- P.P.A. 'H' Patrol History -

H.V.S.N.B. - P.P.A.

After Beltring, I took an old schoolfriend of me on probation. Hopefully he would become my second member and I gave him a copy of the capbadge in polyester which were made by "Bruno Two". Rudy Bruggeman who I dubbed into 'Chief', like an Indian, at the War and Peace Show a few years later, enjoyed his time in the club and was mostly with me when I drove to a meeting.

In May 1993, I went to "Black Arrow", a meeting organised by Yeomanry, where one of the organisators asked me if I could organise something for the local childeren. I agreed and thought about an obstacle course but what could I do, I had only one man with me. I asked the S.A.S. if they could help me with building the course, which they did and that day we had a lot of fun and had a very good time. After that a man came to me and asked me what P.P.A., which stood on a bracelet that I wore, meant. "Popski's Private Army" I answered, "What's Popski's Private Army exactly means?" he asked back. To my shame I could only answered him that it was a smal unit which fought behind the enemy lines in Africa and Italy. That was the day I began to search intensively for more information about P.P.A..

At home I found in my fathers’ war-encyclopedia an article which gave me enough information if somebody should ask about P.P.A.. My father read the name 'Vladimir Peniakoff', I saw him thinking, and he said: "I think it is also a Peniakoff who build the quarter nearby "Klein Rusland" or in English "Little Russia". Next day I went to "Little Russia" and found out that it was indeed Popski's father who had build the quarter for the men who worked in his factory. The factory was gone and stood next to the quarter which still exists, and there was also a commemorative plate on a wall to remember "Dimitri
Peniakoff" , Popski's father.
What was that for information..? The father of the man which unit-name I took for my club used to live only 4 miles from my own village. That's news! From then on I search more intensively for information about P.P.A., mostly the information that clubs have goes no further than the vehicles, but I became more and more personally interested in Popski and his men.

Group picture taken early in the '20s in 'Little Russia' - Zelzate (Belgium)
in the middle back row, with hat on we recognise the young Vladimir Peniakoff.

In July I went back to the War and Peace Show at Beltring but found no new information. What I did found were 8 copies from capbadges of P.P.A. in metal and I bought all 8 of them. I gave "Bruno Two" one which I prommissed him the last year and gave one to "Chief" which he immediately put on his beret. When we went back to Belgium I was very happy. My club was still growing, I had now one jeep, two members and could wear the capbadges of P.P.A..
A month later I officially started my own club and named it 'Historical Vehicles Squad North Belgium Popski's Private Army', short H.V.S.N.B. Popski's Private Army on 29 August 1993. I organised a meeting which I called, "Operation Creekroute" which stood for a trip in the polder landscape of my village and an off-road trip in the afternoon. It was a beautiful day and there were about 75 different vehicles from the whole country. Here we where ! The H.V.S.N.B. Popski's Private Army.
All my days off or free time I spent to visit other meetings and my research to P.P.A. went on since then but I found very, very little about Popski and his men. 1994 was a very good and busy year because of the meetings we went to. In that year everybody organised a meeting for the anniversary for the liberty of Europe, then 50 years ago. That year we took part at about 40 meetings and trips and I organised "Operation Creekroute" again at the end of August at the festivity in my own village. A few of those meetings I have discribed below.

My nickname.

In February 1994, we took part at "Operation Snowdrop" an organisation of the S.A.S. which remembered the Belgium S.A.S. in WWII who jumped in the Ardennes around Gedinne, and fought together with the local resistance. It was a survival trip with backpack for 4 days and we did the same route that they had done in WWII.

I took with me, "Chief", his borther-in-law and two other friends. There were 3 teams of 5 men each. Alfa-team, S.A.S. men, Bravo-team, P.P.A. men, and Charlie-team which gave up the second day. The trip was hard, difficult and time was the most important of all, and the organisation told us that they were the axis-troops, which meant that if they could catch us, they took you prisoner and held you for 4 hours, it was in fact but a game. We received our orders, map with blind pieces on it, the co-ordinations of the following check-point and they whished us good luck...

P.P.A. team just before we went on our trip with
a few organizers of the Belgium S.A.S.

We were on our way with map and compass. The whole 4 days our speed was very high and mostly we arrived at the checkpoint before the organisation did. It was very cold, it froze 4 days -5/-10 degrees and we just slept in our sleepingbags somewhere in the woods behind a tree. Our waterbottles were frozen and we only could warm ourselves on a campfire were we stopped that day for a few hours. The obstacles were catcrowls over rivers, crossing rivers on foot, rock-climbing, etc... One night I crossed a river on foot and while I waited for the rest of my team, only a few minuts later, my trousers were frozen and I couldn't move. The following river which we crossed on foot, I put on some dry clothes immediately when I was across the river. What a time!

The axis-troops passed us several times, sometimes a few meters from us, and they never could caught or saw us for the whole 4 days. The last night we sat down with the other teams around a campfire with the organisation and we spoke about the passed day. A while later "Bruno Two" who sat down next to me, said: "History always returns, Kurt!". He saw that I didn't understand him and said: "Popski was on his own, later he founded his own unit, worked sometimes together with the S.A.S.. If I see what you and your team did these 3 days..... You were on your own, founded your own club and are mostly with us. You and your team have points enough for winning the challenge cup of "Snowdrop". What I've seen now from you.... I'm very surprised! You deserve it to wear Popski's beret and capbadge and from now on I dub you into Popski.", which he called me since that very cold cold night untill that night he died, on August 4th 1999.
"I thought you know me better." I said.
"Why?" he asked.
"You must know that when I start something, I'll never give up and always bring it to a good ending.".
"Bruno Two" smiled and said: "Popski.., Popski.., I know that since a long time but I'm just very surprised that you and your team shall ended before ours.".
I smiled, and toasted to our friendship and to Popski. The next day we ended our trip and we won the challenge cup of "Snowdrop".

