Who Was the Military Advisor on that?

A Blog about all things Military advising for the Film and TV industry.

Training of conscripts during the Boulogne camp 1805

“Dear Father and Mother  I am writing these lines to find out how you are, hoping that like me you are well for the time being.

We have drill twice a day. I have arrived in Boulogne, and as for the victuals it’s very dear The English come and say hello every day, they’ve done for six of our men but they’ve lost two ships.”  

This letter, dated November 28th, 1805, from Private Joseph Goupil of the 46th Infantry Regiment to his parents, neatly sums up what everyday life was like for the men stationed in the coastal camps. From the summer of 1803 to 1805, the temporary camps were transformed into permanent military installations which acted as army training and instruction centres.

Three intakes of conscripts from Years IX, X and XI were trained there, representing 30,000 men a year, plus 60,000 in Year XII. The camps also gave men who had served longer an opportunity to improve their skills.

Not many soldiers have left a detailed account of the experience of their first months of army life. Although some memoirs talk of the induction period,  they pass quickly over the time spent in training.

When they do so, it is often to say that conditions seemed “a bit harsh” to begin with, “among old soldiers who stank”.   But the descriptions are often mixed with fond nostalgia, as with the story of Marbot and his moustache.  

Many recruits mention intensive training, but within a few weeks they had learnt the drills and how to handle a musket.  

The discovery of soldiering, and the instruction that came with it, was not always easy for conscripts, especially as their army life was often involuntary rather than chosen.

The training of recruits started the day after their arrival at the regiment, once they had been issued their kit.

Instruction

Napoleon believed that simply bringing men together was not enough to “turn them into soldiers; only drill, instruction and skill truly do that.”  So conscripts joining a regiment did not become soldiers until they had been given strict instruction and rigorous training.

For the Emperor and his contemporaries, it took three months for an infantryman to become effective in battle,  and rather longer for a cavalryman: the minimum instruction time for them was four to five months.  

At Boulogne they had two years to perfect their skills. The formal framework for instruction during the Empire was established under the Consulate.

The overhaul of the existing system was based on the decree of 1 Vendémiaire Year XII (September 24th, 1803), which reorganised the regiments and the general framework of the army. It instituted the regimental depot as the headquarters of the regiment and the place where soldiers were trained, under the command of a major.  

Second-in-command of the regiment, this officer was responsible for keeping the depot in good military, administrative and financial order, and for training recruits. He appointed the instructing officer (a battalion or squadron commander or captain), who in turn commanded NCOs (sergeants and corporals) and private-instructors. Commanding officers were responsible for deciding soldiers’ timetables, which led to considerable differences between regiments.

Instructors had a whole set of official ordinances to help them organise their training of recruits. Inherited from the 18th century, these regulations were the last links in a long chain going back to the Enlightenment.  

They marked the triumph of the Prussian spirit in the French army: precise manoeuvres and automatic movements ensured that soldiers in battle would not have to think.

For many officers who had emerged during the Revolution or early Consulate, Boulogne was an opportunity to get to grips with the Rules and Regulations for the Field Exercise and Manoeuvres of the Infantry of August 1st, 1791, and to brush up their soldiering skills. From the Revolutionary Wars onward, the 1791 were subject to critical review and adapted to the realities of warfare.  

Much thought was given to their suitability during the Boulogne Camp, not least by General Meunier, who started to revise them. The resumption of hostilities put an end to these endeavours, however, and the 1791remained in effect throughout the Empire period.

At Boulogne, marshals’ instructions emphasized the importance of these manoeuvres and insisted on strict compliance with the rules and regulations.  The manuals for both infantry and cavalry approached their subject matter in the same way. Recruits were initially trained individually in the School of the Soldier.

For infantry, this meant marching drill, arms drill and basic movements. For cavalry, it covered seat on the horse, work on the longe, work mounted, singly and by squadron, and at the gallop. These drills were then performed in increasingly large groups. In the School of the Platoon, the same material was applied to basic groups while introducing formations and “manual exercises”, or musket drill.

The School of the Battalion or Squadron focused on formations and their manoeuvres. The final stage consisted of full regimental manoeuvres (in columns and lines, plus the transition to battle order), and brigade movements.

