‘We survived Hitler – Death is no stranger to us…’

Richard Maddox

 IN THE SUMMER OF 1946* the Josiah Wedgewood arrived in the port of Haifa carrying hundreds of passengers – mostly Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe – who wanted to make their home in Palestine.

JOSIAH CLEMENT WEDGWOOD, 1st BARON WEDGWOOD OF BURLASTON. A politician before and after the First World War he had a varied military career serving with the Royal Naval Air Service and the Armoured Car Section of the Royal Naval Division and as staff officer in the Army, rising to the rank of Colonel. Image © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference HU 127229. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205390526

JOSIAH CLEMENT WEDGWOOD, 1st BARON WEDGWOOD OF BURLASTON. A politician before and after the First World War he had a varied military career serving with the Royal Naval Air Service and the Armoured Car Section of the Royal Naval Division and as staff officer in the Army, rising to the rank of Colonel. Image © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference HU 127229. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205390526

Named not after an English politician who was critical of British government policy towards Jewish immigration into Palestine and involved with the Kindertransport, (1) (2) the ship was the former Royal Canadian Navy corvette K-540, HMCS Beauharnois(3)

It had been decommissioned in July 1945 and purchased secretly – together with another ex-Royal Canadian Navy corvette, ‘Norsyd‘ – in early 1946 by a front company for the Ha’Mossad Le’Aliya Bet a clandestine organisation that had been established to help Jewish immigrants enter Palestine. (4)

The Josiah Wedgewood (ex-RCNS HMCS Beauharnois) at anchor and with decks crowded and listing to port.

THE ‘JOSIAH WEDGWOOD’ (ex-RCNS HMCS Beauharnois) at anchor and with decks crowded and listing to port. Image © IWM. IWM catalogue reference E 31952. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196540.

There were 1257 refugees aboard – more than ten times the number of the vessel’s wartime crew – and included around 500 women of which around 100 were pregnant. (5)

Today these and similar settlers are known as the Ma’apilim after a reference in the Torah concerning those who having spent 40 years wandering the Egyptian desert decide against the advice of Moses to go to Israel. (6)

Sailing with a volunteer crew – including a number who had wartime naval service – from New York from 1 April 1946, the ship had a long voyage (due to technical problems) via the Azores, Gibraltar and Genoa to arrive in Savona on Italy’s north-west corner at the end of May. (7)

JEWISH REFUGEES ON BOARD THE 'JOSIAH WEDGWOOD' as the ship arrives at Haifa on 1 July 1946. From the funnel to the masts is tied a banner declaring "We survived Hitler - Death is no stranger to us - Nothing can keep us from our Jewish homeland - The blame is on your head if you fire on this unarmed ship" Image IWM. IWM catalogue reference E 31953. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196541

Jewish refugees on board the JOSIAH WEDGWOOD as the ship arrives at Haifa on 1 July 1946. From the funnel to the masts is tied a banner, the wording aimed at British authorities. It declares “We survived Hitler – Death is no stranger to us – Nothing can keep us from our Jewish homeland – The blame is on your head if you fire on this unarmed ship” Image IWM. IWM catalogue reference E 31953. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196541

The vessel – less than 64 metres overall – had been intercepted by HMS Venus, a Royal Navy destroyer serving with the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla based at Fort St Angelo, Malta. (8)

The intercepted ship was escorted into Haifa and those aboard were interned at the Atlit detention camp some 20 kilometres south of Haifa.

HMS Venus also intercepted the Haganah (renamed from the Bilbao and another former corvette, ex-HMCS Norsyd) also in July 1946. Haganah had sailed via Marseille to pick up refugees from Yugoslavia. The refugees from this ship were also detained at Atlit (9)

THE V-CLASS DESTROYER HMS VENUS. Image © IWM. IWM catalogue reference FL 20930. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205121607

The Destroyer HMS Venus.. Image © IWM. IWM catalogue reference FL 20930. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205121607

The Royal Navy were maintaining a blockade of Palestine designed to enforce immigration restrictions.

