Memorial Speeches

Three main PPA Memorial Dedication speeches were given on Sunday 30 March 2008, Popski's birthday - by Major John Campbell CVO CBE MC*, Skipper of 'S' Patrol and Chairman of the Friends of Popski's Private Army, by Sir Robert Crawford CBE, Director General of the Imperial War Museum, and by Signora Allessandra Benini on behalf of the National Association of Italian Partisans.

These were followed by Guy Harris, Treasurer of the Friends of Popski's Private Army, reading a short poem written by Corporal Ben Owen specifically for the unveiling ceremony, by Roy Paterson, Secretary of the Friends of Popski's Private Army, acknowledging Guy's efforts on the day to help prepare the Memorial, and by Mike Colton, Secretary of the Allied Special Forces Association, acknowledging the two ASFA volunteers, Annette Colton and Julie Davis, who carefully planted the magnificent hedging around the Memorial.


Major John Campbell's PPA Memorial Dedication speech[1]

Sir Robert Crawford, Major John Cambell, Prebendary Reverend Selwyn Frost
Sir Robert Crawford CBE, Director-General of the Imperial War Museum,
Major John Campbell CVO CBE MC*, Chairman of the Friends of PPA,
and Reverend Prebendary Selwyn Frost, Padre to Hereford Royal British Legion

Welcome first of all, to all of you and to the wonderful way in which representatives from all the people, all the organisations and units and other people who have helped us through all the years from [Friends of] Popski's Private Army. We also have the people who are celebrated on the monument now, that is to say the 27th Lancers and the Garibaldi Partisans. They are all here and we are so delighted to see them and indeed the many people from families of the fallen or those who have died since the war.

Kurt van Looke, of the PPA Preservation Society, leads the PPA Jeeps
and the congregation to the PPA Memorial

I must not forget also the people who were associated with Popski during his time in the desert, the Glider Brigade[2], and Jim Patch is here from the Long Range Desert Group, and also the SAS, from whom we drew many of our finest people, including Bill[3] who's here today we are delighted to see, and indeed the Paras which are also represented by him and his friends from the [Royal British] Legion.

Lucy Chard, whose grandfather was in the LRDG<br />with Jim Patch, Secretary of the LRDG Association Sergeant Bill O'Leary MM, Parachute Regiment, Corporal Ken Coggin, RASC<br />and Trooper Jimmy Knox LdeH, Parachute Regiment
Lucy Chard, whose grandfather was in the LRDG
with Jim Patch, Secretary of the LRDG Association
Sergeant Bill O'Leary MM, Parachute Regiment, Corporal Ken Coggin, RASC
and Trooper Jimmy Knox LdeH, Parachute Regiment

We drew our people from very many sources but those of the Special Forces are here today. I want to turn quickly to say that today is nothing short of a miracle in every way. Why we are here, standing at this monument, such an important factor in the life or past life of PPA is due to amazing grace, the reason why I chose the hymn which we sang at the service.

Amazing grace because, first of all we have to thank obviously Popski himself because it is his 111th birthday today, had he been alive. We have to also thank and look back to Popski who did a great deal himself but Popski's Private Army was invented by General Sir John Hackett, God bless his memory.

Then we would never have had such a memorial to Popski's Private Army if it had not been for another series of coincidences or I prefer to say again amazing grace, of meeting the Allied Special Forces Association, Mike Colton, and his friends the chairman and the treasurer of the Association. And if I had not met them by a coincidence we would not have been offered a place to put the memorial.

Before that even there would never been an association, the Friends of Popski's Private Army, if it had not been for a story I'm not going to tell you because it's too long, but if [not for] Roy and Guy ... Guy first, aiming for a documentary, and Roy who started the idea of an archive and indeed was the person who inspired the monument.

The monument itself again ... we go back to those heroes Mike and his associates who, with very hard labour in very cold and wet weather, built and set up the monument as you look before you. Without them nothing would have happened, and there it is today. We have had trouble, we got through it and that is I think what perhaps could be said to be the history of our unit. Again I don't want to bore and I could tell you the story and I think I'm going to write it - it is quite fantastic.

Thank you again for coming, I've said enough. [hearty applause] And now if I may there's a few things I wanted to say. First of all, as you probably know, the one little sad thing we've got to think about today is that Benny Owen died only two weeks ago. He would have come but has left behind him a little memorial which he hoped to have been able to read himself today and it is going to be read … I hope that Guy has got it here … it's going to be read by Guy Harris[4]. May I just say that it will appear in the next newsletter so that all of you who get the newsletter will see what it contained[5].

I have one more request and that is that our representative from the Garibaldi Brigade, none other than Carlo Casadio[6] who is here. He has brought us a marvellous presentation from (don't go away Allessandra) … because Allessandra has brought a message from the National Association of [Italian] Partisans, from Ravenna for this occasion. She is going to read it to you [see below].