During initial instruction, new recruits were drilled three or four times a day. One reason was to fill their time in order to prevent morale-sapping boredom. In the absence of gymnastics, forced marches of 30 to 40 kilometres in full battle order were also designed to harden up recruits as quickly as possible and prepare them for the rigours and hardship of military life on campaign.

After a few days’ instruction, the most able or the quickest to grasp the drills were sorted from the rest.

The former became first-class recruits, the latter second class, or even third class for the least able. The first-class recruits would drill only once or twice a day, while those in the second and third class would continue to have three intensive sessions. To encourage third-class recruits to make progress, they were deprived of “the honour of doing service”. They were assigned to all the chores, “without the same preventing them from attending drill”, until they were sufficiently well-drilled to move up to second class.  

Instruction was based entirely on the endless and systematic repetition of simple movements that every soldier could learn. Combat in the 19th century was structured to the extreme: soldiers were merely a fragment of space, a piece in the line. They had to unlearn their individuality and their own movements in order to take their place in the column and rank.

That is why position was the first thing conscripts were taught. They learnt how to stand in rank without moving for 15 minutes, then how to march in step in order to perform basic manoeuvres.

In 1806 General Duhesme drew a number of conclusions about infantry rules and regulations from his experience at Boulogne. In particular, he criticised the over-mechanical approach of the Prussian school, adopted to excess in France.

“Recruits were tormented for six months”, he wrote, “their chests often damaged in order to teach them the first position, how to march in step and how to bear arms; every morning the poor devils were kept motionless or in awkward positions for two or three hours at a time, enough to put off even those keenest on the military life.”  

It is not hard to imagine the suffering of conscripts that lies behind that observation. They had to repeat the drills over and over again in order to achieve the perfect movements or ideal positions prescribed in the manual. Jean-Baptiste Boisson, writing in 1809, recounts how “horrific training” began the day after his arrival at 

2nd Light Infantry Regiment. “The NCOs allowed us hardly any respite. We had to repeat the ‘Attention’ and ‘At ease’ positions a hundred times.” He goes on: “We had to learn the march step, two feet in length from one heel to the other, seventy-six paces per minute; that’s what the sergeant kept yelling at us. We were also initiated into the mysteries of the oblique step”.  

The instruction concerned not only positions but also movements, first singly, then in increasingly large groups. Soldiers had to move together precisely and quickly, and so had to relearn how to march the army way. “The men are told a thousand times to stretch the calf, to skim the ground with the foot. They have to learn the balancing step, which makes them clumsier than before.

A recruit who has often journeyed several hundred leagues to join his regiment may be supposed to have some idea of how to march.”  The principle was that as the infantry rarely became involved in bayonet fighting, the line had to hold. So everyone had to march together in order to create a mass effect that would sap the enemy’s morale and break them.  

These constant drills, not very different from dance steps, transformed the body, developing the musculature and giving soldiers an erect posture, unlike any other, that would remain with them for life.  But when evening came, as Jean-Baptiste Boisson admitted, “we were done in”.

The second stage of instruction was learning how to use the 1777-pattern musket. This involved bending the future combatant’s will to the weapon that would become his constant companion and the guarantor of his conduct on the battlefield.

The principal purpose of these drills was to automate movements. There was no time to think in the heat of battle: soldiers had to load and fire their weapons automatically.

The first drills – marching and mounting guard – were conducted with the weapon unloaded. It was heavy on the arms for young men unused to handling a musket nearly five-foot-long (over six with the bayonet) and weighing nearly ten pounds. Montesquiou-Fezensac, who joined the 59th Line Regiment in 1804, recounts that once he had settled into his barracks at the camp in Montreuil, he started to “learn the drill”, which he found “rather hard, the musket seeming heavy for lack of practice”.

 The barrack-room was where the recruits learnt how to take care of their weapon (along with much else, like ranks, and how to behave, and chores, and how to maintain their uniform). They had to learn how to assemble and disassemble it, and the name of each part. This drill, which had to be performed within a reasonable time, was of paramount importance for the soldier. He was responsible for his weapon, and especially for ensuring that it worked properly in all weathers.

Only when the soldier had mastered his musket, including during foot drills, did he learn how to shoot. Loading was performed on 12 commands and with 18 movements.

