Nationality of these troops - Italian, Swiss, French?? Photo from 1939

Discussion in 'Others' started by Pete Wood, May 5, 2020.

  1. Pete Wood

    Pete Wood Member

    This photo is nicely dated in August 1939, days before the declaration of war.

    The driver and photographer of this Jaguar had just been to observe the 1939 Grand Prix in Bremgarten, Switzerland. They then drove to Salzburg, Austria, to watch the Six Day Motorcycle Trials. The War Office told them to make their escape, fearing the British competitors (many of them serving soldiers) and spectators would be taken prisoner.

    The petrol filling station is Azur - a French brand. But I understand this company had stations in neighbouring countries.

    I would like to locate exactly where the photo was taken, as the car survives and the owner would like to know. So identifying the nationality of the soldiers would be a big help, please. Which nationality.jpg
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  2. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    The style of the caps is Italian (or Spanish)
    Last edited: May 5, 2020
  3. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I am not an expert on military headgear, but having looked through Google images for both French and Italian armies I first thought they were French soldiers. See: not the best photo For the Italians see: WWII Italian M35 Grey Green Wool Bustina Garrison Side Cap - $39.99 : HIKISHOP

    The Swiss Grand Prix was in late August 1939, and the same photo and clearer is available via: 1939 Swiss Grand Prix. Photo | Motorsport Images It is dated 20th August 1939 and taken in Bremgarten - which is 20 kms west of Zurich. Check out Google mapping to see the location.

    Geography alone rules out the soldiers being Italian. So after trying Swiss Army headgear, the soldiers are Swiss See: Swiss WW2 Military Army Sidecap - MilitariaHub

    Given Swiss neutrality and being pre-WW2 I say they are Swiss Army, helped by the age range and then reliance on conscription. The Swiss mobilised as I recall later in the war, not in August 1939.

    The speed trials at Salzburg were held on:
    Link: ISDT 1939 – Germany

    There are a number of websites that have stories of the 'Great Escape' by the British Army competitors, here is one example The 1939 ISDE: The Great Escape - Transmoto
    Last edited: May 5, 2020
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  4. Pete Wood

    Pete Wood Member

    The date of the photo, is in question. There has been so much poetic licence attributed to the car and this photo. For example, I have been able to prove that the driver of the car is Henry Munday, a Cambridge University student at the time - and not Harry Mundy (sometimes called Harry Munday) of ERA and Jaguar fame, as some web articles and books cite. I have traced the families of both men, and Henry Munday's second wife, still alive, and his eldest daughter recognised him immediately - but knew nothing about the dash to escape.

    The 'Great Escape' of the army motorcycle team, took place on the evening of the 25th August 1939. They drove through the night, along with some of their German army friends/competitors, who were escorting them to safety, towards Switzerland.

    Although the Swiss Army was mobilised on the 28th August, the Reserves were already guarding the border from March 1939 - and this is my point. I believe the photo was taken during the Great Escape. With that many soldiers around, it feels (!) to me that it is near the border and the date is probably the 26th August onwards.....

    I too looked at many photos of headgear - but I just can't find a hat that matches. Look at the boots of the soldier on the far left of the car photo. Some of the soldiers next to him have different colour trousers (overalls underneath the tunic?). It all feels mismatched....
    Last edited: May 6, 2020
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  5. Pete Wood

    Pete Wood Member

    Here is a photo of a Swiss soldier, mobilised on the 28th August. Brass buttons on his tunic, two buttons on his field cap etc. The same uniform as those in the car photo or different....??

    Swiss army.jpg
  6. Pete Wood

    Pete Wood Member

    I should also have added that some of the civilian spectators made their escape on Day 4 of the competition, on the 24th August. Look at this map of the six day trial and you can see that on day 4, the event went South to Grasegg - which is less than 20 miles to the Italian border. Hence my question about the uniforms being Italian.

    course map.jpg
  7. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    My understanding is that Anglo-Italian relations were not great by August 1939, so would an escape route via Italy be suggested by official British Army guidance? Italy had already made a Pact with Germany, although it was ostensibly neutral in 1939.

    Do any of those who made the 'Great Escape' refer to using a route via Italy? If none do and I expect they refer to going via Switzerland and France - after all the bulk of the British Army would have been at home, even more so reservists.
  8. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Not an expert, but they look French to me. I see one man in a beret and what look like the usual French collar tabs.
  9. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 6, 2020
  10. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

  11. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    La belle France may have it!

    Unless of course the Azur brand crossed borders in the 30's.

    Azur (Desmarais Freres), OZO (Omnium Francaise des Petroles) and Stellis/Stelline road maps from France

    Kind regards, always,

  12. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Plus, a very much social observation that I've tried to keep away from since the outset of this thread, but is pertinent to the location of the photo I think, and is absolutely not a slur on the country of the time or it's people.

    That many chaps stood around whilst the only lady in the picture works the pump, for me, France.

    Kind regards, always,


    N.b. French father, Irish mother, which likely says more about me than anything else!
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  13. Pete Wood

    Pete Wood Member

    I am very grateful for all the input so far. Thanks to John Bradbury, author of the book 'The Six Day Affair,' which is beautifully researched and relies on first hand accounts from army and civilian competitors of the International Six Day Trial, there were at least three convoys, all of which took different routes, by road, to Switzerland (via Liechenstein, and Germany in some cases). Some of the spectators escaped in other ways, via Italy and into France. Some, with money, even got away by aeroplane.

    The part of the book which brought home to me the chaos, at the time, was when the parties reached the ports in Belgium and France - only to find British cars, including a Bentley, abandoned (many out of fuel) - because the ferries were full, and the occupants chose to leave their cars and get home as foot passengers.....

    I am still torn about the location. This is because of the price of the fuel. It is 3 Francs (Swiss or French) on the pump. The exchange rate, in 1939, was 17 Swiss Francs to 1GBP and 87 French Francs. If (!!) France and Switzerland were serving petrol by the gallon (rather than the litre), then it must be Switzerland (?) - as 3 Swiss Francs equates to 4 shillings (and petrol was 2 shillings per gallon at the time in the UK). We know that in the last week of August, 1939, fuel prices doubled and even trebled in price in Europe.

    Here is a photo of an Azur Pump, in Paris, in 1947 - where fuel was priced at 21 French Francs - again about 4 shillings. I managed to buy the Guide Azur on eBay France today, which lists the Azur Petrol stations on a map of France and surrounding countries. Maybe I will get lucky.... ParisPetrol.jpg
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  14. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Whist not falling out with your thinking Pete I am with your weights and measures!

    For me it's France, selling fuel in litres definitely, not gallons.

    3 Francs 70 centimes per litre would be right for the time.

    Well done on getting hold of an Azur map, good luck with narrowing down the location.

    Kind regards, always,

    Last edited: May 8, 2020
  15. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    Yes Jim, I thought there was a French connection there or at least a could have been a Jacques.
  16. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    The Irish side got first dibs, and a free for all was had on the middle and (latter) confirmation names. I think myself fortunate there was no convention for naming children after football team personnel then (that would have led to an international incident!)

    Kind regards, always,


    P.S. And just to confirm for you Harry, James Connolly did not come into it, maybe!
    Last edited: May 8, 2020

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