‘Gamekeeper-turned-Poacher..!’

Well I suppose, just looking at the number of superb documentaries that are regularly appearing on both the traditional terrestrial channels & myriad satellite channels and the vast array of knowledgeable historians & lecturers with deep wells of fascinating knowledge to share, there was always an outside chance I might have something in between my ears that could prove useful to another producer, (then I woke up!)

However though I would certainly not wish to elevate my way up to the ranks of those superb contributors who are regularly seen on TV as serious & enthusiastic expert ‘talking heads’, after 27 years of working in the field of Third Reich Military Music, I must admit it was rather flattering to be asked if I could make a similar small contribution to a new BBC TV documentary series currently being produced by R K Productions in Leeds entitled ‘Len Goodman’s Big Bands’…

I have to nevertheless admit it was a somewhat odd and a slightly disconcerting feeling to once again be moving from behind the camera to very briefly appearing in front of the magic lantern, (though I have presented a couple of Travel TV documentaries before), but this time I really had to look as if I knew what I was talking about rather than just point to the stunning scenery & enthusing for the viewers - so no pressure then!).

But then that is always assuming my small contribution makes it to the final edit and is not last seen being metaphorically swept up on the cutting-room floor, (because of course now everything is hi-tech digital edits, so a similar fate would that of being simply deleted & banished out into the ether!)…oh how cruel the world of television can be..!

Mind you, I’ve been around this industry long enough to know how this all usually unfolds, so I am fairly sanguine about how things turn out, but nevertheless I had a superb day on location with the well known professional Ballroom Dancer and judge on the BBC’s ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ Mr Len Goodman, in this new role of fronting this superb new series by Roger Keech for the new BBC Four Channel.. (I say ‘new’ but it has been around a while now..and showing some very interesting documentaries).

However I digress, (as is my usual habit), for as many collectors & enthusiasts out there who have come to know my company Tomahawk Films and its now specialist Third Reich Military & Civilian Music output these past 27 years, though a former TV Floor and Unit Production Manager thence Producer myself, these days happily my usual involvement with such fascinating work is very much from behind the camera, either to provide music, film & sound-effects or specialist historical background information to television researchers or to occasionally record the voice-over for the documentary soundtrack in question, if I’m lucky..!

However when Mr Keech, the engaging producer of this BBC Four series & I got talking about supplying some of Tomahawk Films’ German music archive to his series, he kindly asked if I would also care to be interviewed on camera by Mr Goodman, thus contributing to a specific section on Glenn Miller & WW-II German music, to which I happily agreed.

But after all these recent years of standing behind the camera or directing other people’s performances, going on camera myself again felt somewhat strange and very much as if I was turning from Gamekeeper-to-Poacher and, if I am honest, despite having lived a good part of my life on TV sets and in live radio studios, I was amazed at how long it took me to relax and actually think about what I needed to say for the cameras.. (by which time the interview was over..dang!!)

Mr Keech & I had been e-mailing each other as we sought to establish what he needed and what I could talk about and then last Friday I found myself at the former RAF Twinwood Night-Bomber Operational Training air-base north of Bedford, the aerodrome from which Glenn Miller made his fateful flight in December 1944. I say ‘found myself’, which is an over simplification, for this former air-field is well hidden and the only way to find it is to drive through a modern housing estate and then skirt behind a clump of trees then up a long stretch of unmade farm track..yes, quite!

Sadly my Sat Nav got confused and directed me to a house right in the middle of the housing estate; however luckily I managed to collar a local who kindly pointed me in the right direction. I finally knew I was close because as I pulled off the main road onto the dusty track as directed, a rather sumptuous & good-looking Jaguar saloon was just ahead of me and a very distinguished gentleman had got out to open the closed farm gate: Mr Len Goodman himself as I live & breathe, and by crikey, is he tall or what?

I am a fairly reasonable 5’8” when I remember to stand upright, but he towered over me as we exchanged greetings, (and laughed and swapped opinions on just how hard this blessed air-field had been to find) and then I offered to close the gate after he had driven through and I would play ‘tail-end Charlie’ and follow in my car behind his to the airfield!

So the pair of us then bounced up this long rutted track, his huge jag nimbly handling the ruts whilst my new Peugeot, with its low-slung, sporty suspension tried hard to break my spine as I aimed.. and failed.. to miss the holes. But eventually the pair of us in convoy drove on to the old perimeter road and, (though the huge, original concrete runway has since been dug up & restored to farming land),up to the former flight control tower & surrounding buildings, sitting just at the top of this old road.

Today they offer a superb mirror reflecting back those halcyon war-time days as, included on-site, is the official UK Glen Miller Museum; this indeed was the reason for the interviews being filmed here on location, for in the afternoon after my mini-performance on camera, a nephew of former USAAF Major Glenn Miller was also to be interviewed… and what better setting than the base at which his late uncle made his final, and sadly, ill-fated flight from the UK..

Mr Goodman and I eventually found our way into the aerodrome compound to be confronted by a green-painted control tower and a number of typical war-time camo-painted buildings with anti-blast white tape criss-crossing over the windows, plus a NAAFI building and various other assorted out-buildings…

Quite a sight that you would never have believed was still here, almost hidden as it was by the slowly advancing thick, dense forest surrounding this former old World War Two air-base…

RAF Twinwood was an Operational Training Unit for Night Bomber crews flying Mosquitos & Beaufighters and the pilots would be trained here for night sorties over a blacked-out Third Reich. Today the control tower is decked out as it would have been in 1944, with several of the crew-rooms having flying jackets draped over crew chairs, so the whole ‘war-time bomber field vibe’ is very much still there, thus offering a superb back-drop for filming WW-II documentary interviews…

Mr Goodman and I spent a happy half-hour chatting on camera in that evocative RAF tower with all its ghosts and war-time history still hanging in the air and with the Glenn Miller connection, stemming from the fact that this bomber airfield was the closest to Bedford, where his famous war-time Orchestra were based as a safer alternative from Blitzed London. Thus RAF Twinwood was a very convenient base for him to fly back & forth to occupied France for his many morale-boosting troop concerts. It was also at RAF Twinwood on August 27th 1944, that Glenn Miller and his Orchestra performed a concert as a ‘thank you’ to all of the hard-working RAF ground-crew that allowed him and his USAAF musicians free access flying in and out on their musical duties.

Sadly it was to be just 4 months later that, on December 15th 1944, and bound for France, Glenn Miller boarded his Army Co-operation Norseman aircraft outside of the RAF Twinwood Control Tower and set off into the night sky… never to be seen again! Since that day myriad theories as to what actually happened to him remain legion.. I was always of the belief that his Norseman ‘plane flying low across the Channel to France, may have been accidentally hit by returning RAF Lancasters, USAAF B.17 Flying Fortresses or B.24 Liberators who, approaching the English coast, jettisoned any remaining bombs from their missions over Germany ahead of landing back at their bases, and Miller’s plane had simply been unlucky and been hit by one of these jettisoned bombs as he headed out to France in the opposite direction…

However in talking to Keith Hill, (below), a superb aviation artist who now has a permanent exhibition of World War Two US & RAF aircraft in one of the Control Tower’s ground-level rooms, (including a superb painting he produced of Glen Miller’s Norseman plane), he mentioned a new documentary that has come out in the US whereby an expert who has been looking into the mystery of Miller’s disappearance on that fateful December day in 1944. The new researcher has uncovered a witness who saw the Norseman flying over Maidenhead on the night of December 15th, (thereby off course at the hands of a somewhat inexperienced Air Force ‘taxi’ pilot).

However more significantly, there had been a problem in some of the larger bombers with engine parts freezing up in the wintry temperatures, (parts which, unfortunately this smaller Norseman shared), and as a direct result pilots were ordered not to fly in low temperature conditions. However Glen Miller’s pilot did take off into the freezing night sky..and this new research suggests that somewhere off-course and over the English Channel, the Norseman’s engine froze solid as warned… and plummeted vertically out of the sky and into the Channel, never to be traced..!

