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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Australian War Memorial update and SAS trooper Don Barnby’s Vietnam items.

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.

Don Barnby 1971 03

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.

Don Barnby 1971 01

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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The Army Museum of Western Australia Part 2

WA Army Museum-99

The Army Museum of Western Australia ticket office and shop. Photo: Julian Tennant

Last week, in Part 1 of my review of the Army Museum of Western Australia, I showed some of the exhibits from the Tradtions, Pre-1914, World War One, Prisoner of War and World War 2 Galleries. This second part focuses on the Post 1945 Galleries and the Guns & Vehicles section which includes the larger exhibits not displayed in the main exhibition building.

Click on the photographs to enlarge the images and read the caption information which provides more detail about what is shown in the photographs.

Entrance to the POST 1945 GALLERY at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

Entrance to the POST 1945 GALLERY at the Army Museum of Western Australia. Photo: Julian Tennant

The POST-1945 gallery examines the Army’s involvement from the Occupation of Japan, through the Korean, Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam conflicts up to contemporary operations in the Middle East. Also included are exhibits related to the various humanitarian and United Nations deployments as well as uniforms from the locally based Citizen Military Force (reservist) units.

Korea c1952. Australian soldier wearing a mix of Australian, American and Canadian uniforms and armed with an Owen Machine Carbine.

Korea c1952. Australian soldier wearing a mix of Australian, American and Canadian uniforms and armed with an Owen Machine Carbine. Photo: Julian Tennant

Malayan Emergency c1955. Australian soldier wearing British issue uniform and equipment, armed with a .303 inch Mk1 Number 5 Jungle Carbine. Photo: Julian Tennant

Malayan Emergency c1955. Australian soldier wearing British issue uniform and equipment, armed with a .303 inch Mk1 Number 5 Jungle Carbine. Photo: Julian Tennant

After covering the occupation of Japan, Korean War and Malayan emergency of the 1950’s the galleries then turn their attention to the army units based in Western Australia.

Patch detail of 3 Troop, A Squadron, 10 Light Horse Regiment. Photo: Julian Tennant

Patch detail of 3 Troop, A Squadron, 10 Light Horse Regiment. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

The galleries then turn their attention to the 1960’s with it’s Vietnam War displays which feature some interesting items related to members of the Perth based Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) in Vietnam. SASR, which was first raised as a Company based at the coastal suburb of Swanbourne. The unit first deployed on operations to Borneo prior to its service in Vietnam and this is the one gap that I noticed in the displays. However, I’m not sure if this is an omission on the part of the museum or just me missing something as I tried to take in everything on display.

Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) trooper Vietnam, circa 1969. Note the in-country 'chopped-down' L1A1 SLR rifle. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) trooper Vietnam, circa 1969. Note the in-country ‘chopped-down’ L1A1 SLR rifle. Photo: Julian Tennant

Delco AN/PRC-64 radio, which was used by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) as their principle patrol radio for communications back to SHQ during their operations in Vietnam. Photo: Julian Tennant

Delco AN/PRC-64 radio, which was used by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) as their principle patrol radio for communications back to SHQ during their operations in Vietnam. Photo: Julian Tennant

Terrain map model showing the unit locations within the 1st Australian Task Force Base at Nui Dat in Phouc Tuy province, South Vietnam in 1971. Photo: Julian Tennant

Terrain map model showing the unit locations within the 1st Australian Task Force Base at Nui Dat in Phouc Tuy province, South Vietnam in 1971. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian soldier - South Vietnam c1969. Beside him is a M18A1 (Claymore) Anti Personnel Mine. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian soldier – South Vietnam c1969. Beside him is a M18A1 (Claymore) Anti Personnel Mine. Photo: Julian Tennant

Lieutenant wearing the Summer uniform of the Royal Australian Nursing Corps, Vietnam era c1969. Photo: Julian Tennant

Lieutenant wearing the Summer uniform of the Royal Australian Nursing Corps, Vietnam era c1969. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Japanese made Australian Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) patch. These patches were introduced in 1967 and the majority were made in Japan. Later, a small quantity were made locally in Vietnam, however the majority of AATTV members used this Japanese made patch. The locally made variation is extremely rare due to the small numbers manufactured and collectors should be cautious when acquiring these patches as they have been extensively copied and generally do not resemble the original ‘local-made’ patches. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

The POST 1945 Gallery then transitions to more recent operations including humanitarian support operations, United Nations deployments and Australia’s commitments to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Mine warning sign and shirt worn by Corporal Steve Danaher (RASIGS) whilst deployed to Cambodia as part of the UNTAC mission in 1993. Photo: Julian Tennant

