2017 PPA Wixoe Remembrance Event

2017 PPA Wixoe Remembrance Event, Saturday 13 May 2017 at 11:30 am

St Leonard's Church, Wixoe, Suffolk CO10 8UB

This year we note that it's the 75th Anniversary of the founding of Popski's Private Army.

  Wixoe Church  
  St Leonard's 12th Century Grade II* church at Wixoe  

We are pleased to announce our sixth PPA Wixoe Remembrance Event on Saturday 13 May 2017 at St Leonard's Church in Wixoe, Suffolk, where Popski and Pamela are buried together. This is the Saturday nearest to the anniversary of Popski's death on the 15th, and the event commemorates both Popski and Pamela, as well as the men of Popski's Private Army.

Popski and Pamela in their flat off Sloane Square, Kensington (Chris Ware, Keystone Press Agency Ltd)
Popski and Pamela in their flat off Sloane Square, Kensington
(Chris Ware, Keystone Press Agency Ltd)

Order of Service

The Wixoe Order of Service, and especially the two hymns, is based upon the one for Popski's funeral in 1951.

Reverend Stuart Mitchell, Rector of St Leonard's, will conduct the service.
Rodney Bullock, Organist, will lead the hymns.
Katie Johnson, Pamela's companion, will read the Lesson.
Roy Paterson, foPPA Secretary, will talk about Popski, Pamela and PPA.
Rod Gibson, Royal British Legion Bugler, will sound The Last Post and The Reveille.
Sue Anderson, daughter of Signaller Hamilton Tyler, will read Corporal Ben Owen's Poem.
Sergeant Len Greetham MM, 27th Lancers, will read the Kohima Epitaph.

2017 Wixoe Talk

Welcome to you all, ladies and gentlemen, Parishioners of Wixoe and Friends of Popski’s Private Army, and thank you for being here for our 6th PPA Wixoe Remembrance Event. I think that you all now know that this time next year, I shall look at bit different.

Today though, I should like to tell you a tale.

It’s a tale of two churches, of two people, of war and love and loss, of history and heritage, of warriors and artists, of why we are here today.

In November 1944 President Roosevelt was elected for his fourth term, but was already slowly dying. German V2 rockets had started to rain on London, but the mighty battleship Tirpitz was sunk in a Norwegian fjord. British, French and US forces were pushing steadily across France and Holland, and the Soviets were nearing Budapest, but the Japanese were starting to realise that perhaps they might not win their war in the Pacific after all.

In Italy Rome had been taken as the Allies slogged their way North, their strength severely weakened by the huge withdrawal of men and material for the Normandy Landings, but the Germans were still able to deploy many strong divisions from coast to coast.

For thousands of years Italy has been an attackers nightmare, a defenders delight, with its mountainous spine creating natural strongholds and delivering such large quantities of water that achieving military momentum is almost impossible on narrow coastal plains that are easily flooded.

South of ancient Ravenna on the Adriatic side is the Pineta di Classe, a dense pine forest that has taken over the land as the sea has retreated over the centuries. The Germans didn’t know it but even a modest counter-attack there could have easily pushed aside the motley collection of rear-echelon and reconnaissance units known as “Porterforce”, hastily cobbled together to hold this frontline sector for Eighth Army.

The sharp end of Porterforce in the Pineta comprised three elements: the 13-ton Staghound armoured cars of the 27th Lancers, the well-disciplined Partisans of the 28th Garibaldi Brigade, and all three 6-Jeep Patrols of Major Vladimir Peniakoff’s Private Army, formed in 1942, 75 years ago, in Cairo.

As they pushed the Germans back Northwards to Ravenna, more by guile than by strength, they were held up by the fear of Eighth Army artillery officers that the Germans could clearly see them coming, probably watching from the tall belltower of the 6th-century Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in the small town of Classe.

However, a young Intelligence officer, Major John Willett, and not a few of his colleagues, had studied classics at Oxford and was well aware of the historical significance of that whole region, and especially the Byzantine gem of the Basilica. He persuaded Popski and the Partisans to go and check it for Germans, in the dead of night.

There was nobody there, so the magnificent mosaics weren’t reduced to dust and Popski later said that this was “his first act of virtue in a long career of destruction”.


By late 1945 Popski was in Vienna, now a decorated and famous Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel, liaising with the Russians, honoured in Ravenna for saving the Basilica, and enjoying a little black-market private enterprise. It was here that he met the vivacious young Captain Pamela Firth, who was helping displaced persons, and maybe helping MI6 too. He had been married once, before the war, and was determined not to do it again.

