Friday, 17 April 2015

'Its Alive!' - well, the St Nazaire Society website is, finally.... 

But with a new address, being as we still can't get the old one back! The new address is - 
www.saintnazairesociety.org
Work on developing this will be ongoing throughout the next few months, and at the conclusion we really hope to have the most informative site possible. It is aimed at families, researchers, and schools and will eventually have a 'schools' section to be used by teachers and pupils. Many of the illustrations are in vector format which means they can be enlarged without loss of definition.
For those seeking information on relatives who served, there will shortly be a 'How to research' page with helpful hints and relevant links: it can seem daunting - but it really isn't. 

The new site is designed for monitors, laptops and tablets: the graphic content is still too complex for all but the largest-screen phones. However, a trimmed-down site for very small screens is on the cards as, hopefully, is a French version of the site.

For those of you who followed the older posts about Captain Micky Burn, I am delighted to say that the feature-length documentary about his life Turned Towards the Sun will shortly be available as a dvd from Amazon, for a mere £9, at this link for pre-order -
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Turned-Towards-Sun-Micky-Burn/dp/B00SZ0ANB8/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1429289513&sr=1-1&keywords=turned+towards+the+sun

Micky's was a life lived to the full, and it's a privilege to have been involved in telling even a portion of his story. No film could cover the full scope of an almost century of breaking all the rules; so, if you feel like exploring further, and have an ample supply of favourite 'tipple' check these links -
http://www.jamesgdorrian.com/Micky%20Burn%20documentary%20page.html
and - http://turnedtowardsthesun.com/HOME.html

There is a hugely important moral here: life is for living, not selling in exchange for a title, or a big house, or a flashy car. When you reach your expiry date and look back on your life, try to ensure that you recall it was filled with content, with experimentation, with exploration, with dreams, and with love - as Micky says in the film 'the key to happiness is always being in love - with some one, or some thing'. Don't accept anything less.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015



For the web address www.stnazairesociety.org - Why am I still getting a blank page?

For many years now the website of the St Nazaire Society has had the web address www.stnazairesociety.org This was administered for the Society by a company in High Wycombe, who took care of  both hosting and domain name administration.

Earlier in 2014 the Society, given the ever-increasing rise in both interest and the availability of research material, decided to move site-building and maintenance in-house, where additions, amendments, etc, could be made at a moment's notice by those with an intimate understanding of the subject matter.

The company were informed of this and asked not to proceed with renewal of the Society web address, scheduled for January of 2015. For whatever reason the domain WAS, however, renewed, and now appears lost in the ether as, while that company no longer seems to play a role, www.stnazairesociety.org is proving tediously difficult to transfer from the registrar through whom it was renewed, i.e. Internetters (incorporating skymarket).

Tsohost.com, our new host, to whom we wish to transfer the address and who have been very helpful, has made numerous transfer requests over the last few months, and yet the domain continues to show, as of 23rd February,  'Pending Owner Approval', and as of the 24th, 'Transfer failed' (again!).

Requests from the Society directly to Internetters continue to be diverted to their support centre - to access which, by email or phone, requires a customer login - and the Society is not a customer. It has been already been explained that we are a commemorative organisation, not a business, and that the failure to complete the transfer is making it unnecessarily difficult for families and friends to access the stories of the veterans of the Saint-Nazaire Raid in whom they have an interest

Material CAN be accessed via the holding address www.operation-chariot.org - but only by those who can be informed of the change - which is certainly not our world-wide following. 

We will continue to push for the restoration of the familiar web address, and will keep you updated as to progress. However, we may be left with no option other than to re-launch with a new web address.

A copy of this blog was sent to Internetters for comment prior to publication: sadly the response was, as ever, contact our customer support centre. One might have thought, given the Society's role, that a more helpful response would have ensued.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Micky Burn site update
The passing of the years has done nothing to diminish my memories of dear Micky. As his website, the work of Greg Olliver, who directed the film 'Turned Towards the Sun', has been updated, you should visit this link, and in so doing revisit the life of a man who really made the most of his long life, and continues to be an inspiration for many.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

R.I.P Hugh ARNOLD (ML446)

Photo courtesy of Scott VanOsdol - www.vanosdol.com

I recently received sad news of the passing of Hugh Arnold - in raid terms Sub Lieutenant Hugh Wilson Arnold, RNVR, DSC, of Motor Launch 446. Hugh's launch, captained by Lieutenant Dick Falconar, RNVR, M.i.D, was at the tail of the port column of attacking MLs, carrying Captain 'Bertie' Hodgson's Commando party, a small medical team under Captain Mike Barling, RAMC, and a Belgian member of the Special Operations Executive, Captain D.R. de Jonghe. Hugh was badly wounded in the conflict in the estuary, and the short extract below, from 'Storming St Nazaire' may help convey the ferocity of the response awaiting his, and the other, small boats. The 446 was to have put her men ashore on the Old Mole, however this structure's gun defences remained in action throughout, making it impossible for Falconar to put her alongside. She succeeded in making it out of the estuary, where she was scuttled.