The solider had to be able to load as quickly as possible, and also be familiar with the faster reloading procedures used in battle. For the instructors, constant repetition of these movements was needed in order to perfectly assimilate them.

Napoleon, like many army instructors, insisted on the absolute need for soldiers to know how to shoot, even if not always in harmony with their comrades. Shooting drills were frequent in the coastal camps, both at targets and in more or less large-scale formation.  Although many conscripts were familiar with firearms, some confessed to being shaken, on their first drill, by the noise of so many detonations.  

A painful process

One might think, reading the authors of memoirs, that induction into the regiment was an educational experience, and that it made French soldiers superior to their opponents. However, the image conveyed by legend did not tell the whole story.

During those first few weeks in the regiment, everything combined to make the new recruits lose their bearings and their identity. In addition, the instructors responsible for knocking the conscripts into shape were often veterans with better martial than educational skills, and an already well-developed esprit de corps.

The following extract is taken from the book, “Waterloo, The French perspective”, by Andrew W. Field:

Corporal Canler was only seventeen years old when he fought at Waterloo, though he had volunteered for the army four years before. He was in the 28th de ligne, the second regiment in Bourgeois brigade. He also gives us an exciting account of the attack:

“Soon there was a terrible duet executed by these two batteries that were composed of nearly two hundred guns; the balls, bombs and shells, passed whistling over our heads. After a half hour wait, Marshal Ney gave the order to attack and to take by assault the English battery; three beats on the drum sufficed to get the corps ready to march; we were formed up in colonne-serrée par bataillon; I remembered that adjutant-major Hubant, charged with forming the divisions, an old soldier who had taken part in all the campaigns of the Empire, was preoccupied and very pale. Finally, the columns were formed. Général Drouet d’Erlon took position in the middle of his army corps, and with a strong and clear voice pronounced these few words: ‘Today it is necessary to vanquish or die!’

The cry of “Vive l’Empereur!” left all our mouths in reply to this short speech, and, with ‘forme au bras’ [ordered arms], to the sound of drums beating the charge, the columns moved off and directed themselves towards the English guns without firing a single musket shot.”

As they advanced the Grand Battery continued to fire over their heads at the few, obscure targets that were available. Although the columns were in dead ground to some of the allied guns for part of their advance, the amount and accuracy of the enemy’s fire inevitably increased as they slowly climbed the gradual slope, and casualties began to fall more frequently.

Lieutenant Martin :
“Death crept up on us from every side; entire ranks disappeared under the caseshot, but nothing was able to stop our march; it continued with the same order as before, with the same précision. The dead were immediately replaced by those who followed; the ranks, although becoming fewer, remained in good order.”

Despite the increasing casualties as more allied guns came into play, the French soldiers marched on.

The skills acquired after two years of drill truly came into their. The pace of instruction accelerated from 1806. By the end of the Empire, with the machinery of conscription running full tilt, recruits did not always have time to get properly acclimatized to the business of soldiering. Some were thrown into battle without uniform, hardly knowing how to manoeuvre or handle their musket. Nevertheless, the esprit de corps forged in the camp at Boulogne lasted throughout the Empire and beyond, deep into the 19th century, enshrined in memoirs which helped to create and perpetuate the imperial myth.

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Theatrical Firearms Explained.

In the wake of the tragic events on the set of Rust, team PB thought it best write a short blog to highlight the difference between theatrical firearms, live rounds, blank rounds and SBR UTM (silent blank rounds ultimate training munitions)

Theatrical firearms (prop gun)


The term “prop gun” or Theatrical firearm includes a variety of weapons, including nonfunctioning or nonpractical weapons, like cap guns, BB guns, top venting blanks and fake guns constructed of wood, plastic or rubber. Soft and hard rubber are primarily used by stunt performer’s when carrying out hard demanding falls.

The term also can mean real weapons modified to fire only blank cartridges, in the UK we call them section 5 firearms or practical weapons and if fired at close range they can cause serious injuries and potentially kill if not closely monitored by proficient firearms professionals. 

How theatrical weapons work

When filming with semi- and fully automatic weapons like the AK47 or M4 that are gas-operated, which means the combustion gas from firing a round is what reloads the weapon, the barrel typically has a mechanism called a “restrictor.”

