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

SAS Bill Cumper medal group

Medals and awards to Major W. J. “Bill” Cumper, Royal Engineers and 1st S.A.S. Regiment. Included are his Military Cross, G.VI.R. (reverse officially dated ‘1943’ and additionally inscribed ‘Major W. J. Cumper, R.E.); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star, clasp, 8th Army; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaf; General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Palestine 1945-48 (Major W. J. Crumper (M.C.) R.E.) note spelling of surname; Regular Army L.S. & G.C., G.VI.R., 1st issue (2.Lieut. W. J. Cumper, (M.C.) R.E.), together with officers’ bullion SAS parachutist wings, Free French (SAS) parachutist wings, ‘1st S.A.S.’ shoulder title, Greek Sacred Squadron bronze badge, cloth and bullion Greek Service badge, 1st pattern SAS Association enamelled badge tie clip. Photo: Dix Noonan Webb

This is a rare and significant early Special Air Service Military Cross group that was awarded to Major W. J. “Bill” Cumper, Royal Engineers and 1st SAS Regiment who won the MC as a result of the famous L Detachment SAS raid on Benghazi in 1943. It was sold at auction in 2003, to an unidentified buyer, achieving a hammer price of £16,000.

Studio portrait of 202597 Major William John (Bill) Cumper MC MiD 1 SAS (HQ)

Studio portrait of 202597 Major William John (Bill) Cumper MC MiD 1 SAS (HQ)

William John “Bill” Cumper, an early member of ‘L’ Detachment, Special Air Service, was born in Hawick, Scotland and enlisted in the British Army as a boy soldier in January 1924. When war was declared in 1939, he was serving as a Lance-Sergeant in No. 1 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers. In May 1941 he was promoted as an Emergency Commission to the rank of Lieutenant and posted to 143 Field Park Squadron R.E. Soon he deployed to the Western Desert to join the 7th Armoured Division and was Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) in the London Gazette of 30 December 1941.

 In May 1942, Cumper, a ‘tall, erect 16-stone man … who asked no quarter and gave none to his men’, was recruited to David Stirling’s still fledgling  ‘L’ Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade as an explosives specialist, where he quickly established a reputation for eccentricity. John Lodwick, a fellow L Detachment member, recalls in his book Raiders from the Sea how Cumper enjoyed deflating the ego of fellow Officers. When Lodwick walked into the former enlisted man’s office for the first time, still wearing the rather garish and ostentatious uniform insignia of 12 Commando, his previous unit, Cumper shouted “My God, look out, the Commandos are here!” and dived for his captured Luger, attempting to shoot out one of the office lights.

Several SAS memoirs and histories recall similar occasions, one in particular involving a rather delicate looking Guards Officer who entered the unit’s Mess and ordered up a cup of tea. Lieutenant Cumper immediately sat down beside him, a detonator apparently tucked behind his ear, and loudly hailed a waiter with “Come ‘ere China, yer lazy rat!” And when the waiter had come, “Cup o’char, please, same as the officer”. As L Detachment medical officer, Malcolm James (Pleydell) goes on to explain in his Born of the Desert, With the S.A.S in North Africa, ‘He would step in where angels feared to tread and carry it off every time … Bill came from the ranks; he knew it, rejoiced in it, and pushed it straight in front of your face to see how you would take it.’ As it transpired, the Guards Officer took it pretty well, and he became a successful member of the unit.

When Cumper attended the six-jump parachute course, which was required training for all SAS soldiers, Cumper cut up a set of the parachute wings into six pieces and after each jump would enter the Mess with another small piece stitched onto his tunic. And the arrival of the S.A.S’s cap badge with its “Who Dares Wins” motto was simply greeted with “Oo’ cares oo’ wins?”

1 sas officers group may 1943_

1 SAS Officers. Nahariya, Palestine May 1943. Left to Right – E.L.W. Francis, W. Cumper, P. Gunn, R.V. Lea Photo by Paddy Mayne

Then there was the night an anxious but super-efficient David Stirling had harangued his gathered Officers about everything being ready for a pending operation. Afterwards looking up from his papers, he asked when the moon would rise. Cumper, having already answered in the affirmative to a string of equipment queries, mockingly apologised, “Sorry, sir, I forgot to lay that on.”

Recruited for his knowledge of explosives, Alan Hoe, a former SAS soldier (1960-80), friend and authorised biographer of SAS founder David Stirling says in his book that Stirling believed Cumper was ‘the best and most ingenious explosives man’ ‘L’ Detachment had. A ‘likeable chap,’ Stirling said, ‘he took on all the explosives training and improved our techniques tremendously.’ Another L Detachment officer, Fitzroy Maclean having also come under Cumper’s instruction wrote in Eastern Approaches,

Soon it became clear we had a remarkable acquisition. In addition to his knowledge of explosives, Bill had a gift for repartee which pricked anything approaching pomposity as though with a pin. He was never bad-tempered and never at a loss … Bill had become an important part of our lives.

Members of the ‘French Squadron SAS’ (1ere Compagnie de Chasseurs Parachutistes) during the link-up between advanced units of the 1st and 8th armies in the Gabes-Tozeur area of Tunisia. Previously a company of Free French paratroopers, the French SAS squadron were the first of a range of units ‘acquired’ by Major Stirling as the SAS expanded. Bill Cumper was involved in training these soldiers for SAS operations and was known for the repoire he developed with the French troops. Their distinctive wing, which also forms part of the group sold by DNW can be seen on the breasts of some of these men. Photo: IWM collection. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205125573

Bill Cumper was not just responsible for explosives training and eagerly participated in operations, being famously observed stating on the eve of one ‘activity’ as saying “Not for me mate; I’m too old. What time do we start?” These included Operation Bigamy (sometimes also incorrectly referred to as Operation Snowdrop), the raid on Benghazi in September 1942 where Cumper actually led ‘L’ Detachment to the very gates of the enemy’s Benghazi positions, for, having crawled around in the dark to investigate the surrounding mines, he went forward and unhitched the bar on the road-block, facetiously announcing, as the bar swung skyward, “Let battle commence”. It did. The words were scarcely out of his mouth when all hell broke loose. Quickly hot-footing it to Stirling’s jeep, with the faithful Reg Seekings at the wheel, amidst heavy machine-gun and mortar fire, he told the latter, undoubtedly within earshot of his CO, “If this is the bloody SAS you can keep it, you crazy bastard.” In fact, transport that night became a serious problem, the three leading jeeps quickly being marked by the enemy’s fire.

Cumper eventually alighted upon another, the driver, Sgt Bob Bennett receiving a broadside when he was unceremoniously ejected from the back as recounted in Philip Warner’s book, The Special Air Service,
‘(Cumper) leapt on to the one driven by Sergeant Bennet
(sic); his hold was not very secure and after a while he fell off. Bennet stopped the jeep and ran back. Cumper was lying in the middle of the road, head supported on arm as if on a vicarage lawn. All around was an inferno of fire and explosion. As Bennet came up – to find Cumper unhurt – Cumper said: ‘Now, look here Bennet, if that’s the way you treat your passengers I’m going to stay here and have a nice quiet read until you’ve learnt to drive properly.’

1st sas jeeps north africa

A jeep patrol of the SAS out in the desert. Photograph: IWM collection. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205220478

They made it back safely and it was for the Benghazi raid that Cumper received his Military Cross (MC) which was gazetted on 14 October 1943. The recommendation for the award states,

‘On 14 September 1942, the 1st S.A.S. Regiment raided Benghazi. From information received on the previous day it was believed that the Benghazi garrison had fortified their position by mines, wire and other entanglements. These obstructions to a night raiding party without artillery or tanks might have proved disastrous. Captain Cumper volunteered to lift the mines and clear a way through the entanglements and so lead the raiding party in. He picked a way which avoided mines and got the party to within thirty yards of the enemy’s positions. He carried on and managed to open the gate which allowed the attacking force to get at the enemy. All through the operation, Captain Cumper’s cheerfulness and bravery had a magnificent effect on the morale of the troops, and, although faced with an extremely dangerous and difficult job, he showed no regard for his own safety.’

In September 1943, Cumper was transferred to HQ Raiding Forces with whom he served until September of the following year, an appointment that witnessed further clandestine operations with the Special Raiding Squadron (SRS), 2 SAS and Special Boat Squadron (SBS). According to Richard Capell’s 1946 book,  Simiomata: A Greek Note Book 1944-45, Cumper participated in no less than 30 operations during this time. Among them was the raid conducted by the SBS and Greek Sacred Squadron on the island of Symi (Operation Tenement) in July 1944. John Lodwick recalls how Cumper set about assorted demolition work once the German garrison had been brought to heel:
‘General demolitions were begun by Bill Cumper and installations as varied as 75mm gun emplacements, diesel fuel pumps and cable-heads, received generous charges. Ammunition and explosive dumps provided fireworks to suit the occasion. In the harbour, nineteen German caiques, some displacing as much as 150 tons, were sunk. At midnight the whole force sailed, the prisoners being crowded into two ‘Ems’ barges …’

Captain Bill Cumper

Captain Bill Cumper MC, MiD

Bill Cumper returned to the SAS between August 1945 and January 1946, prior to returning to regular duties with the Royal Engineers and was finally discharged from military service in December 1948 with the honorary rank of Major, having been awarded his Long Service & Good Conduct medal (L.S. & G.C.) the previous March. He moved to Rhodesia with his wife and died tragically after a stay in a prison hospital in December 1954. He had suffered a stroke, been paralysed and unable to speak, but had been turned away from the Salisbury General Hospital because his admission papers were signed for a hospital 300 miles away. Critically ill, with his Greek born wife not allowed to nurse him at home, he was sent to the Salisbury Gaol where he was locked up in the prison hospital without attendants other than the guard. He died shortly after his release. He left behind a widow and son, the latter’s godfather being David Stirling.