Whatever the true reason behind this tragic loss of a popular war-time band leader, it is a fitting tribute to USAAF Major Glen Miller that RAF Twinwood, the airfield from which he made his last flight, now boasts its own Glenn Miller Museum, which is open to the public at weekends and where, once a year, a full 1940’s tribute concert is performed in his name. So what remains of RAF Twinwood’s Control Tower & its ancillary buildings here on the edge of the forest was a great location for producer Roger Keech to record interviews for his new BBC series, ‘Len Goodman’s Big Bands’ which is due for transmission over Christmas…

It was also a perfect setting to get us both talking about our other great passions, WW-II Vintage bomber & fighter aircraft as it turned out he has been very heavily involved in filming with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster, Spitfire & Hurricane (along with the arrival of Canada’s last air-worthy Lancaster to fly alongside our our Lanc), whilst I could swap stories of my time in the US with the Confederate Air Force and Battle of Britain Movie stunt pilot Connie Edwards on his ranch in Texas with his beloved ME109s & Spitfires from the 1969 movie… so hopefully, if the gods are willing, we might be able to share our great aviation passion again before too much longer!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Wartime Chivalry in the Air…

This is the remarkable story, shared with me just recently, of a crippled World War Two American bomber spared by a Luftwaffe fighter pilot in combat.. and if you haven’t picked up on it yourself, it is just amazing and I’m happy to in turn share it via this Blog as with all of these incredible war-time incidents, the protagonists involved were to have a later quite remarkable reunion in peace-time, which makes this story all the more incredible…

The story harks back to the heavy Allied bombing campaign against Nazi Germany back in 1943 and in the days before Christmas of that year it was the USAAF that were conducting their almost daily day-light sorties over the Third Reich (whilst the RAF were bombing Germany by night) and bomber pilot, Second Lieutenant Charlie Brown, and his young B17 Flying Fortress crew were about to set-off on their very first raid, the target being an aircraft production factory deep inside Germany’s industrial heartlands….

Heavily suited-up against the bitter winter cold, (down to minus 60 in the upper atmosphere through which they’d be flying at this time of year), and with oxygen masks at the ready, the crew of the newly-dubbed ‘Ye Olde Pub’ taxied their heavily laden bomber onto their US 8th Air Force East Anglian air-strip.

Cleared for take-off, the bomb-laden Flying Fortress opened the throttles and rumbled down the concrete runway and Capt.Charlie Brown hauled his bomber into the air and, in tight formation with many other Fortresses, headed out eastward towards their heavily defended industrial target in the Ruhr….

However after several hours of relatively peaceful flying as the B17 approached Bremen, a curtain of heavy flak was thrown up the Luftwaffe gun-crews on the ground and the heaven’s were rent asunder in a black cloud of lethal anti-aircraft rounds, one of which exploded directly ahead of ‘Ye Olde Pub’, taking out their number 2 Alisson engine and seriously damaging their number 4 and having to feather it..

With such heavy damage sustained to his ‘plane, Captain Charlie Brown could no longer keep the power up and so throttled back and fell out of formation…

In WW-II, USAAF bomber tactics had developed a staggered box formation so that all heavily-armed Fortresses & Liberators would be able to cover each other in flight with murderous angles of cross-fire so making Luftwaffe fighter attacks on these protected formations a very dangerous undertaking, but a single US bomber having fallen out of this protection instantly became vulnerable to enemy fighter attack..

Which is exactly what happened to ‘Ye Olde Pub’ as no less than 15 Luftwaffe day fighters pounced on the ailing bomber and though the Flying Fortesses’ gunners immediately downed one Luftwaffe fighter, the exposed tail gunner was killed after another German strafing run and four other crew members were injured, including the pilot Charlie Brown..

The only surviving B.17 guns from this murderous assault were the nose gun and top turret.. in addition the plane’s hydraulics were knocked out and the oxygen system failed… and as if this was not bad enough, Brown lost control of his heavily damaged bomber and it went into a deadly spiral heading groundwards.

Despite his wounds and lack of oxygen Capt. Charlie Brown, thanks to a super-human effort, managed to fight the dive and regain control of his all-but doomed B17 and somehow level out at 1,000 feet, but the heavy 4-engined bomber was mortally wounded and almost incapable of defending itself against further Luftwaffe fighter attack, with the bulk of his guns out of action and his crew seriously wounded or killed..

Having successfully saved the ailing bomber and get ‘Ye Olde Pub’ turned around, Capt Brown headed back towards home at a much lower altitude than he would have liked and as he did so, he flew low over a Luftwaffe fighter base at which fighter pilot Lt. Franz Stigler had just landed, having successfully shot down two B.17s from the same raid. Spotting the wounded & low-flying US bomber, he immediately scrambled again to chase after Brown’s heavily damaged ‘plane. But as he would later twll interviewers in 1991, when he caught up with it ‘Ye Olde Pub’ he was horrified by what he saw and the appalling damage the bomber had sustained: its nose cone was smashed, there were major gaping holes in the fuselage and he could see heavy .50 calibre guns hanging unmanned as the gunners desperately tended their wounded fellow air-crew…

Stigler kept his distance, careful to keep flying out of the line of fire of the two remaining machine guns still in service, but managed to side-slip to within 20 feet of the bullet riddled B-17, where he tried to contact pilot Brown with hand signals. His message was simple..land your plane in Germany and surrender or fly to Sweden..!

A stunned Brown stared back through side window, not believing what he was seeing as the German fighter pilot kept gesturing; but there was no way he was going to land. However as he struggled to keep flying his heavy bomber homewards the German pilot stayed with him, keeping other attackers off until they reached the North Sea. When it was clear that Brown wasn’t going to land or veer off towards Sweden but try to make it home, Stigler saluted, and flew away..!

Somehow Capt Charlie Brown just about managed to keep his crippled Flying Fortress in the air and just made it back to East Anglia where he all but crash-landed in a smoking but grateful heap…Brown would say, years later, that if he had been able to comprehend what Stigler was trying to explain to him from his fighter, he would actually have gratefully accepted the offer to land in Sweden.

The American air-crew debriefing was an incredulous affair when the officers taking notes learned of Stigler’s chivalry in the air; but the US Top Brass realised that if word got out to other USAAF bomber crews that Luftwaffe fighter pilots were sometimes this chivalrous towards damaged bombers returning from Germany, then their guard might be lowered, and so the whole affair was hushed up. Furthermore Brown’s deserved recommendation for a American bravery citation for his incredible feat of flying was quietly dropped. The whole affair was classified Top Secret… and there the story ended… or so it was thought..!

Likewise, back in Germany Lt Franz Stigler never spoke of his part in that aerial encounter with ‘Ye Olde Pub’ for fear of a Luftwaffe Court Martial and continued flying in combat until the end of the war in May 1945, becoming one of the world’s first fighter jet pilots flying the Luftwaffe’s incredible ME 262 in combat.

After the war, Charlie Brown returned to his West Virginia home but, after a stint at college, returned to the US Air Force in 1949 and served until 1965 though Franz Stigler didn’t fare as well in his life as, amidst the ruins of a defeated Germany his exemplary war record counted for nought and he tried his hand at many things, (even including brick-laying), just to survive, finally moving to Canada in 1953, where he became a successful businessman.

This incredible story remained dormant until 1986 when the, by then, retired Colonel Charlie Brown was invited to speak at a gathering of former fighter pilots: somebody in the audience asked for his memories of any unforgettable missions and suddenly the whole story of ‘Ye Olde Pub’ & Lt Stigler came out to an astounded audience..!

The former B.17 Flying Fortress pilot Capt.Charlie Brown had however been quietly trawling US & West German military records looking for any signs of former Luftwaffe fighter ace Lt. Franz Stigler, but when that brooked no results he wrote a letter to a Combat Pilots’ Association..and got a reply from Canada… it was Franz with the simple words:“I was the one..!” Stigler remembered the entire incident with great clarity and Charlie Brown knew that this was the one and the same German pilot who had showed him and his bomber crew such great chivalry on that fateful Allied bombing raid in December 1943…

Both men then spoke on the phone and later met up in person and between 1990 and 2008, Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler became like brothers, before sadly dying within several months of each other in 2008. .An amazing story that restores your flagging faith in humanity… and if you would like to know more, I have discovered there is a complete book dedicated to this incredible and rare feat of aviation chivalry, written by Adam Makos called A Higher Call…. recommended reading… and then some!

Copyright @ Tomahawk Films & Brian Matthews 2014

Tomahawk Films Under Water…

I awoke the other morning, or rather I was woken, by the incessant sound of sawing..and when I finally came to with a clear enough brain and looked out of the window I could see a funny little bearded man in back garden surrounded by a huge pile of wood..and realised it was Noah building himself another Ark… and I am not surprised he is in such advanced planning as it is still raining here on the South Coast after some 2 months or so!

I cannot believe how a little country likes ours can receive so much constant rain..it seems to me as if it has been raining almost every day since before Christmas..I know we have actually had some precious rain-free days, but the overall memory to date is just a continual torrent of the wet stuff…(and as some wag said the other day, despite it being the wettest winter since records began, no doubt the Water Companies will be warning us of drought conditions later this summer..they’d better not!)

The problem seems to be constant rain streams coming across the Atlantic and they are making landfall in Devon, Cornwall & South Wales and from the news reports those parts are having a  really bad time of it, with farms under water, railway lines physically broken and still the water rises..and still the Government seems to be ‘fiddling while Rome burns’. The scuttlebutt in the pub is that whenever there is a disaster anywhere else in the non-English-speaking world, the ‘charity do-gooders’ throw their hands in the air, rush straight to the advertising companies and produce gut-wrenching, emotionally black-mailing TV adverts exhorting us to hand over more of hard–earned, (in addition to the £13 billion our governmental masters are eagerly giving away in overseas aid each year to other countries). Currently this is leaving many of us wondering if our neighbouring countries are now running similar TV Appeals urging their people to give to this growing British Flood disaster?

