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family was sold together with an important associated archive of material, elements of which include the recipient’s unpublished autobiography of his war years; private correspondence regarding the Claridges Mission between the recipient and both the author Stowers Johnson and the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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If you like what you see here, please FOLLOW this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right.  I try to post NEW content as often as possible and knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to set aside time to go through my archives and collection in order to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages

Army Museum of Western Australia Update

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Australian Special Forces weapons display in the World War 2 Gallery of the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Army Museum of Western Australia will be reopening to the public on Wednesday 2nd September, albeit with limited access hours.  The museum will be open Wednesday, Thursday and Fridays 10.30am – 3pm (last entry 1pm).  However, the museum will not yet be open on the weekends.

To see my two part review of the museum and dozens of photographs go to this post for part one which covers the exhibits up until 1945 and here for the post 1945 galleries and external displays.

For more information about current visiting conditions, visit the museum website.

WA Army Museum iphone-23-Edit

The Motor Submersible Canoe, better known as a “Sleeping Beauty” was developed by Camper and Nicholsons Yacht Division in the UK in conjunction with the Royal Marines in 1943. They were designed to deliver one man silently into harbours to attach limpet mines to enemy vessels. Although used for training in the North Sea they were used operationally for the first time by Major Ivan Lyon of Z Special Unit on Operation RIMAU in 1944. Photos: Julian Tennant

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Special Air Service Regiment / Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) Afghanistan modified Mercedes Unimog. These vehicles were ‘up armoured’ and modified to meet the specific operational requirements whilst operating in Afghanistan between 2005 until 2011. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Army Museum of Western Australia
Artillery Barracks
Burt Street
Fremantle, Western Australia, 6160

Phone: +61 (0)8 9430 2535
Fax: +61 (0)8 9430 2519
Email: info@armymuseumwa.com.au
Website: www.armymuseumwa.com.au

Open: Wednesday to Friday inclusive from 10:30 am to 3:00 pm. Last entry at 1:00 pm.
Group bookings can be arranged for Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

Note:
Photo ID required for entrance
Wheelchair access available
Only ACROD parking allowed on-site

Entry Fees:
Adults $15
Seniors/Concession $10
Child (6-17) $10
Family Group (2+3) $35
For School and other group tours refer to details in Bookings

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

 

Australian War Memorial Update: The 2020 Napier Waller Art Prize

isolation

Glen Braithwaite: Isolation (2020). Digital photograph 40 x 60 cm

 

News from the Australian War Memorial.

Voting in the Napier Waller Art Prize 2020 People’s Choice Award is now open. Explore the work of 31 finalists in this year’s prize, including those awarded ‘highly commended’ by our judging panel, and cast your vote

The annual Napier Waller Art Prize is open to former and current Australian Defence Force personnel. It encourages artistic excellence, promotes the transformative power of creativity, and raises awareness of the experiences and talent of service personnel. There is no required theme, and entrants are invited to use diverse media and original concepts.

The winner of the People’s Choice Award receives $5,000. Voting closes on Sunday 22 November 2020. Finalist art works reflect the resilience, imagination, skill and humour that members of the Australian Defence Force are well regarded for. They also comment on the challenges and consequences of military service.

An exhibition of the ‘highly commended’ art works opens on Friday 25 September at the Australian War Memorial, with the winner announced on Thursday 24 September. This work is accessioned into the Memorial’s collection, with the artist receiving a $10,000 cash prize and a two-week, all expenses paid residency with the Art Section at the Memorial.

My favourite is “In plain sight” by Ron Bradfield.

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Ron Bradfield: In plain sight (2020). Strips of army, navy and dashiki shirts hooked and knotted on army scrim mesh, hand stitching. 160 x 65 x 40 cm

Bradfield’s artist statement says,
(This) is a textile work, depicting a ghillie suit made from the many shirts I have worn to hide from the view of others. While I was in the ADF and I was in my uniform, no-one saw the Aboriginal man inside, they only saw the sailor on the outside.When I left the RAN in 1997, I discovered that not being able to hide made me a target once again – just as it had before I’d first put on an ADF uniform in the late 80’s. People more often saw the “Aborigine” and not the man.