Under a Mandate from the League of Nations dating from June 1922, Britain had been assigned to administer the area, to oversee the advancement and well-being of the population on a temporary basis in preparation for an eventual Jewish homeland. (10)

However, in September 1922 the League of Nations and Great Britain decided that the area to the east of the River Jordan – some 75% of area of the mandated territory – would not be used for the Jewish homeland. Instead it would eventually become the Kingdom of Jordan. (11)

Further pressure from Arab interests on the British authorities meant immigration restrictions to the area in 1930 and 1939 with Land Transfer restrictions from 1940. (12)

The crew ‘disappeared’ either during the disembarkation or having mingled with the refugees, were smuggled out of the camp. (13)

The same source says that the refugees were also freed from the camp through gaps in the fence made by sympathisers and then ‘absorbed into the general population.’

And the ships?

Having been interned at Haifa, both the Josiah Wedgwood and Haganah became part of the Israeli Navy in 1948.

The Wedgwood became Israeli Naval Ship (INS) Wedgwood (K 18) on 9 June 1948. Later the ship was renamed INS HaShomer before being broken up in 1956.(14)

The Haganah was commissioned as INS Haganah (K 20) on 18 July 1948, serving until broken up in 1956. (15)

Two other vessels from the ten-strong ‘Aliyah Bet’ fleet would join newly-formed Israeli navy. (16)

HMS Venus had a longer life, being one of a number of former Second World War destroyers converted to Type 15 fast anti-submarine frigates as part of a scheme to keep shipyards employed and update the Royal Navy. Venus’ conversion took two years starting in 1952. (17)

Later the ship was used as a target for damage assessment in 1967 and 1968 during the development of the ‘Sea Dart’ surface-to-air missile system, which was in service from 1973 until June 2013. (18) (19)

HMS Venus was towed to the breakers yard in December 1972. (20)

Note

* Dates vary according to source, with 1 July, 6 July and 27 June all given as dates when the ship entered Haifa. Some sources name the ship as ‘Yosiah Wedgwood

Sources

(1) https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2018/06/20/a-fighting-life-commemorating-josiah-c-wedgwood-founder-of-the-history-of-parliament-project/ – retrieved 18 July 2018

(2) http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1065 – retrieved 18 July 2018

(3) https://thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com/2018/06/20/a-fighting-life-commemorating-josiah-c-wedgwood-founder-of-the-history-of-parliament-project/ – retrieved 18 July 2018

(4) https://uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/786.html– retrieved 18 July 2018

(5) https://www.jta.org/1946/06/28/archive/800-men-500-women-landed-at-haifa-from-josiah-wedgwood-vessels-captain-disappears – retrieved 18 July 2018

(6) https://www.thejc.com/judaism/jewish-words/ma-apilim-1.6533 – retrieved 18 July 2018

(7) http://www.forposterityssake.ca/Navy/HMCS_NORSYD_K520.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

(8) Ibid

(9) https://www.touristisrael.com/atlit-detainee-camp-museum/16177/ – retrieved 18 July 2018

(10) http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/palmanda.asp – retrieved 18 July 2018

(11) https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-the-british-palestine-mandate – retrieved 18 July 2018

(12) https://www.un.org/unispal/history/origins-and-evolution-of-the-palestine-problem/part-i-1917-1947/ _ retrieved 18 July 2018

(13) http://jhvonline.com/from-bondage-to-freedom-woodlands-mensch-shares-his-maritime-story-hono-p10954-244.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

(14) http://yourcanadawiki.blogspot.com/2018/07/flower-class-corvette.html – retrieved 18 July 2018

(14) https://uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/786.html – retrieved 18 July 2018

(15) http://www.forposterityssake.ca/Navy/HMCS_NORSYD_K520.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

(16) http://www.machal.org.il/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=370&Itemid=637&lang=en – retrieved 18 July 2018

(17) http://www.leander-project.homecall.co.uk/Hybrid%20Frigates.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

(18) UK National Archives file reference ADM 281/224 ‘Report of damage survey of a Type 15 frigate, HMS VENUS, after a hit from a SEADART missile’. Online file reference

(19) https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/sea-dart-missile-a-parting-salute/ – retrieved 18 July 2018

(20) https://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-10DD-60V-HMS_Venus.htm – retrieved 18 July 2018

‘The Few’ become fewer – the death of Geoffrey Wellum, the youngest RAF pilot in the Battle of Britain

RICHARD MADDOX

Wellum© IWM (HU 112488)

PORTRAIT BY CECIL BEATON of two Battle of Britain fighter pilots, Flight Lieutenant Brian Kingcome (left), commanding officer of No. 92 Squadron Royal Air Force and his wingman, Flying Officer Geoffrey Wellum, with a Supermarine Spitfire at Royal Air Force Station  Biggin Hill, Kent in 1941. Copyright IWM. IWM Catalogue reference HU 112488. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205304556

GEOFFREY WELLUM, the youngest Royal Air Force pilot to serve in the Battle of Britain died on 18 July 2018 at the age of ninety-six at his home in Cornwall, England.