Mine warning sign and shirt worn by Corporal Steve Danaher (RASIGS) whilst deployed to Cambodia as part of the UNTAC mission in 1993. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian Special Air Service trooper armed with an M4 carbine and pistol. Afghanistan 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant

Australian Special Air Service trooper armed with an M4 carbine and pistol. Afghanistan 2008. Photo: Julian Tennant

 

The final section is referred to as GUNS AND VEHICLES and is spread around the main parade-ground plus the other covered locations external to the main building. The exhibits featured in this section range from heavy mortar’s and artillery pieces to armoured cars, tanks and other vehicles. Of particular interest in this section is the Australian Special Forces Amphibian Mk3 Commando Kayak which replaced the German made Klepper Aerius II in 1988. I was also surprised to see one of the Mercedes Unimogs that had been converted by SASR as a support vehicle for use in Afghanistan and I suspect that this may be the only one in a public collection in Australia.

Amphibian Mk3 Commando Kayak. Built in 1986 by PJP Marine of Kirrawee in NSW to replace the Kleppers used by the Special Air Service Regiment, Australian Commandos and the RAN Special Ship Assault Navy Diving Teams. Designed to have no radar signature, quick to assemble nd more stable under tow and during heavy sea operations thand the German made Klepper Aerius II. They were also air portable and capable of being launched from the Oberon and Collins class submarines. 120 were made. Photo: Julian Tennant

Amphibian Mk3 Commando Kayak. Built in 1986 by PJP Marine of Kirrawee in NSW to replace the Klepper Aerius II then used by the Special Air Service Regiment, Australian Commandos and the RAN Special Ship Assault Navy Diving Teams. Designed to have no radar signature, quick to assemble and more stable under tow and during heavy sea operations than the German made Klepper, they were also air portable and capable of being launched from the Oberon and Collins class submarines. 120 were made and brought into service in 1988. Photo: Julian Tennant

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

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

This is a well laid out and interesting museum, with clear descriptions of the exhibits, supported by a staff of volunteers including many ex-servicemen who are happy to chat to visitors. Being largely volunteer run, the opening hours are a little restricted, being from 10:30 until 15:00 (last entries 13:00) from Wednesday to Sunday. There is no on-site parking for visitors, but it is not too difficult to find parking in the surrounding streets. If you’re relying on public transport, several buses leaving from the Fremantle train station pass close by or it’s an easy 20-minute walk from the station. An important point for visitors to note is that all adult visitors must be able to show appropriate photo identification (passport, drivers’ licence etc) prior to entry.

A selection of Dies used to manufacture badges. These were in a section currently being prepared for display. I suspect that the Dies are from the Sheridans company that is based in Perth and has made many military badges, particularly in the first half of the 20th century. Photo: Julian Tennant

A selection of Dies used to manufacture badges. These were in a section currently being prepared for display in one of the shed areas of the GUNS AND VEHICLES section, although I am not sure if this is where they will finally be placed on display. I suspect that the Dies are from the Sheridans company that is based in Perth and has made many military badges, particularly in the first half of the 20th century. Photo: Julian Tennant

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Location map showing the relative distance of the Army Museum of Western Australia from Fremantle Train Station. It is quite an easy walk or there are regular bus services that stop nearby.

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 Sunday 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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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

The Southern Rhodesia Commando ‘Cobra’ Qualification badge – 1941 – 45

In 1941, fearing that the Japanese may launch an invasion of southern Africa from Vichy French controlled Madagascar, the OC of B Coy Rhodesian African Rifles, Captain Alan Gardiner Redfern was tasked with training a commando force of Rhodesians that could undertake guerrilla operations should an invasion occur.

Redfern was a good choice, a competent bushman who as a young school-boy had spent his weekends and school holidays camping out in the veldt with a native companion and carrying very little apart from a rifle, blanket some mealie meal (maize flour) and condensed milk. He was proficient in both the main African languages, Chishona and Sindebele and prior to the war worked in the Native Department (later renamed Internal Affairs) of the Southern Rhodesia Civil Service.

lrdg-southern-rhodesia-commando-redfern.jpg

Captain (T/Maj) Alan Gardiner Redfern MBE, founder of the Southern Rhodesia Commando. Redfern was KIA in November 1943 whilst commanding B Squadron of the Long Range Desert Group on operations in the Aegean.

