Rommel’s aide-de-camp was a South African

It’s a little known fact, one of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s key officers, a person in his ‘Inner Circle’ and his personal advisor and aide was in fact a South African.  Very few South Africans joined the Nazi military forces during the Second World War, there are a number of South West Africans (now Namibia) who joined Nazi Germany’s armed forces whilst South West Africa was a South African Protectorate, which is understandable given South West Africa used to be a German colony prior to World War 1 and they were all of German heritage. A handful of South African Prisoners of War even joined or were coerced to join the Waffen SS during the war itself.

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General Rommel (centre) briefing fellow officers

However there are only three South African nationals from the Union itself (that we are aware of at least) who up-front joined the German Armed Forces proper.  Two of them were allowed to re-settle in South Africa after the war, and both of them enjoyed amnesty and prosperity under the National Party government. One remained in Germany.

One is well-known – Robey Leibbrandt, his story as a Nazi insurgent to destabilise the South African war effort by trying to ramp up Nationalist Afrikaner militarist opposition to the war and subsequent capture is well documented, so too his treason trial and subsequent release and amnesty by the National Party (who during the war supported the Nazi cause).  However little is known of this second Wehrmacht officer – Heinz Werner Schmidt.

Heinz Werner Schmidt

To be fair to Heinz Schmidt, he was born in South Africa to German parents, and at a very young age he moved around Africa with his family, classified as ‘volkdeutsche’ spending more of his formative years and completing his university education in Germany itself, becoming a dual national with a German citizenship in addition to his South African one.  Leaving South Africa at the age of 4 he regarded himself as German above all and was swept up with the rest of the country in the euphoria of Nazism.  When war broke out, he was in a unique position – he had a choice.  He could choose to fighting for either South Africa and the Allied cause or Germany (as his dual citizenship allowed), he even had the choice of sitting the war out in South Africa (service was voluntary), he chose to his convictions to support the Nazi cause and became a German Army officer.

At one point in the war he found himself in command of Wehrmacht units directly engaging South African Army units and then, more ironically, with Europe and Germany devastated he engaged his South African birthright which gave him sanctuary in South Africa itself after the war.   In fact he built two very successful South African companies and one is a well-known household brand.

So lets examine who Heinz Schmidt was and what he did. Born in South Africa, Lieutenant Heinz Schmidt served in North Africa as Erwin Rommel’s (“The Desert Fox”) personal aid and advisor – an aide-de-camp in military speak.  As he was “South African-born” he was therefore considered, in line with military logic, an expert on Africa. Already a veteran of the Polish Campaign, Schmidt joined Rommel’s staff in March 1941 from Eritrea and was subsequently present during a number of battles in Egypt and later Tunisia, and was later to write a bestseller depicting his years with Rommel, namely “With Rommel in the Desert”.

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Heinz Schmidt with General Rommel – Schmidt is third from the left.

Werner Schmidt by his own admission was surprised that General Rommel took him on as his advisor as he really did not have a depth knowledge of Africa, however been the only officer in Rommel’s inner circle of officers with a smattering of African heritage he found himself the only man for the job, and he happily took it on.

Lieutenant Heinz Werner Schmidt also had a sound combat record, just days before he was appointed as the aide-de-camp to General Erwin Rommel, he was commanding a heavy weapons company.  In fact Schmidt played a key role in overrunning the South African positions on 23rd November 1941 during the Battle of Sidi Rezegh.  He found himself in the thick of things with the German Wehrmacht’s 115 Rifle Regiment which lined up to attack the South African’s flank and over ran them.

Lieutenant Heinz Werner Schmidt described the scene as follows:

“We headed straight for the enemy tanks. I glanced back. Behind me was a fan of our vehicles—a curious assortment of all types—spread out as far as the eye could see. There were armoured troop carriers, cars of various kinds, caterpillars hauling mobile guns, heavy trucks with infantry, and motorized anti-aircraft units. Thus we roared on towards the enemy ‘barricade.’

