Friday, 10 December 2010


Ever had that dream where you're in a difficult position and you're shouting as loud as you can - only nobody seems to be listening? Well, I am only one amongst many who have been labouring for years to correct past errors and misconceptions relating to Operation Chariot, with a view to making a clear and accurate picture of the raid available to anyone with a mouse and the will to spend five minutes on the Internet in an effort to get things right.

Imagine the frustration then, to read in a book by Sir Max Hastings ('Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940-45')  that, instead of a combined Naval and Commando force raiding the Forme Ecluse Joubert, in Saint-Nazaire (an enormous, very much non-floating dry dock still in use today),  this was actually a 'Royal Navy' attack on a 'floating dock', which resulted in a 'generous issue of decorations...designed to make the survivors feel better about losses'. He goes on to mention that four Victoria Crosses were awarded, when in fact the number was five, and couches these awards in a tone which diminishes the heroism displayed by so many on that night. The text then goes on to talk of Tirpitz, but does not relate the fear of that ship to the attack on Saint-Nazaire, whose fictional 'floating dock' might have had some difficulty accommodating a vessel of her great size, but whose actual Forme Ecluse would have made a very suitable bolt-hole indeed.

Bearing in mind the number of people likely either to use such text as source material, or simply to form corrupt opinions because of it, such inaccuracy on the part of so eminent an historian, is puzzling to say the least.

Jeremy Clarkson's programme 'The Greatest Raid of all Time' was repeated on the BBC last Sunday. Who could ever have imagined that Jeremy Clarkson would make a greater effort to get things right than such a noted military historian!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Colditz Memories
Shortly before his death, Micky was interviewed for a programme on Colditz, whose purpose was to preface a repeat showing of the eponymous TV series from the '70s, starring David McCallum and Robert Wagner. The main series begins on the 'YESTERDAY' channel, at 10pm on Tuesday October 26th. The introductory programme - 'COLDITZ: THE LEGEND', shows on the same channel, on Monday October 25th, also at 10pm.

Micky, who had no intention of escaping from Colditz in other than an intellectual sense, was interviewed at his home in North Wales: it was his appearance in front of a camera.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Micky, our light for so long, now gone into light itself

The funeral service for Micky Burn, to whom we had all become so very close, was held on Thursday last, the 16th, at Llanfihangel Church, on a hill above the southern shore of the Glaslyn Estuary, North Wales. Micky had organised every detail of the service, including, so it would appear, the weather, with a bright sun shining down on the hundred or so relatives and friends who came to pay their respects.

The service included six of us who remembered him in speeches. Of course it was impossible to speak of Micky without recalling his many plumbing, culinary and other assorted mishaps, with the result that the church was filled with laughter. The service was followed by an equally good-humoured wake at Castel Duedraeth. 

In the days before the funeral, enquiries arrived thick and fast from those preparing obituaries, these including the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post and The Week magazine, in Australia. We will try to combine these in a form that can be made generally available.

Meanwhile work on our film about Micky's life continues apace, our filming with Micky himself having been completed prior to his passing. A final shoot is pencilled in for early November, following the London Film Festival. 

A pdf of the Order of Service will be added to the page below, which contains a moving video tribute paid to Micky by French TV- Channel 3.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Michael Burn: 1912 - 2010

74087: KRRC and 6/2 Commando

Micky passed away, at home in North Wales, on Friday evening, September 3rd. I spite of his 97 years, I guess we had all come to believe in his indestructibility. Right to the end, he was making notes for our film about his life - lest we lose our way and fail to note that he, as ever, was in charge. We now take on the task of recording and collating his very extensive archive, the record of a life lived to the full. As Micky so ably demonstrated, ageing does not have to mean 'getting old'. Discovery and achievement remain for us all as stepping-stones to ongoing accomplishment. 