Hugh's actions during the raid resulted in the award of the Distinguished Service Cross (The London Gazette of Tuesday 19th May, 1942)

Here is the 'Telegraph' notice giving details of the funeral arrangements.

ARNOLD - Hugh Wilson, DSC. Aged 92, peacefully on 17th December at Arbrook House Nursing Home. Beloved husband of Pam, loving father of Rob and Alice. Memorial Service at St Andrew's United Reformed Church, Walton-on-Thames, KT12 1LG on 31st December at 12.30 p.m. No flowers please. Donations, if desired, to St Nazaire Society c/o Lodge Brothers 01372 463903 or www.lodgebrothers.co.uk

UPDATE: to read Hugh's obituary in the 'Telegraph' go to this link - 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10559235/Hugh-Arnold-obituary.html





Friday, 29 November 2013

'Turned Towards the Sun' DVD

If you are amongst the many waiting for Micky Burn's film to finally appear on DVD, check out this link - https://www.facebook.com/pages/TurnedTowardsTheSun/294619273982008. The page also contains news that U.S. distribution might not be far off - which means that finally somebody must have wakened up to the fact this is a story that needs telling. If and when I get any more detail on this, I will post it here. I can almost hear old Micky's spirit muttering....'....fame at last!'


Thursday, 14 November 2013

SPEAN BRIDGE, NOVEMBER 2013

The Commando Memorial


Standing high on the hills above Spean Bridge, in the middle of wartime 'Commando Country', the Commando monument looks out over a landscape of stunning natural beauty. To its left, in the image above, is Ben Nevis. A mere ten-minute drive from Fort William, the location becomes 'Commando Central' each November as commandos, past and present, along with families and friends, gather to remember those who have fallen in the various conflicts that still trouble our world.

Close by is a circular area where personal tributes can be laid to individuals and to units, and it is especially sad to see the most recent and realise the human race has still signally failed to learn the many lessons of the past (see below).


Details of the annual ceremonies are to be found on the website of the Commando Veterans' Association, and if you have never been, then a visit really is something you should consider. This year's events began on the Friday, and ended on Sunday: they included a visit to Achnacarry - 'Castle Commando', a Saturday evening dinner to which all were invited, a ceremony in front of the Alexandra Hotel, and of course the gathering beside the monument itself, with the skirl of the pipes ringing through the clear air. Amongst the many groups and individuals laying wreaths it was heartwarming to note the Army, Navy and Air Force cadets. Also to note the overdue presence of an Operation Chariot wreath laid, on this occasion, by Commando Bill Holland's daughter Denise Orzel.


Plans are afoot to resurrect the 'Commando Trail' idea with information boards at selected points throughout the area, each containing a QR code linking directly to the appropriate portion of the CVA website. This will allow visitors to have immediate access to the stories relevant to each particular location. Achnacarry was central to the training of both Commandos (Army and Royal Marines) and American Rangers. It was, however, not the first location to be so used, that honour going to Inverailort House and the Lochailort area some thirty miles away - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverailort_House.
Here, and in the area surrounding it, the first Irregular forces were trained - as were agents of the Special Operations Executive. The CVA website, at www.commandoveterans.org/‎ is a rich source of information, and well worth a visit.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

FACEBOOK - 1940s style...

If we've gone so far as to hypothesise the existence of blogging in the 1940s, why not extend our speculative exercise to include Facebook as well? The very notion of 'Social Media' in an era when communication relied on telephone, telegram and hand-written letters, might have seemed fanciful indeed; however, the immediacy of our digital world might well have provided for historians an altogether richer commentary, much of it made public without the more careful consideration that attends the laborious process of hand-writing. 