Recruits for the Southern Rhodesia Commando were a mix of volunteers and conscripts, many of whom were drawn from the farming community and as such already well versed with living in the bush. The unit was conceived as a part-time cadre, not as a regular unit, able to work behind enemy lines should the need arise. Training occurred over an initial period of six weeks with an emphasis on bushcraft, small unit guerrilla operations and a demolitions course which was conducted near Gwelo. After the initial training, the soldiers returned to their usual occupations although regular on-going training took place.

Southern Rhodesia Commando

Sheet brass Southern Rhodesia Commando ‘Cobra’ badge awarded to successful participants of Redfern’s commando course. This badge was intended to be worn on the right shoulder sleeve, although photographs of Rhodesian LRDG members who completed the course show it being worn on the left shoulder sleeve. This badge is stamped with the serial number 229, but I do not know the identity of the original owner. Collection: Julian Tennant

The men who finally completed the course were awarded the ‘Cobra’ badge as recognition of their qualification. The badge depicts a cobra poised to strike within a circlet containing the words “Southern Rhodesia Commando”.  Each badge was individually numbered and were made from sheet brass by Keays Gold and Silversmiths in Salisbury.  The award was made in two sizes, the larger version, shown above, and worn on the uniform, plus a miniature silver lapel badge (also numbered) for wear on civilian attire. In an unpublished manuscript shown to me by fellow collector, Eric Crépin-Leblond, the uniform of the Southern Rhodesia Commando is described as follows,
The No. 1 Dress uniform for part-timers who successfully completed the course was: Bush hat, turned up on the left side, pinned with the Lion and tusk badge. Khaki bush shirt, with curved brass ‘Rhodesia’ shoulder titles; ‘cobra’ badge in brass worn on the right sleeve below the shoulder. ’04 web belt. Trousers. Veldschoen.

Rhodesia SRC mini

Miniature version of the Southern Rhodesia Commando qualification for wear on civilian shirt lapels. These badges were made from silver sheet and also individually numbered. This particular badge, number 120, was sold via auction in 2010 to an unidentified collector in Canada.

Little more is known about the Commando cadre and it is thought to have numbered less than 500 qualified members before it was disbanded in 1945. Many of the men from the Southern Rhodesia Commando subsequently volunteered to serve with the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), forming S1 Patrol. On the nominal roll/database page of the the Long Range Desert Group Preservation Society  there is a small photo of Sergeant Hubert ‘Hughie’ Hein where he can be seen wearing the ‘Cobra’ badge on his left shoulder. I believe that this photo is also shown on page 110 in Craig Fourie and Jonathan Pittaway’s book LRDG Rhodesia but unfortunately I don’t have a copy to confirm if it is the same picture. Training with the Southern Rhodesia Commando is mentioned by some of the Rhodesian members of the LRDG in Pittaway’s subsequent book Long Range Desert Group Rhodesia: The Men Speak which also includes a picture of Signalman John “Fossie” Kevan who, once again is wearing his ‘Cobra’ on the left sleeve.  I can only surmise that the reason for the LRDG members wearing the badge on the left shoulder rather than the right as outlined in the original dress instruction, is because the same position on the right sleeve would have been reserved for their parachutist qualification wing. In both photographs it also appears that there was some kind of dark cloth used as a backing for badge but I have not yet identified the colour used.

LRDG Rhodesia Signalman John Kevan-Recovered

Rhodesian member of the Long Range Desert Group, Signalman John “Fossie” Kevan shown wearing the Southern Rhodesia Commando ‘Cobra’ badge on his left sleeve. Note the dark backing material used behind the badge. Source: Long Range Desert Group Rhodesia: The Men Speak. by Jonathan Pittaway.

For his role in forming the Southern Rhodesia Commando, Redfern was awarded the M.B.E., which he accepted with the understanding that he could join the men that he had trained who had subsequently joined the LRDG. On 22 April 1943, Captain Redfern transferred from the KRRC, reverting to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant before taking over command of S1 Patrol (LRDG) once again as a Captain in May 1943.  On October 15 he was made OC of B Squadron, but was killed in action on the 12th of November 1943 during LRDG operations in the Aegean.