One joke doing the rounds aptly sums up how it works in Britain: an old couple are sitting on the roof of their house in Cornwall surrounded by rising flood water and after 5 days up there, they espy a small boat with three Red Cross volunteers speeding towards them.The old couple cry out in relief to the boat.. ’have you come to rescue us? No! shout back the volunteers, we are collecting donations for Syria!!!!

As I say dear reader, that just about sums up this country..we help everybody else yet nobody givers a ‘brass razoo’ about us poor Brits…we have to do everything ourselves.. yet on that note my little village of Twyford is pulling together, (some 13 years after our last major flood), and the past 3 days for Tomahawk have been spent in helping to fill sandbags and patrolling the rising flood water. I managed to spend 7 hours in the water with others on Sunday as the floods spread out down the valley from the Hazeley Down area, (which is full of natural springs deep within the chalk).

Indeed we have a Victorian pumping station on the outskirts of the village, so pure is our water, however though that water is great to drink, the vast amount of it is now posing a big problem as the constant fall of rain means that everywhere is just waterlogged and the hillsides can just take no more and are literally now bursting at the seams. In fact when I walked along the Hazeley Road yesterday, (which now resembles a fast-flowing river rather than tarmac road), I could see actual ‘geysers’ of water rising a foot into the air from the sodden ground in the adjacent fields and onto the road..!

Thus far about a quarter of a mile or so of road is under water and cut off to traffic and the edge of the flood has reached the centre of the village and everything is being done to stem the flow. Over the weekend all sorts of important people from the various Environment agencies came out, plus the local Member for Parliament, village councillors, TV news crews and assorted members of the press to report on progress.. and then yesterday it went quiet again with just a few of us trying to maintain the situation before more stoic local folk turned up to help fill yet further sandbags.

The main problem is now we have no idea when the rain will stop or indeed how much more water is still in the hills and yet to find its way into the torrent rushing down into the village. Thankfully we are nowhere near as bad either as our 2000 flood or indeed as the poor folk down in Devon & Cornwall are now, but we are still in danger of having some of our low lying neighbours flooded out, so the constant whirr of water pumps can he heard pumping out water from these low-lying properties is now the constant background noise.

As is often said, at times like these the old ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ kicks in with people pitching in and doing what they can to help and we now have a constant rota of people in bright yellow tabbards trying to direct traffic to ensure people can still reach the village store & cafe..but the amount of indignant people who get ratty because they can’t go where they want to is just amazing. Whilst most people are quite understanding it beggars belief that others are too dense to realise that we are in a  tricky situation. As for those who see we are struggling with the rising water yet try to drive through at high speed so sending a tidal wave over us..well it takes all our will power not to drag them from their cars and dunk their fat heads under the waves they are causing.. .you certainly see both the best & worst of people at times like these..!

So hopefully valued customers of Tomahawk Films will also understand if their orders are a little later than our usual speedy despatch as we break off from our normal day’s work here at our production offices just above the flood to pitch to help our neighbours. So far we have done 3 days on the bounce and will try to spend today back at Tomahawk HQ catching up.. but as it is now raining again we’ll try to break off tomorrow and pitch in once more, wherever we’re needed..!

Talking of Tomahawk, the floods notwithstanding our planned monthly geriatric lad’s get-together of former TV colleagues took place at our local, The Phoenix, last night and I am delighted that amongst our small gathering of 7 was the cameraman on Tomahawk Films ‘Channel Islands Occupied‘ TV documentary, Ian ‘Nobby’ Fraser (left) and my old sound-recordist buddy and former colleague on Jack Hargreaves ‘Out of Town’ series, Phil Wade.. and talking of floods, to use an appalling DJ link, (that I would certainly have been strung up for using in my radio days!) the memories of our former working lives certainly flooded back over a riotous couple of hours!

But returning to the rising water outside, we now just have to see if the submarine will return with more aid..I contacted the Ministry of Defence and they said the skipper will try to ‘come about’ when he reaches the end of the road at Morestead and hope to sedately return along Hazeley Road distributing vital supplies, (ie cider), so thankfully even with today’s severe defence budget cuts, you can still rely on the Royal Navy. .the true ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ personified..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

 

‘Got it wrong again, Dad..!’

Well here I am still struggling valiantly on behalf of the Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive with the necessary evils of Social Media… and that’s without even having wrestled yet with the thorny issue of mastering You Tube and posting up bite-sized snippets from our Archive..(seems many others have already loaded up some of our German music clips & CD covers without our permission, so I feel it only polite that we, as the original copyright-holders, actually get a look–in and have a go ourselves!)

But oh boy! is my learning curve still steep.. with so much coming at me since the sad loss of dear old Stan, Tomahawk Film’s web-master, all this technical fannying around has fallen to me to get my head around and as I opined in one of my former Blogs, I am having to assimilate so much in recent months that my head is in danger of exploding.! It must have been great to be born at a time when all of this new media technology just came naturally to you: in fact my much loved & dearly missed mum always used to ask if it was something she should get involved with?… and I always told her in no uncertain terms to avoid it all costs.!

I would have done the same if today’s modern world didn’t view it as such an essential business tool; in fact only yesterday I heard the superb actor Martin Shaw being interviewed on Radio Two about his new series of ‘Inspector George Gently’ (starting tomorrow night on the Beeb) and when the subject came around to Facebook it was more than obvious that he is implacably imposed to it all and also avoids it like the plague.. and I silently thought: ‘lucky blighter that you can..!’

However the next generation growing up with all of this as ‘natural’ merely take it in their stride, but those young shavers have to remember that my colleagues & I come from the generation that glorified in ITV’s The Sweeney when Regan & Carter would have to break off from a high-speed car chase, tailing a ‘motor full of villains with shooters’ in the East End, to find a ‘phone box to make an urgent call back to HQ..! No good the young sniggering about that, as that was just the way it was and so it is that my generation of 50-somethings are now the apparent dinosaurs… great! But when all the satellites ‘go on the fritz’ after being hit by a meteor shower we at least will know how to write & talk to each other… some of us even know how to do long-division (well not me, I was a somewhat ‘theatrical’ History & English wallah with my head in the clouds… and not much change there either!)

However thanks to my great TV director & cameraman mate Ian ‘Nobby’ Fraser and his wonderful Girl-Friday, Harriet, both have continued to expend further valuable time in trying to help me find my way through the trials & tribulations of Facebook though sadly, ‘Dear Listener’ I have to shamefacedly admit I have transgressed yet again..dang!.. and much to everybody’s exasperation, I find myself on the FB Naughty Step… again, for Pete’s sake.. and it’s for 14 bloomin’ days this time!

Apparently I was again spotted by members of the the FB Polizei Feld-Division contacting another couple of fellow WWII German enthusiasts and that is verboten!.. As was noted before, you may contact friends only on FB to which I counter: that is what the pub, the ‘phone and e-mail is for..!

However Nobby very kindly took me to one side and quietly said “Look Bruno you are imbuing Facebook with far too much importance and a business ethic it doesn’t actually possess..it is just a place for mates to swap gossip and send each other cute little pictures of kittens or donkeys standing on their head…it’s not like the public library or theTomahawk Films website where you post up serious archival & historical information and promote yourself in a business sense.. Facebook is like buying a tabloid newspaper, looking at a couple of  lurid stories & interesting pics inside…then throwing it out..it is literally here today & gone tomorrow..!”

And that was my big mistake..I actually thought Facebook was like a company website where you put up your work & allied information for folk to use like a reference source, (and also exchange links with like-minded folk). But once I finally realised that FB is just a bit of lightweight fun & frolics and nothing more and that this ‘Daily Star’ approach to life is actually their raison d’être in place of a business plan, it has made all the difference to my thinking. So rather than post up written articles I am now limiting myself to sticking up interesting Tomahawk archival pictures with perhaps a few lines of explanation, (or stuff I’ve worked on in my career), writing funny captions on other peoples often hilarious images and just enjoying seeing what other people on FB find funny or thought-provoking.

More worrying however is that I too am now going awwww!! at pictures of kittens & Boxers and laughing uproariously at aforesaid mentioned donkeys standing on their head…but the fact that many other like-minded military-historical enthusiasts are now enjoying our Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive Page and following us is a real a bonus..!

My original plan was just to go on FB to help Tomahawk Films get noticed by Google  and so hopefully rise above the rankings of those pirating our original Tomahawk Films archive, but it is actually turning out to be quite a fun place to be and I can now clearly see the attraction… it is also having an unexpected but happy consequence to my own personal & professional life as well!