“I stared at the front fascinated. Right ahead was the erect figure of the Colonel commanding the regiment. On the left close by and slightly to the rear of him was the Major’s car. Tank shells were whizzing through the air. The defenders (editors note: the South African Brigade) were firing from every muzzle of their 25-pounders and their little 2-pounder anti-tank guns. We raced on at a suicidal pace.”

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Battle scene at Sidi Rezegh November 1941

So, here we have a very unique instance in South African military history a ‘South African’ commanding enemy troops in direct combat against his ‘countrymen’.  In an action which devastated South African forces in defeat with the loss of many South African lives.

Lieutenant Heinz Werner Schmidt went on to have a very successful stint as Rommel’s advisor for the balance of the North African campaign, and his book on Rommel is regarded as one the most insightful works on Field Marshal Rommel.

Post War

What happened to Heinz Schmidt and in what actions he took part after the North African campaign is unclear, we know that he lived with Rommel and was even present at his 50th birthday on 15 November 1941. Heinz ended his book with the end of the African campaign – it was about Rommel after all, he did not elaborate on his movements and units in which he served, what his units did or on which front he served (Eastern, Western or Italian) after the Afrika Korps was defeated, and even after Rommel death.

What is clear is that Heinz Schmidt survived the war and like many Wehrmacht officers sought sanctuary outside wore torn Germany.  Fortunately for Heinz the very Nazi sympathetic National Party came to power in South Africa in 1948, three short years after the end of World War 2.  Heinz now chose to embrace his South African citizenship and return to his birthplace, South Africa to re-start his life.

51F3EDR4KVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_He moved to a small German community in Natal called ‘New Germany’, located just inland from Durban.  ‘New Germany’ was established well before World War 2 in 1848 by a party of 183 German immigrants.  With the strong cultural ties to Germany, German social clubs and many German compatriots, this island of German heritage in South Africa proved ideal for Heinz Schmidt to start again, and he did so with great success.

He started two companies which are now household brands in South Africa, Pineware and Gedore tools, Pineware makes household appliances under its own brand, anyone who has bought a Pineware toaster, iron or electrical appliance will know it.  Gedore tools makes the Wera line of tools.  Pineware was sold to Lion Match.

By all accounts he was a friendly and charming man, he had many humorous stories of his time with Rommel and was regularly seen at Remembrance Parades in Durban. Heinz Schmidt died in Durban after a short illness, aged 90, in 2007. At the time his holding company business, H. W. Schmidt Industrials, was family owned.

In Conclusion

There you have it, another tale of a person highly sympathetic to the Nazi cause who found success in post 1948 Nationalist South Africa.  He unfortunately (rightly or wrongly) joins Robey Leibbrand, B.J. Vorster and others who enjoyed political or business success in full sanctuary under the National Party government and as a result he was never held account or even investigated as to his actions fighting against his own countrymen.

Had this happened under Smuts’ United Party he would surely have become a ‘person of interest’ to the state, especially given his actions directly led to South African deaths.  Treason is generally legally defined as citizen ‘taking up arms’ against the country of his of citizenship.  In the case of dual citizenship (as was the case with Heinz Schmidt), if the person did not renounce his citizenship of the country he went to war against (which he did not) the usual practice during and after the war was to convict the person of treason, in the other Allied nations – especially the UK, USA and Australia many people like Heinz faced the same situation after the war, especially in the cases where their dual nationals and even nationals had joined the Waffen SS and German Wehrmacht, most received very light sentences and fines, in exceptional cases those found guilty of High Treason were executed or handed life sentences.

This however did not happen in South Africa after the war and the tenets of the law on treason for a dual national were not tested.  The only case of a South African member of the German Wehrmacht which was tested was Robey Liebbrandt, it was during the war itself, and he narrowly escaped the death sentence (Jan Smuts intervened with clemency).

The North African campaign was regarded as the ‘gentlemen’s war’ by all forces fighting it, primarily because it was fought according to the conventions.  Whether Heinz would have been simply regarded defeated Wehrmacht officer at the end of the war holding a dual nationality, had no recored of war crime and had not violated his South African citizenship rights. And then subsequently allowed to get on with his life in South Africa as a simple veteran is a matter of conjecture – we will never know as it was never challenged.