In pursuit of this idea we at PORT 20 have set up Facebook pages for three of the raiders, whose content, based on interviews and written material, will reflect their attitudes and feelings in the months leading up to the raid. In two of the cases published works exist which the reader can access to more thoroughly examine the lives of the men involved: for Micky Burn, we have his autobiography 'Turned Towards the Sun', plus his last volume of poems, 'Poems as Accompaniment to a Life'; and for General Corran Purdon we have his autobiography 'List the Bugle'. All three are currently out of print; however copies should be available through your local library. In every case the books are well worth reading, and their Amazon links are given below.




For the individual Facebook pages here are the links by means of which we can enter a world whose developing drama would change the lives of Micky, Corran, 'Tiger' and so many others for ever.



Sunday, 27 October 2013

BLOGGING - 1940s STYLE

So, it's been a while since anything new appeared on these pages, largely due to the effort put in to setting up 'PORT 20 Productions', our new production company tasked with bringing the Saint-Nazaire story either to the big screen as a movie, or to the small screen as a miniseries. If you're wondering where the name originated, 'Port 20!' was the last steering order ever given on the bridge of HMS Campbeltown just before she struck the dock gate that was her target.

Aside from that, there are to be two new websites devoted to the raid, one on behalf of the St Nazaire Society, and the other belonging to 'PORT 20' - in addition to which I will be creating a smaller site as a personal memorial to my old friend, Micky Burn (more of which later).

Interest in the raid itself has been far from muted during this hiatus: historian Robert Lyman, who has now joined the 'PORT 20' team, recently published a new book entitled 'Into the Jaws of Death'; while news just in is that a new documentary on the raid is being made by 'Impossible Films' - more details as I get them.

And now for dear old Micky who, in spite of having passed on corporeally, remains a constant inspirational presence in my mind. Rumours are that the documentary version of his autobiography 'Turned Towards the Sun' will soon be available as a dvd on Amazon - and again I'll add the information as I have it (see the trailer here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAZk5GoW33A)

As mentioned above, I'll be making up a small website about his life and experiences. Meanwhile, the idea struck me that had blogging been available all those years ago, Micky would certainly have made use of the opportunity. So it seems only fair to sweep away the intervening years and give him a chance to do just that by using his own experiences to illuminate the five month period between now and the 72nd anniversary of the Saint-Nazaire Raid just as though it were the period October '41 to March '42. Sometimes the words will be his own: sometimes they will be mine. But always they will be representative of Micky's mind.   

Late '41 found Micky in Moffat, Scotland, where he and his number 6 Troop, 2 Commando were billeted - in his case in the Star Hotel, under the watchful and ever-solicitous eye of Mrs Butler. The war, and the prospect of action, seemed equally far away as training ground on and on while in London the whole future of the Commando experiment remained under threat from a determined traditionalist lobby. 



The threat was nothing particularly new; but the fact of having to fight enemies at home before they could engage with the real foe, was beginning to take its toll on commitment, as reflected in a letter written to his mother some months earlier, but still very much germane to this period. 

'We became troubled about our unemployed elitism..... I wrote to my mother, "We are all grossly overfed and spoilt. One has to knock at the door and ask if the soldiers are in if one wants them and instead of issuing orders for a parade, I am thinking of sending out cards: Capt. Burn At Home 0900-1300 hrs. Uniform. R.S.V.P Please bring your rifle."' (TTTS p118)

Having once courted National Socialism, Micky was now determined to fight against it - which is why he had joined the Commandos in the first place. The lack of opportunity rankled all the more as fallow month followed fallow month. Really, he knew he must act soon - but the thought of abandoning his boys might be one cross too heavy to bear..... 



Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Jason Beart
Sad news just received that Jason Beart, son of Lieutenant Eric Henry Beart RNVR, lost at Saint-Nazaire, passed away on Good Friday last. A talented musician and composer, Jason was a long-standing member of the committee of the St Nazaire Society, serving as treasurer until diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Jason's family plan a private family burial and in about two months time a musical event to celebrate his life (information courtesy of Ann Mitchell). 

Monday, 1 April 2013

ROAD TRIP to SAINT-NAZAIRE, MARCH 2013


At the 'Monument du Commando', March 28th, in beautiful sunshine. Left to right, David Tait (whose uncle, Lieutenant Morgan Jenkins, of 6/2 Commando, was killed during the raid), Mrs Joan House (who has only recently discovered that her father, Stoker Petty Officer Reginald Hodder RN, of HMS Campbeltown, long believed to have been lost without trace, has actually been interred for all these long years without her knowing, along with his comrades in the war-cemetery at La Baule/Escoublac), and Peter Lush, dedicated and knowledgeable Saint-Nazaire tour guide shortly (we hope) to join the committee of the St. Nazaire Society.