Restrictors function similarly to the blank-firing adapters (BFAs) used in the military which are deliberately coloured Yellow or Red for identification, except for the film world where the device is internal, rather than attached to the exterior of the muzzle.

Theatrical weapons have the restrictor down the barrel to conceal the fact that it is a blank firing weapon.

Devices like BFAs or restrictors do two things: they help prevent debris from escaping from the barrel through the muzzle when a blank round is fired and they help the weapon chamber another round by preventing the combustion gases from fully escaping the barrel.

But weapons that are not gas-operated, like revolvers, bolt operated rifles and muskets don’t require a restrictor to help chamber another round. Which means there is no physical barrier between the blank round fired and whatever the weapon is pointed at.

The image below demonstrates the amount of flash from a futuristic weapon which was actually a Colt revolver with plastic mouldings built around. Note the amount of flash.


Live rounds

A live round or cartridge is ammunition fed into the barrel of a fully functioning weapon that comprises of several parts: 

  • The casing (sometimes called a shell)
  • Propellant material (gunpowder) inside the shell
  • The percussion cap or percussion primer on the bottom of the cartridge. (Where the firing pin strikes)
  • The actual projectile (bullet) itself

The bullet is the part of the cartridge that flies out of the gun towards the target.

Blank rounds

Blanks are shell casings loaded with gunpowder. They lack the deadly bullet point, which is usually replaced with cotton or paper wadding.

When blanks are discharged, they create the sound of gunfire, and the gunpowder combusts, causing a muzzle flash. The force of firing a section 5 firearms provides the actor with real recoil and case ejection.

SBR UTM (silent blank rounds ultimate training munitions)


UTM’s Silent Blank Rounds (SBR) cycles the firearm, which provides realistic recoil and weapon function, including bolt or slide lock-back, yet with no noise or projectile.


With the silent blank rounds the piston is solid, when it’s driven forward the gas can’t escape, so the cartridge is silent with no flash. This action allows the cycling of the firearm in an enclosed space without concerns around noise or injury.


UTM’s pistol conversions prevent a live round from fully seating inside the barrel so incapable of firing a live round


Their blank weapon conversions for rifles feature an off-set firing pin, enabling the weapon to only shoot UTM’s rim-fire blank training ammunition.


Silent Blank rounds are ideal for close-up shots to the body or camera and can be fired directly at the head without any danger to the actor.


Live rounds are to never be on set at any stage.

Set protocols 

The use of firearms on set is subject to stringent safety standards. Specialists such as BAPTY.co.uk who provide weapons for use on film sets and advise on their safe use. 

Before weapons leave the armoury they’re test fired, cleaned and inspected. The weapon serial numbers are sent to the police authority who over sees all theatrical weapons used in the UK film and TV indindustry.

Every weapon on set must be accounted for and it is the armourers responsibility to know every weapon be it non practical or practical while on set. 

When on set and not required the practical weapons are concealed and constantly manned by the armourer until required.

Before being issued weapons a safety brief and training is provided highlighting important features of the weapon and the importance of trigger and muzzle discipline. 

Strikeback 2019

A demonstration of the danger a blank round can do is provided by firing a blank round into an orange or apple to provide a visual demonstration on the effects to skin. 

Before shooting a scene,  rehearsals are mostly carried  out ‘dry’ which means no blanks are loaded in the weapon.

Dry rehearsals Strikeback 2018

Ear and eye protection will be offered to crew within the set area and the armourers will ensure saftey distances for firing in close proximity are observed along with limiting the chances of hot ejected cases bouncing back to hit the actors. 

Strikeback 2018

Once ready to shoot the armourer will show weapons are clear to the actor and show him the blank rounds before being loaded.

Once the working parts are released forward and a round is chambered the safety catch is applied and the armourer will announce ‘Weapons Hot’ to everyone on set. 

If at any time the armourer observes something they feel is not safe before and during the shoot they will step in and stop everything until any safety issue is resolved. 

If a weapon misfires during the shoot the actor is instructed to simply play out the action until the director shouts cut then simply raise their hand and with the weapons barrel pointing towards the floor and the armourers will clear and inspect the weapon. 

If the weapon needs to be fired off for safety reasons, such as a black powder musket or test fired,  the armourer will notify all cast and crew by shouting ‘ fire in the hole’ before firing in a safe direction. 

