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.

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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?

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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

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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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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

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.

 

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

 

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.

H0171-L188924791_original

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.

H0171-L188924794_original

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.

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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