To see all the artwork and vote, go to
https://www.awm.gov.au/Napier-Waller-Art-Prize-hub/2020-Napier-Waller-Art-Prize 

 

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

Juleswings Militaria Blog Update

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Unfortunately my father has just passed away and as a result I am going to take a short break from my regular Sunday posts. Preparing fresh content for each week is fun, but it can be quite time consuming and right now I need to take some time out to get my shit together. 

I have got some interesting things in the pipeline, including more military museum reviews, French Indochina and Vietnam War groups, early Australian parachutist and SAS insignia, plus sharing some of the more exotic airborne insignia that I have gathered during my four decades of collecting militaria. I am hoping that this break will only be for a couple of weeks and invite you to subscribe and follow for updates to new content by using the link in the column on the right.

So, until then, thanks for the support, happy collecting and stay safe
jules

beret badge shilston

Coming soon!    An Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) beret badge which belonged to Captain Peter Shilston MC. Peter Shilston won his Military Cross leading the 1st Battalion, 2nd Mobile Strike Force (Mike Force) during the relief of the US Army Special Forces camp at Dak Seang in April 1970. I have a number of Peter’s personal items in my collection and will be sharing them here in a future post, so subscribe and stay tuned. Collection: Julian Tennant

 

Australian War Memorial update and some items from the Collection

The Australian War Memorial will be reopening to the public on 1 July 2020. However due to COVID-19 restrictions visitors must now have a ticket (free) to gain entry. Tickets may still be obtained at the entrance, but as availability is subject to museum capacity, a better option is to pre-register for tickets online as some time-slots have already been booked out.

For those who cannot visit, the AWM has also been working hard to make its collection and archives available to the public online, including virtual tours of the galleries via Google Street View plus podcasts, the AWM YouTube Channel  and a collection of over 6000 archival films which have been digitised and available for viewing online. For collectors, the AWM collection archive is a particularly useful resource to find out more information about the objects that are on display.

AWM SASR Barnby

US ERDL pattern camouflage uniform and equipment used by 217585 Trooper Donald Richard Barnby whilst serving as a member of Patrol Two Five, F troop, 2 Squadron, SASR in South Vietnam from 17 February until 10 October 1971. On display in the Vietnam Gallery of the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Julian Tennant

I took the above photograph during my most recent visit to the AWM, which was back in 2018 when I flew across to Canberra to check out the Australian Special Forces exhibition, From the Shadows.  This photograph shows a display in the Vietnam War section of the 1945 to Today Galleries that features items belonging to Australian SAS trooper Don Barnby during his service with 2 SAS Squadron in South Vietnam in 1971. Using the AWM’s collection search facility  uncovers a trove of material related to his service, some of which is shown below.

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Nui Dat, South Vietnam. Trooper Don Barnby, patrol signaler in Two Five Patrol, ‘F’ Troop, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service (SAS), Prior to commencing a patrol. AWM Accession Number: P00966.083

Donald Richard Barnby was born in Brewarrina, NSW on 8 April 1950 and joined the Australian Regular Army aged 17 in May 1967. After completing basic training at Kapooka in New South Wales, Barnby was allocated to the Royal Australian Ordnance Corps and after completing his initial employment training was posted to 2 Base Ordnance at Moorebank, NSW. Frustrated by not having a combat role, Barnby volunteered for service with the Special Air Service Regiment. After completing the selection and reinforcement cycle, including Military Free-Fall parachuting,  Barnby became part of F Troop of 2 Squadron.

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Nui Dat, SAS Hill, South Vietnam. 1971. Trooper Don Barnby, ‘F’ Troop, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service (SAS), outside his tent “316 Wilhelm Strasse”, named after a brothel at 316 William Street, Perth, WA. AWM Accession Number: P00966.021

From 17 February to 10 October 1971, Trooper Barnby deployed to South Vietnam as a member of Patol Two Five, F Troop, 2 Squadron, SASR. This was 2 Squadron’s second tour of Vietnam and the last of SASR’s involvement in the conflict. Based out of the 1st Australian Task Force base at Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy Province, the squadron conducted clandestine reconnaissance and offensive operations against the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong.