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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

BOOKS: British Airborne Insignia & Airborne Insignia Volume 2 by Oliver Lock

A handful of the World War 2 British Airborne wings and insignia in my collection. Photo: Julian Tennant

Airborne insignia provides a popular collecting focus for many collectors and as a result has become a lucrative market for dealers and opportunists who have seized on the opportunity to peddle faked badges for handsome profits. Faked insignia have been around for decades and whilst some are easily recognised as copies, a series of extremely well-made reproductions of British and commonwealth airborne and special forces badges that were being sold by the likes of Nicholas Morigi and Andrew Butler in the early 90’s really upped the ante. Whilst both dealers sold these detailed and artificially aged copies as reproductions, they could be extremely difficult to tell apart from the original insignia, as in the days before the internet became widespread, many collectors did not have access to originals for comparison and there was no solid reference books that dealt in sufficient depth with these insignia.  Many of these badges continue to pop up on eBay or dealers lists, but as ‘original’ insignia, commanding very high prices.

As a result, collecting WW2 period British Airborne and Special Forces insignia can be a minefield for even experienced collectors and money spent on good reference books is a sound investment that can help collectors prevent costly mistakes. However, for a long time most of the references that were available on the subject did little more than survey the insignia, identifying types and units but not providing the essential details that allowed collectors to determine originals from reproductions.

Oliver Lock Airborne Insignia books 1and2-01
Oliver Lock’s two books help to bridge that gap.  Both volumes were produced in conjunction with the Airborne Assault Museum, drawing extensively on their collection and archives. Both volumes are filled with close up detailed pictures of the insignia, front and back, plus important descriptive information regarding who made the badges and also how they were constructed, invaluable information when trying to ascertain whether a badge is an original ‘period’ piece.

The first volume, British Airborne Insignia deals specifically with the British Airborne forces, including the British Indian Army. Whilst the bulk of the book concentrates on the Second World War period it does also include a significant amount of information on the insignia that was used by the Airborne Forces post WW2. This is extremely useful as it allows comparisons to be made between contemporary and earlier war period insignia.

The follow up book, Airborne Insignia Vol. 2: Britain and her Allies in Exile, which was published in 2017 expands the focus to include the Australian and Canadian airborne units as well as the insignia used by the French, Belgian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish and Italians (post armistice). It also includes several more chapters on British insignia variations that were not included in the first volume.

The pictures that are shown below are samples of some of the pages that are contained in each book. As can be seen, the information contained is detailed and comprehensive. Oliver’s two books provide invaluable reference material and should be on the bookshelf of every airborne insignia collector. Highly recommended.

British Airborne Insignia
Hardcover: 350 pages
Publisher: Military Mode Publishing (2015)
Language: English                                                                                                                                  ISBN-10: 1634524047
ISBN-13: 978-1634524049

British Airborne Insignia by Oliver Lock

British Airborne Insignia by Oliver Lock

Insignia 20_Part2 (1).pdf

Insignia 20_Part2 (1).pdf

Insignia 20_Part2 (1).pdf

Sample pages from British Airborne Insignia

 

Airborne Insignia Vol. 2: Britain and her Allies in Exile                                                          Hardcover: 245 pages                                                                                                                           Publisher: Military Mode Publishing (2017)                                                                                    Language: English                                                                                                                                  ISBN-10: 1513622498                                                                                                                              ISBN-13: 978-1513622491

Airborne Insignia Volume 2: Britain and her Allies in Exile by Oliver Lock

Airborne Insignia Volume 2: Britain and her Allies in Exile by Oliver Lock

AirborneVol2v10_Part1.pdf

AirborneVol2v10_Part1.pdf

AirborneVol2v10_Part1.pdf

Sample pages from Airborne Insignia Volume 2

Both books can be found on Amazon or you can contact the publisher, Military Mode Publishing here, http://www.militarymodepublishing.com/

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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

The Guards Museum – London

The Guards MuseumWellington Barracks. Photo: Julian Tennant

The Guards Museum Wellington Barracks

Located a short walk from Buckingham Palace, The Guards Museum contains information and artifacts relating to the five regiments of Foot Guards namely the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards.

 

This is a great little museum full of uniforms, medals, insignia and booty from their origins right through to current operational deployments. As a collector with an interest in airborne and special forces insignia, I was particularly impressed by the number of items related to G Squadron of 22SAS Regiment and the Guards Independent Parachute Company including a Burnous cloak worn by a guardsmen serving with the SAS during the first Gulf War. The exhibits are well laid out with good descriptions, but photographs are usually not permitted. If you would like to do a personalised ‘walk and talk’ with one of the staff, you can do so for an extra £10 per person on top of the current £8 entry fee (discounted for pensioners, students, serving and ex-military personnel).