As kind readers of my Blogs may know, before Tomahawk Films I had a very interesting period as a freelancer in television production plus a parallel 8 years or so as a local radio presenter and as I wrote in a recent Blog, my very first professional job in telly was as Unit Production Manager on Jack Hargreaves’ ‘Out of Town/The Old Country’ working alongside my old pal Phil Wade who was the superb sound recordist on the series. One of the unintended consequences of  now being on Facebook is I then found a Jack Hargreaves Page and as a result of that I  posted a small bit about my former role in the Out of Town story and since then have been welcomed in by Jack’s growing legion of followers which in turn is hopefully leading Phil & I to meet up with the man behind those Facebook pages, Simon Baddeley, Jack’s step-son…

So all of this social media is slowly & gradually staring to weave small links throughout my professional & personal life (which I can see is also one of its many attractions), because this new Out of Town link comes at a time when Phil and I also met up after almost 20 years or so of not being in touch, courtesy of Nobby’s 60th birthday bash just before Christmas..(pictured in the photo are my Dad, Dennis left, Nobby middle, Phil right). At what was a ‘superb do’ that I had not realised Phil was attending, we linked up again and through gales of laughter the years rolled away..!

It seems like only yesterday that Phil & I were working together on the Jack Hargreaves’ shows, (and also enjoying a riotous skiing holiday in Westerndorf, Austria in the first mid-shoot break!) and as we left Nobby’s bash we all made a pact to meet up again on the basis that none of us is getting any older and the only time we have spied each other of late was from opposite aisles at funerals… not a good state of affairs by any stretch of the imagination!

Happy to say we’ve now had our first ‘geriatric lad’s night’ out at the local watering hole: The Phoenix Inn, in my village of Twyford (at which the photo albums came out) and apart from the laughter resulting from comparing lack-of-hair and me being accused of actually dying my hair.. bloody cheek!.. plus a measuring of ever-expanding waist-lines (on some!), we also recalled some of the shoots we did… a couple I don’t recall even being on..that’s age for you!

Since then we have started to slowly catch up on our disparate lives via text ahead of our next monthly meet-up, (at which we are hoping to have 3 more mates from the past join us to also exchange wig-length & ‘beer belly’ statistics), and a surprising thing for me in meeting up again was to learn that Phil’s son Ollie Wade has become a very talented singer… his dad Phil was always a dab hand as a singer-songwriter and he’s obviously passed this skill on to his lad..!

Some of our old group back in our pre-television days had varying rock careers in the music biz: the second band I drummed for, ‘Adam West and The Gotham City Rockers’, lasted for a few very successful years on the local circuit here on the South Coast (during which time Nobby, unbeknownst to me at the time as an aspiring TV cameraman, actually looked after our lighting & gig poster design)… there’s a very spooky early crossing of later lives for you..!

I’m embarrassed to admit now that I was totally unaware of him in those heady times, yet years later he has happily become one of my closet buddies.. In fact we all had great fun in our early, if short-lived, disparate musical careers and though some came closer to a recording contract than others, reality dawned and we realised we had to get proper jobs, (if you can call television & radio a ‘proper job’!)

However it is obviously a case of what is in the genes is almost always passed on and in Ollie Wade I am thrilled to have seen on You Tube, (so yes all this Social media is working & interlocking our lives), what an absolutely superb singer he is, possessed of a very haunting delivery and indeed look.. and those of us who know Phil well can see his dad in him.. very ‘mini-me’. Though I don’t get involved in any promotion of up & coming musicians or media-types these days, (as I feel it is just too much like today’s short-cut reality TV to those of us who spent years practising, gigging, learning our craft and driving to & from myriad venues late at night in battered transit vans, dreaming of an album deal.. or even, gasp, a rare appearance on TV), however with Ollie, this is a very different kettle of fish..!

I linked into his superb You Tube pages yesterday to see B/W footage of his latest cover ‘Say Something’ (which I’d never heard until yesterday, but most spookily yet again, has just come on the radio as I write..how weird and how prescient is that ?) and I am genuinely blown away by his obvious talent.. and I urge you, if you have a moment, to make the link yourself and listen in to this brilliant young man sing..what a voice..his parents Phil & Nicky must be so proud of him...and rightly so!

I pray he doesn’t go down the television wannabe route and be used & abused by the music industry as with so many previous ‘one-hit wonders’ (or X-Factor winners as they are now known!), but gets picked up by trusted music-career professionals and bags a ‘proper’ recording deal for, with his obvious talents, I know Ollie Wade is a star of the future..and remember… you heard it here on the Tomahawk Films’ Blog… go for it Ollie!

….now, where’s that hilarious Facebook photograph of a Boxer puppy driving a German armoured car..?

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Tomahawk Films’ New Year..

A very happy and contented New Year to all of the fantastic and most loyal customers of the Tomahawk Films’ WW-II German Archive that we have around the world and indeed to the ever-growing band of kind and enthusiastic collectors & students of military history now regularly reading our Blog and are beginning to contact us either to share welcome snippets of information or just telling us they are enjoying what we post from time to time here on the Tomahawk Film’s website…

I must admit, (though my friends & colleagues in the business already know it to be fact, sadly), that being the Luddite that I am, I’m so much happier with just a word-processor to write on; so that having to finally launch ourselves into the modern era of ‘social media’ and leave behind the old Tomahawk Films catalogue mail-order business, (that has served us so well over 27 years), has become a bit of a shock to my system… it’s sad, but I know it has to be done!

Albeit still so embarrassing when I watch a tiny tot happily & confidently typing on a lap-top or using the latest mobile phone with all its latest apps & gizmos with such aplomb… makes me feel a right klutz)! Then I content myself with the thought that said tot could not write and produce a 50 minute WW-II TV documentary..but then again, knowing my luck these mega-bright little sparks probably could.. and judging by some current TV output..actually do!

But I find it really worrying that there is now such a cultural divide (or should that be a cultural apartheid?) opening up between those of us over 50 and those under.. and, yes, I am the man that shouts at World’s Strongest Man contests on the box when the commentator says a competitor is ’1.8 metres high and weighs 128kgs’. Excuse me? Speak English man not some strange continental Euro verbiage.. I can imagine a man at 6” 6” weighing 26 stone..but everything else… just forget it!

However persisting with my desire…well it’s not my desire but everybody else’s it seems, (thanks Malcolm!), I actually spent over 6 hours yesterday at our local IT company hopefully, and finally, sorting out the Tomahawk Films website and ensuring that its upgrade to a new, firmer foundation and with a change-over from Card Net (Lloyds Bank’s credit-card clearing bank) to the more global Barclaycard, goes seamlessly. If it does then within the next few weeks the our distinctive German archival website will both have a more secure footing to stand upon and be an easier, more customer-friendly & ultra-secure experience for those German music & film footage fans that generously want to continue buying our rare German archival products via the website and having Barclays accept their welcome Visa & Master card payments on our behalf, (alongside our continued usage of PayPal of course).

If that wasn’t enough (smelling salts Daphne!) I then went through an intensive couple of hours being shown the rudiments of Twitter, Facebook & You Tube, (thanks to the aforementioned Malcolm, who is our great mate Malcolm Moore who runs the excellent Mist of Time on-line & battle re-enactors militaria operation up there in Yorkshire and who is ‘our man in the north’ (along with felllow friend Anthony at Militaria.net) as it was Malcolm that finally convinced us here at Tomahawk that we have to embrace the new social media..or die.

Sadly it is a case in fact that one of the downsides to our fabulous success of our German Archive as we enter our 28th year of operation is that we are a regular target for the myriad rip-off merchants in Europe, Russia and North America who still appear to be sitting in their back bedrooms copying our CDs on a home computer then offering the contents on–line as if it were their own (or passing it off as genuine Tomahawk Films products) or worse simply banging it all up on You Tube without asking our permission. Indeed infamous US pirate even went to all the trouble of copying our distinctive red cardboard covers and placing our ripped-off material on several well known American on-line auction and book sites, but I think a ‘phone call to the right ears disabused him of that notion, hopefully he is now out of business..well we can hope I suppose!

Some youngsters seem to view my generation who’ve been in Film & TV a life-time (so do actually have a small clue as to what we talking about..well sometimes!) as dinosaurs; however for some reason there is a new breed of techno folk coming through now who either have no understanding of the concept of Copyright..or simply care even less and it is really galling when you do a regular Google test to check where our German Archive sits within their listings.. only to find those rip-off merchants are actually ranked higher than our bona fide archive..frustrating in the extreme!

These techno-herberts may be highly advanced in all forms of on-line technology but none of them seems to have grasped the simply concept of Copyright and that if somebody else has that Copyright you simply do not rip it off and post it or advertise it on-line as yours…I think these folk must wear strange glasses that make the words ‘on-line’ translate into ‘free to plunder’… and the on-line authorities seem to care not a jot..well that has to change if there is any justice!

