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Memories wanted of Shropshire wartime depot Shropshire Star

A researcher is hoping to tap into the memories of thousands of Salopians who served at the massive Central Ordnance Depot in Donnington so that he can tell the story of the men and women who provided the vital back-up for the front line troops and helped the Allies win the war. Phil Williams has a family connection with that story, as his late mother Betty Williams, nee Perks, worked in the War Office with his late father Major-General Williams, who led the Royal Army Ordnance Corps during the war and who visited Donnington periodically. His mother compiled some fascinating scrapbooks, but Phil is after more.

What would bring the story alive, though, would be the words of those people who were there, said Phil, who is from Lincoln. Many stories have been told of World War Two, but I don t see in the bookshops the wider story of those who supplied the troops, often at great personal danger. I want to tell that story.

He is appealing to anyone who has a story to tell, or a written account, to contact him at 07761 836555 or by email at [email protected] I am writing the story of a quiet revolution which transformed a vital part of the British Army, in the inter-war years made moribund by cautious civil servants and dithering politicians, into the muscular artery which ensured the troops landing on D Day had all they needed to do their job. The organisation was the Royal Army Ordnance Corps whose job it was to supply the Army with all it needed, apart from food and fuel, he said.

He said the Donnington site began with a need to move the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich to a location where it would be safe from German bombers. Donnington in the Shropshire countryside had been chosen by the War Office as the perfect site. Under the command of Brigadier de Wolff, Donnington grew into a huge depot employing some 15,000 soldiers, 3,200 ATS, 2,000 Italian prisoners of war and 4,000 civilians.

It was state-of-the-art and hugely effective in doing its job. It suppled many tanks to Russia. It had some of the first mobile radar.

De Wolff had reputation for discipline and he used this well as he blended together the essential business skills of warehousing and distribution with soldiering.

Did you or did anyone you know work there?

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Memories wanted of Shropshire wartime depot Shropshire Star

Survival or Not of Wartime Special Forces

The regular SAS had been disbanded at the end of the Second World War. Now, it was reformed in Malaya, with a strength of 3 squadrons. Small patrols of SAS moved deep into the jungle, and soon became skilled in jungle warfare and survival skills.

Several Iban tribesman were brought in from Borneo, to teach the soldiers how to track and detect the faintest traces left by the guerrillas. A plan to assault the rebel stronghold on the Jebel Akhdar mountain, using 4 battalions (around 4000 men), was rejected as politically impossible, so it was decided to, instead, deploy a single squadron of SAS soldiers (64 men), although another squadron later arrived. They faced a formidable task the mountains had last been conquered almost 2000 years before, and the only way up them were narrow tracks which passed steep ravines and gorges, and were overlooked by higher ground.

At 8:30, 26 January, 1959, D squadron begin to march up the south side of the mountain. Each man had to carry 54 kilos (119lbs) of equipment up 7,000 feet (2kms) of steep and difficult ground. Many men passed out, but, thankfully, the route was only lightly guarded due to a diversionary attack at Tanuf.

The survival of the British SAS, alone among wartime special forces teams, is a textbook example of political escape and evasion. Though the Socialist Attlee government had decreed that it must die, in the gloomy corridors of the War Office a cell was created in 1946 to consider the future of SF, if any. It concluded that in the next European war, there would be no static front lines.

It acknowledged that small parties of stay-behind forces could punch above their weight, so long as they did not try to take over the functions of SIS or become a reborn SOE. In what was an obvious compromise between letting the government have its way over Special Forces and covering an unguarded military flank, the War Office gave its blessing, in principle, to the creation of a reserve, Territorial Army (National Guard) unit. This exercise was massaged by the ubiquitous Brian Franks, former boss of 2 SAS in Occupied France.

Over later years, he would emerge as a key player in the continuance of special operations, not all of them not authorized by government. Between 1946 and 1947, Franks took two initiatives. First, he arranged for the Gladio network, promoted by the SIS chief, Sir Stewart Menzies, in various European capitals, to be serviced by British Liaison Officers who were former SAS and SOE operators.

He also arranged for a respected reserve regiment, the Artists Rifles, to be reborn as 21 SAS (Artists). Founded in 1859, the Artists accommodated such creative spirits as William Morris, Wilfred Owen, and Noel Coward and turned them into soldiers. It was disbanded in 1945 and reconstituted as an officer-training team two years later.