Co-located just outside the museum, near the Birdcage Walk gate is the Guards shop known as The Guards Toy Soldier Centre, which is managed by MKL Models and features a range of toy soldiers from manufacturers such as William Britain plus Brigade of Guards related souvenirs such as mugs, blazer badges, spoons etc. The model figures are displayed in a range of dioramas as well the usual display cabinets and even just a trip to the shop is worthwhile in itself.

The Guards Museum                                                                                                                           Wellington Barracks                                                                                                                               Birdcage Walk                                                                                                                                          London SW1E 6HQ                                                                                                                                 United Kingdom

Phone: +44 (0)20 7414 3271 or +44 (0)20 7414 3428

Email: guardsmuseum@aol.com

www.theguardsmuseum.com

Opening Hours:

The Guards Museum is open every day from 10:00am to 4:00pm
(Last admission at 3:30pm)

The Guards Toy Soldier Centre is at the same address and has the same opening hours.

Phone: +44 (0) 207 976 0850

Office:  +44 (0) 1189 732569

https://www.mklmodels.co.uk/

 

Getting there:

The nearest underground train station is St James’s Park, but it is also close to Green Park, Waterloo, Charing Cross and Victoria stations.

how to find us map

Exhibition: From the Shadows – Australia’s Special Forces

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From the Shadows: Australian Special Forces exhibition at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra is open until 8 September 2018.

Australia’s special forces trace their history back to World War 2, with the operations conducted by the Independent Commando companies, Navy Beach Commando, the Services Reconnaissance Department SRD (Z Special Unit) and the Allied Intelligence Bureau (M Special Unit). Post war, the skills and traditions were maintained by the commando companies which later evolved into 1 Commando Regiment and then in 1957 by the raising of a Special Air Service Company which became the Special Air Service Regiment in 1964. 2 Commando Regiment evolved out of the re-tasking of the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, to take on the commando role becoming 4 RAR (Cdo) in 1997 and then 2 Commando Regiment in 2009.

Command and control for Australian special operations units was initially maintained by the Directorate Special Action Forces – Army (DSAF) which was formed in 1979 and underwent several changes, becoming Headquarters Special Forces (1990), Headquarters Special Operations (1997) and in 2003 Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Commanded by a Major General, SOCOM also brings other special operations support units under its control, namely the Special Operations Logistic Squadron (SOLS), Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER), Special Operations Training and Education Centre (SOTEC) and Parachute Training School (PTS).

In keeping with the requirements of special forces operations, the activities of many of Australia’s special operations units have, largely, been kept out of the public domain despite a gruelling tempo of operational commitments that has barely let up since the INTERFET deployment to East Timor in 1999. Public interest in the units has grown markedly and this temporary exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra provides a rare insight into the activities of the Australian special forces in recent years.

Developed in partnership with SOCOM, this exhibition features items held behind closed doors in the Special Air Service Historical Collection, Commando Regiment collection and other sources as well as some artifacts from the AWM’s collections. The displays provide some historical insights into the development of the units along with uniforms, equipment and artifacts related to its various roles, tasks and operations with an emphasis recent operational deployments.

It had been several years since I was last able to visit the AWM, so I recently took advantage of an opportunity to visit Canberra and spend a few solid days checking out this exhibition and the other displays. As previously mentioned, From the Shadows draws on objects held in the unit collections and not available for public viewing. There are over 600 artifacts on display and I was surprised to find that many of the SF related items that are held in the AWM collection such as SAS trooper Don Barnby’s uniform from Vietnam or objects relating to Z Special Unit’s operations against the Japanese, remained in their respective exhibition areas which further helps to contextualise these units roles in the conflicts represented.

The photos that I have included here are just a taste of what is on offer in the From the Shadows exhibition and I’ll leave my other photos from the AWM collection for another post. From the Shadows runs until the 8th of September 2018. If you can make the trip to Canberra to check it out, I strongly recommend that you do, it is an excellent exhibition. More details about the exhibition can be found at the Australian War Memorial website. The ABC also did a piece about it when the exhibition first opened in 2017 and it is worth taking a look at. You can find a link to their article here.

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WW2 period Australian parachutist wing worn by a member of Z Special Unit, Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD). This is a locally made variation of the Australian parachutist qualification. The standard issue Australian wings were generally not available for issue at the posting locations of Z Special (SRD) personnel, so locally procured variations, often hand made, such as this one were procured by operatives for use.

WW2 British No. 2 Commando beret

WW2 British No. 2 Commando beret on loan from the 1 Commando Regiment Historical Collection. This is an interesting inclusion as it was not worn by Australian commandos, but I could find no explanatory caption to give more information. The British commando unit that used this beret was disbanded in 1946 and the Australian commando companies were formed in 1955. Whilst there must be some connection and I can only assume it was donated to the unit museum by a former member of the British 2 Commando I wonder what the curators rationale was for including this item in the display?

