Sigfredo Costa Campos. Later, on 19 June a headquarters formation, the General Command of Special Groups (Comando Geral dos Grupos Especiais -CGGE) and the Special Groups Instruction Centre (Centro de Instrução de Grupos Especiais – CIGE) were at created at Dondo to oversee the operations and training of the GEP.

Col Costa Campos and General Kaúlza de Arriaga

Founder and first commanding officer of the Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas, Colonel Costa Campos wearing the red beret of the GEP, sitting alongside the Commander in Chief of forces in Mozambique, General Kaúlza de Arriaga in an Alouette III helicopter.

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To be considered for admission to the GEP, the soldier had to be a volunteer of at least Furriel rank (roughly equivalent to a junior sergeant), have a good record of service, exhibited disciplined, decisive qualities in combat and prepared to serve in the GEP for at least one year after being posted to a GEP group. Volunteers enlisted for twenty months and in addition to their parachute pay received other campaign and rank allowances. After completing their tenure with the GEP they were returned to their respective units, downgrading to their previous rank and pay scales.

Recruits for the GEP would eventually come from all sectors of the military and civilian population in Mozambique, but in May 1971, the first group of volunteers, mainly from the Batalhão de Caçadores Nº16 (BCaç 16), a locally recruited specialist light infantry type unit arrived at BCP-31 to commence their training.

After being selected for possible service with the GEP, volunteers had to complete a nine week basic instruction phase, followed by a four week parachute training course. The para course conducted by BCP-31 tried to emulate the standard military static line course however an absence of purpose build exit and landing towers meant that some aspects of ground training was modified. After 6 jumps from a Nord Atlas aircraft, the trainees were presented with their wings and red beret featuring the GE badge. ‘Regular’ GE troops wore the badge on a yellow beret.  Because the parachute course had never been officially approved as a Military Parachuting Course (as defined by Portuguese military regulation/standing order No. 42075 of 31DEC58) the parachute wing also differed from the standard Portuguese qualification. Made from metallic silver it was worn on the left side of the chest above the pocket flap seam. Variations in bullion also exist.

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Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas (GEP) silver metal parachute qualification wings. The top wing is more curved and has the number 314 scratched on the back. The lower wing is slightly thicker and flat. Harry Pugh & Bob Bragg suggest in their book “Portugal Elite Forces Insignia 1951 – Present” that the flat variation is a post war production. Collection: Julian Tennant

GRUPOS ESPECIAIS PÁRA-QUEDISTAS GEP – MOÇAMBIQUE

Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas troops in formation. Note the distinctive GEP parachutist wings on the left chest.

Reuters video from April 1973 taken at Dondo Barracks showing the Mozambique Governor, Mr. Pimental Do Santos, and the Commander of the Armed Forces, General Kaulza De Arriaga at the ‘Beret parade’ of a newly graduated group of GEP paratroopers. The female parachutist in the white t-shirt is Carmo Jardim, an eighteen year old Portuguese girl and veteran of over 400 jumps who instructed on the course. Note also the Grupos Especiais (GE) guard of honour (at 0:08 seconds into the video) who are present at the parade and wearing the standard GE black uniform and yellow beret. 

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Parachute training was followed by two weeks of intensive combat skills training at the CIGE which was then rounded out by a month of skills refinement in an operational zone. Instructors would accompany their trainees throughout the instruction phases and then take command of the group at the conclusion of the training, thus forming a closer more cohesive bond between the volunteers and their commanders.

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According to Colonel Costa Campos, each GEP consisted of one officer, five NCOs and eighty enlisted men, however historian Antonio Carmo’s excellent overview of the GEP presents documentation that states that the structure consisted of an officer, with five NCOs (one acting as 2IC the others subgroup commanders), sixteen corporals and forty-eight soldiers. The structure allowed each GEP to operate as a single unit or as subgroups depending on th mission requirements.

Unlike the GE troops who were stationed in the various operational zones, the GEP was seen as a strategic reserve for the Commander in Chief of military operations as well as being used to conduct special operations type counter insurgency tasks such as surgical strikes, recovery and intelligence gathering operations, such as those carried out by  Furriel José Ribeiro whose GEP team conducted ‘pseudo’ operations in a manner similar to those made famous by the Rhodesian Selous Scouts.  Named “Cassava” operations, due to the food bag that they carried  filled with cassava, Ribeiro’s team disguised themselves as insurgents in order to infiltrate and gain the cooperation from FRELIMO sympathisers who would lead them to their targets.

On 15 November 1971, the first three GEP groups, (GEP 001, GEP 002 and GEP 003) had completed their training and were deployed to the Tete Operational Zone. By the end of 1972, ten GEP had been raised and by the end of the war in 1974, this had increased to a total of 12 under the control of the Batalhão Grupo Especiais  Pára-quedistas, a command formed to oversee logistics and instruction of the GEP. The end of the war in Mozambique saw the GEP disbanded with many of its members leaving Mozambique rather than facing the inevitable retribution at the hands of FRELIMO.

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Grupos Especiais Pára-quedistas (GEP) printed cloth parachutist qualification. This wing is found in Brazil and is probably made for GEP veterans who migrated to that country and served in the Brazilian military after 1974. Collection: Julian Tennant

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The Fallschirmjäger Collection – Overloon War Museum, The Netherlands

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On the 30th of September 1944, shortly after the failure of Operation MARKET GARDEN, German and Allied forces clashed in the vicinity of Overloon, approximately 35km south of Nijmegan. It took almost three weeks before Overloon was liberated and the clash went down in history as the most intense tank battle that ever took place on Dutch soil. Harrie van Daal, a civil servant was living in the area during that time and in May 1945 after walking through the battle ravaged Overloonse forest petitioned the Mayor and local pastor to create a memorial honouring those who fought. On May 25, 1946, the Oorlogsmuseum Overloon (Overloon War Museum) opened to the public – even before the village itself was rebuilt. It was the first museum about the Second World War in Western Europe. I will cover the museum in more depth in a future article, but one of the highlights is undoubtedly the Fallschirmjäger Collection which is part of their “Turning Point Europe” exhibition section.

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Overloon Oorlogsmuseum Fallschirmjäger collection-1

Unlike the Dead Man’s Corner museum in Normandy (see my review and pictures here), which concentrates on the actions of the German paras at Normandy, the Fallschirmjäger Collection presents an overview of the German paras from the early days of WW2 up until 1945. It does this in eight display cases filled with uniforms, equipment and related ephemera.

The first display shows the paratroopers of the early war and the invasion of the low countries, including mannequins representing their Dutch opponents.

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The next section shows the uniforms and equipment used during the campaign in North Africa. This is followed by a showcase displaying the paratroopers as they would have been seen in Sicily and the Italian Campaign.

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The mannequin display cabinets are also broken up by others featuring an impressive collection of fallschirmjäger related documents, insignia, personal artifacts and other related ephemera.

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This is followed by showcases depicting the fighting in the Netherlands during the 1944/45 period and then jumps to displays of the fallschirmjäger kitted out in the equipment used during the fighting in the area of Monte Cassino and the Grand Sasso.  The exhibition finishes with the final display cases representing the paratroopers on the Eastern Front during the winter months.

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6 Overloon Oorlogsmuseum Fallschirmjäger collection 1944-5-2

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I visited the Oorlogsmuseum Oveloon as a day-trip excursion during my exploration of the battlefields and museums related to Operation MARKET GARDEN in the Arnhem area. Traveling by car it is a relatively short trip from Oosterbeek, roughly an hour’s drive  from The Airborne Museum Hartenstein. If you have the time, definitely plan to visit, even without the Fallschirmjäger Collection, the Oorlogsmuseum Overloon remains one of the most impressive WW2 military museums that I have encountered.

Oorlogsmuseum Overloon / Overloon War Museum
Museumpark 1
5825 AM Overloon
The Netherlands

Website: www.oorlogsmuseum.nl/en/

Phone: +31 (0)478 – 641250

E-mail: info@oorlogsmuseum.nl

Reservations: publieksdienst@oorlogsmuseum.nl

Open: The museum is open Monday to Friday from 10:00 – 17:00 and on weekends from 11:00 – 17:00. It also has reduced visiting hours on some days and is closed on some public holidays so it is best to confirm their opening schedule here. Due to current restrictions the museum only allows a limited number of visitors each days and online ticket reservations are essential prior to visiting.