Cast, stunts and extras are all instructed on the importance of not playing with weapons during breaks, leaving a weapon unattended or walking off set without handing it back to the armourer. 

Once filming has finished all weapons are accounted for and serials checked against their lists before being packed up and taken back to a secure location, cleaned ready for the next day.



Training Bootcamps

Most productions will invest and provide weapons and tactics training to everyone participating in the action scenes involving weapons.

1917 bootcamp 2019


Military Technical Advisers along with armourers will assess and train for what is required in the script to a high standard and preferably two to three days before the action is to take place.

Cast training for strikeback and Wrath of Man

Anyone deemed unsafe or not confident around weapons will be issued a non firing weapon. 

Bootcamps ensures everyone is fully briefed and confident in weapon handling and safety protocols beforehand which then only requires a ‘remind and revise’ before going on set. 


Theatrical firearms courses 

I have touched on such courses in the past and frequently asked if I run my own course. 

I run production financed training for the specific roles required for the production who hire my services to train cast, stunts and supporting artists who are paid to learn for the required role.

Room clearance drills.

There are numerous courses out there some good some over hyped and some very bad. Some lay claim being on their course will ensure you are picked for action roles over those who have not.

Some issue certificates as proof of attendance which are waved under an armourer and advisers nose to demand or stake claim to forgoing any training and being picked first to fire weapons.

Such claims are solely a sales pitch and untrue.


The following hurdles only apply.


1. The Director choses the look he requires. 


2.  The Armourer and the military advisor will assess and decide who is safe and able to fire a blank weapon on set.


3. Armourers weapons and procedures may be different to what your course provider taught you.

Allways remember. The armourers weapons so its their rules.


Such courses are a ‘nice to have’ and will help you better understand weapon safety but they will not turn you into an overnight expert nor will they bag you your big break. Skill fade will factor in once you leave a course no matter how long it lasts. 


No firearms courses are recognised by any governing body or production. No armourer or military advisor will accept firearms certificates or even previous military qualifications as an insurance of safety on set.

Finger on the trigger punishment during a bootcamp.



To end this blog,  armorers and military advisors teach and allways remind you the “three golden rules” of weapon handling, and it’s the same on a range as it is on a film or set. 

1. You always treat a weapon be it real or plastic as if it’s loaded.


2.  You never point a gun at another person.


3.  You always keep your finger off the trigger until you’re absolutely ready to fire. 

PB Military Technical Adviser for film and tv Ltd

Exciting Opportunities in the Film and TV industry

Team PB have more opportunities for the right people. (Open to Ex Armed Forces based in the UK only)

As more productions are gearing up the requirements for the company have increased so more quality Military Technical Advisers are required on the team.

1. Must have good availability.

2. Willing to travel world wide and for prolonged periods.

3. Physically fit (no pie eaters).

4. Ability to communicate and be respectful to others.

5. Good work ethics. 

Please read link for an insight to the job.

If you think you have what it takes send your CV and a current photograph to Pbactionextras@gmail.com

Good luck.

IMDB “Paul Biddiss – IMDb” https://m.imdb.com/name/nm7168922/

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EL ALAMEIN 1942

British forces in Libya had been roundly defeated by Rommel in mid-1942, and a reshuffle saw Bernard Montgomery take over the 8th Army dangerously close to Alexandria. Some essentials for success had been put in place by his predecessor, but Montgomery’s refusal to attack until he was ready, careful briefings, pep talks to troops and coordination of land and air power all strengthened his hand.

The battle began with a huge artillery bombardment on October 23, and owed much to Montgomery’s belief that, wherever possible, metal, not flesh, should do the work.

There was hard fighting in the middle phase as British and Dominion troops clawed through the German and Italian defences.

It’s easy to say that Monty, with over 200,000 troops to Rommel’s 100,000, should have won, but previously defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory.

Alamein paved the way for Allied victory in North Africa, and Churchill was right to hail it as a turning point

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ROUSTAM RAZA. NAPOLEON’S BODYGUARD.

Roustam served Napoleon for fifteen years. Also known as Roustan or Rustam and was Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous Mamluk bodyguard.

born in Tbilisi, Georgia to Armenian parents. At thirteen Roustam was kidnapped and sold as a slave in Cairo.