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Early 1950’s period flag of 1 Commando Company (CMF).

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A unique and very early Commando Company beret which features the first 1955 issue pattern commando company beret badge that was produced with vertical striations at the centre of the boomerang. Also attached is an early basic parachutist wing, which is possibly of WW2 British vintage. The headband of this beret has also been modified by removing the bottom half to show the sherwood green of the beret beneath the black band (the regimental colours). I suspect that this beret has been modified by a veteran after his service in the commando companies as it is unlikely these modifications would have been permitted during service.

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On loan from 2 Commando Company, this parachute smock was worn by WO1 Douglas “Dutchy” Holland during his time as a PJI at the Parachute Training School at Williamstown. ‘Dutchy’, who had served in the RAF from 1940 until 1948, qualified as a (RAAF) PJI in 1954 and retired in 1962. He decorated this dennison jump smock with various Australian and foreign parachute insignia. For more photos go to this link.

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Australian Special Air Service Regiment HALO parachutist.

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Artifacts related to the Tactical Assault Group (TAG) counter terrorist teams.

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TAG Assaulter

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During the 1970s and into the 1980s, terrorist hijacking of commercial aircraft were not uncommon. Members of SASR used aircraft models such as this example, during counter-terrorism training for planning an assault on an aircraft and to discuss tactics for recovering hostages.

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Detail of the Members of an aircraft model used by SASR in the 1980’s, during counter-terrorism training for planning an assault on an aircraft and to discuss tactics for recovering hostages. Note the Airfix SAS toy soldiers which were released after the British SAS conducted the now famous assault to free hostages held by terrorists in the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980.

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Pong Su life buoy. The skills and experience of the Tactical Assault Groups (TAGs) in boarding vessels moving at sea have enabled them to contribute to a number of ADF operations conducted with other government agencies such as the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Customs. On 20 April 2001 members of the SAS with the TAG provided force elements that boarded the suspected drug smuggling vessel MV Pong Su off the coast of New South Wales. The SAS boarded the vessel by Seahawk helicopter and Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB). Once the vessel was secured, officers from the AFP and Australian Customs Service boarded the Pon Su to gather evidence and make arrests. They discovered 40 kilograms of heroin and the victim of an alleged homicide. MV Pong Su was thought to have smuggled almost 125 kilograms of heroin.

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Maritime counter-terrorism assaulter. A maritime counter-terrorism assaulter of Tactical Assault Group (East). During the 1980s and 1990s Royal Australian Navy (RAN) clearance divers served with the Special Air Service Regiment and today they work with TAG-East to conduct maritime counter-terrorism duties. In addition to providing a Clearance Diver Assault Platoon, the RAN’s support of TAG-East has included a team of clearance diver snipers and underwater medics.

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Uniform of Private Matthew Martin, 1 Commando Regiment. Private Martin wore this uniform in Timor-Leste during Operation Astute in 2006-7. In the early hours of 4 March 2007 he was among Australian forces that assaulted rebel leader Alfredo Reinado’s compound in the village of Same, about 50 kilometers south of Dili. The rebels were killed, but Reinado escaped. He was shot dead leading an attack against the Timorese president and prime minister on 11 February 2008.

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Australian Special Forces uniform worn during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Australian Special Forces uniform worn during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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Sig Sean McCarthy KIA 8 July 08

Headrest from the seat used by Signaller Sean McCarthy, 152 Signal Squadron, SASR. KIA Afghanistan 8 July 2008. Signaller Sean McCarthy was on his second rotation to Afghanistan when his vehicle “Derelicte” was hit by a roadside bomb. He was killed in the blast. This vehicle headrest inscribed with the details of the incident commemorates McCarthy and is on loan to the Australian War Memorial from the Special Air Service Historical Foundation. McCarthy had received a commendation for his courage, skills and mission focus during his deployments with the Special Operations Task Group.

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JTAC Combat Control Team items from B Flight, No. 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.

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The Special Air Service constructed this ‘storyboard’ collage in Afghanistan to display the weapons and equipment found on the body of a Taliban insurgent they had killed. Code-named ‘Depth-charger’, the insurgent carried a diverse range of equipment: a Soviet AK-47 dating from the early 1950’s, a Soviet Makarov pistol, locally manufactured binoculars and ammunition pouch, and an American radio. Much of his equipment was personalised with bright fabric and reflective tape additions.