Bill Cumper’s medal group is another significant special forces medal group that has been sold by the auction house, Dix Noonan Web. The lot included his Military Cross, G.VI.R. reverse officially dated ‘1943’ and additionally inscribed ‘Major W. J. Cumper, R.E.); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star, clasp, 8th Army; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaf; General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Palestine 1945-48 (Major W. J. Crumper (M.C.) R.E.) note spelling of surname; Regular Army L.S. & G.C., G.VI.R., 1st issue (2.Lieut. W. J. Cumper, (M.C.) R.E.) this with official corrections, together with Greek commemorative Campaign Star 1941-45 (Land Operations), officers’ bullion SAS wings, Free French wings, cloth cap badge and ‘1st S.A.S.’ shoulder title, Greek Sacred Squadron bronze badge, cloth and bullion Greek Service badge, 1st pattern SAS Association enamelled badge, this numbered ‘538’, and similar tie-pin Also included was a quantity of original documentation, including M.I.D. Certificate dated 30 December 1941 (Lieutenant, Royal Engineers), War Office forwarding letter for M.C., named certificate for Greek Sacred Squadron badge, various official wartime ‘flimsies’ concerning his M.I.D., registration of marriage (Lieut. W. J. Cumper, “L” Det. S.A.S. Bde, Combined Training Centre, 22 Aug. 1942) and a Movement Order, official copy recommendation for M.C., several original photographs and news cuttings.

SAS Cumper death Burton Observer 13 January 1955

Article in the Burton Observer newspaper of 13 January 1955 reporting on the death of Major Bill Cumper MC MID

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A WWII S.O.E. ‘Force 133’ Balkan Operations D.C.M. group sells for £95,000

DNW Scott SOE group

This exceptional and important Second War S.O.E. ‘Force 133’ Balkan Operations D.C.M. group of eight went under the hammer at the Dix Noonan Webb Orders, Decorations, Medals & Militaria auction on 13 January 2021 and sold for £95,000 (plus 24% buyers premium).

The group was awarded to Sergeant K. A. J. B. Scott, Royal Signals and Special Operations Executive, late King’s Royal Rifle Corps, who was ‘dropped’ into Eastern Serbia in April 1944, linking up with Major Frank Thompson’s ill-fated Operation Claridges in support of Bulgarian Communist Partisans. As anti-partisan reprisal operations closed in, Thompson took the fateful decision to lead his private army ‘T. E. Lawrence Style’ into Bulgaria, where, with Scott continuing to serve as wireless operator, they were repeatedly ambushed and fought running battles with the Bulgarian Army and Gendarmerie before being ultimately broken up.

Starving and exhausted, Scott and Thompson were encircled and captured before being subjected to brutal beatings and threats under Gestapo interrogation. Learning of Thompson’s execution, Scott was then compelled to extract intelligence from S.O.E. Cairo via his wireless set but, cleverly ensuring that Cairo were not deceived, at great danger to himself he disclosed nothing, surviving fourteen nerve-wracking weeks under Gestapo orders until finally, with the Red Army closing on Sofia, he was released, finding his way to London via Istanbul and Cairo as the only British survivor of the mission.

The lot which was offered for sale to Dix Noonan Webb at the request of the family was sold together with an important associated archive of material, elements of which include the recipient’s unpublished autobiography of his war years; private correspondence regarding the Claridges Mission between the recipient and both the author Stowers Johnson and the eminent historian E. P. Thompson, and a rare surviving S.O.E. original typescript of the recipient’s D.C.M. recommendation.

DNW Scott SOE medals

Medals awarded to Sergeant K. A. J. B. Scott, Royal Signals and Special Operations Executive, late King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Distinguished Conduct Medal, G.VI.R; 1939-45 Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45; Efficiency Decoration, G.VI.R., 1st issue, Territorial; Bulgaria, People’s Republic, Order of People’s Liberty, breast star; Honoured Medal of Georgi Dimitrov 1923-1944. Photo: Dix Noonan Webb

The rare, surviving S.O.E. recommendation, not previously publicly available or held by the National Archives – an original typescript of which is with the lot – submitted by S.O.E. Cairo staff officer and author of the renowned S.O.E. memoir ‘Baker Street Irregular’, Major Bickham Sweet-Escott, states:

‘Sergeant Scott was dropped to join a mission in East Serbia on 7 April 1944. The mission crossed into Bulgaria in early May and on 11 May [sic – actually 18 May], was ambushed by a large party of Bulgarian troops. In the fighting the mission and the Partisans to whom they attached were split up, and Sergeant Scott, together with an officer, were the only British survivors. The wireless transmitting apparatus of the mission which had been dropped into a river during the fighting was rescued by Sergeant Scott at a great personal risk of being captured by the enemy. Several days of flight ensued during which the officer was ill and Sergeant Scott was left alone to face heavy responsibilities. By tact and perseverance he managed to keep the depleted Partisan band together.

On 31 May, a second ambush was encountered and Sergeant Scott together with the officer were captured. Questioned under threats and beating by the Gestapo and Bulgar Secret Police, Sergeant Scott consistently refused to give away any vital military or technical information to the enemy. He was kept imprisoned until 9 September, at Bulgar anti-Partisan Headquarters in Sofia, and during the whole of this time made every effort to gain what information he could about the enemy’s activities. He was then compelled to work his wireless transmitting set to Cairo, but by great ingenuity succeeded in indicating that he was operating under duress, with the result that the messages thus sent by the enemy completely failed to deceive us. By this behaviour he put himself in considerable personal danger, since had he been discovered, he would certainly have been shot. Throughout the whole period, 7 April to 9 September, Sergeant Scott has shown considerable initiative, fortitude and steadfastness to duty and has thus contributed positively to the work of the Force in Bulgaria.’

DNW Scott SOE

Special Operations Executive Sergeant K. A. J. B. Scott D.CM.

Kenneth Alec John Baliol Scott was born on 1 March 1920 in Lewisham, London and was educated at Dulwich College. On leaving school he joined the The Rangers, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps – Territorial Army and was mobilised in August 1939, being quickly promoted to Signal Sergeant. Volunteering for Special Duties at the first opportunity, he was transferred to the Royal Corps of Signals in August 1943 and, before long, identified as suitable for Special Operations:

‘Eventually Kenneth Scott found himself at one of the most important finishing schools of the war: S.O.E. Middle East Training School for Wireless Operators. Men here had been selected (after volunteering) from every type of unit, and anticipated being sent to work behind the enemy lines with partisans in the Balkans, or on small Allied craft in enemy waters – anywhere, in fact, where danger was greatest and communication most vital. It mattered not what their previous military experience had been, for it was this that really united them – the consciousness that they had left unit and regiment behind, and all belonged to the same firm; and this indeed was the cognomen for their outfit: the ‘Firm’, Force 133 of S.O.E.’ (Agents Extraordinary by Stowers Johnson refers)

DNW Scott SOE wings

Distinctive parachute wings belonging to Sgt. Ken Scott (Royal Signals) of the Special Operations Executive. Photo: Dix Noonan Webb

Completing specialist training – including a five jump parachute course at Ramat David, near Haifa, in late 1943 – he was driven to a privileged district of Cairo serving as the home of S.O.E. Middle East H.Q., where he was to spend a lazy three months relaxing in S.O.E. surroundings, enjoying not just comfortable furnishings but Arab waiters, cooks and houseboys, pending further orders. Then, suddenly at midday on 5 April 1944, orders arrived for him to pack everything he needed and catch a flight that night to Bari, in Southern Italy. Scrambling into action, he just caught the plane en-route for Benghazi and Malta, arriving at Bari at 1800 hours on 6 April where he was whisked away to the local H.Q. of the firm and briefed on some aspects of his particular mission. The following day, now entrusted with further orders, codes and secret equipment, he was taken to draw his parachute and, completing a blur of further preparations, by 2130 hours he was aboard a plane headed due East from Bari, still not aware of his precise destination. Two hours later he was above the drop zone:

‘The plane was circling. Far down below a group of fires were burning right on the top of a Balkan mountain. Then suddenly, fully and immediately, did Kenneth Scott realise he was making the drop absolutely alone. He groped for his half-pint flask of army rum and began taking an occasional swig. Five times the plane circled and each time, as it crossed above the fires, the heavy bundles of arms and equipment were released through the bomb doors. The sixth circle was the final and Scott sat in the hole ready.