The Turks gave him the name Idzhahia. The sheikh of Cairo presented him to General Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 where he became
the great emperor’s famous bodyguard, and soon accompanied Napoleon in peace and wars.

Every morning Roustam, together with Louis Constant Wairy, the Emperor’s personal valet, helped Napoleon bathe and get dressed. During the day, Roustam was constantly at Napoleon’s side, regardless of whether the emperor was on the battlefield.

At night, he slept in an entrance to the emperor’s bedroom, where a small bed was laid for him. If there existed a suspicion of a conspiracy against Napoleon, then he slept right in front of the door, blocking it.

Roustam can be seen in many paintings close to Napoleon at all times.

He accompanied the emperor in the first/second wars of Austria, Prussia, Poland, Spain, Moscow, Dresden, Italy, Venice, France, Dutch and was wounded several times. He is said to have had an influence and played a role on some of the most sensitive decisions made by Napoleon.

Roustan served as a bodyguard of Napoleon until 1814.

In 1814, the end of the French Campaign also put an end to the Emperor and Mamluk’s long relationship. When Napoleon tried to commit suicide at the Château de Fontainebleau and asked Roustam for his pistols, He knew he would be inevitably accused of his masters murder. If he disobeyed the emperor’s order he would be branded a traitor so took fright and ran off to Paris to join his wife,

Napoleon wad exiled to island Elba. In March of 1815, Napoleon returned from his exile and got his title of the Emperor back, but refused to accept Roustan back or even read his letters asking for forgiveness.

Roustan settled in Durdan, where he wrote the book titled as “Life of Roustam Raza till 1814.” Roustam Raza died on December 7, 1845, and was buried in Durdan.

The British opera singer and the Tiger Tank.

Smiling enigmatically, this is the British opera singer-turned-spy who captivated Adolf Hitler.

Margery Booth led a double life inside Nazi Germany, where she performed for Hitler and his henchmen while smuggling the Third Reich’s secrets to British intelligence.

The only known picture of opera star Margery Booth
A picture of opera star Margery Booth which was taken at Freigegeben Stalag IIID and which she gave to British spy John Brown, signed with a Good Luck message. A British Army officer shoved the secret papers down her dress at the Berlin State Opera, just moments before she went onstage to sing for Hitler and his cohorts

Margery had, been recruited by MI6 whilst MI9 had recruited John Brown, a former but now disillusioned member of Mosley’s infamous Fascist Blackshirts. Through the SOE it was designed for him to be captured on the Normandy beaches in order that that he could work as a spy behind the lines in a PoW camp.

Margery helped British prisoners of war to send coded messages back to spy chiefs in London, and even performed for the Führer with cyphers hidden inside her costume.

Discovery would have meant almost certain death for the mezzo-soprano, who endured regular questioning by the Gestapo.  But Hitler was so taken by her performances that he once visited her dressing room, and later sent her 200 red roses, wrapped in a sash with a swastika on it.  

The Army officer who used the singer to send his coded messages, John Brown, was hailed as a hero after the war, when his evidence was used in the treason trial of William Joyce, the traitor Lord Haw Haw.

The Mission.

Margery usually attends Hitler on his birthday every April and it was at one of these that Jodl presents him with the Tiger tank.  As data is provided, Margery overhears most of this and, like the good singer she is, memorises these numbers as a tune.  

John Brown, a spy in Stalag IIID but also working undercover for the Nazis, is passed details of the Tiger’s existence whilst Margery is singing to the PoWs there and radios this to London.

Back at the Opera House these numbers are encoded and soon at Bletchley Park, delivered to a delighted Hardy Amies, confirming John Brown’s earlier message.   Churchill thus warned, gives instructions for a Tiger to be captured and delivered to No 10 Downing Street.  This eventually happens in North Africa

I fell into Allied hands. It was Tiger 131. It was 21 April 1943 when 48th Royal Tank Regiment, newly arrived in Tunisia from Britain, went into action against the Germans for the first time.

But Miss Booth’s bravery has gone largely unrecognised, and calls for her to receive a posthumous honour have gone unheeded.  So little was known about her war-time efforts that this photograph of her has only just come to light, almost 60 years after her death.