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‘L’ Detachment SAS ‘original’ Fred Casey’s Memorabilia and Archive

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In March 2020, another extraordinary group of documents and memorabilia belonging to one of the first members of the Special Air Service was sold at auction. The SAS archive of Private / Trooper Fred “Killer” Casey comprised eleven lots and included the veteran’s medals, SAS beret, insignia, pocket diary, certificates, Fairbairn-Sykes dagger, map and a personal photo album featuring photographs that had never been publicly displayed before. In total it achieved a hammer price of £21,000 (not including auctioneers commission and fees).

6399236 Trooper Frederick Casey was a pre-war Territorial who had joined the 4th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in October 1936. He completed the unit’s annual camps and was the battalion’s boxing champion for three years.  At the outbreak of war in 1939 he was mobilised for full-time duty and first saw action in France with the British Expeditionary Force before being evacuated on the 30th of May 1940 as part of the retreat from Dunkirk. Back in England, he volunteered for commando training and on the 10th of July 1940 was posted to F Troop, 3 Commando.  On 24 October 1940, 3 Commando and 8 (Guards) Commando were reorganised into the 4th Special Service Battalion and in February 1941 Casey was transferred to 8 (Guards) Commando before being shipped to Egypt as part of Layforce, a composite group consisting of several commando units.

Layforce was initially tasked with conducting operations to disrupt the allied lines of communication in the Mediterranean and it was planned that they would take part in operations to capture the Greek island of Rhodes. However, as the strategic situation in the Middle East turned against the Allies, the commandos found themselves being used as reinforcements throughout the Mediterranean theater.  By mid 1941, the authorities in Middle East Command, who had never been able to come to terms with the use of Special Service Troops, took the decision to finally disband Layforce and so on the 6th August 1941 the men made their final journey to Abbassia Barracks in Cairo where they were to be broken up and sent to other units. It was here that Casey saw a request for volunteers for further “Special Duties”.

He applied to join the fledgling Special Air Service (S.A.S.) and in August 1941, after a brief interview with David Stirling also formerly of 8 Commando and now Commanding Officer of the new unit, Fred found himself posted to “L” Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade based at Kabrit. Soon, Fred Casey was on operations, initially working closely with the Long Range Desert Group roaming the desert, raiding the German rear areas, targeting airfields and port installations in their gunned-up, customised, Willys Jeeps. In October 1942, the unit was renamed 1st Special Air Service (1 SAS).

Studio portrait of Frederick Casey 1 SAS.

Studio portrait of Frederick Casey 1 SAS.

 

SAS Fred Casey SAS L Detachment jeep crew from lot 139

One of Fred Casey’s photographs from his album showing a 1 SAS crew manning the Vickers K machine guns in one of their jeeps in the Western Desert, January 1943.

In March 1943 Casey along with other members of A Squadron 1 SAS became part of the Special Raiding Squadron, under the command of Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne who had taken command of the unit following Stirling’s capture in January. Casey was allotted to 2 Troop, but then, in April he was admitted to hospital and discharged from the squadron, missing out on the spearhead role that the SRS was to play in Operation HUSKY, the Allied invasion of Sicily.

At the end of 1943, the Special Raiding Squadron reverted to the title of 1 SAS and along with 2 SAS was placed under the command of the 1st Airborne Division. On 7 January 1944, Casey returned to operations with 1 SAS after a period of leave. It was around this time in early 1944 that the idea of a SAS Brigade was approved, which resulted in 1 SAS being withdrawn from the Italian theater and returning to Britain.

By March 1944 all components of the SAS Brigade, numbering around 2000 men were assembled in Ayrshire where they were ordered to discard their sandy berets in favour of the airborne maroon beret, although many members opted to defy regulations and retained their sandy beige berets.

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Fred Casey’s SAS Beret made by British Beret Basque Ltd, dated 1944 and stamped with the WD Arrow. Bosleys had an estimate of between £1000 – £1500 but achieved a ‘hammer’ price of £4000. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers

They were also issued with battledress shoulder titles for 1, 2, 3 and 4 SAS in the airborne colours of pale blue on maroon. Fred Casey’s 1 SAS title is one of the lots that was sold at the auction achieving a hammer price of £660.

During this period in the UK Fred Casey married his sweetheart, Buddy, and prepared for operations in France as part of Operation OVERLORD, the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The role of the SAS Brigade in this operation was to prevent German reinforcements reaching the front line and initially only half of the force would be committed, the remainder being held in reserve, including Casey who finally deployed to France in August 1944.

A 1944 dated Army Film and Photographic Unit film showing members of the Special Air Service doing a fire-power demonstration with their vehicle mounted Vickers K machine guns. Imperial War Museum Catalogue number: A70 217-4

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Fred Casey’s ‘Beaded and Ribbed’ model Fairbairn-Sykes commando fighting knife on top of his “Zones of France” escape map. This 1:200 000 scale single sided map was printed on cotton rather than the more common silk and dated March 1944. At the Bosleys auction, the dagger had a hammer price of £2200 whilst the map sold for £320. Photo: Bosleys Auctioneers.

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At this stage, the SAS groups were carrying out a number of operations behind the lines, disrupting German supplies and communications, tying down large numbers of German troops in the process. Liaising with local resistance groups, operating bases were set up in remote wooded areas and the SAS parties roamed the countryside achieving some success, but also suffering severely at the hands of German security services. Dozens of captured SAS men were murdered in accordance with Hitler’s notorious ‘Commando’ order

For his part, Fred Casey was presented with the “Commander-in Chief’s Certificate for Gallantry” by Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery in January 1945. When Germany finally surrendered in May 1945 Casey was sent along with 1 and 2 SAS to supervise the disarming of the 200 000 German troops stationed in Norway. This would be his last mission.

Trooper Casey's photo album - Rare picture of 1st SAS parading in their heavily armed jeeps in Norway at the end of the war

Jeeps of 1 SAS on parade in Norway at the end of the war. Photo: Fred Casey

 

1st SAS on a victory parade in Norway at the end of the war

1 SAS at a victory parade in Norway at the end of the war. Photo: Fred Casey

 

SAS Fred Casey Bosleys Lot 137

WW2 SAS, Special Raiding Squadron, Commando Medal Group of Private Fred Casey. A rare medal group of seven awarded to an early member of the Special Air Service Private Fred Casey, who was awarded the C-in-C 21st Army Group certificate for outstanding good service whilst serving with the 1st SAS. He had formally served with the BEF 1940 with the Royal Sussex Regiment and later Commando units, before joining the SAS in August 1942.Comprising: 1939/45 Star, Africa Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal, Territorial Efficiency Medal (GVIR) “6399236 PTE F CASEY R. SUSSEX”. The medals are loose the campaign medals contained in original forwarding box addressed to Mr F Casey 30 Grenville Place Brighton Sussex” The box with date sent “18.11.49” and details to the back confirm sent by Infantry & AAC Records … framed and glazed 21st Army Certificate “4979461 TPR CASEY F 1 SPECIAL AIR SERVICE REGIMENT” dated “2nd March 1945” … Accompanied by an original portrait photograph of Fred wearing battledress uniform with SAS wings and medal ribbons. He also wears his SAS beret … 1946 SAS pocket diary with various pencil inscriptions … Photocopies, of service papers etc. Part of the Fred Casey SAS Archive, this lot achieved a ‘hammer’ price of £3600. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers

 

Caseys autographed picture of Paddy Mayne lot 140

Signed photograph of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne, DSO & Three bars. This original photograph circa 1945 shows “Paddy” Mayne in uniform with SAS wings and medal ribbons. He has signed the photo in the lower right corner. The reverse of the photo has an inscription, “Given to me by Paddy Mayne, Fred Casey”. Size 6 1/2 x 7 3/4 inches. The Bosleys estimate for this lot (#140) was between £100 – £200. The final ‘hammer’ price was £1900. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers

 

sas casey cert lot138

Fred Casey’s WW2 SAS Certificate of Service, signed by ‘Paddy’ Mayne confirming that Fred Casey served with the SAS until 16th November 1945. It shows theatre of operations, medals awarded and is signed by the CO of 1 SAS, Lt. Col. Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne. Note that the regimental number is incorrect and should be 6399236, not 6309236.  When sold at Bosleys, the certificate was accompanied by numbered SAS Membership lapel badge. The buttonhole fitting stamped ‘496’. A SAS silver and enamel tiepin/sweetheart brooch stamped silver (hook absent) and a silver and enamel parachutist wing sweetheart brooch. An accompanying photocopy of a newspaper cutting shows the Parachute wing brooch being worn by Fred Casey’s wife “Buddy” was also included in the lot. It fetched a hammer price of £780. Photo courtesy of Bosleys Auctioneers.