“I look down, [he said, himself describing that vital moment] and even in the circumstances I cannot help wonder at the wild, cold beauty of those hills slowly sliding away below. – We’re running in! The Red Light! “Action Stations!” “Go!!” I heave myself – then the hole – and plunge down to God knows what. The ‘chute opens and I widen my legs to get the straps more comfortable, when from under the ground mist comes a faint cry: “Get your feet and legs together!” – the good old paratroopers’ cry! Soon I land, scarcely a few feet from the fires, and am shaking hands with a couple of English lads, Major Dugmore and Sergeant Rogers. They take me down to the house, where I offer my rum flask, only to find that I’ve already emptied it!”

Not till next day did Kenneth Scott realise he had actually dropped to ‘Entanglement Pin Point Radovnica’ at 2355 hours on Good Friday. Dugmore and Rogers spent the day acquainting him with local conditions and listening in turn to gossip about Cairo. Late in the afternoon the mission, his mission, arrived in a condition entirely belying the code name ‘Claridges’. Major Thompson and Sergeants Walker and Monroe had come down from their latest trek over the Mountains to the north. They were tired and quite drawn with fatigue, very, very dirty, unshaven and hungry. They spoke of heavy fighting ambushes and occupied villages, but the sight of the new wireless operator was as great a tonic for Frank Thompson as were for his famished companions those gastronomic delicacies brought by Scott’s own “air mail”.’ (ibid)

DNW Scott SOE page

Page from Ken Scott’s typed biography entitled “Life in the Army” which presents his account of his 7 years service in the Army. Photo: Dix Noonan Webb

Operation Claridges
Scott’s arrival in Eastern Serbia, near the border of Bulgaria, had landed him into the centre of one of the more confused and under analysed of the S.O.E. areas of operation during the Second World War. His mission – ‘Claridges’ – led by Major Frank Thompson, a man whose short but eventful life has been the subject of biographies and memoirs (see footnote), aimed to estimate the strength of the communist underground Bulgarian resistance movement and gather evidence for a considered opinion as to whether Britain should support it.

They soon found Bulgarian guerrillas in Serbia and established contact with representatives of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party. Air drops of supplies and arms were arranged. However, whilst other areas of the Balkans had seen organised and determined partisan groups operating, Axis-aligned Bulgaria had never been occupied and until 1944 the resistance to Prime Minister Filav’s pro-Nazi regime was militarily weak. As the Germans decided that the partisans must be wiped out, the net closed in on Claridges’ location in Serbia and the Bulgarian partisans with Thompson announced in early May that they had decided to wage their campaign back over the border in Bulgaria. Thompson’s orders were to remain with the Bulgarian leaders if possible but this would require the Claridges force to venture east into Bulgaria itself, where large numbers of anti-partisan soldiers and policemen were active and brutal. It would be a gamble and an altogether more dangerous undertaking than the operations that they had hitherto been conducting under Major Mostyn Davies and a Brigade of Bulgarian guerillas in an area of Serbia controlled by the Yugoslavian Partisan leader General Tempo, a representative of Tito. Although warned of the dangers by Tempo and faced with a difficult decision without clear orders, the restless and ideologically driven Thompson chose to play his part in attempting to foment a communist uprising of the Bulgarian population. His small party, with Scott as the mission’s wireless telegraph operator, left the Cerna Trava area on 12 May 1944, in the company of 150 to 200 partisans of the 2nd Sofia Brigade, crossing the border with the intention of moving into Central Bulgaria. They ran into trouble almost immediately:

‘On the night of the 13/14 May the party fell into a police ambush of approximately 20 Bulgarian policemen armed with knives. The ambush party had been lying in wait across the track on which the Partisans were moving, and succeeding in establishing considerable surprise. In the skirmish which ensued one Partisan was killed and Dencho received three knife wounds. One policeman was stabbed and another taken prisoner. This prisoner stated that he had been recently conscripted into the Bulgar Gendarmerie, adding that he was a married man with children. This ruse to gain lenient treatment and, perhaps, to save his life, was unsuccessful however, since his papers showed him to be unmarried and a member of the Regular Forces. His head was smashed in with a rifle butt [by the partisans].’ (The Outline History of the Claridges Mission based on field signals and the evidence of Sergeant Scott refers)

They were now travelling in unfamiliar and hostile territory, very short of provisions and at constant risk of betrayal to the Gendarmerie or army. Exhausted, their rest in a wood on 18 May was interrupted by machine-gun fire at noon, causing them to scatter and split into two groups. Scott fled with Major Thompson, around twelve partisan officers and five or six other ranks including three women. A search for a new hideout was then delayed by one of their number being shot in the ankle and by increasing numbers of Bulgar troops, and by their own hunger and exhaustion. That night was spent in thickets on a hilltop with just a small amount of cheese for sustenance. With their confidence in the leaderless partisans now waning, Thompson and Scott agreed to split from the group when the first opportunity presented itself. Scott later recalled Thompson jokingly commenting, ‘These partisans are no good: maybe we should find some better ones.’

Indeed, many years later, Major J. Henniker-Major, another S.O.E. Balkans Operative, would state of Thompson’s Bulgarian Partisans: ‘I’m glad they were not my prop and stay – a pretty inexperienced and low level mixture of individual deserters and Communist civilians from the towns. Compared to the Yugoslav army they had an unreal and slightly horror-comic air of a brigand army, boastful, mercurial, temperamental and with an inexperienced yen to go it alone.’

Betrayal and Capture
On 30 May Thompson and Scott, desperate for food, attempted to eat leaves with salt and then shared a live wood snail. Three partisans were sent into a village despite it being occupied by an army unit and returned with some bread which was carefully divided. Then, exhausted once more they slept in an orchard.

On 31 May, after a Gendarmerie patrol was spotted at dawn 300 yards away, they decided not to move further. But at 14.00 a twenty-strong police patrol approached from the village where their presence had evidently been betrayed and two hours later fired the first bullets into the wood. Thompson and Scott, as they had planned, split from the group, moving uphill while the Partisans were fleeing down and hid between four trees growing close together in ground cover of dead leaves and branches.
They could hear small-arms and mortar fire, and the screams of one of three women who had stayed with the Partisans and who, despite her painful shrapnel wounds had killed several Bulgarian troops with grenades. A small force of troops then entered the copse in which Thompson and Scott were hiding and, advancing nearer and nearer to them until just ten feet away, the pair were spotted. A shot was fired at Scott which miraculously missed and then both men were captured. Dragged from their hiding place they were brutally kicked and struck with fists and rifle butts until an N.C.O. arrived. Both had their hands tied behind their backs, Thompson with a belt, Scott, whose hand was poisoned and swollen, with a rope, his wrists being so tightly bound that they were cut almost to the bone. As they were led back to the local village, peasants turned out to swear, spit and strike them with their fists or any heavy article they could seize. It was later realised by the captives that this attitude of the population and the Army was largely due to the loss of life caused by the Allied bombing of Sofia – raids which Thompson had encouraged: some accounts report that Sofia was 25 per cent destroyed, with thousands killed.

On reaching the village, Thompson, now extremely weak from lack of food, the march and ill treatment, lost his balance and collapsed. After preliminary questioning to ascertain that they were British fighting with the Partisans, they were taken to a cellar where, without any preliminaries, a shaved and well dressed civilian beat them with a truncheon, while soldiers, policemen and other civilians crowded in the doorway to watch. Their possessions were then set out on a table and an interrogation on more orthodox military lines followed, conducted by a commanding officer who had extracted shockingly precise information about the mission and its history from a captured Partisan.

Two hours later they were handcuffed and taken to a room inside a commandeered school on the edge of Sofia. Sharing the room were a number of captured Partisans and the three villagers who had sold them bread. A high ranking Gendarmerie officer then arrived and began the now familiar routine of spitting, kicking and beating, all conducted in front of an audience of soldiers, Gendarmerie and citizenry. Sleep was impossible owing to the injuries they had received at the hands of the Bulgars and also on account of the continual stream of sightseers. The screams of two women partisans who had also been captured continued through the night, accompanied by sounds of heavy furniture being thrown: they were never seen again. At this point Thompson was taken for three hours of interrogation at around three in the morning and returned looking haggard, scarcely able to stand; Scott followed. Then there was another more military and clear-cut interrogation, in a room containing three Gestapo representatives, in front of two wireless transmission sets, only one of which was recognisable to Scott. Many questions concerned the S.O.E. signals school in the Middle East, the exact station to which Scott had signalled, and the whereabouts of other British missions in the Balkans. These interrogators were extremely well informed but Scott avoided replies to all the questions by pointing out that his operation, and all those of the organisation to which he belonged, were carried out with the highest degree of secrecy, and that owing to these security measures he was totally ignorant of the activities or organisation of other personnel.