By May 1948 Popski had been demobbed, naturalised as a British citizen, become even more famous as a writer and broadcaster, and had married this lively Irish girl from Cavendish, just up the road from here. She was easily his equal by her directness, intellect and sense of humour, as they settled happily in London, while he wrote of his wartime exploits. Her cousin, the artist Francis Bacon, was a frequent visitor, who may have painted a portrait of Popski. Another visitor was a young Czech sculptor called Franta Belsky, soon to become famous for his busts of Churchill and the Royal Family.

Only three years later though Popski was dead. Franta Belsky carved Popski’s gravestone, as we shall see shortly. Popski’s veterans and Pamela then raised money for a marble commemorative plaque that was unveiled exactly a year later in that Basilica. When we went to the Basilica in 2005 for a PPA Remembrance trip though, the plaque had been replaced, by a new one that also recognised the Partisans’ efforts to liberate Ravenna. Pamela couldn’t be with us to see this because she was too frail, and died not long after, at the end of her 88th birthday party.

Over the following years we tried to arrange for the very large original plaque to be installed here at 12th century St Leonard’s, where Pamela’s parents are buried, but that was just too difficult, for many reasons.

Then came the thought that a smaller plaque, dedicated to Popski and Pamela, would be a much better idea. The Wixoe Memorial to Popski and Pamela, at the back of the church, was unveiled three years ago, and we are very grateful to the Parish of Wixoe for their patience and help in making it possible, and to the Trustees of the Pamela Matthews Charitable Trust and the Friends of PPA for generously funding it.

It gives me great pleasure now, as we celebrate the 75th anniversary year of PPA’s formation, to finally present to Reverend Stuart Mitchell this long-promised but quite small Wixoe Memorial Binder, which will explain to visitors the significance of St Leonard’s and the Basilica to the story of Popski and Pamela.

Thank you.

Wixoe Memorial Binder

For the benefit of visitors to St Leonard's who wish to know more about the Popski & Pamela plaque.

xxx xxx
xxx xxx
xxx xxx

Remembrance Wreath

PPA Poppy Wreath 75th anniversary wreath card

How to get to Wixoe

Wixoe village is off the A1092, East of Haverhill, between the villages of Sturmer and Stoke-by-Clare, on a line drawn between Cambridge and Colchester. Navigation failures will result in RTU!

View Larger Map of Wixoe

Other information

RSVP  Please let us know, as soon as possible, if you are coming (and if you are not) and how many are in your party.

Invitations  Although only one Invitation Card is sent per family, you can still bring along as many people as you want, and extra souvenir cards are available on request. You do not need to have an Invitation Card to attend: all and all ages are welcome. Bring your foPPA Invitation Card anyway though, to collect autographs, and don’t forget your camera (see Video below). Maybe also bring along any PPA documents and photos to show everyone.

New Note for 2017  Every year we send out about 300 invitations to families and fans all over the world. We know that most of you will be unable to attend, so the Remembrance Invitation Card is more of a memento, to say "we haven't forgotten you either".

Email addresses  Please could you send us an email anyway, as soon as you get this invitation, even if you're not coming, so that we can keep your contact details up to date in our database. Last year we found that many people had changed their email address and didn't tell us, so our messages were bounced back as "This email could not be delivered", and they don't know what we're up to! Thanks.

Medals  Please dress smartly, with medals, but warmly and comfortably as you may be outside for a while.

Parking and comfort  Wixoe is a very small village and the church does not have a carpark. Please park considerately. Please note that there are no public toilet facilities in the village nor at St Leonard's Church.

Video  If you wish to use a video camera, it is quite ok to film the event inside and outside the church, with discretion and consideration for others.

Visitor's Book  The foPPA Visitor's Book will be available for signing after the service at back of the church.

Collection  A collection will be made after the service in support of St Leonard's.

Service  The Service of Remembrance will be followed by a move to Popski's and Pamela's grave to lay a wreath.

De-briefing  After the service and wreath laying we'll go to The Bell Hotel in Clare, for our usual refreshments and exchange of PPA stories. Clare is just a few miles East of Wixoe on the A1092.

View Larger Map of Clare

Insurance  We should like you to note that you attend this event under your own insurance arrangements. FoPPA does not provide insurance cover for this or any other events and all persons attend this event at their own risk.

The PPA Memorial Fund

Although the funding focus for the day will be on St Leonard's, we should like to take this opportunity to say that running these event always eats into our funding, so you may like to consider helping to top us up again! Many thanks to all our kind supporters around the world.

PPA Memorial Fund logo

Copyright © 2017 foPPA
25 May 2017