By a process that is still not clear, Brian Franks arranged for the resurrected Artists to become 21 SAS (Artists) (Reserve). A humble national guard unit, 21 SAS was licensed to prepare for a stay-behind role in Germany, to wage guerrilla war against the Warsaw Pact invaders and identify targets for nuclear weapons. It was an awesome responsibility for weekend soldiers.

The SAS reservists prepared by digging large holes in German soil for use as hides. In time, it found another role as a supplier of deniable soldiers for clandestine missions far from Europe and a recruitment agency for well-connected mercenaries. On the other side of the world, in the Malayan jungle, a very different sort of conflict was about to have a decisive impact on the SAS phenomenon.

In the spring of 1948, ethnic Chinese Malayans, armed with an arsenal of British and Japanese weapons, began an offensive to turn Malaya into a Communist state. The emergency had a shocking beginning. Small groups of armed Chinese entered rubber plantations, seized their Chinese foremen, and summoned villagers to witness the executions of these alleged enemies of the people.

On 16 June, three young Chinese men cycled into Elphil Estate in Perak and shot dead a fifty-year-old British planter, Arthur Walker. A few miles away, Ian Christian and his manager, J. Alison, were bound to chairs and murdered in the same fashion.

One of the most charismatic leaders of the insurgency was Chin Peng, OBE. During the Japanese occupation, Chin Peng had worked with British agents from SOE s Force 136 and with Spencer Chapman, to whom he was a true friend. It is believed that Chin took part in the London Victory Parade in 1945.

But then he turned his guns on Britain. He became leader of the Communist guerrillas and took to the jungle. Chin Peng did not give up easily.

His war against the British and Malayan governments continued until 1989. In 2008 he was living in exile in Thailand, hoping to return to Malaysia. In 1950, to fight this latest jungle conflict, Brigadier Mad Mike Calvert, a wartime SAS commander and heavyweight boxing champion, was instructed to raise a force able to survive in the jungle for long periods, taking the battle to the Communists on their own ground.

It was a novel idea at the time. Calvert was expected to create the new force almost overnight. He raised the Malayan Scouts, which he then renamed the Malayan Scouts (SAS).

They were a very mixed bunch. There were some excellent veterans from SOE, SAS, Ferret Force, and Force 136. A squadron of 21 SAS reservists, on its way to the Korean War, was diverted to join the Scouts.

Calvert also recruited 1,000 volunteers from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), a group that would re-emerge later as C Squadron, SAS. It still exists as a phantom squadron. Calvert also acquired some cowboys whose units were glad to be rid of them.

A handful of National Service conscripts was added to the mix. At that time, the prolonged selection process for which the SAS would become a world leader did not exist. Calvert once told the author that the Scouts had similarities, in his mind, with the Black And Tans as an ad hoc formation that could be readily disbanded if it provoked a political row.

No surprises there: most Special Forces units are ad hoc, temporary entities, dispersed when their work is done. The Scouts were withdrawn in 1951 to be reorganized as 22 SAS Regiment under a new commander and retrained at the Jungle Warfare School, Kota Tingi, Malaya. This was an interesting establishment that subequently trained Australian SAS soldiers to fight in Vietnam.

Run by a veteran jungle fighter named John Cross, it replicated some very evil jungle booby traps used by the Vietminh. Colonel Cross could imitate most of the bird calls to be heard in the jungle. During the Second World War, serving with the Gurkha Rifles, he heard a call that belonged to a nocturnal bird.

It was mid-morning. He set up an ambush and waited for the Japanese patrol to walk into it. Did it work?

We killed every last one of them, he once told the author. The reformed SAS returned to the jungle, fighting an often clandestine campaign until around 1960. Further changes from 1955 resulted from the appointment of Lieutenant Colonel George Lea, an Arnhem veteran, as commanding officer.

Lea sacked the most ineffective officers and recruited some new talent including Lieutenant Peter de la Billiere. As a Lieutenant General, he led British forces in the first Gulf War in 1990 91. By 1956 five SAS squadrons totaling 560 men were operating in the Malayan jungle.

But as yet, it was still an ad hoc force of the sort envisioned by Calvert. There was always a darker side to the evolution of these forces. The same individuals who led by heroic example in the Second World War were thrust into counter-insurgency campaigns later perceived as dirty wars in which they matched evil with evil.