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At the end of the war, the Special Air Service was disbanded. Fred Casey was discharged and transferred to the reserve on  20th of March 1946. After the war he settled in Brighton, East Sussex, became a parquet floor layer and with his wife, Buddy, had two sons, Michael and Charles.

Frederick Casey passed away in 1997 aged 81. His wartime archive and memorabilia which included all the pieces shown here was broken up and sold at auction by militaria auctioneers Bosleys in March 2020.

sas fred casey archive

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Related Post – A WWII L Detachment S.A.S. Military Cross group awarded for Operation BIGAMY, the 1942 raid on Benghazi

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content as often as possible and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

African Special Operations Insignia #2 –The Republic of Transkei 1981-94

For this, the second in a series of articles looking at the insignia worn by various African airborne and special operations units I have to acknowledge the significant contribution made by James D.N. MacKenzie of Southern Africa Militaria. James has been collecting and researching militaria related to airborne and special forces units with a particular interest in Southern African nations since the 1960’s.  This article would not have been possible without his help. Also, please like and follow the page using the link in the column on the right to be kept updated of future installments.

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transkei airborne insignia juleswings map

The Republic of Transkei, an autonomous homeland state in the Eastern Cape Province, became nominally independent of South Africa on 26 October 1976. In the previous year it had, with South African assistance, established the Transkei Defence Force (TDF). However, the subsequent relationship with South Africa was not smooth and the State President, Chief Kaiser Matanzima, terminated the services of the South African military advisors in 1978.

Following the departure of South African personnel, the discipline and efficiency of the Transkei forces rapidly deteriorated. However, by 1980, relations with South Africa had been re-established and the non-aggression pact that had previously been cancelled was re-instated. In July  1980 a contract is given to a company Security Specialists International (Pty) Ltd. This was owned by Capt. Ant White, formerly of the Selous Scouts. On the 1st of March, 1981 two former Selous Scouts soldiers (Sgt. Peter McNielage and Sgt. Andy Balaam) begin work on the Transkei contract.  On the 10th of June, Colonel Ron Reid-Daly, founder and former commanding officer of the Selous Scouts, was approached by the Prime Minister of Transkei, George Matanzima, to take over command of the Transkei Defence Force and given the rank of major general.  The arrival of the Rhodesians which included former Selous Scouts, Rhodesian SAS and Rhodesian Light Infantry soldiers, were initially viewed by the South Africans as a stabilising influence in the Transkei.

In June 1981, another former Selous Scout officer, Captain Tim Bax, was recruited by Ron Reid-Daly to command a newly formed Special Forces unit that would be established at the site of the Second World War naval base above Port St. Johns on the coast at the mouth of the Mzimvubu River.

Transkei SF Ron and Bob McKenzie

Informal group portrait taken in 1984 showing an unidentified Transkei Defence Force infantry officer (and aide-de-camp) to the left of Major General Ron Reid-Daly, commander Transkei Defence Force who is wearing the orange TDF staff beret and Selous Scouts wing; Chris Smith; and former Rhodesian SAS officer, Major Bob MacKenzie, right, who at the time of the photograph, was serving as 2i/c of the TDF Special Forces unit. Photo courtesy Chris Smith

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With a cadre of ex-Rhodesians, mainly former Selous Scouts, volunteers from 1 Transkei Battalion were called for. Sixty-eight members came forward, and the members gave this sub-unit the name of “Ingwe Squad” (Leopard Squad). During August 1981, a selection course was held to select suitable members from the Ingwe Squad and any other volunteers from within the Army. At the end of the selection course, which lasted three weeks, there were 32 volunteers remaining, all members of the Ingwe Squad.

transkei airborne special forces insignia-1

Transkei Special Forces bi-metal beret and collar badges. The beret badge has two screw post attachments, whilst the collar badges have pin clutch back attachments. The collar badges are only worn with No. 1 Dress and were not made as an opposing pair. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Because of the distances required to reach their training areas, the Port St. Johns base was deemed inadequate and in April 1982 the unit’s training facilities were expanded to include the Mount Thesiger Nature Reserve which provided a much more suitable area.

Initially, the TDF Special Forces unit training consisted mainly of improving the standard of basic infantry skills, with emphasis placed upon weapons training, map reading, conventional and unconventional warfare. Then, beginning 1983 the training progressed to special forces type skills including scuba diving, demolitions, boating, mountaineering, survival and tracking. In July 1983 a parachute course was established.

The Parachute training was initially carried out by instructors from 1 Parachute Battalion in Bloemfontein until the Transkei Parachute School was opened in May 1989. According to Dr Jakkie Cillier’s paper, An Overview of the Armed Forces of the TBV Countries,  by 1993 the TDF Air Wing also included a Parachute Company in addition to the Special Forces Regiment, although little information is available on the Parachute Company or their actual operational capabilities.

transkei airborne special forces insignia-2

Transkei Parachute School and TDF Air Wing Parachute Company beret badge. Bi-metal with two screw post attachments. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Transkei TDF Parachute School

Transkei Parachute School. Front Row (seated L-R): Maj. Mhatu, Maj. Du Plessis (OC), Maj. Mketo (2i/c). Back Row: Sgt. Nose, Cpl Mcunukelwa, Cpl Voorslag, Cpl Zilani, Sgt Zozi. Note that whilst most of the staff wear the SF beret badge, the OC is wearing the TDF Air Wing Parachute Company beret badge. 

 

Transkei Para school basic course

Transkei Defence Force Parachute School basic para course photo. Date unknown.

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The basic parachute course lasted 4 weeks, the first two of which consisted of ground training. To qualify for their wings, the student parachutist had to complete a minimum of ten day (mostly with equipment) and two-night jumps.

The wings were awarded in two grades, silver for officers and bronze for other ranks. All the issued wings were numbered and assigned to a specific member’s name. Only one wing was issued and if lost had to be replaced with an un-numbered blank wing. The former Rhodesian soldiers continued to wear their Selous Scouts wings and other Rhodesian awards on their uniforms.

juleswings collection transkei airborne wings -3

Transkei Defence Force parachutist wing with the burgundy felt indicating Special Forces. A green backing is worn by infantrymen and TDF staff wore an orange backing.

 

juleswings collection transkei airborne wings -1

Transkei Defence Force officers silver parachute wings. Two variations are shown. Both are serial numbered as awarded and are stamped “SILVER”. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

juleswings collection transkei airborne wings -2

Two variations of the Transkei Defence Force other ranks parachute badge. The top badge is the first issue type. These are replacement wings that were purchased by the soldiers to compliment their single issue badge which was numbered. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Transkei TDF Piet Van Der Riet Selous Scouts

Informal portrait of ex-Selous Scouts Officer Piet van der Riet taken outside of his house at Port St-Johns whilst he was serving as 2i/c of the Transkei SF. Note the Selous Scouts parachutist wings on his chest, a practice encouraged by TDF commander, Ron Reid-Daly. Photograph courtesy James D. N. MacKenzie

 

Ranks Transkei Lt Col 2-Edit

The former Rhodesian soldiers leading the Transkei Defence Force had a big influence on the design of TDF badges and rank insignia. This included incorporating unit identifiers onto rank insignia, a practice that was formerly carried out in Rhodesia. Shown here are embroidered and screen printed variations of the Transkei Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel’s rank worn on barrack/work-dress. These examples are from the Southern Africa Militaria site which also features some of other TDF Special Forces ranks. Photo: Courtesy James D.N. MacKenzie.