He joined the RAF in August 1939 at the age of 18 – ‘two weeks after ‘leaving school.’ (1) Overall the average age of a fighter pilot at that time was 20 years old. (2)

Posted in May 1940 to No. 92 Squadron (commanded by Squadron Leader Roger Bushell of ‘Great Escape’ fame who was shot down on 23 May 1940 over Calais, France) he took part in the defence of London and southern England.

Interviewed by author James Holland in 2001 (in Wellum’s local pub!) the following comments show something of the pressure on a new pilot – many of whom could fly a Supermarine Spitfire or Hawker Hurricane before they could drive a car.

Recalling his feelings at his first flight in a Spitfire – an aircraft that had no capacity for an instructor to fly with the new pilot – he told the author of his excitement and the pressure not to damage a front-line fighting machine, as well no doubt of the fears of being judged as not capable by his fellow pilots…

… It was a day that you had been waiting for for a long time but it wasn’t until my flight commander briefed me: you better take this aeroplane. I’ll come out and show you the cockpit. I’ll show you round it and if you break it there’ll be hell to pay…

No instructor in the back. You had to get it right… once my flight commander had started explaining it to me you settled down a bit and thought well this is what it’s all about.

So many things. If you stay too long taxiing on the ground the engine overheats. Be careful of the brakes because they’re nose-heavy on the ground. They tip on…

You think God I don’t want a helmet, I want a shroud in this bloody thing.

But anyway then I remember him getting off the rig and I said ‘Excuse me Sir’.

‘You don’t call me Sir, not any more. I’m a flight commander. You can call me Brian’.

I said ‘Alright, excuse me but how do you start it…?’ (3)

Having mastered the intricacies of flying he would later recall the almost serene feeling he could experience returning from a operational flight

‘Smoke is coming up from the chimneys in cottages, and you feel a sort of unknown presence, a feeling of tremendous peace…

Then you get a sense of beautiful loneliness and think, I’ve got to get down because my mates are on the ground’ (4)

large_© IWM (CH 4097)

GEOFFREY WELLUM (standing far right) with colleagues and guests from No. 92 Squadron RAF. Amongst those pictured are Wing Commander John A. Kent (nicknamed ‘Kentowski’ as he had previously served with No. 303 (Polish) Squadron RAF ), Flight Lieutenant Anthony Bartley, Mrs Trevor Wade, Flight Lieutenant Robert Holland, Pilot Officer Trevor Wade and two unidentified ladies. Standing with Wellum are Pilot Officer Sebastian Maitland-Thompson, and Flying Officer Tom Weiss (Intelligence Officer). Image copyright IWM. IWM catalogue reference CH 4097. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210118.

Wellum would later become part of Brian Kingcome flight flying in support of him. This would continue as Kingcome became No 92 Squadron’s acting squadron commander before being confirmed in the post in 1941.

Sources and further information:

(1) BBC television news report 21 July 2018

(2) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-44895703 – retrieved 21 July 2018

(3) http://www.griffonmerlin.com/wwii-interview/geoffrey-wellum/ – retrieved 21 July 2018

(4) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1162204/The-girls-base-knew-pilots–Now-radio-heard-screams-crashed-earth.html – retrieved 21 July 2018

1942 – new French coins and the ‘Vél d’hiv’ round-up

RICHARD MADDOX

TWO SIMPLE FRENCH ALUMINIUM COINS, PITTED SEVENTY-SIX YEARS OF USE.

A FRENCH ONE FRANC COIN and a smaller fifty-centime piece, both dating from 1942. Image © R Maddox 2018

On one hand they are insignificant and practically worthless. On the other they are truly valuable, telling the story of a country in turmoil, a country divided into ‘Occupied’ and ‘Free’ zones, people divided into those beaten and those who would resist, a government that claimed to be independent, but had no parliament and whose leader shared many of the views of Adolf Hitler.