Some of the Long Range Desert Group, having taken prisoners who were an embarrassment since there was no provision for POWs in the Libyan desert considered murdering their captives. They did not do so, releasing them to their fate in the wilderness instead. In the 1930s Wingate s Special Night Squads, hunting Arab saboteurs in Palestine, were disbanded because of the treatment of captives and because the SNS, like the Black And Tans in Ireland in the twenties, provoked rebellion rather than suppressing it.

During the Vietnam War, the Green Beret affair arose from the unauthorized killing of a double agent in 1969. The most dramatic moral breakdown, however, occurred not within the ranks of the SAS or SBS or their American counterparts in OSS, but within the U.S. Navy s equivalent, the Office of Naval Intelligence, which lubricated the Allied advance across Sicily in 1943 by cutting deals with the Sicilian Mafia, first in New York and later in Sicily itself.

This morally ambiguous strategy was followed, as noted above, by OSS arrangements in Italy with Italian Fascists in the organization of shadowy anti-Soviet stay-behind units known loosely as Gladio, The Sword. In Italy, Germany, and Belgium, assassins linked to Gladio teams took direct action against communists suspected of being part of a fifth column prepared to run Moscow-puppet governments should the Red Army overrun the country. The organic nature of the Gladio network after it was secretly adopted by NATO made it inevitable that some operators from these countries were trained in Britain and elsewhere by British and American Special Forces, just like the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s.

For four decades after the Second World War, the British army had two commitments. The first, known as Priority One, was the defense of Western Europe from attack by the Red Army and its allies. These were edgy times.

As Sir John Killick, British ambassador to NATO, told the author during those years: We know their capabilities. We do not know their intentions. It does not seem to have struck Western governments that the Soviets, having lost 26 million dead following Germany s invasion, might have felt it needed buffer states in eastern Europe as an insurance against a repeat performance.

Meanwhile, the scope for Special Forces activity in the frozen strategy of the Cold War in western Europe a potential conflict between lumbering dinosaurs was limited, but not impossible. In Europe, throughout the forty-four years of the Cold War, a team unconnected with the wartime freemasonry founded by Gubbins and Stirling operated across the front line alongside the agent-running arm of SIS. It was known as Brixmis, or the British Commanders -in-Chief Mission to the Soviet Forces in Germany.

It answered to the intelligence secretariat of the Ministry of Defence and unlike the Foreign Office (vide Philby) or CIA (vide Aldrich Ames) it was never penetrated by the KGB. Its intelligence product was sent to Washington, sometimes before it reached London. From 1947 two similar, smaller missions worked alongside Brixmis.

These were the U.S. Military Liaison Mission, which included Major Arthur Nicholson, and the French MLM. Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, from 1969 onwards, following the explosion of resentment among the minority Catholic population in response to the government s failure to provide equal rights in voting, jobs, and housing, street politics boiled over to become an insurgency and full-blown campaign of terrorism.

British intelligence was caught by surprise, asserting that the IRA was a long-dead, moribund force.

After Gunner Robert Curtis, the first British casualty, was shot dead in Belfast in February 1971, elements of Britain s conventional green army, configured for the European battlefield, adopted counter-insurgency methods including the use of civilian clothes, burglary of private homes to plant bugs, and assassination.

For many soldiers it was a schizophrenic experience in which the Red Army s tank divisions were the threat during one operational tour, while at other times the Improvised Explosive Device teams of the IRA awaited them on the back streets of Belfast.

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Survival or Not of Wartime Special Forces

Move over, Henry Wood: the British army was the true pioneer of the …

Patriotic, much? Yui Mok/PA Archive The BBC Proms 1 , with justification, is flaunted as the world s largest and most significant annual music festival. A bronze bust of the conductor Sir Henry Wood, is placed in front of the organ facing the audience for the season.

It acknowledges his importance in curating this type of musical entertainment classical music for the masses. In fact, Wood was not the originator. Others had succeeded in developing the idea that the musical appreciation of the nation could be elevated by providing good music to a popular audience for a modest price.

The business model involved dispensing with the usual seating arrangements, and this also imposed an informal atmosphere that people warmed to. Precedents can be found in 18th century pleasure gardens 2 . But the true origin is found in the British army, which ran the most ubiquitous, well-organised and influential sector of British music in the 19th century.