 

transkei SF tracksuit rhodesian sas

Transkei Defence Force Special Forces tracksuit featuring the TDF SF patch and also Rhodesian Special Air Service patch on the right chest indicating that this belonged to a former Rhodesian SAS operator then serving with the TDF.

 

Transkei TDF SF officers a

Transkei Defence Force Special Forces officers. Note the tupperware shoulder flash being worn by the officer in barracks/work-dress on the left, whilst the other two officers wear the full compliment of No.1 dress uniform TDF SF insignia including metal lucite resin covered flashes (on the left shoulder only), SF collar badges and parachutist qualification wings.

 

transkei airborne special forces insignia-3

Transkei Special Forces Arm Flash. This is the same size as the South African arm flashes only one on the left shoulder of the dress uniform. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Transkei SF shoulder flash tupperware

Transkei Special Forces embossed plastic should flash/flap. Sometimes referred to as ‘tupperware’ these were worn on barrack/work dress. Collection: Julian Tennant

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The Transkei government of the 1980s continued to have a strained relationship with South Africa, largely because of the existence of armed strongholds of the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations in the homeland which also included, within its territory, the birthplace of ANC leader Nelson Mandela. In 1986 SADF planners conceive of Operation KATZEN to ‘stabilise’ the deteriorating situation in the Eastern Cape. Central to their plan is the ‘unification’ of Transkei and another notionally independent homeland state, Ciskei (the subject of an upcoming article) in Xhosaland, with a moderate political leadership sympathetic to the Republic of South Africa.

On the 19th of February 1987, a 22-man raiding party consisting of former Selous Scouts and Iliso Lomzi (the armed wing of the opposition Ciskei People’s Rights Protection Party) operators left the TDF SF base at Port St Johns en route to the Ciskei. Their mission was to capture Chief Lennox Sebe, the Ciskei President at his home in Bisho and force a merger of the two states. However the raiding party was greeted with heavier than expected resistance killing Rfn. Mbuyiselo Nondela and wounding Rfn. Ndulu who was captured and subsequently released.

In late March 1987, with the plan to overthrow Ciskei’s president having failed, the Transkei Government informed General Ron Reid-Daly that the contract for the now renamed Security Service Transkei (Pty) Ltd (formerly SSI) had been terminated and within 24 hours most of the Rhodesians employed by the company had left the Transkei. Those that remained, including Ron Reid-Daly were arrested and deported to South Africa on the 4th of April.

Rumours of a coup attempt by former State President Kaiser Matanzima followed the expulsions. In response, the then current president, Chief George Matanzima announced that Brigadier Bantu Holomisa, who had been placed into detention due to his opposition to TDF involvement in the Ciskei raid, was to be promoted to Major General and made commander of the Transkei Defence Force, replacing General Zondwa Mtirara who had resigned.

Transkei TDF bantu-holomisa

Bantu Holomisa wearing the TDF para wing with green (infantry) backing.

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Then, towards the end of 1987, Holomisa, a staunch ANC activist, led a bloodless coup against the Transkei government. Following his takeover he suspended the civilian constitution and refused South Africa’s repeated demands for a return to civilian rule, insisting that a civilian government would be a puppet controlled by Pretoria. With the departure of the Rhodesians and animosity between the Transkei government and the South African’s the quality of the Transkei Defence Force Special Forces stagnated.

On 27th of April 1994, the Republic of Transkei was abolished and reintegrated into South Africa as part of the newly created Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces. Bantu Holomisa was named deputy minister of housing in President Mandela’s cabinet.

 

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content as often as possible and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

‘PANGOLIN TIMES’ – Op AGILA / Op DAMON Rhodesia Dec 1979 – Mar 1980.

 

From December 1979 until March 1980, the Australian Army carried out Operation DAMON, the Australian contribution to the Commonwealth Monitoring Force (CMF) in Rhodesia. The Australian component, consisting of officers and NCO’s drawn from various corps, formed part of a deployment made up of roughly 1500 troops, mainly from the Britain (1200 personnel), but with contingents also coming from New Zealand (76), Kenya (51) and Fiji (24).

The Commonwealth Monitoring Force, operating as part of Operation AGILA, (British codename) was formed to oversee the ceasefire  between the Rhodesian Government’s Security Forces and 22,000 Patriotic Front guerrillas from Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) during the run-up to the 1980 general elections, which would establish the governance of a new independent state.

The CMF’s role was to monitor and report on compliance with the ceasefire from both sides and try to dissuade them from actions which might lead to a breach of the agreement. It was not required to enforce any aspect of the cease fire, and there was no requirement to disarm the warring factions. 

Op Agila Australian soldiers assemble at Richmond RAAF Base prior to deployment to Rhodesia Credit-Antonin Cermak

Australian soldiers assemble at Richmond RAAF Base prior to deployment to Rhodesia as part of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force, December 1979. Photo: Antonin Cermak (The Age)

 

RSF welcome RAF Hercules carrying members of the CMF

Rhodesian Security Forces welcome a RAF Hercules carrying members of the Commonwealth Monitoring Force.

The Australian contingent consisted of 152 members of the Australian Army who served in Rhodesia from 25 December 1979 to 5 March 1980. Preceding the main Australian contingent was an advance party consisting of five Australian Army officers, who arrived in Rhodesia on 23 December and departed on 30 December 1979. The bulk of the Australian commitment arrived on Christmas day.

Op Agila Lance Corporal Martin Turnbull-Edit

Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. Lance Corporal Martin (Marty) Turnbull, formerly of Raymond Terrace NSW, serving with the 130th Signals Squadron admiring a witch doctor carving in a shop in the capital. Note the white armband as worn prior to the introduction of the CMF Pangolin patch. Photo: Craig Murphy. Australian War Memorial Accession Number: P01940.006

Zim-Rhod Op AGILA CMF patch

Commonwealth Monitoring Force Pangolin patch. These were worn by monitors on white armbands. The Monitoring Force had arrived in Rhodesia equipped with standard “umpire” white armbands. However, once troops had deployed into the bush, a staff officer at HQ in Morgan Girls’ School, Salisbury (Harare) devised this emblem to be worn on the white brassard. The symbol caused some bemusement among the CMF and Rhodesians. The officer thought himself pretty clever, as he had discovered that the Temminck Ground Pangolin was considered a good luck symbol by local tribesmen. Had he found out more, he would have learned that when one is found, it is killed and presented to the chief. Collection: Julian Tennant

Op Agila 2RAR Cpl Bones Brady

Corporal ‘Bones’ Brady of the 2/4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment poses by a ‘Puma’ mine protected vehicle used by members of the Rhodesian Security Forces at the Transit Camp Salisbury (Harare) Airport.

Map of Rhodesia showing the Assembly Point locations during Operation AGILA

Initially, five Popular Front assembly points were to be overseen by the Australians, most were inland from the Mozambique border and used by the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), the military wing of ZANU. The sites included Elim (which had attracted worldwide attention in 1978 after  the rape, murder and mutilation of 12 missionaries and children by Robert Mugabe’s ZANLA terrorists), Magadze, Marymount and Dendera, in the north-east, and Kari-Yangwe, in the north-west of the country. Other Australians were deployed with the Rhodesians at Mount Darwin, Bindura, Mtoko and Sinoia.

Of the Australians (27 officers and 109 NCO’s) were deployed to the Patriotic Front assembly points, or to monitor the activities of the Rhodesian Security Forces, whilst the remainder comprised the headquarters element (4 officers including one medical officer and 11 SNCO’s).

The force was spread thin and would be vulnerable should the peaceful transition to independence fail. In an interview given to The Age at the start of the deployment, Australian contingent commander, Colonel Kevin Cole described the risk as fourfold, “disease, wild animals, land mines, and the chance of a deliberate or accidental breakdown in the ceasefire.” If a breakdown in the ceasefire did occur, the CMF teams at the Assembly Points, which consisted of an officer with sixteen other ranks armed with rifles plus one GPMG could be in real trouble. 