One of these companies passing themselves off as ‘professionals’ have simply lifted our rare and original Kriegsweihnachten Christmas Carols CD (that took me 2 years to source and produce), changed the running order, replaced our distinctive cover and, bold as you like, have it offered on their website as ‘legal downloads’ with some obscure German name appended to the recording to make it look as if they have legally acquired the rights….I think not!.. and in fact I’m not sure they would understand the meaning of the word legal if it hit them in them face. Certainly, and as mentioned before, Tomahawk Films does not offer any of our material as digital downloads as happily, (at least for now) our myriad customers still want our complete archival albums on CD and in an attractive sleeve.. (or the real enthusiastic collectors as I tend to call them!) Perhaps ‘digital’ is not the way forwarded as everybody once blithely predicted..indeed look at the newly burgeoning vinyl market with new material being released onto record..who’d have thought it

Sadly as I increasingly make my way through the business world I see there is precious little honour left in business dealings any more (though with wonderful exceptions inall  the people Tomahawk deals directly with in terms of sale & supply!). I suppose with the pirates, where there is a buck to be made from somebody else’s endeavours, then honour is an alien concept, which is really tragic!

But let’s not get down about the dishonest ‘herberts’ infecting the internet and just be thankful for all the good people out there..to whit, thanks to Malcolm, Craig at our IT company CT Central, my director-cameraman Nobbie and his girl-Friday Harriet, Tomahawk are now about to take the fight to the pirates and ne’er-do-wells by opening our own YouTube account so we can legally list and offer some our archive’s music as tasters of the original material to be found in our archive via the Tomahawk Films website… likewise we will open up a Facebook account to keep ourselves updated and see what’s what in the wider world outside of our production offices here in Hampshire..

I have to say that Twitter is the one that I am least convinced by at the moment as what do you say that can be of any meaning in however few characters you are allowed.?. What can you actually say that might be of some importance to anybody else? Since last evening I have started to follow Jeremy Clarkson, BBC ‘Top Gear’ stalwart and a journalist I admire greatly, (though not for his motoring columns as cars, sadly, do nothing for me), but his weekly newspaper columns about life in general are some of the funniest ‘laugh out loud’ musings I have ever seen and happily are now available as delightful book collections, which I read avidly and highly recommend!

For my money, Jeremy is consistently quite the funniest and irreverent writer currently in print,but watching & reading his exchanges yesterday with a female journalist (who I suspect might be London’s Mayor Boris Johnson’s feisty magazine-editor sister) it all seemed quite inane and not really worthy of taking up any of their valuable time and I thought, er why?

The gist of the tweets seems to a bit of slagging for his most impressive Q17 Arctic Convoy documentary that went out last week and was in fact one of the finest war-time documentaries I have seen of late (after the recent Goering: A Career) and I urge you all to take a gander if you get the chance. Jeremy is just a sublime & confident presenter of such war-time docs as his very evident patriotism shines through and his admiration for the veterans he is talking about certainly adds a very personal touch to the programme.

But returning to his ‘tweets’ of yesterday I sort find all these rather unedifying to have such little spats played out in public.  These are bright people so why do they need twitter..something I am still musing about with Tomahawk. Just why do we need a place to leave inane one-liners when we have our website and our Blog through which to express ourselves more fully? .I cringe even more when certain ‘loved up’ couples in the media seem to play out their entire romance on Twitter of the edification of others and I feel like shouting ‘oh do get a room you two’..!

I don’t know whether it is a ‘showbiz thing’ that these folk have to always been seen in public or cannot live their lives without somebody commenting about them…Malcolm & Nobbie have both told me that Tomahawk being on Twitter, (plus the aforementioned You Tube & Facebook), will all help keep Tomahawk Films in the public eye and so keep us right up in the Google rankings, above the very people trying to rip us off..So if it is for the good of the company then we will give it a go..but I can already see Twitter will be the first of these social media to fall by the wayside for Tomahawk Films, as who is going to be sitting in his bath, say, and be interested in the fact that we have just acquired a new German signalhorn for the archive?

Actually that said, I’ll now completely contradict myself and thank John for contacting us having read my Blog relating to such signalhorns & German Bugles to say that he has recently bought a Max Glass-marked example and do we know of the company?… We certainly do for Max Glass (left) was one of the main manufacturers of such signalling instruments and was prolific in distributing them…but oddly Max Glass was also a typewriter-producing factory and was probably as well known, if not more so, for such German Schreiber machines.

Indeed our good pal Shawn over in Texas very generously gifted us an original invoice (Rechnung) dated September 1st 1939 that he picked up recently as issued by Max Glass from Klingenthal, one of the major musical instrument production areas of Germany (also a ski-jumping town I believe?) during both the years of Imperial Germany and the Third Reich. We just missed adding another Max Glass to the archive over Christmas so must ask John if it was indeed his good self that managed to purchase this bugle from a dealer..it had a small waffenampt stamp to the garland, (something I have never seen before so am keen to hear more about that). However our signalhorn collection continues to ebb & flow..as we speak we are awaiting one from Holland and two from Germany but the Christmas back-log seems to have all 3 still in its grip.. so we must be patient!

However back to the social media and it will just remain to be seen if Tomahawk launching itself on to such platforms will be a success or indeed a damp squib…I must admit I have certainly enjoyed writing the Tomahawk Blog which is now just over a year old…though sometimes the ‘old grey matter’ runs a bit dry and it is not always easy to come up with something new opine on…that is why occasionally there are 3 or 4 Blogs in a couple of weeks or nothing for a month. However it is good to see that since we started Blogging the hits to our Tomahawk Film’s website have actually doubled. So we know you guys out there are finding us..and thank you so much for that..great to know we are not sitting in the dark, wittering to ourselves!

On that front, sad news to report that over the Christmas holidays I heard from the family of former Ober-Kanonier Helmut Zimmerman of the 319th Artillery Regiment stationed in Guernsey, (and whom I wrote about in my Blog and magazines articles A Guernsey Gunner’ returns) passed away on Boxing Day and I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family. Helmut was a wonderful man whom I was pleased to know and spend some time with over in Guernsey… as with many terrific, German veterans he always had a twinkly smile and a warm greeting and was a much loved friend of Guernsey.

So in being able to share both happy & sad news I can see social media does have its part to play in keeping everybody involved & interested in this specialised field of military study & collecting and to that end I welcome any Blog readers contacting me via the Tomahawk Films website to either say ‘hello’ or share any information or comments about anything I may have written here..or indeed any world war two television documentaries you may have watched & enjoyed that I may have missed? Having spent the bulk of my professional career in the film, TV & sporting outside broadcast world, I am still a sucker for a good TV documentary and still enjoy watching them & writing about them, so please feel free to make contact with me, it’ll be great to hear from you…!

Meantime wishing you all a great year of study & collecting in 2014… Tomahawk certainly did much better in 2013 than expected on sales of archival CDs, DVDs & Books so perhaps the Recession is finally lifting its heavy hand from backs & our wallets… here’s hoping!  

           Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Goering: A Career…

I don’t mean this to sound ‘full of it’ (or as my former Aussie colleagues would say ‘up myself’) but when you’ve spent the bulk of your professional career working in and around World War Two & Third Reich military history and watching TV documentaries on the same, almost daily, (allied to an ever-present hobby in the same vein), you eventually reach a point when you think that you may, possibly, have viewed much of the original period archive-footage available or have heard most of the historical angles expressed by the experts from this important period in time.. that in fact there is not much more to come to the surface that you haven’t already watched, heard or read about at some point in the previous 40-odd years of study!

It is also the case, (and one of the reasons that Tomahawk Films ceased being a distributor of WW-II documentaries to spend more time promoting my own TV documentary, ‘Channel Islands Occupied’), that rarely does anybody come up with something totally new in terms of documentary content or unseen 16mm newsreel footage to warrant yet another ‘look’ at a well-worn subject. In fact it always amazes me our Third Reich newsreels footage on Tomahawk Film’s Hitler’s Combat Newsreels is still, apart from the odd few seconds shown here & there, pretty unique in terms of what turns up on our screens these days and so it always manages to retain its ‘first seen buzz’.

One of the reasons I see so much archival material recycled across myriad documentaries is because we have a TV on in the corner of our production office tuned into the main satellite channels to keep an eye on WW-II documentaries to help us up to date with who is using our German music or Sounds of War combat SFX under contract, or to pick up on the names of new documentary companies who might be interested in using our German archive for future projects…

As I have said many times before, with so many WW-II documentaries airing on the dedicated satellite television platforms, (many being merely repeats from previous years) it is always a happy surprise when something fresh pops up on the TV screen and really grabs your attention. I am pleased to say this has happened to me in recent weeks.. firstly yesterday in the shape of a superb doc called Nazi Hunters, following the immediate post-war efforts of US Forces to bring Jochen Peiper and members of the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ (part of the overall 6th Panzerarmee) to justice for their involvement in the massacre of American GIs at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes in the winter of 1944/45… and then on Sunday night (and the previous Sunday to that), in the shape of a real cracker of a superb new 3-part documentary series on the H2 Military History Channel entitle Goering: A Career.