Working ‘under Gestapo orders’
On 1 June Scott’s request for medical attention was granted, the doctor being especially interested in discovering where Thompson had learned Bulgarian; since Scott had been asked this question multiple times during interrogation the Bulgars obviously attached some importance to it; it is a horrible irony that Thompson’s meagre knowledge of the language probably helped to incriminate him as a ‘spy’. During the following twenty-four hours, sightseers and Scott’s poisoned arm rendered sleep impossible and on 2 June Scott was taken off into individual imprisonment in Sofia where his captors required him to operate his wireless set in their attempt to acquire information from Cairo.

Scott never saw Frank Thompson again and was informed around 11 June, by a Bulgarian officer, that he had been shot, not as a soldier but as a rebel, and that he too would be shot unless the reports of his behaviour and co-operation were satisfactory. Stowers Johnson, whose account of Operation Claridges in Agents Extraordinary was later described by Scott as ‘factually correct’ and ‘the accurate story of this isolated wartime incident’, wrote that the object lesson for Scott here was that he was still alive because he had not been mixing himself up learning Bulgarian and getting into politics, with the ominous implication that if officers were shot so simply, then there would be even less hesitation with other ranks. That being said, it cannot be ignored that Scott, as the wireless operator of the mission, was of more obvious use to his captors than the equally brave Thompson. Now he would be put to work but, as per his D.C.M. citation, Scott, at great personal risk to himself, succeeded in indicating to Cairo that he was operating under duress, with the result that the messages thus sent by the enemy completely failed to deceive Cairo:

‘His captors were in earnest when they had demanded the set be worked at once. He was taken immediately to a large room entirely used for wireless telegraphy and set to work. A long and rambling account of the Battle of Batulia was drawn up, representing the incident neither as a disaster nor a success, and indicating that the British mission would very soon give details so that a sortie could be received, arms and supplies being urgently needed.

Now came the divergence of theory from practice. German N.C.O.s came at regular intervals to give, receive or monitor messages which were carefully checked somewhere by superiors whom Scott never saw. He realised each message was always reworded! This thwarted part of his plan, but was encouraging in that it must make for a difference of style which might be noticed. He could also make a few mistakes such as an inexperienced, badly trained operator might make. He left out deliberately his security check message. To his relief nobody came to point this out. Perhaps they did not know.

When that first message went out Kenneth Scott had the most trying time of all. If there had been no change in the staff at Cairo, they should suspect the situation at once. But if there were nonchalance in the decoding room, or haste or even sickness there, he might find himself responsible for calling out some Allied aeroplanes with their crews and equipment to be destroyed in the Sredna Gora Mountains. Or if the message were bluntly queried, he might be betrayed!

He need not have worried. At the British receiving station the absence of the security check message was noted with alarm and the errors seemed many more in decoding than even Scott had intended. The whole message stood out in front of the S.O.E. chiefs as a warning signal. Kenneth Scott had the reputation of being one of the best operators in the whole Middle East field. Such mistakes would fail even a trainee operator and when coming from their most capable sergeant of signals could not be regarded as accidental.

At once they knew he was in German hands and sent out warnings to other missions to watch carefully for Major Thompson or any other survivors who might be in hiding. More definite than anything, however, Kenneth Scott by his bravery in making those mistakes had placed responsibility for the safety of his life squarely upon the shoulders of Force 133. If they showed any doubt or distrust, if they queried the authenticity of the message, or indeed if they failed to respond to any request the pseudo ‘Claridges’ might make, the Germans would suspect and Scott would be sacrificed to Gestapo torture and elimination.’ (Agents Extraordinary by Stowers Johnson refers)

Whilst enduring the next fourteen weeks in captivity, under the continual threat of being shot, Scott continued to operate his wireless transmission set according to Gestapo orders, all the while contriving with Cairo to reveal nothing.
Finally, on 9 September, with Russian forces crossing the Danube and the Germans and Bulgarian troops in disarray, Scott was taken to the centre of Sofia by tram to be left abandoned in a side street. He slowly made his way back to London via Istanbul and Cairo. In 1945, Scott returned to Cairo as representative on the Allied Commission for dealing with Bulgarian war crimes. He was discharged on 4 June 1946 and was personally awarded his D.C.M. (which was originally gazetted on 9 August 1945) by the King at Buckingham Palace on 10 December 1946.

Bulgarian partisans of the Bulgarian Fatherland Front resistance movement enter the capital city of Sofia. September, 1944

Bulgarian partisans of the Bulgarian Fatherland Front resistance movement enter the capital city of Sofia. September, 1944

After the war Ken Scott became a ventilation engineer, starting as a draughtsman, rising to become sales director. In 1954 he married Sonia Townshend and in 1962 they retired to Galloway in Scotland and bought a holiday home in the Algarve in Portugal. In 2000 Scott returned to the scene of his wartime exploits and met the few partisan survivors. He was welcomed one of their own, a man who had shared their hardships. And he exorcised his ghosts by paying his respects at the graves of fallen partisans – and that of Major Frank Thompson. Ken Scott passed away on 30 September 2008. He was survived by Sonia and their two daughters.

The lot was sold with the following original related archive material:

DNW Scott SOE ephemera

The recipient’s typed and hard-bound autobiography of his war years entitled ‘Life in the Army’ being the story of his nearly 7 years in the army at home and abroad as described in his letters written home, also containing documents, news cuttings relating to his time during the war, illustrations and three original photographs of the recipient in uniform, in excess of 200 pages;

An original copy of the outline history of the Claridges Mission, based on field signals and the evidence of Sgt. Scott;

A silk map of the Balkan region in good condition and two more silk map cuttings of the Balkan region these last two aged and worn;

An original copy of the recipient’s D.C.M. citation; War Office D.C.M. investiture invitation, dated 23 October 1946;

A quantity of photographs of the recipient, seven of which are contemporary images of the recipient in uniform – one being a fine, card mounted, studio portrait, 25cm x 19cm, four also featuring the recipient’s brother Ron in uniform of which one also features the recipient’s mother;

Private correspondence, dated 1975, between the recipient and Stowers Johnson, author of Agents Extraordinary, in which the recipient congratulates Johnson on the accuracy of his account and also, dated 1984, in which Johnson provides thoughts on the attitude of Bulgarian officialdom towards the mission; correspondence, dated 1977 and 1979, between the recipient and the the socialist historian E. P. Thompson (younger brother of Major F. Thompson);

The recipient’s Record of Service card – Army Form W5258;

A well captioned album of photographs documenting the recipient’s visit to Bulgaria in 2002, containing images of the recipient meeting former partisans, visits to memorials, television interviews and press conferences etc;

Two VHS videos, the first with handwritten title ‘From Bulgaria and Revisit + 7 days – Thompson’ the second with handwritten title ‘7 day interview Bulgaria Oct 2002 / Mrs Thompson, filmed in UK by Transki 14/4/1978’;

Five books: ‘There is a Spirit in Europe A Memoir of Frank Thompson by T. J. Thompson and E. P. Thompson, the front end paper signed by Scott and also by the Bulgarian Partisan leader Slavcho Transki with a handwritten tribute to Scott, dated 1978; A Very English Hero, the Making of Frank Thompson by Peter J. Conradi; Agents Extraordinary by Stowers Johnson, the front end paper signed, ‘To Kenneth Scott, with kindest regards and best wishes from Stowers Johnson 10 August 1975’; The Left Side of History by Kristen Ghosdee; Baker Street Irregular by Bickham Sweet-Escott, front end paper signed by Scott.

Footnote – Major Frank Thompson

captain frank thompson SOE

Captain, later Major Frank Thompson of the Special Operations Executive who commanded Operation Claridges.

 

William Frank Thompson, educated at the Dragon School, Winchester College and Oxford University, was a highly gifted classics scholar, linguist and nascent poet of immense promise who became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1930s under the influence of his close friend Iris Murdoch. His exceptional record of service as a British Army officer began courageously with the Special Reconnaissance Unit ‘Phantom’ in North Africa, the Levant, and the hazardous landings in Sicily in 1943. However, it is his remarkable service with the S.O.E. in Bulgaria that really stands out. Parachuted into Macedonia on 25 January 1944, under the command of Major Mostyn Davies, he was part of Operation Mulligatawny which established links between the British staff and the Bulgarian partisans under Slavcho Transki. When Davies was killed, Thompson assumed command of the mission, now named Claridges, and crossed the frontier into Bulgaria together with Sergeants Scott, Walker and Munroe. All but Scott were killed. The extent to which Thompson’s personal politics were a factor in the outcome of the mission is still debated but there is no doubting his bravery and determination:

‘Along the way, he and his men experienced constant danger from enemy patrols, desertion and treachery by their own ilk, instant betrayal from intimidated villagers and peasants, extreme hunger, verminous lice, vicious sores and scratches from moving at night, bleeding, blistered and calloused feet, bitter cold and pernicious wet; yet, not once did he turn back despite ample good reason for doing so after the first ambush on 18 May. He pressed ahead indomitably to complete his task, however remote and impossible it must have seemed on many occasions. Thompson’s immortality was indeed his own individuality as he assumed the mantle of leading his mission into the heartlands of Axis Bulgaria, an erstwhile T. E. Lawrence of the Balkans or not.’ (Through Hitler’s Backdoor – SOE Operations in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria 1939-1945 by Alan Ogden refers).