After returning from his tour, Don Barnby decided to leave the Army in early 1973 and joined the Australian Capital Territory Police Force, which later became the Australian Federal Police (AFP). He served in numerous roles during his police career including as a United Nations Australian Civilian Police Officer (UN AUSTCIVPOL), with the AFP 1st UN Police Contingent, deployed to East Timor on behalf of the United Nations and responsible for organising the independence referendum in August 1999. His story is recounted in detail in an interview that features  on the AWM’s podcast series, Life on the Line. The podcast is worth listening to as Don goes into some detail about his tour, the equipment he carried and other aspects of this service.

In addition to the photographs that Don Barnby took whilst in Vietnam, searching the collection database also shows many of the individual items in the display, with the descriptions providing valuable additional information. Click on the smaller photos below to enlarge and read caption the details.

SASR Don Barnby bush hat

Australian bush hat : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Description: Modified Australian Army issue cotton patrol ‘giggle’ hat with shortened brim and green nylon chin strap attached. The nylon chin strap is attached to the hat by a pair of holes made into the side of the hat with a knot keeping it in place on either side. An adjustable plastic toggle allows the wearer to tighten or loosen the chin strap. A pair of circular metal ventilation holes are on both sides of the crown. A mixture of faded green and black paint has been randomly applied to the exterior as a means of camouflaging the hat. History / Summary: The Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) in Vietnam were well known for modifying issued equipment for their own unique purposes. This hat is an example of this adaptive attitude. The brims of many SASR hats were removed to allow a better field of vision for the wearer, and the added chin strap ensured the hat would not be lost on patrol or in transport. AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.002

SASR Don Barnby beret

SASR beret : Trooper D R Barnby, 2 Squadron, Special Air Service Regiment. Item Description: Special Air Service Regiment fawn coloured wool beret, with gilded metal badge. The badge is superimposed on a black shield shaped felt patch. The badge is a silver dagger with gilded wings, superimposed with a gilded banner reading ‘WHO DARES WINS’. The beret has four cotton reinforced ventilation eyelets, and is lined with black cotton fabric. The headband is made of sandy coloured synthetic material. The drawstring has been removed and replaced with a decorative bow. A maker’s label marked ‘SIZE 7’ is sewn into the lining, and another label ‘217585 BARNBY, 2 SQN’ is sewn into the left hand side. Maker: Beret Manufacturers Pty Ltd Place made: Australia: Victoria Date made: 1967 AWM Accession Number: REL/14214.007

In addition to the links and mentioned above, there are also curated online collections and the Australian War Memorial blog which includes a fascinating selection of articles from the AWM’s historians, curators, librarians and exhibition team that covers Australian military history, recent acquisitions, events and exhibitions. There is more than enough material to keep one engrossed for days and I found that once I started looking new avenues of exploration just kept on opening up. It is an incredible resource, even if you cannot visit in person.

2sas rasmussan video

The Australian War Memorial Collection database also includes some home movies of 2 SAS Squadron during Don Barnby’s tour of Vietnam, which were made by another F Troop soldier, Ian Rasmussen. To watch the movies click on the link below: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C191676

 

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Gen. Clarence R. Huebner, CO of the “Big Red One” on D-Day. Medals, militaria, firearms and estate items up for auction. 20 November 2019.

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American and foreign medals awarded to General Clarence R. Huebner, Commanding Officer of the US 1st Infantry Division, aka ‘The Big Red One’, when they landed in the first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day in June 1944.

Whilst I am not a medal collector, this auction on the 20th of November 2019 caught my eye. It is one of several items including helmets, firearms and other pieces from the estate of General Clarence R. Huebner, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, aka “The Big Red One” when it landed in the first wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6th of June 1944.  The auction description reads as follows,

“FROM THE ESTATE OF GEN. CLARENCE R. HUEBNER, COMMANDER OF THE 1ST INFANTRY DIVISION IN THE FIRST WAVE AT OMAHA BEACH

Outstanding, career-spanning grouping of 42 badges and medals awarded to U.S. Army Lieutenant General for his exemplary service in both World War I and World War II.