By the 1850s the number of full-time military musicians vastly outnumbered civilians in the profession. In 1878 Jacob Kappey had carefully counted them for an article in the first edition of Grove s Dictionary 3 . He calculated that there was a shade short of 5,000 musicians in the British army, and 52,000 throughout Europe.

Most of the army s music recruits came as boys from orphanages and workhouses. From trade directories and other sources we can deduce that the civilian profession, fractured and badly organised as it was, could not have provided employment for more than about 2,000 across the country. The civilian conservatoires, despite the dizzy heights they have now reached, were, at that time, little more than glorified finishing schools.

According to a report of the Royal Society into the state of musical training in London, one mother, asked why she wanted to enrol her two daughters into the Royal Academy of Music when both were devoid of any musical skill or talent, said that her doctor had recommended it . And so The Military School of Music, when it opened in 1857, was the only British institution genuinely dedicated to the production of music professionals. Proms of old.

The Graphic 8 September 1894 Military musicians had an influence in the 19th century which modern writers have been reluctant to acknowledge. Leaving aside its sheer size, it had more interaction with the population as a whole than any other musical institution. The British state recognised this and used it in the interests of what is now termed soft power : uniformed soldiers marching to patriotic music promoted national confidence, not just in the army, but in the British establishment itself.

The British military also had a broader plan: its mission was to combine the impression of invincible efficiency with more educational objectives. Little original music of any substance (other than marches) was written for military bands before the 20th century. This was intentional: the military believed that other than supporting ceremony, its main purpose was to perform the greatest music.

Many regiments had orchestras the Royal Artillery had one of 100 players with a concert series in central London; it gave the first British performances of many important works, including Tchaikovsky s 1812 Overture. Bands restricted to wind instruments played transcriptions. Bandmasters were painstakingly instructed on how orchestral instruments and even voices could be imitated by wind instruments.

Their scores, many of which survive, demonstrate remarkable subtlety in this respect. Military bands gave performances in public gardens and other sites and these were enormously popular. They matched the Proms idea almost exactly, playing great classical music to the public in accessible venues.

In 1856 certain London parks were made formally available for concerts on Sundays. The prime minister believed that such concerts would afford inhabitants of the metropolis innocent intellectual recreation combined with fresh air and exercise . But the practice wasn t supported by all.

A petition of 113,000 signatures and 550 letters was presented to the prime minister. The Archbishop of Canterbury objected too, saying he could not be answerable for the religion of the Country if the Bands were not stopped . The established church resisted all Sabbath activities other than worship.

It was a controversial episode, but as with so many Victorian moral dilemmas, it simply prevailed as a source of joy for some and deep misgiving for others, and eventually ebbed from the foreground to the background. What followed was a wide acceptance of the idea that music crosses social classes. And the idea seems to have a special potency in more relaxed environments on these summer days.

Sign in to Favourite Post a Comment Tags Music 6 , History 7 Related articles 18 July 2014 Proms 2014 open with gusto, hitting back against jingoism 8 18 July 2014 Music is becoming a multimedia experience 9 17 July 2014 Book review: The Lost Legions of Fromelles 10 17 July 2014 Auto-Tune , and why we shouldn t be surprised Britney can t sing 11 16 July 2014 Aboriginal hip-hop meets Iranian diaspora in a cross-border rap 12 4 5 References ^ BBC Proms (www.bbc.co.uk) ^ pleasure gardens (www.history.uk.com) ^ Grove s Dictionary (www.oxfordmusiconline.com) ^ Sign in to Favourite (theconversation.com) ^ Post a Comment (theconversation.com) ^ Music (theconversation.com) ^ History (theconversation.com) ^ 18 July 2014 Proms 2014 open with gusto, hitting back against jingoism (theconversation.com) ^ 18 July 2014 Music is becoming a multimedia experience (theconversation.com) ^ 17 July 2014 Book review: The Lost Legions of Fromelles (theconversation.com) ^ 17 July 2014Auto-Tune, and why we shouldn t be surprised Britney can t sing (theconversation.com) ^ 16 July 2014 Aboriginal hip-hop meets Iranian diaspora in a cross-border rap (theconversation.com)

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Move over, Henry Wood: the British army was the true pioneer of the …

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