September Last Post

September’s Last Post was preceded by the annual Jewish commemoration ceremony at Brookwood’s Memorial to the Missing 1939-45, organised by our friends of partner organisation The Secret WW2 Learning Network.

As a result, we had a Jewish theme to our Last Post and were honoured by representation from the Israeli Embassy in London – Dana Erlich, Acting Chargée d’Affaires and Political Counsellor, accompanied by the embassy’s Defence Attaché and Naval Attaché who have consistently supported us. Our other consistent supporter and attendee over the four years of our theme, Ambassador Mark Regev, has completed his term of office and has returned to Israel. We wish him well and thank him for his interest. We were also pleased to welcome several members and standard bearers from AJEX, the Jewish Military Association in the UK, headed by the association’s President, Mike Bluestone.

The three men we individually remembered had all served with Britain’s wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE) and are commemorated at Brookwood, having no known grave. They were: were Captain Enzo Sereni, Captain Alec Rabinovitch MBE and Volunteer Baruch Jacobson.

Captain Enzo Sereni was born in Rome in 1905 where his father was physician to the King of Italy. He grew up in a traditional Italian Jewish household, but after obtaining a PhD from the University of Rome he embraced the Zionist ideal and emigrated to Mandate Palestine in 1927. He helped found kibbutz Givat Brenner and, as a committed socialist, was also active in the trade union movement. He was a pacifist who advocated peaceful coexistence and the integration of Jewish and Arab society in Mandate Palestine.

Sereni was sent to Europe in 1931–1934 to help bring people to Palestine and was arrested briefly by the Gestapo. He was also sent to the United States to help organise the Zionist movement there.

During the Second World War, Sereni joined the British Army and was involved in disseminating anti-fascist propaganda in Egypt. The British sent him to Iraq where Sereni spent part of his time organising clandestine emigration to Mandate Palestine. When he was caught with forged passports, he was briefly imprisoned by the British Army but when released, he then took a leading role in organising a secret Jewish parachute unit, trained by SOE, that sent agents into occupied Europe under both SOE and MI9 auspices. Of some 250 volunteers, around 110 were selected for training, and 33 were actually parachuted into Europe, including Sereni who insisted on taking an active part, despite his relatively advanced age of 39. On 15 May 1944 he was parachuted into northern Italy, but was immediately captured. He was executed in Dachau concentration camp on 18th November 1944. Kibbutz Netzer Sereni in Israel, and many streets throughout the country, are named after him.

Captain Enzo Sereni is commemorated, with the spelling Serini, on panel 26, column 3 of Brookwood’s Memorial to the Missing 1939-45.

Captain Adolphe ‘Alec’ Rabinovitch was born to a family of Jewish extraction in Russia and raised in Mandate Palestine and Egypt, he studied in Paris and in the United States before the outbreak of the war.

In 1939 he volunteered for the French Foreign Legion and fought in northern France against the German invasion in 1940. He was taken prisoner by the Germans in June 1940 but escaped after three months. He then made his way to Britain via Spain and became an agent of F (French) Section, SOE, training as a radio operator.

He was first parachuted into France on 27/28 August 1942 north of Grenoble. Despite original plans for him to operate in the Paris area, he became the radio operator, with the field name Arnaud, for the SPINDLE network of Captain Peter Churchill and his courier, the (later) famous Odette Sansom. He managed to evade capture when that network collapsed. With Victor Hazan (codename “Gervais”), he got back in contact with the network’s contacts around Annecy and on the Côte d’Azur before returning to England via Spain. He parachuted back into France on the night of 2/3 March 1944 with orders were to set up and command his own, new, BARGEE network, but the landing site was under German control and he was wounded and captured as he landed. He was interrogated in Paris and then deported to Gross-Rosen concentration camp in what is now Poland, where he is believed to have been executed in the summer of 1944.

Peter Churchill dedicated his book Duel of Wits to “my beloved Arnaud, the late Captain Alec Rabinovitch, a violent, difficult, devoted and heroic radio operator, and through him to all ‘underground’ men and women of his supreme calibre who died, as they lived, in solitude. Their feats are legendary and beyond all military awards”. In the 1950 classic British film ‘Odette’, Rabinovitch was played by actor Peter Ustinov.

Captain Adolphe ‘Alec’ Rabinovitch is commemorated on panel 21, column 3 of Brookwood’s Memorial to the Missing 1939-45.

Volunteer Baruch Jacobson was a participant in SOE’s OPERATION BOATSWAIN, the first of the operational missions carried out by the Palmach, the elite special forces element of the Haganah, the defence organisation of the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine, in conjunction with the British during World War II.