Op Agila 2RAR Cpl Brady viewing a PF shot in an incident prior to the elections

Corporal ‘Bones’ Brady (left) of the 2/4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and members of the Rhodesian Security Forces viewing the body of a dead PF guerilla shot in an incident prior to the February election.

 

Alouette Gunship, Assembly Point Juliet, Zezani, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia 1980

A British CMF monitor checking out the armaments on an Alouette Gunship at Assembly Point Juliet, Zezani, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia 1980. Photo: Torfaen Corvine

In the lead up to the election there were several breaches of the ceasefire and attempts to intimidate the monitors, but all situations were resolved without the use of force. There were also environmental hazards, including a wide range of diseases and the existence of landmines within the areas in which they had to work. There were many breaches of the ceasefire and acts of intimidation by both sides in the lead-up, but the election went ahead over three days, 27–29 February, without major incident. Robert Mugabe’s ZANU faction broke the terms of the Lancaster House Conference by keeping half his fighters in the field, outside of the Assembly Points as was required the agreement.  This resulted in widespread voter intimidation but did not stop the election from proceeding as planned and his party won a decisive victory. Rhodesia was officially renamed Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980 with Mugabe its new prime minister. On 2 March 1980, CMF personnel were pulled back to a camp in and around New Sarum Airport and were flown out over the following days with the Australians returning home on 5 March.

British Daily Express cartoon of 18 April 1980. A sign of things to come.

British Daily Express cartoon of 18 April 1980. A sign of things to come.

Postscript:

Almost as soon as the CMF left Rhodesia, Robert Mugabe started to settle old scores and consolidate his power by having his henchmen target his ‘comrade’ Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU faction. The deep-seated rivalry of the two liberation parties was predicated on ideological and ethnic factors, ZANU being drawn largely from the Shona people and Nkomo’s ZAPU being Ndbele. Over the following month the murders escalated with open warfare occurring between the groups in Entumbane, a suburb of Bulawayo in November 1980. This was only quelled when the white led British South African Police intervened on the part of the government. Then, in February 1981 open fighting once again erupted in Bulawayo between Mugabe’s ZANLA and ZIPRA, the military wing of ZAPU. This also spread to Essexvale and Gwelo where ZANLA cadres at Connemara Barracks surprised their ZIPRA counterparts, killed over 60 of them and forced the rest to flee into the bush. ZIPRA mobilised armour for their operations against the ZANU fighters.  Once again, Mugabe had to call upon the professional white-officered black regulars of the 1st Battalion Rhodesian African Rifles, Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment and (although unauthorised) Air Force to crush ZIPRA. Alexandre Binda, in his book Masodja: The History of the Rhodesian African Rifles and Its Forerunner, the Rhodesia Native Regiment,  states that over 400 guerillas were killed with no fatal casualties to the government troops. Ironically, Mugabe and ZANU–PF were once again saved from a major rebellion by white-led ex-Rhodesian troops.

1RAR_at_Metheun

Mine proofed vehicles manned by soldiers of “C” Company, 1 Rhodesian African Rifles at at Methuen Barracks shortly before the Entumbane uprising in November 1980. Photo: Former 1RAR 2nd Lieutenant John Wynne Hopkins

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But the rebellion’s defeat caused mass desertions from former ZIPRA fighters and Joshua Nkomo, who had been given a ministerial post (without a portfolio) in Mugabe’s cabinet, was removed from office in February 1982 after being accused of planning to overthrow Mugabe. Shortly after independence, in October 1980, North Korea offered to train a unit of Zimbabwe’s army that would be responsible for crushing political dissent and reporting directly to Mugabe. In August 1981 106 North Korean advisors arrived and began work creating the infamous Fifth ‘Gukurahundi’ Brigade, which graduated in December 1982. These troops were then deployed in Matabeleland, beginning a campaign known as Gukurahundi, which in Shona means “early rain that washes away chaff.”  The four year-long campaign resulted in around 20,000 (although some estimates put the figure at 30,000) civilians being killed. It officially ended in December 1987 when Nkomo signed a unity accord merging ZAPU into ZANU-PF and consolidating Mugabe’s absolute grip on power until the 2017 coup.

Zimbabwe 5th Brigade Flag after being presented to Commander Col. Perence Shiri by PM Robert Mugabe

Colours of the Zimbabwe Army’s 5th Brigade ‘Gukurahundi’ after being presented to its commander, Col. Perence Shiri by Prime Minister Mugabe in 1982. Photo: National Archives of Zimbabwe.

 

Zimbabwe army patches

Zimbabwe Army and Zimbabwe 5th ‘Gukurahundi’ Brigade patch. Collection” Julian Tennant

Zimbabwe guku genocide

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content as often as possible and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

 

REFERENCE BOOK: PARABAT Vol.1 – A Guide to Collecting Insignia of the South African Airborne Units 2021 Edition

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During the 1970’s and 80’s, South African paratroopers, affectionately called ‘Parabats’ or simply ‘Bats’ were at the forefront of the  nation’s counter insurgency operations, acting as a fireforce unit and conducting airborne operations against SWAPO guerrilla bases inside Angola.

Their esprit de corps and reputation became the stuff of legend and for a young collector growing up in South Africa in the 1970’s. Facing the prospect of being called up for national service in the not too distant future, my aspirations turned to becoming a paratrooper one day and my collecting became narrower in scope, concentrating on airborne units and the ‘Bats’ in particular.

parabat juleswings collage-01

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The history of South Africa’s airborne capability dates back to the Second World War when the South African Air Force briefly established a Parachute Company in 1943, though this was disbanded before the troops had started to jump. However more than sixty South Africans did serve on secondment to the British Airborne Forces during the war, participating in airborne operations in Italy, France, Yugoslavia, Greece and for one officer, David McCombe, during Operation Market Garden at Arnhem.

But it was not until 1960 that South Africa resurrected the idea of an airborne force sending a group of 15 volunteers, who had just completed a two week selection course, to the UK to undertake training at the Royal Air Force’s No 1 Parachute Training School at Abingdon. The majority qualified as instructors whilst others underwent training as riggers. On their return they established a parachute training wing at Tempe, Bloemfontein and in 1961 the 1st Parachute Battalion was formed with volunteers from the 2nd Mobile Watch and on 29 January 1962 the first 48 South African trained paratroopers received their wings.  Within a couple of years, conscripts undertaking their national service were also being accepted for service with 1 Parachute Battalion.

parabat juleswings collection 1966-69-01

1 Parachute Battalion insignia circa 1966 – 1969. Collection: Julian Tennant

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Over the coming years and as the tempo of operations against insurgents opposing the South African government increased, South Africa’s conventional airborne capability expanded to, at its peak in 1989, four parachute battalions plus supporting units under the umbrella of 44 Parachute Brigade. However, by 1998, in post-Apartheid, South Africa and facing financial constraints the decision was made to decrease the SANDF’s airborne capability and on 2 November 1999 a greatly reduced 44 Parachute Brigade was redesignated 44 Parachute Regiment. Since their formation, the operations carried out by the Parabats have become legendary and you can hear many of the veterans recount their exploits in these interviews conducted by  Efpe Senekal that formed the basis of the excellent 3-part documentary, “Parabat”  (see trailer below).

However, for the historian/collector, Marc Norman and Paul Matthysen’s Parabat: A Guide to South African Airborne Units (Volume 1 & 2) published in 2011 are invaluable reference books. PARABAT Volume 1: A Guide to Collecting Insignia of the South African Airborne Units 2021 Edition is the update to the first book in the set (volume 2 will be out in July 2021) and includes information that was previously unavailable at the time of the first publication.  Together the 2 volumes contain the history of all the South African parachute battalion and brigade units.

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The amount of information included in this updated edition of Volume 1 is impressive to say the least. In addition to presenting a historical overview of each of the airborne units the bulk of the content takes an in-depth look at the various insignia worn, including qualification brevets, beret and shoulder badges plus unit affiliation and sub unit tactical insignia. Extensive colour photographs, including close-up images of specific details,  help to identify the variations (as well as fakes) and these are complimented by information gleaned from the original insignia ‘art cards’ plus the personal recollections of some of the key individuals involved in the development and implementation of the badges.

