RIP Hamish Pelham-Burn SOE & Seaforth Highlanders

Discussion in 'SOE & OSS' started by Jedburgh22, Feb 20, 2011.

  1. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    I learnt today that Hamish Pelham-Burn who was one of SOE's top explosives instructors passed away at Perth in Scotland on the 11 February 2011. He was an instructor at STS 103, also known as Camp X in Canada where many Canadians as well as members of the OSS were trained.

    :poppy: RIP :poppy:

    Attached Files:

  2. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    War hero Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn

    A Scots soldier who played a key role in Britain's secret war to defeat Nazi Germany has died in Perthshire aged 92.

    • By Mark Mackay
    • Published in the Courier : 19.02.11
    • Published online : 21.02.11 @ 02.41pm

    Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn passed away peacefully at Pitlochry Community Hospital, the extent of his second world war heroism as yet unknown.
    From 1939-1945, he brought disruption and destruction to the German war effort through daring raids on the continent, often hand-in-hand with the French Resistance.
    An expert in explosives and demolitions, he joined the elite members of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), formed in 1940 by Winston Churchill to conduct warfare by means other than direct engagement.
    The SOE's members operated throughout Europe, working to try to cause maximum chaos in occupied countries. Some agents' stories caught the imagination of millions who read biographies later made into films, but so sensitive was Captain Pelham-Burn's SOE career that his story remains largely untold.
    His official SOE war record (1939-46) is stored in the National Archives at Kew where it has been sealed and protected for 72 years. Under the Official Secrets Act, it cannot be made available for public scrutiny until January 1, 2019.
    Captain Pelham-Burn began his military career with the Seaforth Highlanders, but his talents soon brought him to the attention of the newly formed Special Operations Executive.
    In addition to his work as an agent in France and Yugoslavia, he also served as one of the highly talented group of instructors gathered together with the task of creating a new breed of soldier.
    Controversial though their methods were within the military establishment of the time, the SOE was -- at least in the beginning -- given free rein to bring in whomsoever they pleased to make their agents expert in techniques unheard of in the regular army.
    Those selected were first sent for initial training at one of several stately homes used by the SOE -- including Bletchley Park Manor in Buckinghamshire. Known as Camp X, the estate was the base from which a vital secret war was fought, orchestrating research, propaganda and the decryption of ciphers such as the German Enigma.
    It was from there that Captain Pelham-Burn served as explosives instructor during 1943 and 1944, teaching a hand-picked group.
    Those recruited by the SOE commonly had considerable experience of the countries to which they were then sent to aid local resistance efforts. They were then toughened up in the field on commando courses, most famously at Inverailort Castle and Arisaig House near Fort William.
    There they were taught how to use a range of guns and explosives, sabotage wireless technology, live secretly in occupied territories and make small boat landings, training on a local loch.
    The agents, including Captain Pelham-Burn, also mastered other non-traditional techniques such as unarmed combat and silent killing.
    Once fully trained, the operatives were sent to countries including France, Belgium, Holland, Poland, Denmark and Yugoslavia where they daily put their lives in danger.
    They were active in helping the French Resistance and in the last months of the war were given key roles in the final push to defeat the Nazis.
    Among those agents active in the war's final months was Captain Pelham-Burn who, with two other instructors from Camp X, is said to have staged a daring raid on a German radar installation in Brittany just before D-Day.
    He was part of an adventuresome family, and some members lost touch as they left Scotland to seek new opportunities and earn their fortune.
    A keen explorer and geologist -- an interest that continued throughout his life -- he played a role a role in mapping the Ogilvie Mountains (first surveyed by William Ogilvie) in Canada's Yukon Territory.
    Back in Scotland, he settled in Highland Perthshire, where he was known as an enthusiastic photographer and was reportedly a very fine golfer.