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Detail from an Australian Special Forces operator display showing a ‘Punisher’ patch. I suspect that this may be a generic patch as the symbolism has become popular with several allied Special Operations units including one of the companies within 2 Commando Regiment. But I don’t think that this is one of the company specific patches.

From the Shadows: Australia’s Special Forces – The Operators’ video that was featured in the gallery during the exhibition

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Shaun Gladwell’s video portrait of Mark Donaldson VC

Portrait of Mark Donaldson VC (video still) by Shaun Gladwell. Note the ‘chopped’ Australian National Flag patch just visible on his left shoulder.

This afternoon  I dropped by the John Curtin Gallery here in Perth to check out an exhibition by two recent Australian War artists, Ben Quilty and Shaun Gladwell, both of whom were commissioned by the Australian War Memorial to cover the conflict in Afghanistan. It’s a very contemporary approach to war art and if one is expecting the traditional heroic depictions of the military on operations they will be sadly disappointed.

I quite liked the show, particularly Ben Quilty‘s very emotional and expressive portraits of the servicemen and women that he met whilst in Afghanistan in 2011 and then subsequently painted again after their return to Australia. The resulting portraits are not pretty likenesses, but are raw, the thick impasto application of paint charged with emotion. The paintings reveal much about the vulnerability and difficulty that so many of our servicemen face when returning home and trying to reintegrate into a society that is largely indifferent to their service and sacrifice.

Shaun Gladwell traveled to Afghanistan as an official War Artist in 2009. His work includes photographs, paintings and video. One of his pieces is a video portrait of Australian Special Air Service Regiment Victoria Cross winner Mark Donaldson VC. As a badge collector I found some aspects of this work particularly interesting, including Donno’s choice of chopped ANF patch that can be seen on his left sleeve in the stills grab above. It appears that he has cut the Southern Cross from the national flag and is wearing just the Union Jack with a single star below it. Interesting… I’ve seen this a couple of times now and I wonder if there is a reason for this symbolic change or (more likely) that its just to reduce the IR signature of the full size patch?

Both artists were commissioned as part of the Official War Art Scheme, the longest running and largest commissioning program of art in Australia. The Scheme was started during WW1 and reactivated during WW2, then again for the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. In 1999 the Scheme was renewed for the Australian deployment to Timor and since then has seen artists deploy to various theatres of conflict, including the Middle East and Solomon Islands.  In 2003 the AWM commissioned a mate of mine, David Dare Parker, to be its first official War Photographer, deploying alongside artist Lewis Miller to document the Second Gulf War. The patch below is one that was given to Dave by the AWM for use during the deployment and then subsequently given to me for my collection.

Australian War Memorial Official War Photographer patch worn by

Australian War Memorial “Australian Official Photographer” patch worn by photojournalist David Dare Parker whilst embedded with Australian forces as part of the Official War Art Scheme during the Second Gulf War. (Julian Tennant Collection)

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Ben Quilty: after Afghanistan and Shaun Gladwell: Afghanistan is on show at the gallery from 2 August – 14 September, 2014

Australian Airborne Insignia #3 – The RAN ‘Special Duties’ parachutist wing

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Whilst many people think that these are a Special Air Service wing, because of its shape and similarity to the design of the brass stamped British tropical dress SAS wing. It is in fact a Royal Australian Navy parachutist wing although there is an SAS connection.

It was introduced in 1994 as the Australian Navy ‘Special Duties’ parachutist qualification for the sailors (primarily clearance divers) who had passed the SAS selection and counter terrorist training cycle in order to serve as part of the TAG (Tactical Assault Group) which at that time was part of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment. Within months of its introduction it was decided that there was sufficient water ops capability within SASR and the requirement to include the CD’s as part of the TAG was removed, making the insignia virtually obsolete overnight as no more sailors would be likely to qualify for it.

RAN Parachutist wings

LHS shows the standard RAN parachutist wings for mess (top) and dress uniforms whilst the SAS qualified ‘Special Duties’ equivalents are on the right.

CD officers at a dining-in night at Waterhen in 1999. Two of the CD’s can be seen wearing the mess dress Special Duties wing above their medal miniatures.

Sailors who have NOT completed the SAS selection and CT training cycle are awarded the standard RAN parachutist wing upon completion of their para training. This includes the Clearance Divers who now form part of the east coast based TAG-E which is structured around the Sydney based 2 Commando Regiment. Only sailors who have completed the SAS selection and CT training are entitled to wear the SDU parachutist wing.