Taschiero "Carlo" Casadio, Italian Partisan commander of the
"Settimio Garavini" detachment of the 28th Garibaldi Brigade

30 March 2008


Sir Robert Crawford's PPA Memorial Dedication speech

Plaque to Sir Robert Crawford on the PPA Memorial

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you, John, and for the very great privilege of unveiling this Memorial to Popski’s Private Army and its comrades-in-arms on this, the 111th anniversary of the birth of your inspirational leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Vladimir Peniakoff DSO, MC.

Unlike many here today, I can claim no direct personal connection with Popski’s Private Army but it has had a lasting impact on my life because the original paperback edition of Peniakoff’s Private Army was the very first volume of military history I ever bought, aged 11.

It was therefore a particular pleasure for me and my colleagues to welcome you, John and members of PPA, my boyhood heroes, to the Imperial War Museum in November 1995 when you celebrated your reunion on the occasion of the opening of the Museum’s Secret War exhibition, in which PPA’s role is permanently recorded alongside those of its brother Special Forces of the Second World War.

With the help of surviving veterans and their families, we have sought to make the Museum a centre for the study of these exceptional units and those who served in them. We are consequently privileged to hold in the Museum’s archives the private papers, photographs and recorded interviews of a number of PPA veterans, including the Skipper of S Patrol, which will ensure that future generations do not forget the bravery and sacrifice of Peniakoff and his men.

Several British special and irregular forces were created during the Second World War but few have caught the imagination so much as Popski’s Private Army, a small, motorized force, whose contribution was out of all proportion to the number of men who served in it.

PPA’s beginnings were as unlikely as its commander’s background was unorthodox. Born to Russian émigrés in Belgium, Vladimir Peniakoff studied briefly at Cambridge leaving in 1915, without taking his degree, to join the French Army, from which he was invalided out in 1918. He went on to work as an engineer in Belgium, then, for the next fifteen years for a sugar monopoly in Egypt, where he developed a fascination for the desert, attempting several long-range navigations in his notorious Model A Ford.

On the outbreak of war, though already 42 years of age, Peniakoff was determined to fight. ‘The simple fact’, he wrote, ‘was that England was in danger of falling under the control of the Germans and my simple duty was to assist those who strove to prevent such a misfortune.’

He did this initially by sending large sums of his own money to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to support the war effort, a generous, if eccentric gesture with severe consequences for his family.

In October 1940, he finally obtained a commission in the Libyan Arab Force, serving mainly in Cyrenaica where he operated with considerable success behind the German lines, skilfully uniting Bedouin sheikhs, collecting intelligence, spectacularly destroying German petrol dumps, and developing his own techniques of guerilla warfare. He was brave, determined, and charismatic. ‘T E Lawrence with a sense of humour’ according to one of his associates.

In November 1942, his Arab unit recently disbanded, Peniakoff was chosen by Colonel John ‘Shan’ Hackett, then responsible for coordinating the activities of raiding and reconnaissance forces in the Western Desert, to lead a new unit to attack Rommel’s petrol supplies. Its unglamorous title, No 1 Demolition Squadron, did not please Peniakoff. ‘You had better find a name quick or we shall call you Popski’s Private Army,’ Hackett allegedly said. At once Peniakoff replied: ‘I’ll take it’ and henceforth became Popski.

At first, PPA was the smallest independent force in the British Army, numbering just twelve all ranks. Its operations were to include reconnaissance, ambushing convoys, and destroying lines of communication and petrol dumps.

Under Popski’s leadership, PPA both embodied and subverted the traditions of the British Army. Recruits reverted to the lowest rank. Men were addressed by first names or nicknames. There was no drill and what they wore barely passed as uniform. But training was rigorous, reliance on each individual’s initiative and skill absolute and planning for operations meticulous. Popski’s methods forged a close bond among officers and men and ensured PPA punched far above its weight.

The Axis were driven from North Africa before PPA achieved the full impact Popski hoped for. Yet the War Office Historical Summary records that in Tunisia it could claim the destruction of 34 enemy aircraft, 118 vehicles and 450,000 gallons of petrol and the capture of 600 Italians. Moreover, the route PPA forged through the mountains had been crucial in turning the Mareth Line.

Having proved its value in North Africa, the unit was expanded to eighty all ranks, including eight officers. The new recruits were all volunteers, handpicked by Popski for their experience, character and practical skills.

The legend of Popski’s Private Army was cemented in Italy, where its well equipped and highly manouevrable jeeps, tremendous firepower and Popski’s ability to work with the partisans, gave them a great advantage in the mountainous terrain. While gaps in the enemy lines were comparatively easy to find in the desert, this was not the case in Italy. In one audacious episode, Popski and his men, with immense skill, took their jeeps over the mountains to the Camerino region of Umbria. Operating with partisans behind enemy lines, they deceived the commander of the German mountain division in Camerino into thinking that they were a much larger force. PPA and its partisan allies forced the German division to withdraw and captured the town, killing several hundred of the enemy for the loss of one dead and three wounded.