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186480876_145028257671100_5075114534890005617_n

186503193_380116983445524_6371880541941287281_n

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Privately published, the book is currently limited to a print run of 50 copies and is available directly from Marc Norman in New Zealand. For collectors or those with an interest in South Africa’s hard fought bushwar, this book is an essential addition to the reference library. Contact Marc and grab a copy whilst you still can.

PARABAT Volume 1: A Guide to Collecting Insignia of the South African Airborne Units 2021 Edition by Marc Norman & Paul Matthysen
Dimensions: A4, Full colour. 300gsm laminated stiff card cover. 290 pages 130gsm coated art paper.
Publisher: Marc Norman Publishing (mnorman3228@gmail.com)
Language: English
ISBN-13: 9780620478762

parabat juleswings collection FAKE beret badge-01

FANTASY / FAKE 1 Parachute Battalion beret badge. There are several variants of this badge that have been offered to collectors over the years. However, they are a fantasy piece made to make money from collectors. No records exist in the battalion’s unit file at the Central Records Section of the SANDF. No former paratrooper has any recollection of these variants and Brigadier General McGill Alexander made the following comments to the authors on page 18 of PARABAT Volume 1: A Guide to Collecting Insignia of the South African Airborne Units 2021 Edition, ” I’ve seen that (badge) on collectors’ pages but I can assure you, without any doubt at all, it was never proposed and never considered. It is a relatively new item produced by someone or some organisation out to fleece collectors. The whole idea of the cloth badge was so that the beret could be rolled up and carried in a pocket or stuffed down the front of the parachute smock for jumping – then pulled out and worn after the jump in non-operationl situations.” Collection: Julian Tennant

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parabat juleswings collection 1966-69-02

Mess dress metal and cloth first pattern South African Parachute Jump Instructor brevets issued from 1962 to 1963 (top). Parachute Training Centre and 1 Parachute Battalion shoulder patches circa mid to late 1960’s (bottom). Collection: Julian Tennant

parabat juleswings 3 para bn training jump

Paratroopers of 3 Parachute Battalion wearing the SANDF’s ‘Soldier 2000’ camouflage prepare for training jump. Note the 3 Para Bn beret badge, which was readopted in lieu of the ‘Iron Eagle’ badge of 44 Para Brigade after it was downsized to become 44 Parachute Regiment in November 1999.

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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content as often as possible and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

The D-Day Story Museum – Portsmouth UK

Portsmouth News Photo 1940

British soldiers negotiating a barbed wire defence during a seashore invasion exercise near Portsmouth in 1940. Photo: The News archive.

Portsmouth, situated on the coast 110km south-west of London has been a significant naval port for centuries. During the Second World War it was a critical embarkation point for the 6 June 1944 D-Day landings. It’s role as a major Naval Base and Dockyard had seen the city bombed extensively by the Luftwaffe from August 1940 and by August 1943 the Southsea seafront, which included the city, was declared a restricted zone. At the beginning of April 1944, in preparation for Operation Overlord, Portsmouth became part of a 16km deep coastal strip from the Wash to Lands End which was closed to all visitors. By this time, the whole of Southern England had become a huge armed camp in the build-up for the invasion of Europe, with Portsmouth being the headquarters and main departure point for the units destined for Juno Beach on the Normandy Coast.

The D-Day Story (previously known as The D-Day Museum) is located near Southsea Castle in Portsmouth and recounts the story of Operation OVERLORD and the landings on the Normandy coast. Originally opened as a the D-Day Museum in 1984, it was closed in March 2017 for refurbishment before reopening in March 2018 as the D-Day Story. (Note that some of the photographs featured here include images of the older displays taken during a previous visit in 2015). The new museum tells the story of Overlord by recounting the experiences of the people who participated in the invasion or lived in the area at the time.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth 2015 -01

A Sherman Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle (BARV), nicknamed ‘Vera’, War Department No. T145523 as displayed prior to the 2018 refurbishment. The Beach Armoured Recovery Vehicle was developed specifically for the Normandy landings. It utilised a modified Sherman Mk.III M4A2 tank that was able to wade into water up to feet deep and push or pull ‘drowned’ vehicles out of the sea. They could also help refloat beached landing craft. Trials of the BARV began in December and by D-Day, 5 were available for service. This particular tank was originally built in 1943 as a regular gun tank. Markings on the hull suggest that its parts were produced in a modular fashion by several different companies and then assembled together. It was produced with “LO”, a type of steel particularly adapted to cast large pieces of armour. The tank was assembled at Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio as part of contract S/M 1012 for the British Government. The hull (part number E4151) was built by American Steel Foundries East St. Louis (Illinois) Works, and the bogies were made by several companies including the Continental Foundry & Machine Company of Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. This BARV’s exact wartime history is not known, but it is known that a relatively small number of BARVs were converted. It shows the markings of a beach recovery section of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Sherman BARVs remained in British Army service until the early 1960’s.

The museum exhibits around 500 artifacts, from a collection of over 10,000, which are combined with touch screens, audio and video presentations to allow the visitor to understand the complexities of planning such a huge operation and its impact on the people involved. To tell the D-Day story, the museum is divided into three sections: Preparation; D-Day and the Battle of Normandy; Legacy and the Overlord Embroidery.

Preparation covers the period from the Dunkirk Evacuation (1940) until just before 6 June 1944. It gives visitors an overview of the planning for Operation OVERLORD including some of the equipment specially developed to assist in the invasion, plus details of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall and the German defenses.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth Preparation Gallery-09

Betty White’s coat. Five year old Betty White collected 89 badges from the British, American and Canadian troops who passed her house in Gosport on their way to Normandy. Her mother sewed them onto her coat.

ALLIED PREPARATIONS FOR D-DAY

Preparation for D-Day. Troops storm ashore from LCAs (Landing Craft Assault) during Exercise ‘Fabius’, a major invasion rehearsal on the British coast, 5 May 1944. Nearest landing craft is LCA 798. Photo: Imperial War Museum Collection. Object ID: 205359422

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The D-Day and the Battle of Normandy section describe the landing, fighting in the bocage and the breakout leading to the Liberation of Paris. This section features displays of personal items, weapons and equipment, accompanied by an audio-visual display to give an overview of the experiences of the troops fighting on the five beaches.

D-DAY - BRITISH FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 19

Commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade led by Brigadier Lord Lovat (in the water, to the right of his men) land on Queen Red beach, Sword area, c. 0840 hours, 6 June 1944. Sherman DD tanks of 13th/18th Royal Hussars and other vehicles can be seen on the beach. Lovat’s piper, Bill Millin, is in the foreground about to disembark. Photo: Captain JL Evans, No.5 Army Film and Photographic Unit. IWM Object Number B 5103

Portsmouth d-day museum Overlord Embroidery

The final section, Legacy & Overlord Embroidery explores the experiences of loss and coming home through film clips of veterans recounting their experiences with some supporting artifacts, but is dominated by the Overlord Embroidery an 83m long tapestry consisting of 34 different panels takes up a significant section of the floorspace in a relatively small museum. It is underpinned by a small central gallery that explains the techniques used by the twenty members of the Royal School of Needlework who took seven years to complete its construction.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth Churchill tank-01

A Churchill Mk.VII Crocodile (flame throwing) tank. The history of this particular tank is not known. It has been given representative markings for tank T173174H named ‘Sandgate’. This Churchill Crocodile belonged to C Squadron, 141st (The Buffs) Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps, and on D-Day was commanded by Lieutenant John Shearman (awarded the Military Cross for actions on and after D-Day). In late 2020 the tank was moved to its current location aboard the LCT 7074.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth LCT-01

Landing craft tank LCT 7074. Able to transport 10 tanks, LCT 7074 is the last surviving Landing Craft Tank (LCT) from D-Day.