The issue of treachery aside, his book is however a sentinel work on Field Marshal Erwin Rommel – the ‘Desert Fox’ and it gives a unique and valuable historic insight into someone who is arguably regarded as one of the best military commanders of the war. Heinz Schmidt lived with and went to war with Rommel, his story is both very interesting and very unique.

erwin-rommelTo give an idea of the value his book from an insight perspective, the famous Rommel quotable quote as to using captured ‘booty’ (enemy equipment) for personal use is thanks to Schmidt’s work. Rommel, whose signature British issue goggles often worn above his visor on his cap said “Booty is permissible I assume; even for a general“. A quote which now finds itself in use in military outfits the world over when reasoning the use of ‘booty’.

With that, as South Africans we find ourselves contributing again to a rich military heritage with our own very unique history highlighting of our lessor known past of ‘Nazi’ collaborators and World War 2 Wehrmacht veterans.

Related Work

Sidi RezeghSidi Rezegh – “The South African sacrifice resulted in the turning point of the battle”

Fall of Tobruk; “Defeat is one thing; Disgrace is another!” South Africa’s biggest capitulation of arms – Tobruk

El Alamein; “General Pienaar, tell your South African Division they have done well”; The Battle of El Alamein

Robey Leibbrandt; A South African traitor & ‘Operation Weissdorn’

The South African Nazi Party; South Africa’s Nazi Party; The ‘Gryshemde’

The Ossewabrandwag; “Mein Kampf shows the way to greatness for South Africa” – The Ossewabrandwag

South Africans in the Waffen SS; South African Nazi in the Waffen SS ‘British Free Corps’

Oswald Pirow; South Africa’s ‘Neuordnung’ and Oswald Pirow


Written and researched by Peter Dickens.  Reference ‘With Rommel in the Desert’ by Heinz Werner Schmidt and Werner Schmidt’s published obituary.

‘Waffen SS’ uses the Boer War to recruit the Dutch

An interesting Nazi propaganda poster from the Second World War, with a South African spin.

Waffen SS Propaganda and the Netherlands

At the beginning of the war, the idea of the 3rd Reich and Nazism was not central to Germany, furthermore the idea of a united Europe under the discipline and economic policies of Fascist ideologies and concepts like the 3rd Reich was widely accepted by large communities in countries like France (mainly in the South), Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands (including ‘Holland’), Hungary, Croatia, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.

This poster, with the clever use of propaganda and imagery is a recruitment poster for the Waffen SS, aimed at Dutch Nationals (Netherlands Legion). It forms part of a propaganda poster campaign which asks Dutch nationals to question themselves on who exactly is a true Dutch patriot, implying the ones that join Germany in the fight against Bolshevism (“Communism” and Russia) are the true Dutchmen.


It pulls at a strong emotional trigger amongst the Dutch which was still very prevalent at the beginning of World War 2, which was the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). Dutch sentiment during the Boer War sided with the Boer Republics (driven by historical, language and cultural bonds) and many in the Netherlands where quite appalled by the way the British had conducted the war and the atrocities committed against Boer women and children. 

Thus the clever use of Paul Kruger, “speaking” a well-known phrase in Afrikaans (and Dutch) ‘Everything Will Be All Right” and this leads into a call to action in Dutch “Fight Bolshevism with the Waffen-SS”. At the time Paul Kruger (the last State President of the ‘Transvaal Republic’ i.e South African Republic) was internationally known as the face of Boer resistance against British occupation during the 2nd Anglo-Boer War.

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Johannes Brand

The phrase “alles sal reg kom” (everything will be all right) is also clever as it was coined by another Boer Republic State President – this time the Orange Free State, Johannes Brand who said in “Cape” Dutch – “alles zal recht komen als elkeen zijn plicht doet” (all will be well if everyone does his duty) and this entered popular culture as “ALLES SAL REG KOM” – both in the Netherlands and South Africa.

