The story of the 50 or so Britons who served in the SS unit the British Free Corps (BFC) has become fairly well known over the last decade or so, in no small part due to Adrian Weale’s excellent book Renegades: Hitler’s Englishmen. There is also a wealth of information on the BFC on the Internet. The Wikipedia entry on the unit is a reasonable place to start and has links to a number of other informative sites.
Far less well know is the story of the Germans who served in the British Forces. A recent book, the king’s most loyal enemy aliens by Helen Fry should do a little to redress this. It is certainly going on my “must purchase asap” list.
Today’s Observer ran an article about these men. Apparently more than 10,000 Germans and Austrians volunteered to join the British armed forces. They became soldiers, sailors and airmen, took part in operations behind enemy lines, carried out vital intelligence work and participated in the D-Day landings. The Great majority, around 85 to 90 per cent of them, were Jewish, many of whom would have lost family members in the Holocaust. The remainder were anti-Nazis and the 'degenerate artists' who knew what Britain was up against. Some of them would have seen the inside of concentration camps before leaving Germany.
Claus Ascher was born in Berlin in 1922. After the Second World War broke out, he was quick to volunteer his services. “The war had broken out and we felt it was our affair as much as anyone else's,” he recalled. “We were very aware of the generosity and compassion of Britain. We owed a debt to this country for saving our lives. I wasn't opposed to Germany, but I certainly was interested in fighting the Nazis.'
Like many others He took an English name. Anson said: 'My old name began with an A and, when I had to choose a new one, an Avro Anson twin-engine flew over, so I thought right, I'll have that.' Anson's father was a German First World War veteran who was disillusioned by Hitler's rise to power. He was identified as a political subversive, interned at Dachau concentration camp and murdered in 1937. Anson escaped to Britain just before his 17th birthday. In 1940 he volunteered for the armed forces, initially joining the only unit open to the refugees the non-combatant Pioneer Corps, known as 'the king's most loyal enemy aliens'. In 1942 enemy aliens were allowed to enlist in fighting units, and Anson was eventually attached to 40 Royal Marine Commando.
The risks were high: Germans caught behind enemy lines were tortured and executed as traitors. Many of those who survived helped rebuild their homelands and hunt for Nazi war criminals before settling in Britain for good. They included Sir Ken Adam, the only German fighter pilot in the RAF, who became a production designer on more than 70 films, Lord Claus Moser, former chairman of the Royal Opera House, Martin Freud, the eldest son of Sigmund Freud, and John Langford, who was Churchill's bodyguard.
The man who caught Britain's most notorious traitor was also German. Geoffrey Perry, born Horst Pinschewer, was a British army intelligence officer when he apprehended William Joyce, the propagandist 'Lord Haw Haw'. Perry, who witnessed fighting in Normandy and the horrors of Belsen concentration camp, said that, despite his nationality, he had met no hostility from fellow soldiers. 'The uniform was a common denominator. Whether you were born in Manchester or Berlin then was of little importance. They knew what you did for the army.' He added: 'The army changed my name for me. At 85, I have Perry grandchildren and my other name is long gone. If you asked my grandchildren I don't think they'd be able to spell it.'
Now more that than 60 years on over 100 veterans will gather for their first reunion at the Imperial War Museum in London. They will be welcomed by Field Marshal Lord Bramall, former chief of the general Staff, at a private event to mark their contribution to the allied victory.