Collectors should note that no cloth or bullion wings of either of the RAN para wings variations are authorised, nor are they worn. They are fantasy/fake items, made for collectors.

Fake RAN Special Duties wings

Fantasy/Fake SD parachutist wings made for the collectors market. The dealer who first posted these wings made the usual claims but has provided no evidence to substantiate the story. Subsequent investigations can find no evidence of them being requested or worn by anybody qualified to do so. Close inspection of the wing shape also indicates that it was made using the same machine used to make collectors copies of the Australian SAS wing.

 

A special pair of wings

Wings made for A troop 1 SAS sqn in Kuwait 1998

Wings made in Kuwait for A troop, 1 SAS Squadron during Operation DESERT THUNDER, 1998. Only twenty sets made.

These Australian SAS parachutist wings are amongst the most prized in my collection for a couple of reasons. Apart from their scarcity, they were given to me by Andy Russell who was serving in the SAS at the time and on 16 February 2002 unfortunately became the first Australian to be killed in Afghanistan, when the LRPV vehicle he was travelling in struck a mine. He left behind his wife Kylie and Leisa, his two-week-old daughter whom he had never met. Lest we forget!

Andy and Kylie Russell at Kings Park.

Andy and Kylie Russell at the war memorial in Kings Park, Perth. Andrew Russell was the first Australian casualty of the war in Afghanistan. He was killed when his LRPV struck a mine on 16 February 2002. He left behind his wife Kylie, and his two week old daughter, Leisa whom he had never met.

Andy gave me the wings in late 1998 not long after he returned from a deployment to Kuwait as part of a US led coalition known as Operation DESERT THUNDER. Contrary to popular myth, this was the first operational deployment by an Australian Special Air Service Regiment unit to the region. No Australian SAS troops had taken part in the first Gulf War although some of the Navy clearance divers of CDT4 who conducted important operations in and around the coast of Kuwait during that conflict had served as sailors in the water operations element of the SAS counter terrorist squadron prior to 1994. In the aftermath of the war, the United Nations sent UN Special Commission inspection teams to Iraq to monitor their weapons program and check for evidence of WMD’s. Two SAS signallers from 152 Signal Squadron, corporal’s Mal V. and Mark S. formed part of one of these teams in 1993 but that was the extent of the Australian SAS involvement with Iraq and the region up until that point.

Then, in late 1997 Iraq began to deny entry to these teams and in response, a coalition led by the USA formed with the initial intention of mounting air strikes to enforce compliance. In February 1998, the Australian Government announced that it had responded to a request from the USA to participate in the coalition. Part of that response included elements of 1 SAS Squadron (A and B troops along with their integrated 1 Sig troop from 152). The squadron was bolstered by the attachment of a troop from the NZ SAS, which formed D troop. This ANZAC SAS force set up camp at a large Kuwaiti air base known as Ali Al Salem.

SASRGULF

A Long Range Patrol Vehicle (LRPV) and members of the SAS Squadron during their deployment to Kuwait as part of Operation DESERT THUNDER in 1998. Note that the soldier on the left is actually flying the 2 Squadron flag, which indicates that this photo was taken towards the end of the deployment when, in May, a composite troop from 2 Squadron was rotated in to replace elements of 1 SAS Squadron just prior to the mission concluding and return to Australia.

The squadron’s roll was primarily to undertake combat search and rescue missions (CSAR) into Iraq to rescue downed aircrew and other coalition personnel. A secondary mission was to undertake tactical surveillance and response operations on the Kuwait- Iraq border and a third role was to provide a quick response force (QRF) capability to respond to small scale Iraqi raids. Familiarisation and preparatory training began immediately but two weeks after arriving, the UN struck a deal with Saddam Hussein and the planned air strikes were put on hold. The operation was renamed Operation DESERT SPRING and preparations continued until May when the squadron was reduced to a troop and then returned to Australia in early June.

At the time, Andy Russell was serving in A troop, which was 1 Squadron’s air operations / freefall troop. Whilst deployed to Kuwait, the troop had 20 sets of these ‘desertised’ SAS wings made up by a US army tailor. The wings were never meant to be worn, nor would they ever be permitted to do so. They were sold/distributed within the troop as a memento of the deployment and like many of the sub unit patches so often seen, inject cash into the troop ‘goffa fund’ which was used to buy soft drinks, beer etc for troop functions.

With only twenty examples made, it is definitely one of the rarest Australian SAS badges, but for me, they are even more special having come from a friend who was doing what he loved best, but taken before his time.