PPA went on to serve with great distinction and to great effect alongside 12th and 27th Lancers in northern Italy. In December 1944, it was the first unit into Ravenna. In an engagement shortly afterwards, PPA eliminated 30 of the enemy in a fierce, fifty-minute firefight. Popski’s report on this action ended: ‘By an extraordinary piece of luck the only casualty of the Patrol was one man slightly wounded’. This one man, who had lost a hand, was Popski, who was awarded a well-deserved DSO for his part in the battle. By the end of the war, PPA members had won 1 DSO, 1 DCM, 5 MCs, 9 MMs and had been Mentioned in Despatches 12 times.

PPA’s war ended in Venice, following a series of successful operations, many led by its second-in-command, Jean Caneri, working with Colonel Andrew Horsburgh-Porter’s ‘Porter Force’, to secure the crucial river crossings of the Po and Adige and countless other canals and waterways ahead of the main allied advance, its jeeps frequently transported in the landing craft of Popski’s Private Navy, commanded by Lt Brian Thomas. In Venice, Popski triumphantly paraded his jeeps in St Mark’s Square, the first motor vehicles ever taken there.

PPA stood down officially on 14 September 1945. The Friends of Popski’s Private Army, which today keeps alive the memory of this unique body of men, drawn from some 15 nationalities, has identified some 216 individuals who served with it.

Of these, 12 were killed or died of wounds received in action.

We dedicate this Memorial to their sacrifice and to the service of all who wore the astrolabe badge in Popski’s Private Army and to their comrades-in-arms in Porter Force, the 27th Lancers and the partisans of the 28th Garibaldi Brigade.

30 March 2008


The National Association of Italian Partisans' PPA Memorial Dedication speech

Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia

Signor Taschiero "Carlos" Casadio, commander of the "Settimio Garavini" detachment of the 28th Garibaldi Brigade of Italian partisans who fought alongside PPA for the liberation of Ravenna, died on Monday 9 August 2010, having honoured and delighted us with his presence at our 2005 trip to Ravenna, our 2006 Remembrance Reunion at Westminster, and at the unveiling of the PPA Memorial.

Signor Arrigo "Bulow" Boldrini, commander of the 28th Garibaldi Brigade, died on 22 January 2008.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

We Partisans and Patriots of Ravenna, still remember the good and constructive collaboration with the PPA to liberate our town and to save the magnificent Cathedral of Sant'Apollinare in Classe.

Today the commander of the detachment of "Settimio Garavini" the partisans Taschiero Casadio accompanied by this family is showing to our feelings of friendship and fraternity.

We belong to ANPI (National Association of Italian Partisans) and also as citizens of Ravenna commit ourselves to keep alive the memory of Vladimir Peniakoff.

Popski was a great commander who contributed the liberation of our land together with our commander Arrigo Boldrini, the great 'Bulow'.

We'll always remember it, always be obliged to him. We don't forget that we fought together against nazi-fascism in a collaboration that became esteem and friendship, as we can see today.

Anti-fascism is to us an ideal battle, in the spirit of our contritution born from our common struggle for freedom. Anti-fascism, that our children and grandchildren want to know and share.

30 March 2008


Roy Paterson's acknowledgement of Guy Harris

While Roy had been very visible to all attendees in the refreshment marquee, Guy was working flat out behind the scenes, helping to complete the stonework of the memorial at the last minute. We were very badly let down by the stonemason, who had promised to finish the memorial on time. It was only some weeks later that this was finally achieved.

I would just like to say I think another round of applause is due to Guy. He truly is the man of the match here today.

Hear, hear (various), applause.


Mike Colton's acknowledgment of Annette Colton and Julie Davis

Also working behind the scenes, but for much, much longer, the hard work of the two Allied Special Forces Association volunteers who planted the spotted laurel hedge in freezing weather (and had it finished well in time) was recognised when Mike Colton stood forward...

I have one for two ladies, Annette and Julie, who put all these plants in.

Hear, hear, very good, yes (various), applause.

Copyright © 2013 foPPA
23 Nov 2013

Further information
  1. ^ With thanks to Harry Bland for letting us transcribe it from his video record of the dedication ceremony.
  2. ^ i.e. Glider Pilot Regiment.
  3. ^ Sergeant Bill O'Leary MM, of John Campbell's 'S' Patrol. Bill was in the Parachute Regiment, but not the SAS.
  4. ^ This is Ben's poem "PPA Remembers", which is read out at every PPA Remembrance Event.
  5. ^ Unfortunately we haven't been able to raise enough funds for our proposed "PPA Memorial Dedication" issue. The newsletters have effectively been superseded by the foPPA website.
  6. ^ Taschiero "Carlo" Casadio died on Monday 9 August 2010.