Any place for Chivalry in WW2?

Discussion in 'General' started by dbf, Feb 28, 2014.

  1. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    I've just finished listening to a In Our Time Programme about how a code of chivalry came to be and how it may have transformed over the centuries, rather than died: ie the notion of an officer class even in modern warfare, an officer and a gentleman, though this was with particular reference to WW1.

    Was there any place for chivalric values in WW2, or were they in effect well and truly superceded by the modern Conventions? Any examples of acts which might fall under this code, or men who displayed chivalric tendencies?

    One possible example - Rommel ordered that Geoffrey Keyes VC be buried with full military honours despite the fact that he had died during an attempt to kill Rommel.
  2. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    I fear that their was little room for chivalry in ww2 although I vaguely remember talk of chivalrous actions occuring during the Battle of Britain.

    I am reminded of a trip my wife and I made to Budapest in 2010 and in particular my own visit to the Terror.House.

    This is what a Russian executioner had to say about the last moments of one of his prisoners.

    "My last abiding memory will be of a visit I made on my own to the "Terror House" where first the Black Arrow and subsequently the Russians used the building to hold, torture and subsequently murder the unfortumates who fell into their clutches. The museum has many videos (with English sub- titles) showing actual interviews of both perpetrators and their victims. In one particularly chilling interview, a Russian former executioner describing how the prisoners were executed said "as far as any last requests, there was nothing silly like that !"


    Meant to add "not much chivalry there" :(
    dbf likes this.
  3. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Thanks Ron, the reference to air crews in your post rang a vague bell and I eventually found this

    and the word is even used in one headline

    Having attempted a few times to finish Hugh Dormer's Diary in one go, (for a very short book at times it makes for rather difficult reading), he reminded me very much of a warrior monk or crusader, extremely devout and highly principled.
  4. Joe Brown

    Joe Brown WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Prior to the landing of the liberating forces on Walcheren, the RAF were bombing the dykes and generally softening up the defences. A German Coastal Unit saw a plane being shot down and observed that the pilot was struggling as he tried to swim in the Scheldt Estuary. A German lad volunteered to swim out to his assistance but the officer refused permission. Nevertheless, the German lad swum out to his rescue and assisted him ashore. A chivalrous act by a good man.

  5. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Thank you Joe for that account.

    Also reminded me of a 'reciprocal' act which was mentioned recently on the forum, not so happy an ending though.

    From the Scots Guards regimental history by Erskine

  6. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    A glimpse of decency, even in the most brutal arenas:
    Chivalry over Tokyo: The WWII story of Hap Halloran and Hideichi Kaiho
    4jonboy and dbf like this.
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    I've been meaning to post this article for ages. It's from WO 166/4363 4 Docks Group, Royal Engineers War Diary

    Heimbrent, CL1, 4jonboy and 1 other person like this.
  8. Brian Smith

    Brian Smith Junior Member

    I am not as well read as most here and therefore have no examples but human nature being what it is there will always be those who act in a chivalrous way just as there will always be those who take advantage to commit atrocities. Good and bad will no doubt always exist side by side. We do tend to always hear about the bad and rarely the good.

    CL1 likes this.
  9. Mike L

    Mike L Very Senior Member

    John Sutton, a LCT skipper captured in Crete in 1941, described the Austrian Mountain Troops who caught him and his crew as 'absolute Gentlemen'.
    When they were told one of John's Stokers had been shot through the chest they treated him with great care, dressing his wounds and then improvising a stretcher from their gas capes to carry him over the mountains to the prison. Sadly the Stoker later died.

    John described to me how he chatted with one of the Austrian Officers who had studied in England and they exchanged addresses so as to keep in touch.
    Unfortunately John lost the Officer's address during his captivity and the prisoner's treatment, at least until they finally arrived in Milorg Camp, was not very good.
    dbf likes this.
  10. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Yes, I think there was chivalry sometimes. This seems to have happened on occasion in the Desert between British and German officers. Prisoners of war in the west were usually treated correctly enough, though I don't know if that counts as "chivalry."
    But the Christian European aristocratic code that was intimately bound up with the chivalric idea had died sometime before, WWI being the last gasp. The Japanese military aristocracy never believed in chivalry. WWII was a mass war, a war of the common man, and most common men in all societies are natural xenophobes. WWII was also an ideological war, and ideology is death on any form of chivalry or even basic decency. This attitude affected all of the combatants to some extent, the Germans, Japs, and Soviets most of all. You hear about chivalry between airmen, but shooting men in their parachutes was pretty common and standard practice in the Pacific. I well remember a Thames "World at War" TV interview with the younger Max Aitken, Beaverbrook's son, who was a Battle of Britain pilot. Asked about chivalry towards the Germans, he snorted. "Chivalry? Not as far as I was concerned. They were trying to enslave us."
  11. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    Whilst on the subject of chivalry, a word about my old OC, George "Loopy" Kennard.

    I had previously posted this:

    It is no secret that I held Loopy in high esteem but it is also no secret that he had been brought up in a very aristocratic family and the ethos of chivalry must have been part and parcel of his early education.