After the war and the establishment of a communist government in Bulgaria, the villages of Livage, Lipata, Tsarevi Stragi, Malak Babul, Babul and Zavoya were merged and renamed Thompson ((Томпсън, in the Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet) in his honour. While most Bulgarian towns and cities which were renamed by the communists adopted their former names soon after the collapse of Bulgaria’s communist regime in 1989-90, Thompson, to this day, remains Thompson.

grave_of_frank_thompson_in_litakovo_bulgaria-990x556

Grave of Major Frank Thompson in Litakov, Bulgaria

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A WW2 South African Veterinary Corps Medal Group

TENNANT Mervyn medal group SAVC-1

Medals, badges, photographs and paperwork belonging to my uncle, 151283V,Farrier Corporal, Mervyn Tennant who served with the South African Veterinary Corps (SAVC) during World War 2. Collection: Julian Tennant

During a recent visit to my parents in Melbourne, I was given this group which belonged to my father’s uncle, Mervyn Tennant, who served with the South African Veterinary Corps (SAVC) during World War Two. The group consists of his medals, badges, some photographs and ephemera from his war service. It also included two booklets from the Springbok Legion, a Leftist anti-fascist, anti-racist organisation formed in 1941 to fight for the rights of South African servicemen during the war and which later became radicalised by members of the Communist Party of South Africa. Unfortunately, I know very little about Mervyn and nobody in the family is able to tell me about his life or war service.

I do know that he was a farrier corporal, involved in the transport of animals from Durban to Karachi after the Indian Remount Purchasing Commission commenced buying animals in South Africa for shipment to India. Between August 1942 and September 1945, 58 shipments were made, transporting 22016 mules, 3527 horses, 323 cows, 2259 pigs, 3 Angora goats and 1 zebra. One ship was lost when it was torpedoed in March 1943 with the loss of 737 animals on board, but all other shipments were successful (source: Journal of the South African Veterinary Association, Volume 17, Issue 2, Jan 1946, p. 69 – 80).

TENNANT Mervyn medal group SAVC-8

Studio photo of Mervyn Tennant taken at the “Astra Studios, 26 Bureau Lane, Pretoria”. In this photo Mervyn can be seen wearing the Union Defence Force cap and collar badges, so I am not sure if this was prior to or during his service with the South African Veterinary Corps (SAVC), but he does appear to be wearing his Farrier proficiency/trade badge on his right shoulder. Collection: Julian Tennant

I am not sure how many of these trips Mervyn participated in, but I do recall my father telling me about this when I was a boy and it is also supported by some of the India visitor booklets that are included in his group. His medal record indicates that he was awarded the 1939-45 Star, War Medal 1939-1945 and Africa Service Medal, but did not meet the qualification criteria for the Burma Star, so I assume that his service was restricted to the transportation journeys between South Africa and India.

The badges that are included with the group include his cap and collar badges, plus some shoulder titles. One of the titles is the ZAVD variant identified in Colin Owen’s book The Military Badges and Insignia of Southern Africa as being worn from 1922 – 1926, whilst an article in the journal of The South African Military History Society states that it was the second brass title used by the South African Veterinary Corps and used up to 1922.  I wonder if the information from both sources is correct as Mervyn was not in the army at that time. My only guess is that when the South African Veterinary Corps was resurrected for service during World War Two, older existing supplies of the insignia that were still in the military system were issued until those stocks were exhausted. Maybe a South African insignia specialist of this period can clarify why this anomaly may have occurred?

TENNANT Mervyn medal group badges-10

South African Veterinary Corps (SAVC) cap and collar badges, shoulder titles and farrier trade badge worn by my uncle Mervyn Tennant during his service with the SAVC during World War 2. Collection: Julian Tennant.

TENNANT Mervyn medal group SAVC-5-Edit

Photo of Mervyn Tennant (right) and another South African soldier taken in South Africa during the war. In this photo he can be seen wearing the South African Veterinary Corps badge on his cap and also has ribbons on his chest, so I assume that this picture was taken shortly before his discharge in 1946. Collection: Julian Tennant

Some photographs of Mervyn also show him wearing the Union Defence Force General Service cap and collar badges. Unfortunately I think that I may have traded these and some of his other Veterinary Corps insignia when I was young collector back in the 70’s. C’est La Vie.

TENNANT Mervyn medal group SAVC-11

Group photograph showing Mervyn (the short guy wearing a pith helmet on the left) with some army and air force mates. I don’t know where this photograph was taken or whether these are all South Africans, but it does show an interesting mix of uniform details. Collection: Julian Tennant

Tennant Mervyn brochures-01

Picture ‘Letter Folder’ showing views of Durban (South Africa) and a couple of visitor booklets given to troops arriving in India that were among the things in the Mervyn Tennant group. Collection: Julian Tennant

Tennant Mervyn springbok legion-01

Booklets from the Springbok Legion, a left of centre, anti-fascist, anti-racist organisation formed in 1941 to fight for the rights of soldiers during and after WW2. Over time the Springbok Legion became radicalised by members of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) who infiltrated it and took up various official positions within the Legion. Collection: Julian Tennant

Tennant Mervyn medals-01

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A 1992 issue Switlik Caterpillar Club badge for a WW2 Soviet pilot.

Last week’s post featured the Caterpillar Club badge of RAAF pilot Patrick Heffernan who became member number 16000 of Irvin’s European Division of the Caterpillar Club when he was forced to bail out from his Wellington bomber in November 1943.

Back in the 1920’s, along with Irvin, another manufacturer of parachutes, the Switlik Parachute Co of Trenton, New Jersey also thought that the caterpillar was a good idea to promote sales of its parachutes. Members of the Switlik Caterpillar Club, mostly Americans, receive a large certificate and a metal badge bearing the word ‘CATERPILLAR’ along the length of the badge. Like Irvin, Switlik continues to issue Caterpillar Club membership today and has also taken on the role for issuing membership to individuals whose lives had been saved using a Pioneer parachute for their emergency descent.

Switlik Caterpillar Club pin awarded in 1991 to a Soviet bomber pilot named AЕВИНСОН who was shot down by the Germans in June 1941. Collection: Julian Tennant

Switlik Caterpillar Club pin awarded in 1992 to a Soviet bomber pilot named AЕВИНСОН who was shot down by the Germans in June 1941. Collection: Julian Tennant

The Switlik Caterpillar Club badge that I feature here is one that was issued in 1992 to an old Russian airman who made an emergency descent in June 1943. I bought this pin back in 2005 from well-known para insignia collector, Don Strobaugh. He provided the following background to this particular pin.

For more than 50 years, I used to do a lot traveling throughout the world. Several times during those years, I visited an older Soviet friend of mine in Leningrad. I spoke no Russian and he didn’t speak English, so we had a mutual friend who translated for us. I knew that he had been a Soviet paratrooper in 1936, because I had done some wonderful trading with him for 1930’s era Soviet parachutist badges that he had. Kept. During one of my visits in 1990, I also learned that he had become a Soviet Naval Air Force bomber pilot prior to WWII and had made an emergency parachute jump after having been shot down by the Germans on 23 June 1941. I mentioned that there was an organization that recognized emergency parachute jumps and asked if he would like to be a member of the Caterpillar Club. He said yes, so when I returned to the States, I submitted al of the information that he had given me that the Switlik Parachute Company needed to confirm his eligibility for the award. In 1992, when my wife and I went to visit him again, I hand carried the Caterpillar Club certificate and pin with me and presented it to him 51 years after his emergency jump. Last year the pin was returned to me by an anonymous sender from St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). He had no living relatives that I knew of, so this was probably telling me that he had passed away and someone had found my name associated with this pin. I received only the pin, not the certificate.”

When Don sent me the pin he also included a note which was returned with the pin which had the Pilot’s name, AЕВИНСОН, typed on a small piece of paper, which I think translates to Aevinson, but I have been unable to find out any more about this individual.

As can be seen from the picture, my 1992 period pin, does differ from the type made by the Metal Arts Co. of Rochester, New York (below) which Switlik issued during WW2 and are more often associated with the Switlik Caterpillar Club. I am not sure when Switlik changed the design and manufacture of their pin to the style that I have.

caterpillarclubmetalartsco.jpg

Caterpillar Club pin issued by Switlik during WW2. This pin was made by the Metal Arts Co. of Rochester New York. The pin was made in two sizes with a smaller version using a single screw post for attaching the badge to the shirt.

The two different sized Switlik Caterpillar Club badges made by the Metal Arts Co. during WW2.

The two different sized Switlik Caterpillar Club badges made by the Metal Arts Co. during WW2.