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Outside the main building, visitors can go on a tour of LCT 7074, one of two hundred and thirty five MkIII LCT’s that were built for the invasion and the last surviving Landing Craft Tank in the UK. LCT 7074 transported 10 tanks and crew to Gold Beach at 02:00 on 7 June 1944 before returning to England carrying POWs.  On board visitors will find the Churchill and Sherman tanks that once stood at the front of the museum. The tour includes a series of short films showcasing the history of LCT 7074 including its post war life as a riverfront nightclub in Liverpool before falling into disrepair and sinking at Birkenhead Docks. It was rescued in 2014 and restored to its current state before being moved to the museum in 2020.

A visit to D-Day Story presents a good start point to develop a broad understanding of the invasion if you’re in the UK and are planning to head across the channel to visit the battle sites at Normandy. The museum opens at 10am every day and tickets can be purchased in advance. You should allow around two to three hours to examine all of the exhibits. Portsmouth’s long naval and military history is also commemorated in several other military museums in the area, so plan for a two or three days stopover to check out some of the other museums and to experience more of this interesting city’s attractions.

D-Day Story Museum Portsmouth-01

D-Day Story
Clarence Esplanade
Portsmouth PO5 3NT
England

Website: https://theddaystory.com/
Email:  theddaystory@portsmouthcc.gov.uk
Phone: +44 (0)23 9288 2555

Open: The D-Day Story is open seven days a week, from 10am to 5.30pm. Last admission is 3.30pm to LCT 7074 and 4pm to the museum.

Parking: There is a large 125-space car park located next to the D-Day Story. The car park is open 24 hours a day and has toilet facilities on site. There are 25 coach spaces, with a wash bay facility available. For parking charges please see The Seafront D-Day car park . There are marked disabled bays within the car park and on Clarence Esplanade in front of the museum. Parking is free for blue badge holders.

Park & Ride: Portsmouth’s Park & Ride is available from Junction 1 of the M275 motorway which is the principal route into Portsmouth from the north. Follow the brown direction signs to the Park & Ride car park. The nearest Park & Ride stop to The D-Day Story is at The Hard Interchange transport hub which is adjacent to Portsmouth Harbour railway station and Gunwharf Quays. Catch a connecting number 3 bus to Palmerston Road then it is an attractive 10 minute walk across Southsea Common to the D-Day Story on the seafront. On Sundays there is an hourly number 16 bus which will stop outside the museum.

Buses: The nearest bus stop is an attractive 10 minute walk from Palmerston Road across Southsea Common, to the D-Day Story. See directions above from The Hard Interchange to Palmerston Road.

Train: The nearest train station is Portsmouth & Southsea – a 1.5 mile walk from The D-Day Story. The most direct route is via Isambard Brunel Road, Grosvenor Street, Cottage Grove, Grove Roads North and South, Palmerston Road and Avenue de Caen. There is also a taxi rank outside Portsmouth & Southsea railway station.

Alternatively, it’s a 1.7 mile walk from Fratton station to the museum, via Sydenham Terrace, Victoria Roads North and South, Lennox Road South and Clarence Esplanade.

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AATTV – WO2 Jock Rutherford MM

AATTV Jock Rutherford 2RAR museum

This Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) brassard and Military Medal group are held in the 2 RAR Historical Collection. The brassard is noteworthy as it features the distinctive locally made variation of the AATTV patch which was introduced as stocks of the Japanese made patches started to run out in the final years of the Team’s service in South Vietnam. Far fewer locally made AATTV patches were made and all those with confirmed provenance exhibit the same manufacturer characteristics as this example indicating that they came from the same maker, noteworthy when one considers the vast array of faked ‘in-country’ AATTV patches that have been made for the collector’s market.

The items belonged to 18237 Warrant Officer Class 2 Robert Boyd Dale Rutherford MM or ‘Jock’ as he was known, whilst serving with the Mobile Advisory Training Team in 1971. The  MATT (sometimes also referred to as the Mobile Assistance Training Team) programme was initially overseen by Major Patrick Beale who had been brought down to Phuoc Tuy from Special Forces in II Corps, shortly after the Battle of Dak Seang in April 1970, to facilitate its introduction.

Each MATT was to consist of six Australian advisors, two warrant officers, four corporals and a Vietnamese interpreter. Of the corporals, two were drawn from infantry, one from engineers and one from the medical corps. They would work with Regional Force (RF) companies, Popular Forces (PF) and People’s Self Defence Forces (PSDF) platoons. Their role was to advise on field defences, booby traps, patrolling, ambushing and infantry minor tactics as well as providing medical assistance to the units as well as villagers as part of the Civic Action Programme.

The ten minute film below, is an Australian Directorate of Public Relations production (DPR201) showing Training Team advisors from MATT 8 and MATT 11 working with South Vietnamese Peoples Self Defence Force, Regional Force and Popular Force troops in Phuoc Tuy Province.  (Australian War Memorial Accession Number: F03235)

 

The brassard is from Rutherford’s second tour of Vietnam, the first being in 1966 where he had won the Military Medal.

Originally from Old Cumnock, Scotland, Jock first enlisted in the Australian Army in 1955 and served with 1 RAR, then on staff at Canungra until he took his discharge in 1958. He re-enlisted in 1963 and was posted to 2 RAR at Enoggera. In 1965 he was among 200 men from the battalion who were selected to form the newly raised 6 RAR. In June 1966 Corporal Rutherford arrived in Vietnam as a section commander in 6 platoon B Company. During Operation HOBART on 25 July 1966 his platoon bore the brunt of fierce attacks by a force of Viet Cong. Taking over from the wounded platoon sergeant, Rutherford, under heavy fire and mortar attack, distinguished himself by tending the wounded and distributing ammunition at great personal risk. As a result, he was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery, one of two awarded on that day and the first such awards for 6 RAR.

The citation accompanying the Jock Rutherford’s MM reads,

“On 25 July 1966, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment was engaged on a Search and Destroy  Operation in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam.  Corporal Rutherford was a Section Commander in B Company.

In the early afternoon of that day an enemy force of well-trained and well-led  Viet Cong  guerrilla forces contacted B Company in a hastily organized mission.  Corporal Rutherford’s  platoon bore the brunt of the subsequent enemy attacks and suffered during the short fierce engagement ten casualties, including the Platoon Sergeant.  Corporal Rutherford, on his own initiative, immediately took over as Platoon Sergeant.

During the close and very heavy fire fight and mortaring which ensued, he moved with complete disregard for his own safety around the weapon pits tending to the casualties and the administration of the platoon. He moved forward to assist a wounded soldier but was driven back by heavy fire falling around him. Nevertheless, he persevered and again moved forward to dress the wounds of the casualty and pulled him back to his own shell scrape for safety. He continued to assist the wounded in this manner.

In addition, he took on himself the task of distributing ammunition to these positions where ammunition was running low and exposed himself to enemy fire whilst doing so. Throughout the action he continued to control fire and give orders in such a calm and confident manner as to inspire and encourage the men under his command.

Corporal Rutherford’s actions were outstanding, and he took far greater risks with his life than his duties as a Section Commander required.  His inspiration to all present by his actions and his timely and effectively treatment of the casualties deserve permanent recognition.”

6RAR Op Hobart 1966-Edit

Xa Long Tan, Vietnam. July 1966. Men of the 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR) find some food and oil supplies in a camp. The soldier using the radio is probably 2781821 Private William Albert (Bill) Cox, 6th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (6RAR), contacting Platoon Headquarters during Operation Hobart. Note the M60 machine-gun crew with the gunner (second from the left) holding an M60 and the next man on his left, his No. 2, carries bandoliers of extra ammunition. Note also the sweat rags draped around their necks, a necessity in jungle conditions. Operation Hobart was in two parts from 24 to 29 July when members of 6 RAR were sent in to search the area in and around Long Tan. Long Tan was confirmed as being a well used transit area for Viet Cong. Large quantities of rice and cooking oil were found and destroyed, and some tunnels and caches destroyed. Two men were killed and seventeen wounded during the operation. (Donor W. Cox). Australian War Memorial Accession Number: P02763.020

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More detail about Operation HOBART can be found in this pdf of A Duty Done (A summary of operations by the Royal Australian Regiment in the Vietnam War 1965-1972) By Lt Col(Retired) Fred Fairhead. Jock completed his first tour with 6 RAR and returned to Australia on 14 June 1967.

