Friends of Popski's Private Army


Welcome to the Friends of Popski's Private Army website, the online part of the PPA Memorial, made possible by the Trooper Pat Blake Memorial Grant in 2010. If you are new to the Popski Story, then start here. If you are looking for information about a PPA veteran then start here. Enjoy!



235251 Captain Brian Ewart Thomas MiD, 1923-2014
Corps of Royal Engineers, PPA ("Popski's Private Navy")

Major John Campbell MC* and Captain Brian Thomas MiD<br />at the 2006 War & Peace Show, Beltring, Kent
Major John Campbell MC* and Captain Brian Thomas MiD
at the 2006 War & Peace Show, Beltring, Kent

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of 235251 Captain Brian Ewart Thomas, c/o of "Popski's Private Navy", peacefully in the early hours of Tuesday 3 June 2014, just two weeks before his 91st birthday.

Brian (then a Lieutenant) headed the seven Royal Engineers attached from 945 Inland Water Transport Company to Popski's Private Army at Ravenna. Their shallow-draught wooden-bodied Ramp Cargo Lighters (RCLs) enabled PPA to get their Patrol Jeeps up the Adriatic Coast and into the Po delta, behind the German lines. On the return journeys they would bring out German POWs.

Wooden-bodied Canadian Ramp Cargo Lighters (RCLs)
Wooden-bodied Canadian Ramp Cargo Lighters (RCLs)

Inevitably they became known as "Popski's Private Navy" and, perhaps uniquely, all 7 men were awarded Mentions in Despatches. This is no wonder when often they would have to get into the cold dark waters to untangle mines from the propellers of their RCLs, as they brought up supplies and Italian Partisans right under the noses of the Germans in the closing months of WWII. Unlike larger Landing Craft, RCL's had no armour so were totally vulnerable to even small arms fire.

For the Imperial War Museum, in 1995 Brian recorded his wartime memoirs and attended a reunion of PPA veterans to mark the opening of IWM's Secret War Gallery (see "Operation Diamond, the New Memorial Plaque and Pamela's Death")

Always a great supporter of the Friends of PPA, Brian proudly represented PPA to HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh at several official opening ceremonies of the Royal British Legion's Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey. Since then his duties have been taken over by one of his colleagues, Corporal Frank Dobinson, MiD. Brian's twin brother served in the Royal Navy, and his son Pete - previously a gunner in the Royal Artillery - has also attended many foPPA Remembrance Events.

Perhaps Brian's most famous exploit, aged just 22 years old, was to bring six of Popski's Jeeps on RCL's across the Lido of Venice, to land them at St Mark's Square, just before the final surrender of German forces in Italy and Austria. This achievement of Popski's long-held ambition astonished the locals, as no wheeled vehicles had ever been there before, or indeed since.

Lieutenant Brian Thomas MiD (below cross) with Captain Jan Caneri MC (with glasses)
in their PPA Patrol Jeep in St Mark's Square, Venice, in April 1945

Brian was a great character and will be hugely missed by his family as well as by us all at the Friends of PPA. His death, shortly after Signalman Fred Yeoman's in April, now leaves only five known survivors of PPA out of 250 established to have served with this Eighth Army Special Forces unit.

Captain Brian Ewart Thomas MiD, Corps of Royal Engineers, Popski's Private Army, born 17 June 1923, died 3 June 2014 aged 90. His wife Shirley died in 2008 but he is survived by sons, daughters and grandchildren.

Brian's funeral will be held at 12:45pm on Thursday 19 June 2014 at Guildford Crematorium


The Wixoe Memorial to Popski and Pamela<br />unveiled and dedicated on Saturday 17 May 2014<br />at St Leonard's Church in Wixoe, Suffolk
The Wixoe Memorial to Popski and Pamela
unveiled and dedicated on Saturday 17 May 2014
at St Leonard's Church in Wixoe, Suffolk

18 MAY 2014 - THE WIXOE MEMORIAL TO POPSKI AND PAMELA - UNVEILING A GREAT SUCCESS: The details of this event, held on Saturday 17 May, are here. This was our third PPA Wixoe Remembrance Event, attended by over 50 people who came to see the unveiling and dedication of the magnificent Wixoe Memorial to Popski and Pamela. Additionally we have illustrated the whole story of all the memorials to Popski and his men, from 1952 to the present, including Pamela's involvement, leading up to the creation of The Wixoe Memorial to Popski and Pamela.


Major John Campbell MC* Major Jean Caneri MC Captain Robert Yunnie MC Major Vladimir Peniakoff DSO MC
Major John Campbell MC*
"Bulldozer"
Major Jean Caneri MC
"Jan"
Captain Robert Yunnie MC
"Capitano Bob"
Lt-Col Vladimir Peniakoff DSO MC
"Popski"
foPPA Patron Sir Robert Crawford CBE foPPA Patron Anne Peniakoff foPPA Patron Sir Christopher Lee CBE
Sir Robert Crawford CBE
foPPA Patron
Anne Peniakoff
foPPA Patron
Sir Christopher Lee CBE
foPPA Patron

This is for PPA veterans and their families, for friends and fans of the remarkable Popski story, young and old, all around the world. Out of 250 verified members of PPA, in June 2014 there are now only 5 of them known to be still alive.

Many people are under the impression that Popski's book is all there is to see but we tell you here about other books on PPA and where to find them, and reproduce newspaper articles and other documents that have lain hidden in The National Archives, the Imperial War Museum, and various dusty attics for decades.

There is already lots of interesting and informative reference material to see, from foPPA's extensive archives, all richly interwoven with relevant cross-links and as time goes on we'll be adding more and more articles and previously unpublished images and documents – see About this website. Further information is also available on the website of our close research colleagues at the PPA Preservation Society.

Heavily armed PPA jeep in the Pineta di Classe, South of Ravenna.
Heavily armed PPA jeep in the Pineta di Classe, South of Ravenna. (See Image Credits)

Although there is some information already available on the web about Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir Peniakoff DSO MC and his World War Two 8th Army Special Forces unit as they fought across Libya and Tunisa then up Italy and into Austria, we have found that much of it is inaccurate or misleading, from secondary sources or just sloppy writing. This is where to find the facts about "No 1 Demolition Squadron, PPA": collected, collated, compared and confirmed over many years from primary sources.

The purpose of this website then, an integral part of the PPA Memorial, is to :-

Every year foPPA organises or attends four remembrance events: PPA Wixoe, where Popski is buried (May); PPA Westminster, at the opening of the Royal British Legion's Field of Remembrance (November); PPA Cenotaph, at the Royal British Legion's ex-Service March-Past (November); and PPA Memorial, at the National Memorial Arboretum (November).

Corporal Frank Dobinson of
Corporal Frank Dobinson of "Popski's Private Navy" with his daughter Velia,
representing PPA at the November 2010 Royal British Legion Cenotaph March-past.
Frank and Velia have now done this for four years running. (See Image Credits)

Friends of Popski's Private Army is the continuation of the post-war PPA Association run by Sergeant Eric Brooks and Captain Bob Yunnie until Popski's death in 1951, and since then Corporal Ben Owen's guardianship of PPA history until his death in 2008. We hope that you enjoy exploring these pages and feel able to support our continuing work in the National Memorial Arboretum.


Friends of Popski's Private Army supports : –

National Memorial Arboretum Armed Forces Day Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal
National Memorial Arboretum Armed Forces Day Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal

Guy Harris & Roy Paterson
Copyright © 2014 foPPA
5 June 2014