Includes:
World War I Distinguished Service Cross with oak leaf cluster, engraved with Huebner’s name on the reverse and the number “141” on the edge;

World War II Army Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, engraved with Huebner’s name and numbered “6605” on the edge;

World War I Army Distinguished Service Medal, numbered “1294” on the edge; World War I Silver Star, engraved with Huebner’s name on the verso and the number “5168” on the edge;

World War II Legion of Merit medal; World War II Bronze Star; U.S. Army Commendation Medal, engraved with Huebner’s name;

World War I Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, engraved with Huebner’s name on the verso and the number “9269” on the edge;

Mexican Border Service Medal, numbered “15065” on the edge;

World War I Victory Medal with Montdidier-Noyon, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, and Defensive Sector battle clasps, engraved with Huebner’s name on the edge;

American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal;

World War II Victory Medal; World War II Army of Occupation Medal; British Companion of the Order of the Bath medal;

French Knight of the Legion of Honor medal, showing slight chips to the enamel;

Officer of the Legion of Honor medal, showing a small chip to the enamel;

Two Commander of the Legion of Honor medals, one each awarded for service in World War I and World War II;

Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor badge; French 1914-1918 Croix de Guerre, with palm;

1939 Croix de Guerre, with palm; Belgian Officer of the Order of Leopold Medal, with palm;

Commander of the Order of Leopold badge;

Belgian 1940-1945 Croix de Guerre with palm; Belgian Liberation of Liege medal;

Luxembourg Grand Officer of the Order of the Oak Crown medal and badge;

World War I Italian War Merit Cross, engraved with Huebner’s name on the edge;

Czechoslovak Order of the White Lion, Second Class medal and badge;

Czechoslovak War Cross medal; Polish Virtuti Militari medal, fifth class;

Soviet Order of Suvorov medal, second class, numbered “1667” on the reverse;

Soviet Guards Badge; Vatican Cross of Magistral Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta;

Vatican Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester badge and medal;

Panamanian Ephemeral Society Order of Eloy Alfaro medal;

World War I Society of Military and Naval Officers of New York medal; and the

Polish Labor Service Honor Badge.

The above decorations are mounted together in a 19 3/4″ square display case lined with brown velvet, with the exception of the World War II Commander of the Legion of Honor medal, which is housed in its original presentation case. Almost all of the above awards are accompanied by their original cases, certificates, and other documents; a complete list of these is available upon request, as are additional photos of each individual medal.

Also present are several additional decorations, including; a medal bar featuring miniatures of eight of Huebner’s medals, namely the Distinguished Service Cross with oak leaf cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, the World War I Victory Medal, the Legion of Merit medal, the 1914-1918 Croix de Guerre with palm, and the Italian War Merit Cross; two sets of his Lieutenant-General’s uniform stars; ten groups of medal ribbons on various backings, 97 ribbons in all; and a black faux-leather velvet-lined presentation case bearing Huebner’s name in gold on the lid, with spaces for six of his World War I decorations. Altogether, easily the finest grouping of American and European military medals we have ever offered.

CLARENCE R. HUEBNER (1888-1972) was the American general who took command the 1st Infantry Division, popularly known as the “Big Red One”, in early August of 1943. He commanded the division during the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, where it was the first force to face the Germans on Omaha Beach, and he joined his men on the beach the same day. The division was instrumental in the breakthrough following the battle for St. Lo and in foiling the German counteroffensive at Mortain. After the Allied breakout in Normandy, the division advanced rapidly, arriving at the German border in early October of 1944, where it was committed to battle at Aachen, which it captured after two weeks of heavy fighting. After experiencing heavy fighting once again in the Huertgen Forest, the division briefly rested but soon returned to counter the German offensive at the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.

In January, 1945, Huebner was named commander of the V Corps, which he commanded in its advance to the Elbe river, where elements of the corps made the first contact with the Soviet Red Army. By war’s end, the division had advanced into Czechoslovakia. Following the German surrender, Huebner served as the Chief of Staff for all American forces in Europe, and in 1949 was named the final military governor of the American occupation zone in Germany.

These medals originate directly from General Huebner’s estate and is accompanied by a letter of provenance signed by a direct linear descendant.”

Estimated hammer price is US$30,000 – $40,000.

The auction is by Alexander Historical Auctions LLC and it has more of Huebner’s estate along with other militaria up for sale.

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Graphite portrait of General Clarence R. Huebner which is also up for auction at the same sale.