Jock Rutherford returned to Vietnam when he was posted to the AATTV on 7 January 1971. Initially unallotted as part MATT MR III, in February when he was assigned to MATT 6 which was advising the 701st RF Company in Hoa Long and then in April he went to MATT Phuoc Tuy where he remained until returning to Australia in October 1971.

Jock Rutherford passed away after a long battle with cancer in July 2012. RIP.

South Vietnam. June 1971. Portrait of Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) R. B. D. Rutherford, MM.

South Vietnam. June 1971. Portrait of Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) R. B. D. Rutherford, MM. Photo: John Alfred Ford. Australian War Memorial Accession Number:  FOD/71/0356/VN

 

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The Rip Cord Club of the World Badge

RCCW badge HJco-01

Rip Cord Club of the World badge circa 1930’s. Made by the Hardie Jewelry Co., the badge is stamped silver measuring 49mm x 41mm approx and attached by a brooch pin with locking roller catch. Photo: Julian Tennant

This Rip Cord Club of the World (R.C.C.W.) badge is an interesting and little known parachutist badge from the inter-war years. Unlike the various Caterpillar Club membership pins which were presented to recipients whose life had been saved by a parachute, the R.C.C.W. badge identified that the wearer had voluntarily made a parachute descent.

To quote a letter from George Loudon, a member of the club, to the New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania), published Friday December 8, 1933: “To become a member of the C. C. [Caterpillar Club] a person must make an emergency jump, saving his or her life by the use of a parachute, while to become a member of the R. C. C. W. one must make a volunteer jump, either after graduating or under the instruction of a graduate of the Chunate (sic) School of Parachute Rigging.”

He goes on to say: “The R. C. C. W. has thousands of members all over the world, wherever the United States maintains an air corps station. The Caterpillar Club has 563 members at the present time.”

George Loudon’s letter indicates that this badge may have been used as an unofficial military parachute rigger’s badge as a rigger qualification wings did not exist for the Navy until 1942 and (unofficially) for the Army / Air Force until 1948Chanute Field  (incorrectly spelt as Chunate in newspaper) at Rantoul, Illinois was home to the Air Training Corps School and under various restructures conducted parachute and parachute rigger related training from 1922 until its closure in 1993.

Louis M. Lowry, who along with eight other airmen graduated from Parachute Riggers School class Number 2  on 16 October 1931, became member number 243 when he conducted his first jump a week previously. Lowry later went on to work for North American Rockwell Corporation from 1943 to 1969.

RCCW Louis Lowry number 243-02

Members of Louis Lowry’s Parachute Riggers Class 2, Chanute Field, October 1931. Collection: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

RCCW Louis Lowry number 243-03

Louis Lowry’s Parachute Riggers Class Number 2 at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illionois. 16 Oct 1931. Collection: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

RCCW Louis Lowry number 243-01

Louis Lowry’s Rip Cord Club of the World certificate of membership of 9 October 1931 and identifying him as Rip #243: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

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Upon completion of their first jump, members of the Rip Cord Club of the World were presented with a certificate which recorded their membership (Rip number) and badge. The certificate stated,

Know ye that …(name)… did this date voluntarily separate himself from an airplane at an altitude of two thousand feet and that after the usual antics incident to the law of falling bodies did succeed in causing his parachute to become disengaged from its pack and open in the prescribed manner. That upon landing, than which there was nothing surer, he was found to be enjoying life, and although his spirits were possibly dampened, he was still in possession of the Rip Cord used to release the parachute of which he was an appendage in making said landing. He is therefore a full fledged life member of this worthy order as such we trust will continue to preform his duties as competently and gloriously as he has this day…of…in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred …(year)…”

The lowest number certificate that I am aware of is #5 which was presented to Edmund Paul Taylor on 14 October 1927 which indicates that the club may have started around that time. This certificate was authorised by ‘Tug’ Wilson, but I am not sure if this was ‘the’ Harry ‘Tug’ Wilson who, in 1940, became instrumental in the development of the US Army Airborne’s ‘Test Platoon’ and after whom the honor graduate award of the Army Jumpmaster Course is named.

However, membership of the Rip Cord Club of the World was not just restricted to military personnel. The San Diego Air & Space Museum holds artifacts related to Birdie Draper, an early female daredevil, pilot and parachute rigger.

RCCW Birdie Draper -01

Birdie Viola Draper, R.C.C.W. Rip number 533. Image courtesy the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Library & Archives

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Birdie Viola Draper was born in 1916 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1937 at the age of 20, Birdie began her training as a parachutist with Stub Chrissinger, an instructor for Hinck Flying Service. Mr. Chrissinger was one of two licensed parachute riggers in Minnesota at the time. After her training, Birdie joined a stunt group of Thrill Day Performers traveling to State Fairs. She was paired up with Captain F. F. (Bowser) Frakes who was best known for his daring plane crashing stunts. Birdie gained fame by crashing through sixteen sticks of dynamite with her car, as well as solid masonry walls. Her vast array of death defying stunts earned her the name, “The Queen of Daredevils.” By 1940, Birdie had completed thirty-five parachute jumps. She retired as a daredevil, in 1941, after receiving her license as a parachute rigger from the Department of Commerce. Shortly afterwards she took a position as a rigger for the Ryan Aeronautical Company. Birdie married George Griffin, a local attorney and then retired from the Ryan Aeronautical Company in 1945. She died on November 1, 2005.

RCCW Birdie Draper -06

Birdie Draper’s and her co-performer, Captain F. F. (Bowser) Frakes at the Studebaker Factory, South Bend, Indiana, 1938. Image courtesy the San Diego Air and Space Museum’s Library & Archives

Birdie’s R.C.C.W. certificate indicates that she was Rip number 533 qualifying on 9 June 1937 which indicates that George Loudon’s claim back in 1933 of  “thousands of members all over the world” may have been somewhat of an exaggeration. What remains unclear to me is how long the organisation was active and when it ceased operation. So far, I have not been able to find any information to indicate that it was still going past the outbreak of WW2 and I can only speculate that it may have started to wind up as a result of the development of the military airborne units which in turn brought about a much greater uptake of ‘voluntary’ parachuting in the post-war years.

It is also worth noting that during the 1930’s a breakaway Rip Cord Club of the United States (R.C.C.U.S.) was established. I am unsure of the exact date of its formation although some sources indicate this occurred as early as 1931. By the end of 1935 this club had around 50 members who appear to be mainly drawn from the military rigging courses and by early April 1937 this number had grown to over 300 members with number 312 being issued on 6 April. The R.C.C.U.S. certificate design is very similar to the R.C.C.W. design with only subtle differences in the title, tumbling jumper on the right and insignia design. However, at this stage, I do not know if that distinct insignia was presented to accompany the certificate (shown below).

Rip Cord Club of the UNITED STATES certificate awarded to (6551473) Private Burrell Wilson when he completed his qualifying jump on 30 November 1935 and recorded as member #46. Wilson subsequently served as a rigger at March Field in Riverside, California.

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The badge most commonly presented by the Rip Cord Club of the World appear to made by the Hardie Jewelry Company of Holland MI as most bare their H.J.Co hallmark either near the top of the canopy or near the base of the globe near the intersection with the jumper. However, a screwback post badge also exists and is held by the Smithsonian Institution as part of the Katherine M. Smart bequest. That example, which looks to be struck from brass and finished with a silver wash, does not appear to be maker marked. The same collection also holds a smaller gold lapel/tie pin.  As can be seen in one of the images from the Birdie Draper collection (shown below, click on the image to enlarge), members often wore the badge as a both a brooch and tie pin. So, the existence of the badge with the screwback post is intriguing as the post implies that it would either need to be placed through a lapel ‘button hole’, or the wearer would have to customise the garment by cutting a hole large enough to fit the post. This leads me to suspect that this version may have been used as a ‘uniform’ item, possibly by civilian barnstorming entertainers like Birdie, although her uniforms do not show the R.C.C.W badge being worn.

If anybody can help with more information about the Rip Cord Club of the World or the Rip Cord Club of the United States and help fill in the gaps of my knowledge, please contact me.

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