    The Courier - War hero Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn
  3. Recce_Mitch

    Recce_Mitch Very Senior Member

    :poppy:Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn. RIP :poppy:

  4. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    :poppy: Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn. R.I.P. :poppy:

  5. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    Capt Hamish Pelham-Burn

    Published on 24 Feb 2011
    War hero:
    Born March 17, 1917:
    Died February 11, 2011.
    CAPTAIN Hamish Pelham-Burn, who has died in Pitlochry aged 92, was a Seaforth Highlander by family tradition, an infantryman at heart but no ordinary foot soldier.
    His family history of bravery and leadership made him a natural to be hand-picked for Churchill’s wartime secret army – the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Essentially, he was a real-life blend of James Bond, an undercover agent, and what the SOE called their “silent killers”, predecessors of the SAS.
    As an expert in weapons and explosives, he trained some of the British army’s first commandos at secret bases in Scotland, as well as teaching Canadian commandos how to use Sten guns, or their own hands in unarmed combat, at the Special Training School (STS) known as Camp X in Whitby, by Lake Ontario, Canada. Ian Fleming, the writer who would later create James Bond, underwent final training at the camp on his way to action in occupied France.
    Whether Capt Pelham-Burn killed or whom he killed will only be known on New Year’s Day 2019 when the detailed but still top- secret history of SOE operatives, currently held at the National Archives in Kew, west London, under the Official Secrets Act, will be released to public scrutiny after 72 years gathering dust.
    He maintained his sworn secrecy until his death but his former comrades left more than a hint that he was a largely-unrecognised hero of the war.
    He was known to have landed in darkness on a small craft off the coast of Northern France on June 5, 1944, on the eve of D-Day, along with two Canadian commandos he had trained at Camp X. Their sabotage of German radar installations was a key factor in the success of the allied landings at the following dawn, but Capt Pelham-Burn was never allowed to talk about it.
    The SOE’s official brief from Churchill was one of the war’s great euphemisms – “to conduct warfare by means other than direct engagement”.
    Capt Pelham-Burn’s personal role was to get behind enemy lines, sometimes on his own, at other times alongside the French resistance or Yugoslav partisans, to “sabotage, confuse and cause maximum chaos”. How to do so was never written down but SOE agents were known to have what Fleming famously described as a “licence to kill”.’
    Typically mysteriously, Capt Pelham-Burn has been listed in military biographies as serving not only with the Seaforths but with the RAF.
    Charles Hamish Pelham-Burn was born in 1917, son and grandson of former Seaforth Highlander officers from Midlothian. Joining the regiment’s 2nd Battalion straight from school was a given, but the newly-formed SOE in London had their eyes on this particular Scottish soldier, partly from his famous surname, but also because of the fitness and leadership skills he had shown in his training.
    From the outbreak of war, Churchill was well aware that, to beat the Nazi war machine, Britain would have to “fight dirty”. And so he ordered the setting up of the SOE as well as the army’s first commandos.
    Capt Pelham-Burn first trained under the future war hero Lord Lovat at the secret commando base at Achnacarry, near Fort William, where would-be commandos went through gruelling exercises, often under live gunfire from officers. It was there that the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife – named after two of the instructors at the secret camp – became his weapon of choice, indeed that of all the young commandos destined to take part in the D-Day landings, liberate France and help see off Hitler.
    To add to his physical skills, Capt Pelham-Burn spent part of his training in communications at the then top-secret but now famous Bletchley Park estate in Buckinghamshire, where he witnessed the decoding of material from the German Enigma coding system. He was then sent to Camp X in Canada to instruct an élite band of our Canadian allies, as well as Hungarian exiles, in how to – in the words of one of his former trainees – “blow things up without killing civilians, and kill enemy soldiers before they even heard anything or felt any pain”.
    The trainee recalled: “He always wore the kilt. I remember him once telling us: ‘Give me 100 Hungarians and 100 Scots and together we are going to …. (expletive deleted) Hitler’.”
    Capt Pelham-Burn believed Scots and Hungarians had a natural affinity for undercover work, probably, he said, because of their history of survival and uprising against auld enemies.
    Capt Pelham-Burn’s idea of training was that his Canadian and Hungarian pupils, with a view to becoming commandos, should never walk upright, unless they were on leave. He taught them to be more comfortable crawling than walking, more comfortable in the dark than in the daylight, able to assemble, load and fire their weapons in pitch blackness.
    “It gave us two advantages in combat, not least the fact that we didn’t see the faces of the Germans we killed,” the same former Camp X trainee said.
    Capt Pelham-Burn spent his latter years in Perthshire, where he maintained a lifelong interest in geology, mountain cartography and photography, always finding time for a round of golf.