Cindy Farrar Bryan shows some good pictures of the Caterpillar Club pins, membership cards and documentation in this post which recounts the story behind how her father, S/Sgt. George Farrar, a waist gunner on a B-17 in the 384th Bomb Group, earned his membership after an emergency jump in September 1944. The US Militaria Forum also has a great thread about the Caterpillar, Goldfish and Sea Squatters Club badges which includes lots of detailed pictures featuring both the front and backs of the various pin types and is an invaluable resource for collectors. And finally, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum recently published a great article on the ‘first’ members of the Caterpillar Club and also holds the Lt. Col. Falk Harmel Caterpillar Club Collection (1922-1940) which includes photographs and detailed reports of each of the first 700 documented emergency parachute jumps.

Flatbed scan of my two Caterpillar Club pins. The top example is Soviet bomber pilot, AЕВИНСОН's Switlik badge awarded in 1991 in recognition of a jump made in 1941 and the lower pin is the Irvin Caterpillar Club badge awarded to RAAF pilot, Patrick Heffernan for his emergency descent in November 1943. Collection: Julian Tennant

Flatbed scan of my two Caterpillar Club pins. The top example is Soviet bomber pilot, AЕВИНСОН’s Switlik badge awarded in 1992 in recognition of a jump made in 1941 and the lower pin is the Irvin Caterpillar Club badge awarded to RAAF pilot, Patrick Heffernan after bailing out from his Wellington bomber in November 1943. Collection: Julian Tennant

DDA3ACADE7CD2_001.jpg

Two more variations of Caterpillar Club pins held by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The top is the type awarded by Pioneer Parachute Co. Inc.  I am not sure which company the bottom badge represents. Collection: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! 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. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection 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

 

WW2 Caterpillar Club pin to RAAF pilot, Group Captain P.G. Heffernan

The Caterpillar Club began in 1922 shortly after an American aviator, LT H.R. Harris, made an emergency descent using an Irvin parachute over McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio, USA. The lucky escape captured the attention of two visiting newspaper journalists, Maurice Hutton and Vern Timmerman. After discussions between Hutton, Timmerman, parachute manufacturer Leslie Irvin, Harris and another airman, Lt. Frank B. Tyndal, it was decided to form a club that recorded the names of individuals whose lives had been saved making an emergency descent using a parachute.

NASM-9A16107

Milton H. St. Clair, parachute engineer and co-founder of the Caterpillar Club, points to a sign for Caterpillar farm tractors. Photograph – Smithsonian Collection NASM-9A16107

Parachute engineer and founding club member, Milton H St. Clair, came up with the idea of using the caterpillar as the club’s symbol after a discussion as how to best represent membership. He recalls,
“Not long after our conversation I received literature about the Caterpillar Tractor Company from a relative, showing the design of their advertisements that is a wavy streak with ‘Caterpillar’ written across its face. I immediately got in touch with Timmerman and Hutton, and suggested to them that the organisation be called ‘Caterpillar Club’ for several reasons, namely; the parachute mainsail and lines were woven from the finest silk. The lowly worm spins a cocoon, crawls out and flies away from certain death if it remains in sight of the cocoon. A better example of what a pilot or passenger should do in the case of an uncontrollable plane could not have better figurative depiction. Hutton and Timmerman gave enthusiastic support to this name.”

catterpillar 1

A November 1943 article from Aviation Week magazine commemorating the then Colonel Harris’ achievement of becoming Caterpillar #1.

Two companies are usually associated with Caterpillar Club awards, Irvin and Switlik, although other parachute companies also used the symbol for brief periods of time. The pin featured here is an example awarded by the Irving Air Chute Company during WW2 for members of its Caterpillar Club European Division  and I will feature my Switlik pin in a future post.

The Irving Air Chute Company was formed by Leslie Irvin in Lexington Kentucky. A clerical error had resulted in the addition of a ‘G’ to Irvin’s name when the company was registered and this was amended to the Irvin Air Chute Company post WW2. In 1926 Leslie Irvin went to Great Britain where he established the Irving Air Chute of Great Britain Ltd at Letchworth, Garden City, Hertfordshire and as a result the European Division of the Caterpillar Club was formed.

Irvin’s Caterpillar Club European Division badge was originally made in 9ct gold (and later in gilt brass), is 20mm long and 4mm wide with ruby eyes. They were made by the jewellers, Mappin & Webb London. The badges produced in America were originally 10ct gold. The badge has a blank reverse upon which the recipient’s name is engraved behind the gold attachment pin. Many of the British made awards also feature a ‘9ct’ gold mark at the base. The pin was presented in a blue velvet lined presentation box, accompanied by a membership certificate and card.

Irvin Caterpillar Club pin presented to RAAF pilot Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C after he made an emergency descent on the 6th of November 1943. The pin measures 20mm long, 4mm wide, has ruby eyes and is engraved "G.C. P.G. HEFFERNAN" on the rear. Collection: Julian Tennant

WW2 Irvin Caterpillar Club European Division pin presented to RAAF pilot Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C after he made an emergency descent on the 6th of November 1943. The pin measures 20mm long, 4mm wide, has ruby eyes and is engraved “G.C. P.G. HEFFERNAN” on the rear. Collection: Julian Tennant

The pin that I have in my collection was presented to Royal Australian Air Force pilot, Group Captain (later Air Commodore) Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E, A.F.C., who entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1925 and in June 1929 went to the Air Force as a Pilot Officer. Heffernan had a long career which included qualifying as a RAAF parachutist in October 1930 and being awarded the Air Force Cross for his part in the rescue of RAF personnel from a Wellesley Bomber which had crashed in Western Australia in 1938. He was formally awarded his membership as no. 16000 of the Caterpillar Club European Division in February 1945 as the result of a training accident that occurred in November 1943.  He gives the following account of the jump that earned him membership of the Caterpillar Club in Bill Johnson’s book, Ripcord Australia.

“I joined the RAAF in 1929 and along with six other RAAF pilots we were sent to the UK in in 1943 to command various RAF squadrons, whose aircrew were predominantly Australian. Air Commodore DEL Wilson was to command RAF station Wyton, but after some operational flights he was shot down and became a POW. I was to command the Wellington OTU [27 Operational Training Unit RAF] where most of the Australians were crewed up. Wing Commander Balmer, Forsyth and McCormack were to command various squadrons.

I was taking part in a “Bullseye” which was a miniature bomber raid in which OTU crews took part before going on real ops. There were about 70 Wellingtons in this stream and were at 17000. Just as I was about to alter course over the last turning point, I looked down to reset the compass and as I looked up another Wellington appeared right in front of me and I skewered my aircraft on his port wing. I was knocked out and when I came too I found the aircraft in a steep dive as the controls had been jammed forward in the impact. Half the nose was ripped away and my bomb aimer had disappeared. I tried to contact the rest of the crew but the intercom was out and yelling down through the cabin door did not get any results, so I assumed that they, on possibly seeing me unconscious, had bailed out. I opened the top escape hatch and when I went to stand up, found that my right leg was broken. So, I hooked my finger in the loop of my flying boot and managed to kick my way out. I hit the mainplane and missed the tail. The chute opened OK and within a few seconds I hit the ground with a wallop.

It was a very dark night and after my eyes became used to the darkness I could see a white gate some 150 yards away, so thought I could crawl to it, but as soon as I put weight on my leg I passed out again. When I came to, I realised the futility of my attempts, so wrapped myself in the chute and tried to settle in for the night. It was now 22:30 on 6.11.1943. When it became daylight, I sat up and watched for any movement and about 08:00 I saw a chap riding a bike so yelled out and he came over. I told him my story and he went off to get an ambulance. He came back with a thermos of hot tea and a bottle of Red Label. I can assure you that a mix of 4 parts Red Label to 1 of tea was very welcome. The ambulance arrived and I went to Ely hospital where I remained for the next 14 months. It was found that I had broken my leg in 3 places, also had 3 broken ribs and a broken radius in my right arm. All these injuries were caused when the other chap’s wing came into the cockpit.

NOW, here’s the amazing part of the story. Usually in a Wellington the pilot wore a chute harness and the pack was stowed in the nose so when an emergency arose the bomb aimer passed the pack up. That night BOTH the other pilot and myself went to collect our chutes and were told they were being folded so BOTH of us asked for a seat type which we wore. In my case I would have had no chance of getting the pack because of my injuries and when the other aircraft broke away it went into an inverted spin, so that the moment the pilot released his aircraft harness, he was thrown out of the aircraft. Had he been wearing only a chute harness (no pack) he would have been a dead duck, but only damaged his knee on landing. So BOTH of us were very lucky, as we were the only survivors of both aircraft. Being in an inverted spin, his crew would have had little chance of getting out; I cannot understand why my crew failed to get out and can only assume that they were knocked out by the impact of the collision. The other pilot was Canadian and was not in the “Bullseye” but was doing a night cross country flight and his track crossed the “Bullseye” stream and that is why we almost hit at right angles.”