The first planned action was a sabotage mission against the Vichy French oil installations at Tripoli, Lebanon. It was feared that the refinery would provide the the Germans with aircraft fuel, and help thwart the planned Allied invasion of Lebanon and Syria. The refinery was in an area well-guarded by a unit of Senegalese troops of the hostile Vichy French army.
A motor launch, the Sea Lion, carrying the 23 Palmach commandos (later known as “the twenty-three who went down with the ship” and their SOE British liaison officer, Major Sir Anthony Palmer, embarked from Haifa on the morning of 18th May 1941. They were not seen again.

It has never been determined exactly what happened to them, the most likely explanation being that rough weather and high seas capsized their overladen boat. The failure of the mission and loss of the 23 Jewish volunteers was a tragic blow to the Jewish community in Mandate Palestine and delayed the building of the Jewish naval equivalent to the Palmach – the Palyam. The legacy of the “23 Who Went Down at Sea” nevertheless still serves as a source of inspiration to Israel’s service personnel.

It was not until 2015 that AJEX archivist Martin Sugarman provided the necessary evidence for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to formally commemorate the 23 on their web site and, in 2016, to inscribe their names on the Memorial to the Missing at Brookwood.

Voulunteer Baruch Jacobson is commemorated on panel 27, column 1 of Brookwood’s Memorial to the Missing 1939-45.

Finally, we also remembered Captain Erwin “Peter” Deman MC, following contact from his son, Michael Deman.

Erwin Deman’s parents were Hungarian Jews and his childhood was spent alternatively between Vienna, his birthplace in April 1921, and Budapest. During part of the Great War his father had been a prisoner of war in northern England, and instilled strongly pro-English feelings in his son.

As a young man, he travelled widely throughout Europe and when war broke out he went at once to France to enlist in the 22e Régiment de Marche de Volontaires Etrangers, one of the French units which fought hard in the summer disaster of 1940. Deman was taken prisoner when he ran out of ammunition, and sent to Germany, but at once escaped back to France and got over to Algeria by enlisting in the Foreign Legion. From this he deserted – with some 3,000 companions – the moment Allied troops arrived in north-west Africa, and was persuaded to volunteer for the Special Operations Executive. Once accepted and trained, he joined SOE’s DF Section to run a sea escape line called “Var” between Brittany and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

In July 1943 he went back to France by Hudson aircraft and settled in Rennes as an insurance agent, giving him plausible reasons for travelling. He secured a pass to visit the forbidden coastal zone, and over the winter of 1943-44 the “Var” escape network ran 16 successful operations, carrying a total of 70 men and women to and from France. They never lost a passenger; but two of the agents working with Deman, his wireless operator Raymond Langard and his American assistant Emile Minerault, both died in German concentration camps, and several of his French helpers were arrested. Lieutenant Raymond Lagarde is listed on the Memorial to the Missing 1939-45, panel 22, column 1.

Deman came back to England from France for consultation using the rival “Vic” escape line overland via Spain, in the record time of seven days, returning by naval motor gun boat. He was back at his desk in Rennes after ostensibly taking a fortnight’s leave. He was recalled again to England after working for seven months and was awarded a well-earned Military Cross.

‘The Exhortation’ was recited by Ray Windmill on behalf of the Brookwood Last Post Association. A wreath was laid by Dana Erlich, assisted by the Israeli Defence Attaché, on behalf of the State of Israel and 3 x individual Magen David tributes (the Jewish Star of David equivalent to Christian poppy crosses), provided by the Secret WW2 Learning Network, were placed by the Israeli Naval Attaché. Louisa Russell, Chair of The Secret World War Learning Network, placed a Magen David to remember Captain Peter Deman. Mike Bluestone, President of AJEX, recited the Kaddish prayer.

Paul McCue of the Brookwood Last Post Association read an untitled poem from the collection ‘Leaves of Buchenwald’, written by Lieutenant Maurice Pertschuk MBE, another Jewish SOE agent commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing – panel 22, column 1.

Pertshuk was executed in Buchenwald Concentration Camp on 29 March 1945, just 13 days before the camp’s liberation by Allied forces. He was 22 years old.

The leaves fall,
Dwindle through space,
Curling round time with the wrinkled grace
Of slow decaying hands that call
For one more beat of throbbing life.

The daylight creeps into your soul,
Sweeping a light dream
Blown with the fluid sap of a moonbeam,
But in the shadow lingers
The velvet touch of her soft fingers.