Subtle, but implied in the Poster by the use of Paul Kruger is the call to action to fight not only Bolshevism (Russia) but also their “allies” in the war which was the United Kingdom – so hated by many Dutch for their treatment of their “brother nation” – the Boer nation.

To really understand the Waffen-SS, it needs to be known that it was not really part of the German Army, instead it was a “political” armed wing of the German Nazi Party’s Schutzstaffel (SS, “Protective Squadron”).  The ‘SS’ and ‘Waffen SS’ are two separate entities joined at the hip.  The Waffen SS comprised military formations which were formed to include men from Nazi Germany and volunteers (and later conscripts in some cases) from both occupied and un-occupied lands.

Waffen SS Foreign Divisions

The Waffen-SS targeted occupied countries for man-power. Reason being the SS itself was limited in Germany to a very small percentage of the yearly German call up and outside of Germany they had no such restrictions on them if recruiting for the ‘Waffen’ SS.

To this end the Waffen SS initiated very strong propaganda campaigns calling members of the occupied countries to fight with them, essentially against the ‘Communist or Bolshevist Onslaught’ of Soviet Communism.  The Dutch proved the most fertile ground for this campaign, in total 25 000 Dutchmen volunteered to serve in the Waffen SS.

The Dutch by percentage of population made up the biggest number of volunteers in Europe to join the Waffen-SS. Many volunteering within six weeks of the occupation of their country by Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler resisted integrating the Waffen-SS into the army, as it was intended to remain the armed wing of the Nazi Party and his plan was for it to become an elite police force once the war was won.

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Dutch and French Waffen SS

Initially, in keeping with the racial policy of Nazi Germany, membership was only open to people of Germanic origin (so-called Aryan ancestry). The rules were partially relaxed in 1940, although groups considered by Nazis to be “sub-human” like ethnic Poles or Jews remained excluded.

Hitler authorised the formation of units within The Waffen-SS largely or solely compiled of foreign volunteers and conscripts. Foreign SS units were made up of men from Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium (both Wallonia and Flanders), Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Galicia, Georgia, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia (including Cossack and Tatar, Turkic SSR Republics), Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Asian Regiment, Arab Regiment, the United States (15–20 volunteers) and British (27 volunteers – which included Commonwealth members and even included 5 South Africans).

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Waffen SS foreign unit badges

The Waffen SS grew from initially 3 Regiments to over 38 Divisions in World War 2, serving alongside the ‘Heer’ (regular German Army) and the Ordnungspolizie (uniformed Police) and other security units.

Images show French and Flanders (Belgium) Waffen SS

Although having a fierce reputation in conventional fighting alongside the German army all over Europe – East and West fronts, at the post-war Nuremberg trials the Waffen-SS was condemned as a criminal organisation due to its connection to the Nazi Party and involvement in numerous war crimes.

Waffen-SS veterans were denied many of the rights afforded to veterans who had served in the Heer (army), Luftwaffe (air force) or Kriegsmarine (navy). An exception was made for the Waffen SS conscripts sworn in after 1943, who were exempted because they were not volunteers.


To read up a little more on South Africans involved in the Waffen SS, please feel free to follow this link to a previous Observation Post article.

South African Nazi in the Waffen SS

Researched by Peter Dickens with added research from Sandy Evan Hanes – reference Wikipedia.  Images – colourised Waffen SS, ‘Colour by Doug’ copyright.

South African Nazi in the Waffen SS ‘British Free Corps’

There is an often asked question. How many South Africans served in Nazi Germany’s Armed Forces?

The answer is not many. Two South Africans who served in the German armed forces in WW2 are well-known, Robey Leibbrandt – the firebrand Afrikaner insurgent tried for treason is possibly the most known and to a lesser extent Leutnant Heinz Werner Schmidt, who was one of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s personal aids in the North African conflict. However there where was also a smattering of South Africans – five in total, who served in the Waffen SS, and most joined the infamous “British Free Corps”.

The Waffen-SS was the armed wing of the Nazi Party’s SS organisation. Its formations included men from Nazi Germany, along with volunteers and conscripts from both occupied and un-occupied lands, as well as men drawn from Allied Forces – a small number of British, Canadians, Americans, Australians and South Africans were recruited as Prisoners of War and indoctrinated into Nazi philosophy.