    Capt Hamish Pelham-Burn - Herald Scotland | Comment | Obituaries
  6. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn

    Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn, who has died aged 92, was one of the Second World War’s Renaissance men, and displayed his lethal talents variously as a soldier, fighter pilot and behind-the-lines saboteur with SOE.

    6:15PM BST 20 Apr 2011 7 Comments

    In March 1944 SOE ordered Pelham-Burn to return to England from Camp STS 103, Canada, where he had been instructing potential agents in sabotage. He reported to the Baker Street HQ and was asked whether he was prepared to lead a small demolition team which would be dropped into France with the objective of destroying a radar installation.

    [​IMG] Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn

    A close friend, also in SOE, had been killed in what Pelham-Burn regarded as a botched mission and he agreed to go only if he could have the two Canadian sergeants, Andy McClure and Jack Clayton, with whom he had worked at the camp.

    In the early hours of the morning, three days before D-Day, they were dropped by a Wellington into rough, rolling Brittany country with rocky outcrops, with Pelham-Burn carrying detonators in a cotton-wool-lined box taped to his chest. After burying their parachutes in the bracken, they moved as fast and silently as possible to within 200 yards of their objective, where a hut with a single window and a sentry stood before the mast.

    Pelham-Burn cut the telephone line. Clayton dealt with the sentry. The charges were taped to the mast and the time pencils set with a 20-minute delay. The whole operation had taken four minutes. As they were creeping away, there was a flash of light followed by a great explosion: one of the pencils had detonated prematurely.

    Germans ran out of the hut firing in all directions. A dispatch rider on a motorcycle started off down the road, and Pelham-Burn had to shoot him despite the fact that this revealed their position.

    The two sergeants picked off the rest of the Germans with single, well-aimed shots. The mast was a pile of charred and twisted girders.
    Pelham-Burn led the way to a small farm that was to be their “safe house”. For the next five days, the three men hid in the hay in a small cupboard-like extension of the barn. They were then picked up by Lysander.
    Pelham-Burn recommended his two colleagues for Military Medals. As for his own wartime feats of derring-do, many seem destined to remain unknown, details having mysteriously disappeared from his service file.
    Charles Hamish Pelham-Burn was born at Nairn, in the Highlands, on March 17 1918. He was brought up at Killiecrankie, Perthshire, and then at Kilmory Castle, Argyll. An idyllic childhood was interrupted by preparatory school in Sussex. He detested the place and, in the hope of being expelled, tried to burn it down. He was beaten instead. After Harrow, where he was captain of golf and in the cricket XI, he went to Sandhurst and was subsequently commissioned into the Seaforth Highlanders and posted to the 2nd Battalion.
    As a junior officer, he found peacetime soldiering very dull. Climbing, fishing, shooting and driving sports cars occupied his leisure moments but, in 1940, he accompanied his battalion to France as part of the BEF. During the withdrawal he managed to get hold of a BSA motorbicycle and, travelling by roads crammed with refugees and strafed by German bombers, reached Cherbourg.
    To escape from the tedium of regimental soldiering, Pelham-Burn volunteered for a temporary transfer to the RAF and was sent to flying school. He became adept at crosswind landings, sideslipping, stalling, spinning and aerobatics and was the first on the course to be allowed to go solo. But he disliked the strain of having to fly in formation.
    After joining a Hurricane squadron, he enjoyed flying sweeps over northern France, flying close to treetop level to stalk armed trains. “Try to take out the gunner on the first pass,” he wrote afterwards, “then pull up and have a go at the locomotive on the second time round. Ammunition finished – then streak for home.”
    Grounded with a bout of sinusitis, Pelham-Burn obtained an interview with General Sir James Marshall-Cornwall, who sent him to Arisaig House, the SOE Special Training School west of Fort William. He arrived in July 1942.
    There he was taught fieldcraft, stalking, demolitions, weapons handling, signalling, driving locomotives and unarmed combat. After completing his course, Pelham-Burn ran his own training establishment at a remote house near Loch Nevis before going to RAF Ringway for parachute training. He was then dropped by Halifax into the Vercors region of south-east France, and spent two weeks instructing the Maquis in weapons handling and explosives.
    In February 1943, he was posted to STS 103, also known as Camp X, a training school for agents and subversives sited on the shore of Lake Ontario, Canada. Exercises took place, often at night, in the wild country north of the camp, and he borrowed a flight of Tiger Moths so that they could practice simulated pick-ups and landings of agents in small fields by moonlight.
    On one occasion, he bombed the commandant’s car with a bag of flour. On another, he was using a Thomson submachine gun and, underestimating the heat generated by the bullets, set fire to a barn .
    Pelham-Burn did an extensive tour of American Army camps. As he wrote in his memoirs, there was some initial opposition to being lectured to by a “Goddam Limey son-of-a-bitch”, but he always had some tricks up his sleeve and after a few minutes usually had his audience riveted.
    After his SOE operation in Brittany, he succeeded in getting himself posted back to the RAF and learned to fly Wellingtons. His final appointment was as SOE liaison officer at Shaef, Versailles.
    He settled in Perthshire, where he became a freelance photographer. Geology, mapping and mountaineering were absorbing interests, and he was a fine golfer.
    Hamish Pelham-Burn died on February 11. He never married.