She was sent to sing at Stalag IIID, known as the ‘Holiday Camp’ to British PoWs. The Germans hoped this would encourage some of the British held there to change sides

It was at the camp that Booth met John Brown, a spy who was collecting information on traitors such as William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw.

These photographs are of a woman whose quiet bravery – like that of so many unsung heroes – helped Britain to victory in World War Two. Margery Booth was born in Wigan in 1905, and joined the town’s operatic society as a teenager.  

By 1936 she had sung at Covent Garden and even briefly travelled to Hollywood to appear in a film version of Aida.  Later that year she met and quietly married Dr Egon Ströhm, the son of a wealthy German brewery family, and moved to Germany.

Her first meeting with Hitler is thought to have been in 1933, when she was chosen to carry the Holy Grail in the spectacular finale to the Wagner opera Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival.

 He burst into her dressing room and told her how elegant and lovely he thought her, and sent her the basket of 200 red roses the next day, with a card signed ‘Adolf’.  When the war began, she was singing with the Berlin State Opera, and she was later allowed to perform for British prisoners of war at a camp in Genshagen, near Berlin.

Adolf Hitler and Nazi Party leaders at the Berlin Opera House where Margery Booth performed in 1936.

Adolf Hitler and Nazi leaders at the Berlin Opera House where Margery Booth performed in 1936. She mixed with the German top brass while passing secrets to British Intelligence.She would announce to her audience ‘I’m Margery Booth from Wigan’, and this photograph of her is believed to have been taken at Genshagen.  It was found among photographs of inmates at the camp, Stalag IIID, known as a propaganda ‘holiday camp’ for British officers who the Nazis hoped to use as double agents.  John Brown was transferred there in 1943 and convinced his captors he was willing to work for Germany.

He used their trust to send coded messages home in his letters, and also to pass secret documents to Miss Booth to send back to MI9, the intelligence branch tasked with unmasking traitors.  Ironically, the opera singer’s links to the Nazi regime were so well-known that she was accused of collaborating against Britain, and turning traitor against her country.

In his book, In Durance Vile, Mr Brown wrote that she was initially given personal assurances from Hitler and Goebbels that they would ‘deal with the matter personally’ if she was insulted because of her British birth.  But when Mr Brown’s secret work for Britain was discovered by the Nazis, Miss Booth was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo.  

She kept silent and was eventually released, and she later escaped Berlin during an air raid and fled to Bavaria, where she was picked up by the Americans.  After the war she divorced her German husband and moved to America, where she died from cancer in 1952.

The photograph of Miss Booth is part of a collection from Genshagen, stamped Freigegeben Stalag IIID, a special PoW camp where the Nazis held Britons who they thought they might be able to persuade to change sides.

She signed it, writing ‘With kindest remembrances, Good luck, Margery Booth’.  She also signed the first page of John’s War Diary:

From John's War Diary

From John’s War Diary

Press cutting about John

Links

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11258623

Operation Dingo

Operation Dingo was not only the Fireforce concept writ large but the prototype for all the major Rhodesian airborne attacks on the external bases of Rhodesian African nationalist insurgents in the neighbouring territories of Mozambique and Zambia until such operations ceased in late 1979.

Fireforce as a military concept is a “vertical envelopment” of the enemy, with the 20mm cannon being the principle weapon of attack, mounted in an Alouette III K-Car, flown by the air force commander, with the army commander on board directing his ground troops deployed from G-Cars (Alouette III troop-carrying gunships and latterly Bell “Hueys” in 1979) and parachuted from DC-3 Dakotas. In support would be propeller-driven ground-attack aircraft and on call would be Canberra bombers, Hawker Hunter and Vampire jets.

On 23 November 1977, the Rhodesian Air Force and 184 SAS and Rhodesian Light Infantry paratroopers attacked 10,000 Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army cadres based at ‘New Farm’, Chimoio, 90 kilometres inside Mozambique. Two days later, the same force attacked 4,000 guerrillas at Tembué, another ZANLA base, over 200 kilometres inside Mozambique, north of Tete on the Zambezi River.

Estimates of ZANLA losses vary wildly; however, a figure exceeding 6,000 casualties is realistic. The Rhodesians suffered two dead, eight wounded and lost one aircraft. It would produce the biggest SAS-led external battle of the Rhodesian bush war.