In co-production with Germany’s ZDF Channel and with the ever-superb journalist Guido Knopp listed in the credits, (though this time strangely under ‘lighting’ rather than writer/producer, so perhaps this was an early outing to his subsequent career), this series is offering both some stunning original colour footage and a great script providing further thoughts on Goering, the man, thus making it a really engrossing and very well researched & delivered documentary on Hitler’s Number Two and Head of the Third Reich’s air arm..and still the final episode to go..!

Born in 1893, Herman Goering was a former WW1 Ace in the Kaisers’ fledgling air arm and went onto become the much derided, overweight and somewhat lazy Supreme Commander of Hitler’s new air force, the Luftwaffe. His later addiction to morphine has been well documented down the years and this might explain his often strange military decisions, (or indeed lack of them), at times, resulting in his Luftwaffe High Command often being driven to utter distraction by its leader’s increasingly bizarre behaviour later on in the war…

Indeed had Goering been ‘clued-in’ to the modern concept of aerial warfare, (rather than wedded to WW1 fighter tactics), one wonders if the outcome of the Battle of Britain might have been a much closer thing; nevertheless it appears that from the very outset Goering actually knew that his Luftwaffe was under strength in both aircraft & manpower!

Indeed a regular contributor to yesterday’s episode Part 2 was a former Luftwaffe Test Pilot who admitted that all of the early aircraft promised to Hitler, (and often shown in some strength displaying in the skies above early Nazi Party Rallies), were nothing more than un-tested prototypes so, apart from the legendary ME Bf109, when war broke out in 1939, the Luftwaffe was indeed not the force it was wildly publicised as being or that the Allies believed it to be!

Another tantalising fact emerging from this superb profile is that as Goering indeed knew in advance that he had not the firepower at his command to deliver for Adolf Hitler, (despite always assuring his Führer that he had), behind the scenes he was doing everything he could to avoid another World War, including secret pre-war negotiations with Britain to find a way of averting conflict and his air arm being ‘found out’ in actual combat!

From some of what I heard last night it appears, to my mind at least, that Goering was perhaps more of a sensible individual than we have all given him credit for, despite being undoubtedly lazy and often finding any excuse to  bunk off to his superb castle-like country estate at Carinhall to indulge his love of hunting and spend time with his later accumulated wealth. Which was a complete reversal of his fortunes given that, pre-war, he had escaped from his growing role within the fledgling Nazi Party and fled to Sweden where, as a penniless former fighter pilot, he effectively lived off his wife’s parents. He eventually he returned to Germany to take up his position at Hitler’s side, but ever fearful of the Führer’s moods and stubborn single-mindedness plus his increasing desire for war, he never actively opposed Hitler’s visions for European domination, (even though he knew that half of his ideas were barking!).

Also detailed was Goring’s later wealth, stemming from his ‘success’ as an art dealer, though his dealings, (interpreted as ‘shopping’ in the countries Germany had recently occupied) were straightforward theft. Indeed at vital moments when he should have been taking full command of Luftwaffe air operations in the Battle of Britain and thence the 1941/42 Eastern Front campaign in Russia, he was more concerned with having his staff locate great works of art across Europe, to then be transported back to Carinhall in his own personal train… much to the ill-concealed anger of his elite fighter pilots who felt they were trying to conduct air campaigns on two major fronts with their hands tied behind their backs.

One superb interview thus far was with the Luftwaffe fighter ace and Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves holder Günter Rall, who, (with 275 combat victories in World War Two) later went on to serve with distinction in the post-war German Luftwaffe. A remarkably modest and hugely likeable former pilot with his ever-fluent and superb English, his interviews are always worth watching and listening to and in this terrific second episode he again delivers some very interesting facts & figures, plus a ‘no-holds barred’ appraisal of Goering as an air-force leader..!

Another incredible fact of which I was totally aware was that Herman Goring had a younger brother called Albert…very much a man in the background and who actually spirited a number of leading Jewish businessmen and film-makers out of Germany to America in the pre-war period. Indeed when it came to the ‘Jewish Question’ itself, it seems that Goering himself was somewhat more pragmatic about this whole issue than was hitherto known…and incredibly it appears that he also allowed several leading Jews to escape the Third Reich, (despite being Hitler’s  deputy and replacement Führer should Hitler die), excusing himself with the line: ‘A Jew is only when I say he is a Jew’..another most interesting fact to emerge from this documentary.

I won’t give too much more away in case you have not yet seen this 3-parter as no doubt it will be repeated, (a great many times… and rightly so in this case), in the coming weeks and months amidst the tidal wave of great-to-merely-mediocre Third Reich documentaries now airing across the gamut of satellite TV channels, however this one is most definitely worth a watch..the final episode coming on H2 this Sunday evening!

Just as a final thought when talking about the current crop of WW-II documentaries now appearing on a television set near you: I don’t know if you have noticed, but why has there been allowed to emerge an extremely annoying habit of the experts, when wheeled-in to voice their historical expertise on camera, of constantly talking in the present tense?  A whole raft of rather earnest historians, university lecturers and the ‘great & the good’ are paraded before us to eagerly tell us that ‘Goering is this’, ‘Hitler is that, or Rommel is faced with a tough situation, or such & such squadron is flying against so & so or that a unit of this force is fighting through great odds… and so on and so forth!

I don’t know which producer started this appalling interviewing habit, but everybody’s now seemingly at it. However these are now global events from over 70 years ago, so memo to whomsoever: please use was not is… thank you, I feel so much better now..!

                         Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Third Reich Spielleute…

As one thought or action invariably leads onto another so, as the bugler and drummer/fifer are forever linked historically down the ages, did I find myself moving from former naval cadet bugler to rock-drummer with ‘Adam West and the Gotham City Rockers’, amongst other bands, early on in my pre-television professional life.

However, like many other tub-thumpers I have also endured much stick as a result, for we un-sung souls, (beavering away at the back of the stage to ensure the ‘rock gods’ in the spotlight at the front kept time & looked good), are always the much-mocked ones and never taken seriously by our fellow musicians… though have you ever tried playing a full 5-piece rock kit and seen just how difficult it is? So perhaps having mastered this complex instrument myself I wasn’t quite the knuckle-dragger as depicted by the ‘real’ musos!

However on the basis of ‘once a drummer, always a drummer’ my continued long–time interests in the infantry bugle also helped keep alive, (once I’d given up active rock drumming), my interest in the snare-drum in its military role with the company bugler and drummer & fifers… an integral part of any military column throughout history.

Markedly different from the ‘standard’ German military musician and forever at the head of the company on the march, the Spielleute…literally playing people… have, with their fife & drums, (together with my beloved signalhorn), seemingly forever been a part of military lore. In fact the fife is very much an historical instrument in its own right having been given to the world by the ancient Greeks, and then picked up by Swiss mercenaries who used them in conjunction with drums as far back as The Middle Ages.

Adopted by the British army in the 18th century, the Third Reich’s Hitlerjugend was to take to fife & drumming with a great enthusiasm and ready zeal in the 1930s and today fifes, (along with bugles), are always associated with drums, with the German military term Trommelflöte in fact meaning ‘drum flute’. Made of black ebony and normally tuned in C of normal tuning the fife (or Pfeife in German) measured approximately 15 inches in length and when not being played was kept in a brown or black leather fife case suspended from the bugler or drummer’s leather belt to the rear of his bayonet and frog.

However, the oldest of all the military instruments is the snare or side-drum dating right back to The Crusades and, used in conjunction with the fife, was an effective way of keeping an army in step and on the move; like bugles they were also used to signal & transmit orders. In the 17th century, German armies went into quarters during the winter until a spring offensive could be launched, with soldiers being billeted in a town or village and with only the locals inns and hostelries for entertainment.

To encourage the soldiers to return to their billets at the end of the evening, the inn-keepers would turn their ale-taps off promptly at 10pm. This ‘witching hour’ would then be communicated to inn-keepers and soldiers alike by the garrison drummers who, in the company of an officer and sergeant, would set off around the town beating out a rhythm, whilst checking and ensuring all soldiers were on the move. From this action the word Tattoo’ which we are all now very familiar with in today’s military phraseology is thought to have been coined, derived directly from the Dutch phrase: Doe-Den-Tap-Toe or ‘Turn The Taps Off’!

Wehrmacht snare drum barrels were made of a brass and their batter heads made from calf-skin whilst snares were made from four catgut cords which were strung tightly across the lower drum skin and were held in place by a brass knob on one side and a hook and cord-screw on the corresponding side opposite. The skins were held in place by a wooden inner ring and an outer ring, the latter having a thin covering of copper, and the complete drum was held together by 5 stretching screws  evenly spaced around the body. Additionally a piece of strong curved wire, either covered in field-grey cloth or bound in leather, was riveted to the drum’s bottom rings as protection for the drummer’s trousers or breeches…

By a German army order of August 1933, all military snare and side drums were to be painted white on the inside and on top of the wooden drum rings, whilst the outsides should have 39 red lacquered isosceles triangles along the outer edge, with 39 black triangles along the bottom edge, both pointing inwards, with the resulting squares pattern formed between the triangles in white.