The coins are to a design by Lucien Georges Bazor, Chief Engraver at the Paris Mint (1) and replaced one by Pierre-Alexandre Morlon which had been in circulation from 1931.

Morlon had produced a number of designs for coins and medals including the winning design for the French Victory Medal of the First World War. (2) (3) (4)

In comparison to his predecessor’s design Bazor’s rendition was stripped back to basics. (5)

Gone are the lofty words ‘Liberté, Égalitié, Fraternité’ – a sentiment dating from the time of the French Revolution.

Instead are the new values ‘Travail, Famille, Patrie’ – work, family and country – values that could be identified with by all.

Marrianne (6) another revolutionary symbol of France – and one of emancipation – was replaced by a double-headed axe, reminiscent of the time of the Franks, a Germanic people who invaded the Western Roman Empire in 5 century CE and gave the country its name. (7)

Ears of wheat symbolise the peasant or common man. Oak leaves and acorns replace the laurel leaves and berries on previous designs.

Even the very status of the nation was changed. No longer ’République Française’ (the French Republic) it has become ‘État Française’ – ‘the French State’.

And finally the coin is minted in aluminium instead of aluminium-bronze as copper (an ingredient of bronze) is diverted to the war effort.

It was the mark of an austere New Order.

With hindsight (always a potentially dangerous thing) it can be viewed as the sign of a wounded and conquered nation having lost so much in a previous war withdrawing into itself.

AS THESE COINS WERE BEING PASSED FROM HAND TO HAND AND THROWN INTO CASH REGISTERS, the Vichy Government under the leadership of Maréchal Phillippe Pétain was in power and administered the ‘Unoccupied’ or ‘Free Zone’ of France – about 40% of the area of Metropolitan France.

MARÉCHAL PHILLIPE PÉTAIN, head of the Vichy government shakes hands with Adolf Hitler. NOTE: Although the IWM caption gives the date as June 1940, multiple other sources state this image was taken on 24 October 1940 at Montoire-sur-le-Loir, France. Image copyright: IWM. IWM catalogue reference: HU 76027.  Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196490

But of course the regime based at the small spa town in central France was far from ‘free’ and independent, working closely as it did with the German and Italian forces that occupied the rest of France.

As an example one only has to look at the Vel d’ Hiv round-up that began on a sweltering hot July day in 1942.

Following the Armistice of 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy administration, it had – without any pressure from the German authorities – set in place a series of measures that resulted in the Statut des Juifs of 2 June 1941 that applied to all Jews – French or foreign-born, wherever they lived in France. (8)

A Jewish Affairs Office was established in 1941 that would act to ensure the rights of Jews were curtailed. (9)

Originally scheduled for 13 – 15 July the ‘Vél d’hiv’ round up of Jews in the Paris area (named after the colloquial term for the Vélodrome d’ Hiver – a sports stadium within sight of the Eiffel Tower).  The action – planned by the French authorities – was rescheduled to avoid the French National Holiday on 14 July and carried out by the French police at dawn on 16 July 1942 – netted almost 13,000 people – approximately one third being children. (10)

Just under half were sent to the Drancy internment camp outside Paris, a large unfinished housing complex. (11) This served as a holding camp for the journey to the execution camps to the east.

The rest – some 7,000 – were held in the Vélodrome in high July temperatures with only one working water tap in the whole complex. (12) No food was given to those arrested. Windows and ventilation ducts had been sealed to prevent escape and there were only a handful of nurses and only two qualified doctors at a time to provide aid.  (13) (14)

Five days later the survivors – there were a number of suicides – left for either camps in the Loiret district of France or Drancy. In almost all cases they were eventually sent to Auschwitz in Poland. (15)

The Vél d’hiv action was part of a bigger operation, (Operation VENT PRINTANIER – Operation SPRING WIND) which continued through July and August 1942.

The German authorities thought the operation might give them 25,000 Jews.

It actually brought in 33,000 individuals thanks to the co-operation of the Vichy regime who rounded up Jewish persons in the Unoccupied Zone, together with the fact that (according to one report) French born Jews and all those under 18 were to be exempt from arrest but this was argued against by the Vichy authorities.