    The only time I fell out with him was when he insisted on inviting an SS Colonel, Hitlers ADC, to a Regimental reunion !
    But that's another story :)


    Attached Files:

  12. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

    The links between the cavalry of Britain and the Prussian/German cavalry were always close with the odd estrangement caused by war. Many of the colonels were from the royal households of Europe. The Kaiser was one of the colonels. post great war the portrait of the colonel still adorned the wall of the mess. Compliments were still paid, bowing the head and heel clicking, an officer of another regiment questioned this 'I could not have caused more offence had I farted at dinner'. Made very clear that he was our colonel and war does not change that! The year I cannot recall - 1970s, the troop the BBC commentator said - along the lines of, 'only in the British army do we have serving officers from the old aristocracy from across Europe on parade'.

    German influence on British Cavalry Erskine Childers 1911.

    My father told of coming across three german soldiers in the desert, two wounded whilst another tended them, the MO and medics treated them, my father talked of the fear in their eyes, we gave them food,water, cigarettes and loaded them aboard the squadron mobile workshop later flown back on the squadron hack to the hospital.
    dbf likes this.
  13. No.4CommandoBairn

    No.4CommandoBairn Well-Known Member

    There's an instance when Commandos came across some German paratroopers (with rifles over their shoulders) carrying a badly injured comrade ... our lads raised their weapons but were told not to fire. The last German raised his hand in acknowledgment before going round a corner.

    Another time, a Bren gunner had a German in his sights but was told not to fire as the man giving the order thought that, because the German was unaware of 'our' position he thought it 'ungentlemanly' to kill him. That same German, on realising 'we' were there, fired and seriously injured (killed?) the Bren gunner.

    There's another instance where Commandos were in a basement and boots were heard on the stairs - our lads were in no position to fight back - so one bloke went forward to tell them they were there. The Germans gathered them in as prisoners. The Commando relating the story said that he thought that decent of them ... cos if it had been the other way round, he'd have lobbed a few hand grenades into the basement.

    Depends on the situation and, most of all, the people in that situation.
    dbf likes this.
  14. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    Yes I think as a code it was well and truly gone by WW2. Not surprising really since the idea was born from the notion that any adherents would have had more in common with the fellows they were fighting than those they were fighting for. This sentiment may have hung around to some small extent in WW1 but I believe by WW2, even allowing for some very general examples like early fighter pilots or desert warfare as stated, this notion of commonality with one's enemy and their circumstances was understandably absent.
    Nevertheless human nature being what it is, there does seem to be some inherent remnant, separate from the Conventions binding modern warfare, of what is decent or fair.
  15. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

    Interesting point on Radio 4 recently (Portillo on WW1) the question asked was - why were folk from Britain, France. Germany and others still prepared to join the slaughter year after year. One view was that the people of each nation believed the conduct of the enemy was barbaric and the dire consequence of losing - was this all state sponsored propaganda or as the speaker suggested once the ball was set in motion the people kept it rolling with music hall acts and tales of barbarism that would be visited on the loser, the speaker went on to say that much of the hatred was seen for what it was in the years after the great war which led to worries that fact would be seen as propaganda at the outbreak of WW2 and may have been taken with a pinch of salt by those exposed to it during WW1.

    Rebro !
    dbf likes this.
  16. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    For a rare example from the Japanese:

    Officers of the Imperial Guard in Burma in 1943 met captured Chindit 1 Officers in the field. They treated the POW's with respect, stating that these had been the first British soldiers they had encountered who had taken the fight to their enemy and in this regard were to be treated in an honourable way whilst they held responsibility for them.

    On some occasions the Japanese officer would even invite his Chindit counterpart to dine with him and discuss the possibility of then meeting up after the war. Sadly, as these POW's were passed back through the lines, their treatment became steadily worse and more akin to what we understand as the Japanese ill-treatment of Allied prisoners of war.
  17. NickFenton

    NickFenton Well-Known Member

    There certainly was some respect for the Air Force, the Luftwaffe setting up their own camps and protecting where possible the captured RAF airmen and there were, in the early days, examples of fighter pilots looking out for their downed aircrew but this soon moved on.

    The example l love is that explained in the Goldfish Club where a British fighter shot down an Italian Bomber in the late hours in the Med. Both aircraft suffered and ditched and it only took a few minutes to realise they were sitting in their separate dingy's a few yards apart so they connected, got through the night together and were picked up the British the next day. The Italians became honoury members of the Goldfish Club. How the Brit slept whilst the Italians talked all night, as they do, i'll never know but l bet they had better rations in their dingy that we did!!!!!


    Roxy likes this.
  18. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    Similar story below
  19. tmac

    tmac Senior Member

    In August 1941, the Germans allowed a British bomber to drop a prosthetic leg by parachute on to an airfield at St Omer - to be used by prisoner of war Douglas Bader, who had lost one of his false legs when baling out.
  20. ritsonvaljos

    ritsonvaljos Senior Member

    In September 1942 the crew of the German submarine, U-156, captained by Werner Hartenstein showed a remarkable degree of chivalry toward the passengers and crew of RMS Laconia, which they had torpedoed believing it to be a troopship. However, it was carrying Italian POWs, civilians (including women and children), etc.

    I am sure many forum members will already be aware of the 'Laconia Incident' which was also made into a TV drama-documentary. There was at least one Merchant seaman from my home port of Whitehaven (AB William Peet, aged 17) who was one of the survivors saved by this act of chivalry.

    Click on the following link for further information about the 'Laconia Incident':

Share This Page