Initially, in keeping with the racial policy of Nazi Germany, membership was only open to people of Germanic origin (so-called Aryan ancestry). The rules were partially relaxed in 1940, and later the formation of units composed largely or solely of foreign volunteers and conscripts was authorised.

The British Free Corps was a unit of the Waffen SS during World War II consisting of British and Dominion Prisoners of War (POW) who had been recruited by the Nazis. The unit was originally known as the Legion of St George. Only 54 men belonged to The British Free Corps at one time or another, some for only a few days. At no time did it reach more than 27 men in strength.  In this respect it was not a very successful corps of the Waffen SS.

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Two early recruits to the Waffen SS British Free Corps. Kenneth Berry and Alfred Minchin, with German officers, April 1944

The idea for the British Free Corps came from John Amery, a British fascist, son of the serving British Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery. John Amery travelled to Berlin in October 1942 and proposed to the Germans the formation of a British volunteer force to help fight the Bolsheviks.

Apart from touting the idea of a British volunteer force, Amery also actively tried to recruit Britons. He made a series of pro-German propaganda radio broadcasts, appealing to his fellow countrymen to join the war on communism.

Recruiting for the Free Corps in German Prisoner of War (POW) camps In 1944, consisted of leaflets distributed to the POWs, and the unit was mentioned in Camp, the official POW newspaper published in Berlin.

The unit was promoted “as a thoroughly volunteer unit, conceived and created by British subjects from all parts of the Empire who have taken up arms and pledged their lives in the common European struggle against Soviet Russia”.

The attempted recruitment of POWs was done amid German fear of the Soviets; the Germans were “victims of their own propaganda” and thought that their enemies were as worried about the Soviets as they were.

So, who the South Africans recruited into the Waffen SS?, Where and what we know about them is limited, however this is what has been researched:

SS-Unterscharführer Douglas Cecil Mardon (South African)

Douglas Cecil Mardon was believed to be a member of 2nd Transvaal Scottish, 2nd Field Company of the SAEC and the 1st Battalion of the Royal Durban Light Infantry.  He joined the Waffen SS around Christmas 1944 – the third of the trio of South Africans who joined the Corps at Dresden.

He possessed very rigid views on the threat to the free world of Soviet success on the Eastern Front. As a POW he had seen Russian prisoners and had come to distinctly racist conclusions about them, when he read Waffen SS British Free Corps recruiting literature it convinced him to volunteer with alacrity.

On 8 March 1945 ‘received promotion to Unterscharführer and was given command of a section.
He was undoubtedly sincere in his wish to fight against the advance of Communism’. On 15/3/1945 he removed the tell-tale BFC insignia from his uniform and substituted an SS runes collar patch.

His Allied rank was Corporal. He used the alias Douglas Hodge as a “Jackal of the Reich”. After the war he was fined £375 for high treason.

SS-Mann Pieter Labuschagne (South African)

Pieter Andries Hendrik Labuschagne joined the Waffen SS in the winter of 1944/45, he succumbed to one of Stranders’ German recruiters, Unterscharführer Hans Kauss, whilst working on a road gang. It is believed Labuschagne was originally a member of the South African Union’s Louw Wepener Regiment and Regiment President Steyn.

Deemed to be so useless by Mardon that he refused to take him. Slipped away in the direction of Dresden, to be ‘liberated’ by advancing US forces after the war. He used the alias Private Adriaan Smith as a “Jackal of the Reich”. He was found guilty of treason after the war and fined £50.

Van Heerden (South African)

Van Heerden’s whereabouts are unknown – it was said he left Pankow December 1943 – “Killed in action on 12 February 1945, during bombing of Dresden” also said to have gone from Dronnewitz to Schwerin in May 1945. He is thought to be listed as Jan Pieterson with the alias “Jackal of the Reich”. He was originally a Rifleman in a British or Allied Commonwealth Long Range Desert Patrol.

