Monday, 9 November 2009

The Lady meets the Old Master

An article of mine was published in 'The Lady', Tuesday November 10th. The subject, of course, was the extraordinary life of Micky Burn, and the piece was beautifully illustrated by Scott van Osdol's photos. Amongst a host of other adventures the text describes how Micky became involved in the operation of the Colditz Castle secret radio ( Here he is, seated at the radio in its new - rather easier to get at - position in the castle's museum: it used to be hidden high up in the roof. (Image copyright Scott Van Osdol)

Speaking of Scott's photographic expertise, we are proposing that his vibrant, detailed images of surviving Charioteers, including Micky of course, be contained in a commemorative volume whose working title is 'THE LAST OF OUR LADS'. Constructed around a series of photo-essays, its purpose is to bring past and present together in such a way as to pay due tribute to an extraordinary group of men. An abridged version of the book is currently being considered by publishers. We think it's a work of art. Fingers crossed!

If you're wondering where the term 'Old Master' comes in, just look at this image captured by Scott in the Osteria Italiana - erstwhile Osteria Bavaria - in Munich, where Unity Mitford used to spend endless hours waiting to be noticed by Hitler, and where all those years ago her rash young friend Micky, decided that waiting was unacceptable and presented himself to the Führer and his entourage in the courtyard where they were dining. Plus ça change....! 

(Caravaggio, anyone?)

Monday, 5 October 2009


Saturday October 3rd was something of a banner day for the Charioteers and their families, as they were hosted by the port of Falmouth for a day-long series of events organised - expertly - by Eric Dawkins. Following a comfortable evening in the Royal Duchy Hotel, who had offered a very reasonable package to all those taking part, we assembled at the Chariot memorial on Prince of Wales pier for a Service of Memorial attended by numerous dignitaries, British and French, and representatives of several of HM ships. As you can see from the very inexpert snap above, the event attracted quite a crowd and will no doubt be described in detail for the next newsletter of the St Nazaire Society. A short service was conducted by the Reverend Barrington Bennetts, with General Corran Purdon giving a reading which ended with the Kohima Epigram - "When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrows we gave our today".

The Service on the pier was followed by a reception on board the type 22 frigate HMS Chatham, sister ship of HMS Campbeltown, whose captain, Commander Huntington, and crew made everyone welcome on the afterdeck. A photo of the 'sting in her tail' is shown above.

That evening, prior to dinner in the Royal Duchy, there was a presentation to his niece, Elizabeth Ungly, of a book about Micky Burn and the boys of his No 6 Troop, written by the Australian author and historian Peter Stanley. The book recounts the extraordinary efforts of Micky's parents in the months and years following the raid, to determine the fate of 'the boys' and maintain contact with and between their all-too-often grieving families. The presence of M. Charles Nicol's son with his Breton pipes added a wonderful Celtic flavour to the event, this including his accompaniment of Siobhan Blake's moving rendition of 'Amazing Grace'. Indeed the presence of the representatives from St-Nazaire gave a particular context to the whole affair, with the Mayor, M. Joel Batteux, MBE, making a speech in unfamiliar English. In addition to M. Batteux there were, Mme Tesseyre, Deputy Mayor, Madam Boeff, Corporal Nicol, mentioned above, and M. and Mme Charles Nicol (Charles is Director of Communication for the port and a long-time friend of the Charioteers).

The whole event took us back to a time when the engine of civilization was not almost exclusively corporate and when concepts such as duty and honour were not so speedily dismissed at they are perhaps today. To illustrate this is the return journey, by train, from Falmouth to Shrewsbury, of Dr and Mrs Bill 'Tiger' Watson who were a little slow in making the transition between platforms in order to catch a connecting train. A request was made that the train be held for just a minute so that they could make it - needless to say this was not granted. Welcome to the world of frantic, impersonal 2009!

Thursday, 16 July 2009


Memories etched in time

The above image, by photographer Scott van Osdol, of Austin Texas, shows Micky Burn - Captain in charge of 6 Troop 2 Commando at the time of the Saint-Nazaire raid - at the base of the Old Mole, close to the point where the Motor Launch on which he and his men were traveling - ML192 - was destroyed by fire with great loss of life. The image was taken earlier this year during Micky's expedition to Saint-Nazaire, Munich and Colditz Castle, this being part of our ongoing project to document fully his extraordinary life.

From the substantial footage already shot, we have assembled a 'teaser', which can now be viewed at - This should, we hope, give a preliminary 'feel' for just how much more there is to come.

Shooting continued at Micky's home in North Wales over the last five days, with an expert camera crew from New York: as per usual, and despite his 96 years, we wore out before Micky did. 'Commando spirit', it would seem, does not decline with the passing of the years.