Morgan Jenkins, 6 Troop

And so, for the full story of a trip that only covered three full days, but seemed, from its content, to last a week.

Much as we like living 'up north', it does have the significant disadvantage of being very far away from Europe - especially if one is travelling by car, as we were. In the end we just made it in time for the gathering at La Baule/Escoublac war cemetery on Wednesday afternoon, after a full nine hours in the car plus an overnight ferry trip from Portsmouth to Le Havre (it had seemed like a good idea when we planned it....). The only really stressful bit was complying with French motoring laws which have now been expanded to include breathalysers. AND you can't use a sat-nav capable of picking up speed-traps (800 euro fine, so I'm told). What on earth will they go for next? On-board defibrillators ....!

To elaborate on 'just making it in time', we were to have picked up David and Janet Tait in town by 2.30 before going on to the cemetery- sedately - but didn't make it until near the 3.00pm deadline, necessitating a mad drive through Saint-Nazaire whose psychological effect on the Taits might possibly be judged by their decision to return to town with somebody else!

As ever the cemetery was beautifully cared for and bathed in sunshine, and the highlight of that particular visit was Mrs House's first ever sight of her father's grave. If you ever wonder about the value of history and research, well, here it is, proving that even after all this time lives can still be changed by fresh information.

Having always stayed in Saint-Nazaire, we thought it worth trying La Baule this year, especially given its magnificent beach and quiet lanes lined with old-style villas. We chose the Hotel Lutetia (http://www.lutetia-labaule.com/) a short stroll from the beach, and can recommend it highly - and not just for the fact the friendly staff will deliver a full breakfast to one's room. Well worth a look, but a full 25-minute drive from the centre of Saint-Nazaire, although much of this is along a beautiful 7km-long boulevard.


La Baule, looking towards Pornichet

At six o'clock there was a gathering at the Brasserie le Ponton, within the U-Boat Pens, for drinks, prior to the party splitting up for a main meal. Most attended the St Nazaire Society dinner, while we 'Celts' strolled off to a nearby creperie, decked with Breton flags and Celtic symbols, where a great time was had by all. The gathering at Le Ponton was the first real opportunity for all-comers to meet, including our Breton chums, Hubert Chemereau's beautiful (Irish dancing) daughter Gwenn, German historian Lutz Pietschker and French author Jean-Charles Stasi. 

Thursday morning began at 10.00 with a Breton tribute at the Old Mole, where so many of the MLs fell victim to German fire during the raid. Much flag-waving, and several speeches, including one of my own, all with the theme of 'encouraging' the local powers-that-be to do something about adding explanatory signs to the various portions of the battle-area, not least the Mole. The structure proved all but impregnable back in 1942 yet, today, there is no indication whatever of the sacrifices made there. Not nearly good enough...


Self at the Old Mole, with just enough light to show off one's best features. The vessel shown is following the path taken by HMS Campbeltown on her last charge towards the Normandie dock. The coloured flag in view represents all the Celtic nations.


As ever, 11.00 meant gathering at the Monument du Commando for the main parade. Sadly, this year, only two of the veterans were able to make it, General Corran Purdon having had to cry off at the last minute due to ill-health. This year Dr Bill 'Tiger' Watson and Stephen Barney (HMS Atherstone) were joined in the wreath-laying party by Mrs House.

On past occasions the Vin d'Honneur at the Town Hall, which always follows the parade, marked the end of the official ceremonies; however, this year it was followed by a special showing of the Micky Burn feature-documentary 'Turned Towards the Sun', at the Salle Jacques Tati. Preceded by a press-conference, and followed by a Q & A session during both of which I stood in for the director, who wasn't able to make the trip, this transpired to be a marvellously warm occasion - very much a case of being amongst friends. The film was very well received indeed, which may go some way at least towards assuaging Micky's ghost's insistence that we all do more to get his story out there (but, I suspect, not for long!)

For those wishing to explore the content of Micky's life more fully, see this page - 

To consider that we were all there a full 71 years after the event, it should come as no surprise, given its success and meaning, that these visits will go on for some time yet.

See you all at the 72nd?


The skirl of the pipes; the flap of the flags: all so very atmospheric