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General Huebner’s map encompassing OMAHA and UTAH beaches at Normandy is also up for auction. The map features a 1:50,000-scale view of the environs of Isigniy in the Normandy region of France, 32″ x 22″, depicting the coastline along the English Channel from the village of Port-en-Bessin in the extreme east, and Beau Guillot in the extreme west. This view encompasses the beaches which would be code-named OMAHA and UTAH during the American portion of the Operation Neptune amphibious landings on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The chart is designated “Sheet 6/E6”, and a legend is provided at bottom, with notes indicating that the chart was originally drawn and published by the Ordnance Survey of the U.S. War Department in 1942, updated to the third edition in 1943, and this copy printed by the U.S. Army Map Service in February of 1944. A disclaimer at the top edge stipulates that the chart is intended for use solely by the War and Navy Departments.

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Another one of General Huebner’s estate items in the auction is this early U.S. M1 combat helmet owned and worn by Major General Clarence R. Huebner throughout World War II, and undoubtedly during his landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The steel helmet bears a seam of the steel rim at front, and with fixed chin strap bales securing an original taupe webbing strap, in turn fitted with a first-style brass clasp, all indicate manufacture prior to October of 1943. The interior of the shell is heat-stamped “169B” at front. Most interestingly, the exterior bears several painted and applied pieces of insignia relevant to Huebner’s career. At front center appears the hand-painted insignia of the U.S. Army’s V Corps, of which Huebner assumed command in January of 1945. The paint of this insignia shows a few small cracks, through which traces of red paint can be seen, and the bottom point of a diamond, painted over in olive drab, can be discerned below. This indicates that the V Corps insignia has been painted over the insignia of the First Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Big Red One” for its insignia depicting a large numeral “1” within a black-bordered inverted diamond. Huebner was given command of the First Infantry Division in August of 1944, and he retained that command until his appointment as commander of V Corps. Below the V Corps insignia are welded two white painted metal stars, with the paint flaking slightly on both to expose the bright finish beneath. The rear of the shell bears a vertical “follow me” stripe in white paint, applied circa Operation Overlord to identify the wearer as an officer. The remnants of an earlier, larger stripe appear beneath this white stripe and a layer of olive drab paint. The helmet has clearly been refinished during wartime, removing some of the original heavily-corked texture and adding a darker shade of olive-drab paint than usually seen on these early helmets, most likely accomplished at the same time the V Corps insignia was added upon Huebner’s promotion. The interior of the shell bears a typed label bearing the owner’s name and rank “Maj. Gen. C.R. Huebner”, beneath a strip of cello tape. This shell is fitted with a liner bearing the maker’s mark of Firestone inside the dome, above the numeral “48”. The exterior of the liner again bears the hand-painted insignia of V Corps above two general’s stars at front, with a vertical “follow-me” stripe in white paint on the back. We believe that this liner was issued to Huebner after the issue of the helmet, sometime after late, 1942. The liner’s chin strap is missing, and both liner and shell show minor wear and soiling commensurate with wartime use, with the shell showing two shallow, 1 1/2″ cracks at the rear left, not fully penetrating the steel, else very good.

WARNING ORDER! Australian War Memorial. Saturday 05 October 2019.

WARNING ORDER! Saturday 05 October 2019.

Australian War Memorial Storage Facility, Callan Street, Mitchell ACT. Photo: Georgia Hitch

For those of you living reasonably close to Canberra, the Australian War Memorial’s Storage Facility in the suburb of Mitchell, ACT, will be open to the public on Saturday 05 October 2019 from 10:00 – 15:00.

The Australian War Memorial holds about 700 000 objects in its collection but only about 20 000 are on display at the memorial itself, so this is a great opportunity to see some of the pieces that are not currently exhibited, new acquisitions including a RF-111C aircraft and also see how objects are restored and conserved.

Entry to the AWM Mitchell Storage Facility is by donation and there are some rules regarding dress, behaviour etc as it is part of the conservation area. The last time that I think the AWM had one of these open days is back in 2016  and you can see some photos from that occasion on the AWM flickr page. It is definitely worth a visit if you can get there.

For more information go to
https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/events/BigThings

And to find out what else is happening at the AWM from now until November, check the calendar out below.

Australian War Memorial event calendar for Spring (September to November) 2019.

Australian War Memorial event calendar for Spring (September to November) 2019.