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England circa February 1945. Air Vice Marshal Wrigley at a luncheon at the Irvin Air Chute factory pinning a caterpillar pin on Group Captain P. G. Heffernan AFC, Royal Australian Air Force, as member number 16000 of the European Division of the Caterpillar Club. The delay between the date of the incident and presentation of the award is most likely because of Heffernan’s lengthy 14 month recovery in Ely hospital and helps to explain the presence of the walking stick. Australian War Memorial Image Accession Number: SUK13845

Patrick Heffernan, O.B.E., A.F.C continued to serve at various RAAF Headquarter establishments after the war and in 1953 was awarded an O.B.E. for his service. He retired as an Air Commodore on the 15th of September 1956 and died in 1994.

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WW2 and 1950’s era RAAF pilot’s wings, Caterpillar Club badge and Returned From Active Service badge numbered AF 113893 belonging to 0318 Air Commodore Patrick George Heffernan O.B.E., A.F.C. Collection: Julian Tennant

Related: The Winged Boot

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A rare WW2 Hungarian Paratrooper’s medal group

Medals, insignia, photographs and documents belonging to Hungarian paratrooper, Császár Vilmos. Collection: Julian Tennant

Medals, insignia, photographs and documents belonging to World War Two Hungarian paratrooper, Sergeant Császár Vilmos. Collection: Julian Tennant

Featured this week is a very nice medal group to a WWII Hungarian paratrooper that I hold in my collection.

The group belonged to Sergeant Császár Vilmos. I still know very little about him but have learned that he served in the 3rd Parachute Company in 1941 as Lance-Corporal, was later promoted to sergeant and survived the war. His medals give clues to his service, but I am still in the process of researching his story so cannot provide a more comprehensive overview of his service at this stage.

His medals include:
The Silver Medal of Courage (Magyar Nagy Ezűst Vitézségi Érem).
The Fire Cross with Wreath and Swords (Tűzkereszt koszorúval, kardokkal) which was awarded for 3 months service in the front line as a combatant.
The Six years Long Service Cross (Legénységi Szolgálati Jel III. Osztálya)
The Upper Hungary campaign medal (Felvidéki Emlékérem)
The Medal for the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) and
The Medal for the Recapture of South Hungary (Délvidéki Emlékérem)

Hopefully the Hungarian names for the medals is correct, I have found several different translated names for these medals and so am not 100% certain if my titles are right.

Also included in this group are his railway pass, bullion NCO’s parachutist wings, his extremely rare ‘Master’ parachutist badge which was awarded for 25 (perfect) jumps, plus several photographs of him in uniform and conducting parachute jumps.

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos wearing his medals, the distinctive silver bullion embroidered Hungarian parachutist wing for NCO's and the incredibly rare first class (sometimes referred to as the 'master') parachutist badge on the breast pocket. Collection: Julian Tennant

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos wearing his medals, the distinctive silver bullion embroidered Hungarian parachutist wing for NCO’s and the incredibly rare Master parachutist badge on the breast pocket. Collection: Julian Tennant

Sergeant Császár Vilmos' Railway booklet dated 26 Jan 1944. When the photograph for the pass was taken it appears that Sgt Császár Vilmos had only been awarded the Upper Hungary campaign medal (Felvidéki Emlékérem), the Medal for the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) and the Medal for the Recapture of South Hungary (Délvidéki Emlékérem). Collection: Julian Tennant

Sergeant Császár Vilmos’ Railway booklet dated 26 Jan 1944. When the photograph for the pass was taken it appears that Sgt Császár Vilmos had only been awarded the Upper Hungary campaign medal (Felvidéki Emlékérem), the Medal for the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) and the Medal for the Recapture of South Hungary (Délvidéki Emlékérem). He was subsequently awarded the ‘Fire Cross’ with wreath and swords reflecting at least 3 months in the front line as a combatant, the Silver Medal of Courage for bravery and  Six Year Long Service Cross. Collection: Julian Tennant

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos and female, possibly wife or sister? The photograph shows that his arm is in a sling, indicating a wound or injury so I am guessing that this photo was taken whilst on recovery leave. Note that Császár Vilmos is also wearing the bullion jump wing on the left side of his cap. Collection: Julian Tennant

Studio portrait of (Sergeant) Császár Vilmos and female, possibly wife or sister? The photograph shows that his arm is in a sling, indicating a wound or injury so I am guessing that this photo was taken whilst on recovery leave. Note that Császár Vilmos is also wearing the bullion NCO’s jump wing on the left side of his cap. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

I have not yet been able to discover much about Császár Vilmos. The presence of the Liberation of Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) (Erdélyi Emlékérem) medal, which was introduced on the 1st of October 1940 to commemorate the incorporation of Northern Transylvania into Hungary indicates that Császár Vilmos became a paratrooper early in the war and possibly a member of the Royal Hungarian 1st Honvéd Parachute Company, before it was expanded to a Battalion in 1941.

When the 1st Honvéd Parachute Battalion was formed, Császár Vilmos was posted to the 3rd Company. My knowledge of the operations undertaken by the Hungarian paratroopers is weak, so I am not sure about exactly where he fought although the inclusion of the Upper Hungary and Southern Hungary medals in the group provides clues for my continuing research. At this stage of my research I am still largely ignorant of the qualification requirements for these medals and what role Hungarian paratroopers may have carried out in those operations. Hungarian researcher and historian, David Kiss, has written a very informative English-language article about the early history of Hungarian paratroopers which details some of the operations they were involved in, but I am still trying to ‘connect the dots’ between the historical records and the service of this soldier. However as new information comes to light I’ll continue to update this post to reflect a more complete record of  Császár Vilmos military career.

 

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Congo Mercenary. British Parachute Regiment & 5 Commando (the Wild Geese) group.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

Medals, paperwork and insignia belonging to William Martin Jacobs, a South African mercenary who served with the British Parachute Regiment in Cyprus and then 5 Commando (the Wild Geese) in the Congo during the 1960’s. Collection: Julian Tennant.

This is part of a larger collection of items belonging to a South African mercenary who served with the British Parachute Regiment and then went on to become a decorated mercenary officer of 5 Commando of the Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC) in the Congo from 1966 until it was disbanded in 1967.

At this stage I am still researching and am awaiting a promised detailed personal biography of the soldier from the seller in South Africa. So, right now the details that I have are scant, largely based on the photos and documents contained in the group. As more information comes to light I will update this post.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

The two frames that South African mercenary, William (Bill) Jacobs used to showcase the souvenirs of his service in the Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando in the Congo.

William (Bill) Martin Jacobs was born in Cape Town, South Africa on the 20th of March 1933. In 1957 he went to the United Kingdom and joined the Parachute Regiment passing out from Depot, The Parachute Regiment as a member of either 103 or 104 platoons according to one of the newspaper clippings in the group.

Bill was then posted to the 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment in time for it’s redeployment to Cyprus after the Suez operation, to combat the Greek terrorist organisation EOKA who were waging a campaign to drive the British out. Included in the group are some photographs from his deployment to Cyprus including a picture of the Police station in the village of Kilani and a photo of Bill in the Troodus Mountains, however I am yet to discover more information about his activities there.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

William Jacobs – 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment Service 1957-60. Guard of Honour for Lord Alexander at the opening of the Memorial Gates at the Military Church, Aldershot. Bill Jacobs is in the front row, second from the right. Collection: Julian Tennant

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

William Jacobs – 1st Battalion, The Parachute Regiment Service during the battalion’s deployment to Cyprus. This photo was taken in 1958 after being on a week long ambush. Note the ‘cap comforter’ headress worn so that the unit could not be identified. Collection: Julian Tennant

At the time of his discharge in 1960, Bill had attained the rank of corporal, qualified as a Marksman and Light Machine Gunner, plus been awarded the General Service Medal (1918) with Cyprus clasp. I am not sure what Bill did then and I assume that at some point he returned to South Africa before signing up as a Mercenary with Colonel ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare’s famous 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) of the Armee Nationale Congolaise.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

Armee Nationale Congolaise (ANC) Identity Card issued to Lieutenant William Martin Jacobs whilst serving with 5 Commando in the Congo, 1966-67. Collection: Julian Tennant

According to the documents accompanying the group, I believe that he joined 5 Commando in 1966, which is after Mike Hoare had left the Congo at the time when the unit was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Peters, then subsequently by Georg Schroeder.

Congo Mercenary. Parachute Regiment and 5 Commando (The Wild Geese) Group to Bill Jacobs. Collection: Julian Tennant

5 Commando on parade during the Independence Day Parade on 30 June 1966. According to Jacob’s account, this was the first time that the mercenaries of 5 Commando appeared on a public parade in the Congo. Their presence was to discourage any thought of an uprising by the Simba. There were only 42 men of 5 Commando in the Congo at that time. Also on parade were a few thousand local troops from various regiments. Collection: Julian Tennant

Included in the 5 Commando section of the group are several rare company patches, beret badge, rank slides, photographs, his ANC Identification book and his Bronze Cross of Valour (Croix de la Bravoure Militaire des Forces Armee Nationale Congolaise), which according to Jacobs’ documents, was only awarded to six members of 5 Commando. However, inspection of the Bronze Cross of Valour indicates that this particular medal is actually the subsequent variant used when Congo had evolved into Zaire, so I believe that this medal is a replacement that was added later. Bill Jacobs left 5 Commando in 1967 and I assume that it was as a result of all the mercenary contracts being suspended by Mabutu Sese Seko in April 1967.