Whilst Luftwaffe and Heer & Waffen-SS snare drums had a standard brass barrel, it was custom and practice for the Kriegsmarine to over-paint the brass in a dark or medium blue. Hitler Youth & Sturm Abteilung snare drums, produced in 3 differing sizes, were painted in red and white alternating triangles, whilst those of the Allgemeine-SS & Waffen-SS sported alternating black and white triangles… and if you actually get to see or handle one ‘in the flesh’ very attractive items they are too…

Incidentally, talking of the Spielleute and their musical armoury of fife, drum & signalhorn, (another subject I write about in some length in the Tomahawk Films-produced book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45), the bugle itself was originally developed, way back in the dim & distant past by the French as a hunting accessory. In fact ‘bugle’ is actually the French word for ‘young bull’ and it was to be the German & French armies that adopted the instrument for military use, and its primary role was in the passing of signals on the battlefield and in camp, including ‘To Arms’ or ‘Last Post’.

As such it soon became an instrument of major significance within the German military, with all units parading its own signalling bugler.

However, finally as a sign-off for this particular Blog, whilst having dwelt primarily on the subject of the snare drum, though not an instrument of the Spielleute but very much harking back to those aforementioned Swiss and indeed German mercenaries of the Middle Ages, is the Landsknecht drum that was peculiar to the Hitler Youth and Deutsche Jungvolk. Certainly a most formidable-looking and very attractive military instrument, its skins were made from calf-hide, and its wooden drum rings were secured top and bottom by rope cords tautened by leather thongs.

Often used en-masse as part of the formidable Nazi propaganda machinery, these impressive drums were worn suspended on a black leather strap over the right shoulder and hanging down at an angle on the drummer’s left and in place of the standard drum-sticks, it was played by two cane-stick beaters with thick white felt pads on the end…

The usual or standard colour-scheme for these beautiful drums was a most dramatic, almost vivid red & white burning flame design for drums paraded by the Hitler Youth, and a similar black & white flame design for the Landsknecht drums of the  Deutsche Jungvolk. The DJ drums also appeared as a very dramatic design of black with a white runic device to the front. In terms of drum size, as with military snare drums, smaller sizes for the shorter boys were produced and issued.

In addition, though a musical instrument forever linked with the propaganda film newsreels of Hitler’s Germany, they were also used later on in great numbers in post-war East Germany, where they were repainted in blue & yellow of the FDJ and re-issued for use by the myriad Communist Youth bands, so as the saying goes: ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Collecting Third Reich Signalhorns…

I must admit that, many years before I penned my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of AH’s Third Reich 1933-45, I’d always had a bit of soft spot for the German signalhorn or bugle having, in my own time, been a bit of a whizz on my old Potters of Aldershot cadet bugle when I was a Petty Officer in the Royal Naval Section of the CCF back at my old Grammar school in Winchester. As such I could often be heard belting out a fair rendition of Reveille or The Last Post through my bedroom window, (embarrassingly much to my poor old neighbour’s on-going distress!)

But it was to be many moons while later, when I had graduated to the world of documentary  Film & TV and was running Tomahawk Films here in Twyford that the alluring aspect of historical German military music would fully emerge ’front & centre’ in my professional life and the engaging world of the bugle would happily re-appear on my radar in the shape of the German Infantry Signalhorn from the Third Reich and the earlier era of the Kaiser and the Great War of 1914-18.

So it was that over the last 20 years or so this lovely but often overlooked battlefield signalling instrument from the German military inventory became something of a passion for me and, as a result of acquiring all of the stunning Third Reich-era military musical instruments that can be seen in my book, many of the infantry signalhorns have since gone into my own personal collection, where today they take pride of place on display in Tomahawk Films’ production offices here on the UK’s beautiful South Coast…

Indeed the whole office used to be crammed full of Third Reich military-musical militaria as I sought out anything & everything in Germany to photograph and illustrate in the instrument chapter of my book, though many of those wonderful instruments now happily grace similar  enthusiastic Musiker collections here in the UK, over the Channel in France and with a number of great collecting mates ‘across the pond’ over in the US where they are similarly treasured as the terrific historical artefacts they undoubtedly are…

But the long search in various nooks, corners & crevices of Germany, (and their subsequent handling by myself and others), over many years has certainly added to my own personal compendium of knowledge of this, hitherto, unsung area of militaria collecting. For it is a matter of recorded fact the military band of the Third Reich was certainly well placed in terms of equipping itself, for not only was that nation renowned for its expertise in the manufacture of certain specific and highly technical items such as optical instruments and cameras, but Germany was also, historically, a major designer & producer of high quality musical instruments.

Indeed the modern brass instrumentation of today’s military bands the world over can be traced directly back to the Germany of the 16th & 17th century, and in particular to the ancient town of Nuremberg which boasted some twenty to thirty small companies who were actively involved in the manufacture of brass musical instruments and their accessories; whilst around Markneukirchen in southern Saxony, a whole host of musical instrument and associated parts makers also thrived. Other towns and cities operating similar thriving instrument ‘cottage industries’ included Augsburg, Vienna, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Munich, Dresden, Breslau, Leipzig, Graslitz (now post-war Kraslice), Linz, and Adolf Hitler’s beloved Berchtesgaden.

The highly skilled manufacture of musical instruments in Germany was very much a family-run affair, often handing down skills and expertise over three and four generations of craftsmen, all working in small companies, many employing no more than eight or nine employees, each producing the various different parts and components, such as valves, bells & decorations required to produced the finished instruments, often put together elsewhere.

Not only was Germany credited with producing the first true brass musical instruments, but it was also the nation that, in the late 18th century, started their mass-production at about the same time that many German instrument-manufacturing families began to spread their wings and move across Europe and further afield to the United States. Kohler and Metzler were two such instrument families who chose to move and they set up businesses in England, where they continued the strong tradition of excellent instrument workmanship, before sadly finally going out of business altogther in the early 1900′s. 

Meanwhile, back in Germany, the instrument families and their cottage-industry continued to flourish, with Kruspe of Erfurt excelling in the manufacture of the ‘Rolls Royce’ of all trombones, cornets and trumpets, whilst Germany’s oldest brass instrument manufacturer, Gebrüder Alexander, established in Mainz in 1782 by Franz Ambrose Alexander, concentrated on producing superior examples of flugelhorn, French horn, tuba & euphonium, creating and introducing many of the skills and techniques that continue to be utilised in instrument manufacture today. Tragically some of these old companies, like signalhorn-maker Oskar Ullmann of Leipzig, were literally blasted out of existence by the Allied bombing campaigns of the RAF & USAAF in the years 1943 to 1944…

Historically, probably the most famous of all musical instrument producing dynasties was the Denner family of Nuremberg, though similar other large scale family firms followed hard on their heels including the Moritz family of Berlin, (manufacturers of desirable and very high quality signalhorn for the Imperial Army of Kaiser Wilhelm), the Heckel & Grenser families of Dresden and the Adler family of Markneukirchen and Leipzig.

Of the many innovations in musical instrument production credited to German craftsmen, perhaps the most revolutionary was the rotary-valve, which they employed with great enthusiasm on their all trumpets, trombones, cornets, French horns and Wagner tubas. So whilst the bands of other European military armies evolved with the piston-valve, German military bands stuck rigidly to their beloved and, some say, superior rotary-valve. This is a very good rule of thumb when trying to identify German military musical instruments from a photograph or at a some distance! 

In addition a great many German-made brass instruments, particularly my beloved Deutsche Signalhorn, were often distinguished by the manufacturer’s practice of embellishing their instruments with the addition of an inch wide nickel silver plated brass collar or band around the bell-end, known as a ‘Girlande’ or garland.

Traditionally a Bavarian and Austrian deluxe adornment, this metal reinforcement fulfilled two roles: that of strengthening the bell of the instrument in the days when metals and manufacturing techniques could not always guarantee a consistent thickness of the bell, so giving a more ‘rigid’ sound to the instrument as a result, and secondly, providing an area of the instrument, upon which engravings or personal and regimental details could be etched by the manufacturer or the musician himself.

So whilst many brass instruments encountered sporting a garland will be of German & Austrian origin, a number of nations took note and subsequently copied this design feature, including early French produced instruments. Indeed, in American musical circles, the addition of a garland on instruments produced between 1920 and 1940 was considered a rather swanky personal customisation, and was a sure sign of the owner’s affluence!