His example will not be forgotten by those of us he continued to test with theories born of an interrogative intellect. Rest in Peace, Micky.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

('Micky' and 'Debo' - photo copyright Scott VanOsdol, 2010)

During April, we completed our final major shoot for the Michael Burn documentary. Highlight of the trip was lunching with, and interviewing, an old friend of his, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, who he had first met when visiting the Cotswold home of the Mitford family, of whose six famous daughters Deborah ('Debo') was the youngest. At the Old Vicarage, Chatsworth, where she lives now, an elderly guest-book was produced which contained Micky's signature dating from the early '30s, the turbulent decade in which they were each destined to meet with Hitler in Munich - in Micky's case the introduction being made by Deborah's sister Unity ('Bobo') Mitford, in one of Hitler's favorite restaurants, the Osteria Bavaria. The Duchess, who, by the way, is an avid Elvis fan, could not have been more welcoming, nor more open in recalling a time of great stress for the Mitford family, as they, as with so many others from that 'Lost Generation', vacillated between the equally unpalatable extremes of Communism and Fascism. A glimpse, not easily forgotten, into another, perhaps grander, era.

Sadly, towards the end of our stay, Micky suffered a slight stroke, from which he is now recovering in Alltwen Hospital, Tremadog. There remains some physical impairment; however, his legendary wit and acuity remain undiminished - as does the desire to see 'his' century, with all its turmoils - social, political, sexual - recalled on screen.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


(Click on images below to enlarge)
40 feet down, in the bowels of the Pumping Station, Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Chant-Sempill recounts the story of his father, Lieutenant Stuart Chant, who in March 1942, although wounded, led his demolition team into the blackness to destroy the Station's four vital impeller pumps.

Remarkably, the battlefield at Saint-Nazaire remains today virtually as it was in March, 1942. Almost all of the original Commando and naval targets can be seen and experienced in their original form - their sheer size demonstrating the scale of the tasks assigned to such small and vulnerable Commando parties. For this reason the port has now become a destination for army groups seeking to study and critique both the planning and the execution of an operation considered by so many to be impossible.

The most recent army party, of 34 mixed ranks led by Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Chant-Sempill, arrived in port on March 24th for what was an almost forensic examination of Operation Chariot. Although the Normandie Dock is still in use and normally closed to the public, special permission was given for the men to visit the interior of the Pumping Station, South Winding House - and even the floor of the giant dock itself (above). The members of the party had been tasked with researching particular aspects of the raid, their individual presentations being given on-site as we moved around.

Unlike many battlefields, the one at Saint-Nazaire is compact and easily toured - the proximity of hotels, restaurants - even loos - only adding to its accessibility. On Thursday evening we had dinner in a bistro constructed within the huge Submarine-pen complex. itself only 100 metres from our hotel. Great company, great food and wine, and all the beauty of the Breton coast - can't wait for the next one!


Following the departure of the army and prior to the ceremony planned for Sunday the 28th, we took the opportunity to film additional scenes for our documentary about the remarkable (Captain) Micky Burn, whose Motor launch was destroyed with the loss of so many of his men.

Closing on the Old Mole, filming the approach to 'Micky's Steps' where ML192 crashed in flames in 1942. The steep, narrow steps lead up to the lighthouse, where Sub-Lieutenant Collinson and others of the crew, sought shelter from the rain of fire. In spite of wounds and shock, Micky, alone of his party, made it to his target at the northern extremity of the dockyard.

On the Old Mole itself, where one of the German blockhouses once stood, with Breton musicians Jean-Paul le Strat and George le Corre playing for us in the biting wind (photo courtesy of Hubert Chemereau). 

The Old Mole was also the landing point of Second-Lieutenant (Now Dr.) Bill 'Tiger' Watson, who with his small Protection Party came ashore from Motor Launch 457. Here he is, complete with unnecessarily large bodyguard, during the commemorative ceremony held in Saint-Nazaire on March 28th. If only he had had back-up like this 68 years ago! (The photo was taken by David Tait, nephew of Lieutenant Morgan Jenkins, one of Micky Burn's Subalterns, who sadly died when Motor Launch 268 was destroyed close to the Old Entrance). 

The approach to the dockyard as HMS Campbeltown would have seen it. We are only a few hundred metres from the 'Normandie' dock caisson, yet it is hidden from view behind the Old Mole. Imagine the view from her armoured wheelhouse all those years ago, blinded by searchlights, assailed by fire from every quarter, plunging ahead at eighteen and a half knots, all the time aware that the tiniest error in navigation would cause the collapse of the whole operation......