Our Standard Bearer was Alan Lopez and Mrs Ruth Moore sounded the Last Post.

Members of the Almac Bisley Brass Band attended and played accompanying tunes as well as playing the National Anthem.

Photos are reproduced with the permission of Antony McCallum of Wyrdlight.

August Last Post

A remarkable ceremony as it is the first ceremony that we have remembered not only a Commonwealth or allied loss, but as the 75th anniversary of VJ Day is on 15th August we also remembered the enemy.

We remembered Private Mathijs and Warrant Officer Robinson.

75 years ago today, Belgian Army soldier Private Guillaume Mathijs, aged 28 died here in England on 2nd August 1945, he is buried in plot 26, row B, grave 9.

Even on the last day of the war, 15th August 1945, there was the death in service of a soldier buried at Brookwood – Warrant Officer II George Edward Robinson, service no. 6768279 of the Royal Artillery, aged 39, son of George Paul and Alice Maud Robinson, husband of Minnie Robinson, of Sutton, Surrey. He is buried in plot 5, row B, grave 17.

Our poem also reflected the Far East war and research surrounding it revealed a surprising, and relatively-local, connection.

The untitled poem is one of the more intriguing – and shortest – of the famous poems of WWII and was penned by Admiral Takijiro Onishi of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Onishi was one of the early architects of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s air service, the force that inflicted crippling losses on the United States’ fleet at Pearl Harbor. Ironically, Onishi was one of those who had opposed the attack, foreseeing that it would lead to a war that he correctly predicted Japan could not win.

Admiral Onishi was later erroneously credited with the creation of the kamikaze suicide attack as a weapon. In reality, he had originally been against the tactic, but came to accept that it was possibly the best way to use his dwindling numbers of pilots and aircraft against overwhelmingly superior enemy forces.

Onishi was also an accomplished poet and often presented his troops and pilots with pieces written in traditional Japanese calligraphy. His most striking poem, just ten words long and therefore the shortest that we have used at Brookwood, was reserved for his suicide note. For on 16th August 1945, after Japan surrendered on the 15th, Onishi committed suicide by seppuku, also known as harakiri, having sent thousands of Japanese airmen to their deaths in a war they had ultimately lost.

He wrote simply:

Refreshed, I feel like the clear moon. After the storm.

The relatively-local connection came from our Association’s historian finding that Onishi had been sent to England from 1918 to 1919 by the Imperial Japanese Navy to learn to fly with the new Royal Air Force’s Central Flying School at RAF Netheravon in Wiltshire, only 40 miles from Brookwood. Onishi was also to study Britain’s increasing use of aircraft carriers – a development that Japan was to copy with devastating effect.

VJ Day 2020 will be the final act of remembrance for the 75th anniversaries of the Second World War, but 80th anniversaries of 1940 are also now already occurring, reminding us that the war continued for six, long years. We therefore remembered two soldiers of the Canadian Army that had come to Britain in 1940, in the early, and some of the darkest, days of the war, to help defend our shores against an expected German invasion. Both died 80 years ago today, on 2nd August 1940:

Gunner Edward Paul Brandenburg, service no. M/4038 of 2nd Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, aged 24, son of Ferdinand and Martha Brandenburg of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and buried in plot 3, row O, grave 8.

Private Louis Lavoie, service no. E/4177 of Royal 22e Régiment (Royal Vingt-Deuxieme regiment – the famous infantry regiment, the Van Doos), aged 25, son of Sylvio and Lucia Lavoie of Bic, Quebec Province, Canada, buried alongside Gunner Brandenburg in plot 3, row O, grave 7.

We had several standards on parade. Our Standard Bearer was Alan Lopez and bugler Mrs Ruth Moore.

Historical research and notes by Paul McCue of the Secret WW2 Learning Network.

July Last Post

Today at a relatively subdued ceremony a few people were present for the July Last Post.

Paul McCue of the Secret WW2 Learning Network read out the Individual Remembrances. We remembered Soldato (Private) Guiseppe Piazza and Warrant Officer Bruce Ferguson Butchart.

Soldato Piazza was a member of the Italian army and died on 5th July 1945, he is buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Warrant Officer Butchart was with the Royal Australian Air Force. He was 20 years old when we died on 5th July 1945 and is buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery. He is also remembered on the Australia War Memorial, Canberra and the World War II Honour Roll, National War Memorial of SA, Adelaide.

We had members of the Suffolk Re-enactment Regiment with us on parade.

Alan Lopez was our Standard Bearer and Mrs Ruth Moore sounder the Last Post.