    Captain Hamish Pelham-Burn - Telegraph
  7. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    I am quite concerned about the Obits of Hamish Pelham-Burn as his SOE P/F does not bear out the story of the mission to Brittaney prior to D-Day - NO agents were dropped from Wellingtons into France in 1944, also there was an embargo on missions for security purposes prior to D-Day with the first SOE & SAS Missions being dropped on the night of 5/6 June. Also there is no record of a radar station being destroyed in the run-up to D-day in any of the SOE sabotage records.
    There was a mission in Southern France that might fit the bill on D-2 for the Dragoon Landings.
  8. Bernard O'Connor

    Bernard O'Connor Junior Member

    Did the query about his supposed Brittany mission ever get cleared up?
  9. Bernard O'Connor

    Bernard O'Connor Junior Member

    Whilst researching Brickendonbury, SOE's sabotage school, I came across a reference to Americans being trained as instructors. Wondering if they were sent to STS 103 (Camp X) in Whitby, Ontario.
    On checking with Lynn Hodgson, he pointed me to a list of their instructors - some of whom were SOE.
    Aware that SOE policy was to send its officers on the training courses, I wonder if anyone might have the PFs of the following that include their reports from Brickendonbury - if they were sent there.
    As Lt Frederick Stanley Milner was the sabotage instructor at Camp X, it's quite likely.
    What about:
    Lt.Col. Arthur Roper-Caldbeck (1st Commandant)?
    Major Richard Melville Brooker (2nd Commandant)?
    Lt.Col. Cuthbert Skilbeck (3rd Commandant)?
    Major James Adams (Signals Instructor)
    Major Hamish Pelham-Burn (explosive instructor).
    Lt.Col. William Fairburn is said to have taught his ungentlemanly warfare skills at Brickendonbury with Sykes, presumably before being shipped west.

    Any other snippets you may have on Brickendonbury you could email me?
  10. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    I think that the Brittany Mission did not happen as there is no mention in his P/F or elsewhere in the ops files
  11. BrynleyH

    BrynleyH Junior Member

    On a separate note, does anyone know if he was related to the Brigadier-General Pelham Burn who commanded a brigade in 51HD in the First World War and who was, at the time he was appointed, the youngest Brigadier in the British Army?
  12. Jedburgh22

    Jedburgh22 Very Senior Member

    In his SOE P/F is father is listed as NOK and is named Captain J G Pelham-Burn Commander of the Argyll Home Guard.

  13. BrynleyH

    BrynleyH Junior Member

    Thanks, Steven
  14. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I would agree Stephen.I have just run into this discussion and it would, with repect, appear rather odd.

    Shortly before the main D Day landings,the first group in Brittany was the 4th SAS French(Battalion of Heaven).Marienne et al.

    Jedburgh operations were being mounted to coordinate and arm the various resistance groups in Brittany after D Day in order to promote a general uprising by restance groups who were highly motivated to strike at the Germans but were not armed accordingly.

    There were numerous inclandestine operations around Plouha but that involved the picking up of evading airmen by MTB from Cornish and Devon ports arranged at the Brittany end by the Shelbourne reseau.

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