SS-Mann Lourens Matthys Viljoen (South African)

Lourens Matthys Viljoen was originally believed to be part of the 1st South African Police Battalion, he  joined the Waffen SS in Dec 1944/Jan 45 through the offices of a friendly SS NCO in charge of his working party. He was hospitalized with burns during the Dresden raids. His South African rank was Corporal. He was acquitted after the war.

Hiwi (SS foreign volunteer) William Celliers (South African)

He was a South African policeman from Windhoek in South West Africa, he did not join the British Legion of the Waffen SS, instead he went to the 1st SS Panzer Division, Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. He served in the flak detachment of Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler in the fall and winter 1943-44 until the LSSAH was sent to the Western Front, he was awarded with the Iron Cross 2nd Class.

The 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (often abbreviated as LSSAH) began as Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard, responsible for guarding the Führer’s person, offices, and residences. Initially the size of a regiment, the LSSAH eventually grew into a division sized unit.

The LSSAH independently was amalgamated into the Waffen SS. By the end of the war it had been increased in size from a regiment to a Panzer (armored tank) division.
Members of the LSSAH perpetrated numerous atrocities and war crimes, including the Malmendy massacre. They killed at least an estimated 5,000 prisoners of war in the period 1940–1945, mostly on the Eastern Front.

Operations 

The British Free Corps of the Waffen SS were allocated to the 3rd Company, under the command of the Swedish Obersturmführer Hans-Gösta Pehrson. The British Free Corps contingent was commanded by the South African – SS-Scharführer (squad leader) Douglas Mardon, and were sent join a Waffen SS Company on the eastern front, a detachment of which that was situated in the small village of Schoenburg near the west bank of the Oder River.

On March 22, as the SS Company was entrenching, it was partially overrun by an advance element of the Red Army which had blundered into its position by accident. Although taken by surprise, the SS troopers, including the British Free Corps volunteers, quickly regained their wits and launched a vigorous counterattack, driving off the Soviets.

On 16 April 1945 the Corps was moved to Templin, where they were to join the transport company of Waffen SS Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner’s HQ staff. On 29 April Steiner decided to break contact with the Russians and order his forces to head west into Anglo-American captivity.

Propaganda 

In another South African Twist, the Waffen SS even went as far as using Anglo Boer War anti-British sentiment to recruit the Dutch.  For a full story on this visit this link ‘Waffen SS’ uses the Boer War to recruit the Dutch.

Insignia and Recognition 

The featured image shows members of the British Free Corps, and is one of the few available – here is Kenneth Berry, an ex British sea-man (second left) with SS- Sturmmann Alfred Minchin (second right), an ex British Merchant sea-man talking to German officers, during a recruitment drive in Milag, April 1944.  Note the British Union Flag identifier on their sleeves.

Note the British Free Corps emblem on their sleeves, it consists of a British Union Flag (Union Jack) in a shield, underneath is a sleeve band on which “British Free Corps” is written in English. On the right hand colour tab can be seen the British “Three Lions” from the English Coat of Arms.

Retribution 

A few details of the court-martial of several Commonwealth soldiers in the British Free Corps exist, with some claiming they joined the British Free Corps to sabotage it and gather intelligence. John Amery, the founder was however sentenced to death in November 1945 for high treason and hanged. No other member of The British Free Corps was executed – sentences ranged from limited imprisonment, to fines and warnings, some were acquitted.

At the post-war Nuremberg trials the Waffen-SS was judged to be a criminal organisation due to its connection to the Nazi Party and involvement in numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Former Waffen-SS members were denied many of the rights afforded to the military veterans. An exception was made for Waffen-SS conscripts, who were exempted because they were not volunteers. About a third of the total membership were conscripts.

In the end they all fall onto the “wrong” side of history, and can be best summed up by John Amery’s epitaph written by his father:

“At end of wayward days he found a cause – ’Twas not his Country’s – Only time can tell if that defiance of our ancient laws was as treason or foreknowledge. He sleeps well.”

“Time” – unfortunately for John Amery, the Waffen SS and the British Free Corps – has now judged it all to be somewhat wayward.


Researched by Peter Dickens, source Wikipedia.