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Shoulder patches worn by the mercenaries of  5 Commando in the Congo. Whilst often referred to as Companies, each of the subsections, ‘Leapard’, ‘Jumbo’ etc was in reality roughly platoon sized. Collection: Julian Tennant

When I obtained this group, Bill Jacobs was living in South Africa. It’s a fascinating and rare record of a unique individual’s service, which fits well into my mercenary  insignia collection. Hopefully I will be able to find out more about his service in the near future, but I’ll definitely be showing more of the group in future posts featuring the insignia used by mercenaries in the various African wars that sit in my collection.

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Frank McNamara: The first Australian aviator to win the Victoria Cross

Lt Frank H McNamara outside his tent at the Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook, Victoria, shortly after graduating as a pilot in October 1915.

Lt Frank H McNamara outside his tent at the Central Flying School (CFS) at Point Cook, Victoria, shortly after graduating as a pilot in October 1915

The first pattern Australian Military Forces (AMF) wings of the type issued to Frank McNamara upon graduation and as seen in the photograph above. The later issue Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot wings are below.

The first pattern Australian Military Forces (AMF) pilot’s wings of the type issued to Frank McNamara upon graduation and as seen in the photograph above. The later issue Australian Flying Corps (AFC) pilot wings are below.

On the 20th of March 1917, Lt. Frank H McNamara became the first Australian aviator to be awarded the Victoria Cross after landing his aircraft behind enemy lines to rescue a downed comrade, whilst serving with No. 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps in Palestine. The citation for the Victoria Cross reads,

“most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during an aerial bomb attack upon a hostile construction train, when one of our pilots was forced to land behind the enemy’s lines. Lieutenant McNamara, observing the pilots predicament and the fact that hostile cavalry were approaching, descended to his rescue. He did this under heavy rifle fire and in spite of the fact that he himself had been severely wounded in the thigh. He landed about 200 yards from the damaged machine, the pilot of which climbed on to Lieutenant McNamara’s machine, and an attempt was made to rise. Owing, however, to his disabled leg, Lieutenant McNamara was unable to keep his machine straight, and it turned over. The two officers, having extricated themselves, immediately set fire to the machine and made their way across to the damaged machine, which they succeeded in starting. Finally, Lieutenant McNamara, although weak from loss of blood. flew this machine back to the aerodrome, a distance of seventy miles, and thus completed his comrade’s rescue.”

Frank Hubert McNamara was born at Rushworth, Victoria, on 4 April 1894. After completing secondary schooling in Shepparton, he studied teaching at the Teachers Training College and the University of Melbourne and went on to teach at a number of Victorian Schools where he joined the senior cadet units. In 1912 he transferred to the Brighton Rifles and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in July 1913. After the outbreak of the First World War he served at Queenscliff and then Point Nepean before attending the Officers Training School at Broadmeadows, then between February and May 1915, instructed at the AIF Training Depot at Broadmeadows.

In August 1915 McNamara was selected to attend the Point Cook Flying School, graduating as a pilot in October that year. In January 1916 he was posted as an adjutant to No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps and sailed for Egypt. In May 1916 he was seconded to No. 42 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps to attend the Central Flying School at Upavon, England. Following this he was attached as an instructor to No. 22 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps in Egypt before returning to duty with No. 1 Squadron.

C flight No. 1 Squadron, Captain Richard (Dickie) Williams (later Air Marshal Sir Richard) the OC, is seen in the centre. From left the other officers are; Frank Hubert McNamara (the only AFC winner of the Victoria Cross (VC) in the first world war), L W Heathcote, S K Muir, E G Roberts and L J Wackett, in front of a Martinsyde aircraft. (Wing Commander E G Roberts collection). Photograph courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. Image No. A05340

C flight No. 1 Squadron, Captain Richard (Dickie) Williams (later Air Marshal Sir Richard) the OC, is seen in the centre. From left the other officers are; Frank Hubert McNamara (the only AFC winner of the Victoria Cross (VC) in the first world war), L W Heathcote, S K Muir, E G Roberts and L J Wackett, in front of a Martinsyde aircraft. (Wing Commander E G Roberts collection).
Photograph courtesy of the Australian War Memorial. Image No. A05340

On 20 March 1917 McNamara, flying on a bombing mission in Gaza, saw a fellow squadron member, Captain D. W. Rutherford, shot down. Although having just suffered a serious leg wound, McNamara landed near the stricken Rutherford who climbed aboard, but his wound prevented McNamara from taking off and the aircraft crashed. The two men returned to Rutherford’s plane, which they succeeded in starting and, with McNamara at the controls, they took off just as enemy cavalry arrived. For this action McNamara was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Portrait, maternity jacket and items belonging to Douglas Wallace Rutherford, No. 1 Sqn AFC, who was rescued by Frank McNamara in the action for which he was awarded the VC. These items all comprise part of the collection held at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook in Victoria. Note that despite being an AFC pilot, Wallace's jacket features the pilot wings of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), whilst the portrait shows him with the Observers brevet for which he originally qualified.
Portrait, maternity jacket and items belonging to Douglas Wallace Rutherford, No. 1 Sqn AFC, who was rescued by Frank McNamara in the action for which he was awarded the VC. These items all comprise part of the collection held at the RAAF Museum at Point Cook in Victoria. Note that despite being an AFC pilot, Wallace’s jacket features the pilot wings of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), whilst the portrait shows him with the Observers brevet for which he originally qualified. Douglas Wallace Rutherford was born in Rockhampton, Queensland on 29 September 1890. He joined 5 Light Horse Regiment on 7 December 1914 and departed Australia later that month with the second contingent destined for Gallipoli. He went into action in May 1915 and was wounded on 28 June. After receiving medical attention in Alexandria, Egypt and London, UK, he returned to the 5th Light Horse in April 1916 and soon transferred to the Australian Flying Corps, qualifying as an Observer in August 1916. After promotion to Captain in November 1916, Rutherford commenced pilot training with the 5th School of Military Aeronautics at Aboukir, Egypt and by 1917 had returned to No. 1 Squadron AFC as a qualified pilot. Rutherford undertook operations against Turkish forces with No. 1 Squadron until being forced down in the Amman area and was captured by the Turks. He was imprisoned in Constantinople for six months before being returned to Australia in December 1918.

In April 1917McNamara was promoted to captain and appointed Flight Commander, but his wound prevented further flying and he was invalided to Australia in August. His appointment with the AFC ended in January 1918 but he was reappointed in September and became an aviation instructor. In 1921 he transferred to the newly established Royal Australian Air Force as a flight lieutenant and held a number of senior RAAF appointments between the wars, including two years on exchange to the RAF in the mid-1920s.

Cigarette card showing a portrait of Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC. Part of a series of cards depicting Australian VCs printed by Sniders and Abrahams.

Cigarette card showing a portrait of Captain Frank Hubert McNamara VC. These cigarette cards were produced by the company Sniders and Abrahams  Pty Ltd and featured Australia’s Victoria Cross winners of the First World War.

At the outbreak of the World War Two, McNamara was promoted to air commodore and then an air vice marshal in 1942. From 1942 until 1945 he served as Air Officer Commanding British Forces in Aden before returning to London as the RAAF’s representative at Britain’s Ministry of Defence. In July 1946 he became Director of Education at the headquarters of the British Occupation Administration in Germany. He remained in the UK after retiring and died in London on 2nd November 1961.

The Winged Boot

SAAF cap badge & winged boot award

SAAF cap badge and Winged Boot award

A little while back I was fortunate enough to get hold of a couple of badges that an Australian soldier brought back on a ‘badge belt’ which he had put together whilst serving in the Western Desert campaign during World War 2. The two badges are a South African Air Force cap badge and a rare sand-cast ‘Winged Boot’ badge, which I believe is  related to the SAAF badge.

The ‘Winged Boot’ award was an official award, presented by the Late Arrivals Club which originated amongst members of the South African Air Force members of the RAF Western Desert Group in June 1941. The award was presented to servicemen whose aircraft had crashed or been shot down behind enemy lines and had to walk back to the Allied forces. The badge was sand cast and included varying amounts of silver content. This particular badge appears to me, to be mainly brass, but it’s provenance makes it undoubtedly original.

Winged boot RAF 38 Sqn Pilot at Shallufa Eygpt early 1942

RAF pilot from No. 38 Squadron wearing a “Winged Boot” award whilst stationed at Shallufa, Egypt, in early 1942.

The award badge was presented along with a certificate, which contained the motto, “It is never too late to come back” was to be worn on the pleat of the left pocket, just below the flap.   Whilst predominantly a commonwealth award, it was also adopted by some US servicemen (utilising a bullion variation of the design), primarily in the European and CBI theatres.

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Late Arrivals Club Certificate – Image courtesy of Alex Bateman

There is also a short news clip about the Late Arrivals Club showing both the badge and certificate which can also be seen on the Pathe News site.

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Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! 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. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection 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