Another report states that Pierre Laval, the Vichy Prime Minister argued that it would be more ‘humane’ to arrest children under 16 with their parents so that they could be looked after by them. (16)

The French would see further arrests and more of the ups and downs of war; the raid on Dieppe, the capture of Madagascar by Allied forces and Operation TORCH – the Allied landings in North Africa – from 8 to 16 November 1942.

This action would be in turn lead to the end of Vichy controlled France. Two days after the landings started the Germans took control of the whole country on 10 November 1942. (17)

They say ‘Money talks!’

If it did, what tales these drab pieces of aluminium could tell?

 

SOURCES

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucien_Georges_Bazor – retrieved 16 July 2018

(2) https://en.numista.com/catalogue/pieces707.html – retrieved 16 July 2018

(3) http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O72616/tank-medal-morlon-pierre-alexandre/ – retrieved 16 July 2018

(4) https://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/36149-the-wwi-victory-medal-series-france – retrieved 16 July 2018

(5) https://en.ucoin.net/coin/france-1-franc-1931-1941/?tid=30460 – retrieved 16 July 2018

(6) http://www.messynessychic.com/2017/07/14/meet-marianne-and-the-many-faces-of-the-french-republic/ – retrieved 16 July 2018 – retrieved 16 July 2018

(7) https://www.britannica.com/topic/Frank-people – retrieved 16 July 2018

(8) http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%206045.pdf – retrieved 16 July 2018

(9) http://www.yadvashem.org/odot_pdf/Microsoft%20Word%20-%205798.pdf – retrieved 16 July 2018

(10) http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/holocaust/france/vel_dhiv_roundup.asp – retrieved 16 July 2018

(11) https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005215 – retrieved 16 July 2018

(12) https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/jul/18/worlddispatch.jonhenley – retrieved 16 July 2018

(13) https://leblog1815.blogspot.com/2011/01/la-rafle-du-vel-dhiv-vel-dhiv-round-up.html – retrieved 16 July 2018

(14) https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10008213 – retrieved 16 July 2018

(15) https://leblog1815.blogspot.com/2011/01/la-rafle-du-vel-dhiv-vel-dhiv-round-up.html – retrieved 16 July 2018

(16) https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-fails-to-admit-vichy-betrayal-of-jews-1533670.html – retrieved 16 July 2018

(17) https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/germans-take-vichy-france – retrieved 16 July 2018

UPDATE

A French documentary broadcast on 3 August 2018 (18) on the subject of France and the Second World War noted that after the Liberation of Paris and during the period of the setting of the Provisional Government (with the re-establishment of a suitable peace-time legal system) the Vel d’ Hiv was used to house thousands of alleged collaborators.

Guarded by Free French Forces of the Interior members they too were taken to Drancy and imprisoned to await their fate.

A quick search online leads to a reference to David Drake’s book ‘Paris at War’ which adds that a number of the encarsurated were driven to the Drancy camp ‘in the same buses used to take Jews to the camp during the Occupation’.

The Vel d’ Hiv was partially destroyed by fire in 1959 and subsequently demolished. The site has been built on and a number of commemorative plaques and memorials have been placed in the area.

Among them is a piece by Walter Spitzer, dedicated in 1994 and showing a group of people with their bags sitting on a section of the curved cycle track. More details can be found at: http://samgrubersjewishartmonuments.blogspot.com/2013/07/paris-monuments-to-deportation-to.html

(18) L’ Été 44 – La Libération, RMC Decouverte, 22.45 3 August 2018.
http://playtv.fr/programmes-tv/rmc-decouverte/03-08-2018/ – retrieved 4 August 2018.

(19) Paris at War: 1939 – 1944, by David Drake published by Belknap Press (2015), page 415.

https://books.google.fr/books?id=LCxUCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA415&lpg=PA415&dq=paris+collaborators+held+in+vel+d%27hiv&source=bl&ots=Zkj9TS8MHp&sig=ahaQewXtU_IQaweApcLOfL9dWw8&hl=fr&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwigk8f3m9PcAhVP3RoKHa55BJgQ6AEwFXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=paris%20collaborators%20held%20in%20vel%20d’hiv&f=false – retrieved 4 August 2018.