However, on close inspection of a garland, those emanating from German craftsmen will traditionally be seen to have the lower edge of the silver band actually wrapped around the rim of the instrument’s bell to become slightly tucked under. Non-Germanic garlands will generally be affixed in the opposite manner with the rim or lip of the bell rolling back over the garland and effectively holding it down. In addition, certain manufacturers could be identified by the specific ornamentation and engraving etched onto their garlands.

Another sign of Teutonic origin is that all German-produced silver used in the manufacture of garlands & instrument parts contained a much higher nickel content in their alloy mix; as a result Germans refer to nickel-silver simply as ‘German silver’ even today.

Apart from making the material much stronger, this had the beneficial effect of giving the silver finish a much brighter, polished feel, whilst other manufacturers around the world using a lower nickel content in the mixes had to make do with their silver-plated instruments having more of a greyish quality in their finishes. Thanks to their stronger nickel-silver mixes, German manufactured musical instrument parts, particularly nickel-silver tubing used for the sliding parts, were very much in demand the world over, especially from American manufacturers… and this is very much the case today.

The actual range of instruments in a Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS military band, (as opposed to just the bugles, fife & drums of the spielleute), depended primarily on the overall manpower of the band in question, and on whether it was employed on standard & ceremonial duties or required to perform in a concert situation. These further matters I detail in my Tomahawk Films’ published book: The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

The Great Escape of 1944…

Over the weekend I sat down to watch a superb documentary produced by Windfall Films and aired on Channel 5, devoted to the recent uncovering of the actual tunnel dug and used in the fabled 1944 ‘Great Escape’ from the German  Prisoner of War camp Stalag Luft III located in what is now western Poland…

Untouched for almost 70 years, this underground passage, nicknamed ‘Harry’ by Allied prisoners, was sealed by the enraged and embarrassed German authorities immediately after the audacious break-out from the camp and despite on-going interest in this subject, (not least as a result of the 1963 John Sturges-directed Hollywood movie of the same name starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Donald Pleasence et al) it has  remained undisturbed down the years because of its location behind the later Iron Curtain and of it being of no interest to the Soviets!

Now, post-Fall of the Berlin Wall, a team of archaeologists, lead by Briton Peter Doyle (his father was a POW in Stalag VIIIb) & American Larry Babits, (whose late father was a US bomber pilot with a reputation for always getting his air-crew safely home), have located and excavated this important war-time legacy from its sandy tomb in what is now a rather beautiful Polish silver-birch forest.

Over a three week period in August they located the actual entrance to the ‘Harry’ and in the course of this dig the team also stumbled across another tunnel, called ‘George’, whose exact position had not been charted, though this one was never used as the 2,000 remaining prisoners were forced to march to other camps as the Red Army approached Stalag III in January of 1945.

But it was during this recent excavation of ‘Harry’ that Peter & Larry, watched on by veterans of the original war-time tunnel construction, discovered many remarkable secrets that still abide within this 111-yard long wood-lined passageway out from the camp and under the former perimeter fences and tantalisingly close to what was, back then the surrounding woods. (The camp having been designed with all its POW huts on legs and away from the perimeter fences and a large swathe of woodland outside of those same perimeter fences felled and cleared so the Luftwaffe guards could, supposedly, always see what their prisoners were always up to!)

As all of us avid Great Escape movie-watchers know full well, the first tragedy of this daring  ‘Boy’s Own’ escape (conducted under British military leadership along the lines of the rules of cricket), was that the eventual opening of the completed tunnel came up dangerously short of the wood and so the escapees would have to come up with the risk of being spotted by the Luftwaffe guard’s watch-towers. This is why, despite help from a well-timed Allied air-raid just as the escape was on and the fact that one of the first out of the tunnel remained just inside the wood and dropped a rope back into the tunnel, giving two tugs to those within to indicate when the Luftwaffe guard had reached the far end of his patrol and it was safe to emerge, only 76 of the planned 200 prisoners got out and into the welcoming protective cover of the forest.

Having first found the concealed tunnel entrance in the ruins of what was originally POW Hut 104, the modern archaeologists excitingly then uncovered the ‘fake’ concrete panel that had disguised the tunnel opening inside the hut, then one of the metal hooks fashioned by the POWS to help with its removal. After this the team then dug down some 30 feet  into the sandy forest loam to uncover the tunnel itself and found that many of the originally harvested hut bed-boards, which had been used in mining fashion all those years previously to shore up the tunnel to stop it collapsing were all, incredibly still in position and expertly doing their protective job even today!

The original ventilation shaft, ingeniously crafted from used powdered milk containers known as ‘Klim Tins’, (milk backwards) was still in working order and as they moved further down through the excavation site, the team also found many parts of old metal buckets, hammers & crowbars, all cleverly fashioned into tools of many & varied designs in 1944 by the POWS from scavenged bits of metal and then used to hollow out the escape shaft & tunnel.

In all a total of some 600 Allied prisoners-of-war worked on three tunnels nicknamed Tom, Dick & Harry at the same time, (with the hope that if the German guards discovered one of them…as actually happened… then they could continue working on the other two), and these tiny shafts were just 2 feet square for most of their full length… not a happy undertaking for those suffering claustrophobia..!

Originally lit by candles made from fat skimmed off the top of their meagre bowls of Ox soup, later scavenging harvested enough wire for the former electricians within the prisoner escape teams to be able to secretly plumb into the German supply and have electric light along the lengths of all 3 tunnels… and so it was that on the night of March 24 & 25 1944, 76 Allied airmen successfully escaped through Harry, complete with their fake identity papers, suitcases and expertly mocked-up German military uniforms & civilian garb.

Barely a third of the originally-planned 200 prisoners managed to get through the tunnel and into the woods before the Allied air-raid was over, and the camp floodlights came back on and the 77th escapee was spotted by an alert German guard. At this point ‘the balloon truly went up’ and all of the remaining escapees in the tunnel were discovered and, along with those waiting in the huts for their chance, were rounded up inside the camp… but not before a great deal of the precious fake German documents forged in the previous year were quickly put to the flame inside the huts..!

3 Allied airmen successfully made it back home to fight again but in the second tragedy of this whole episode, some 50 POWS were rounded up and handed over to the Gestapo and such was Hitler’s apoplexy at this enormous breach of security that orders were given for all 50 prisoners to be executed by firing squad! But something I had not known until watching this excellent documentary was that the Luftwaffe Camp Commandant was so horrified by this cold-blooded killing of so many of the rounded-up POWS that in an amazing act of contrition, he allowed surviving prisoners from Stalag Luft III to go outside of the camp to build a memorial to their murdered airmen Comrades. Still there today it is interesting to note that the memorial missed off the final numeral: it reading just 1939 to 194 because, of course, those surviving prisoners didn’t know when the war would end.

But back to the actual tunnel excavation itself and from the film we learned that in all some 90 boards from bunk-beds, 62 tables, 34 chairs and 76 benches, as well as thousands of items including knives, spoons, forks, towels & blankets were all squirreled away by the Allied prisoners to help aid their ultimate escape plan, which successfully took place right under the noses of their Luftwaffe captors despite the German attempts to ‘keep a lid on things’.

Although the Hollywood movie suggested otherwise (and the Steve McQueen motorcycle sequence is a true motion-picture classic moment), no Americans actually escaped through the tunnel as all of the USAAF airmen involved for many months in the preparation of the tunnels allied to all of the required forgery and costume creations for such an operation were transferred, at the last minute, to another camp that had been built to specifically imprison just downed American bomber-crew and fighter pilots.

However, as is often the case with Hollywood producers rewriting World War Two history as they are oft wont do: (i.e. anything to do with D-Day always seems to forget British & Canadian troops storming the nearby beaches of Gold, Juno & Sword, that the spectacular capture of a Top Secret Enigma machine from a German U-Boot was undertaken by Royal Naval personnel not, as in last night’s film U571, by US seamen or, indeed in that awful CGI-dominated film Pearl Harbor, where the impression was given that just one US airman flying with the RAF had been personally responsible for winning the Battle of Britain single- handedly ..thus stretching the meaning of ‘The Few’ to a quite extraordinary length!)

However whilst American air-crew personnel were very much involved in the vital planning stages of the Great Escape, on the day of the break-out the POW’s were presominantly British, Canadians, Poles, ANZACS & South Africans and this modern day dig, (brilliantly interspersed for TV with some superb actor-recreations, something readers of my Blogs-various know I don’t usually rate), really was a wonderfully engrossing and modern day telling of this amazing war-time story.

Now all these years on from 1944 along with the several American veterans watching the excavation with rapt interest was Gordie King, a former RAF radio operator who, luckily for him in the end, was 140th in line for ‘Harry’ and so didn’t get away. As a result he lived to tell his story and to see the tunnel briefly opened up to the world & recorded on film, before being filled back in and hidden away from the world’s gaze once more.: ‘This brings back such bitter-sweet memories,’ he said, wiping away a tear, ‘I’m amazed by what they’ve found..!’

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013