Fatigue and sore feet were quickly forgotten when we receive
the challene cup of the S.A.S. Snowdrop.

At "Black Arrow", organised by Yeomanry a few months later, the honorary chairman of Yeomanry asked me if I could take a convoy of about 20 vehicles to Normandy for the festivities there. The reason was that there were to many vehicles for one convoy, and he would split the whole convoy in different groups. This convoy was so big because all the clubs form Belgium went to visit Normandy for the anniversary of 50 years of liberation in Europe. We’ll do the trip in two day he said and everything was arranged for the trip next month. I said I would think about it and a few hours later I told him that it was allright. Why not...? we were all people with the same hobby and my camp was at the same farm as Yeomanry.
On June 1st, 1994, I took a convoy of 20 different vehicles of Yeomanry for the trip to Normandy 534 kilometer further. We drove from Ghent to Kortrijk near Yper were "Barny" accompanied me and he shouted that there were already a few vehicles which needed fuel. Damn what's that, I thought, they start for a long trip and they don't check their fueltanks, O my God! At the next fuelpump I stopped and looked if everyone was already now. We were back on our way now and we arrived in time in Neuf Chatel Embray at the camping. The pace was to slow for "Barny" and me, but we were in time and that was important. We slept behind our jeep that night when it started to rain a little bit.

The next day started sunny, but when I left the camp with my convoy, gray clouds packed together. A few kilometers further the first raindrops started to fall. More and more.... and it began to rain caths and dogs and when I looked behind me, I saw I was alone on the road…. My convoy was missing. Damn where were they!? I turned back and saw "Barny" who was looked for me and when he came next to me he shouted:
"Yow... Popski, what's that man!".
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I think you took a convoy of showroom jeeps and showroom dummies with you!".
"Why?" I asked.
"They all stand still a few kilometers down to put there windows and canvas roofs on their jeeps, I think they are afraid of a little water!".
Later I learned that Popski's men called them "cissy-jeeps".
When I arrived at the lost convoy I was angry because I had an appointment with the local police who would led us through a few cities some kilometers further. After 20 - 30 minuts I was back on my way with my showroom-jeeps. "Barny" and I were the only one without window and without canvas roof on our jeep and it still was raining cats and dogs. For a while we drove together with a team from a French local TV station for about 40 kilometers, who filmed us when we drove in that heavy rain. Sadly I could never trace a copy of that tape as to the present day.

A bit further I saw a little 3-ton truck along the road which stood still. It was a vehicle of the first convoy, I was the third convoy and I stopped. A man from about 60 years old told me that his engine gave up and that he was left behind by his convoy. Also by the second convoy which never stopped. "Third time, good time." I said and I decided to take him with us untill we where on top of a little hill. It was to dangerous to fix his truck here, because the road was very small to hold up the whole convoy. "Barny" towed the truck and we drove up the hill where we all stopped to check the engine of the truck. Some men from my convoy were angry because we stopped here for the reparation. They were afraid that they would be to late at the camp and it still was raining cats and dogs. "No excuse for that or for the rain", "Barny" said "we'll never left a friend behind, do you understand!?".

"Barny" and I checked the engine and we saw that he drove with dirty fuel. We cleaned the fuel pump,
carburator, etc... and 20 minutes later our work was done and the engine was running again. When we cleaned our hands in a brooklet, the little truck drove by with full speed. Very surprised I looked at "Barny" and "Barny" looked at me. "Barny" looked into the direction of the truck and shouted: "Hey... thank you man that we fixed your engine, damn showroom dummy!!".
"That's the way of life my boy" I said to "Barny" and I saw that he was very upset about it.

Still driving in the rain, we proceeded to the camp. When our convoy arrived at the farm in Creully late in the afternoon, we had been driving for 180 kilometers in the heavy rain. "Barny", his sister Machteld and Danny, who was my map reader, and myself were wet down to our underwear. I looked to my feet and saw that there was about 8 centimeters water in my jeep. My convoy of showroom jeeps were dry!

On our way to Normandy in the heavy rain.
'Barny' and Machteld in the open desert Land Rover.

The farm was choosen as a Headquarter and I had a meeting that evening with the different chairmen and convoy leaders in a barn, to plan the trip for the next day. Each convoy had to drive to another location because of the many vehicles which visited Normandy that period, and for the next days we drove to the same locations at different times. My convoy drove the next day to St. Mère-Eglise, about 65 kilometer from our HQ. The pace was to slow for "Barny" and meself because we normally drove full speed and now it was 35 - 40 miles an hour. It rained 4 times on our trip and every time it began to rain my convoy stopped and put up their windows and canvas roofs. When the sun came back they stopped and put them down again. Up and down, up and down...., very boring if you lead a convoy and they never say a word. I was very upset about the many stops. Also because that was the reason why we were 45 minutes to late at our location in St. Mère-Eglise. When we arrived a man came to me and asked: "Popski, could you take a look at my jeep, it doesn't run very good and it always wants to drive straight ahead on its own?".
I looked to his jeep and saw that the poor man probably drove the whole trip in 4x4. What a man!
Early in the evening we left St. Mère-Eglise and drove back to our HQ in Creully. 5 kilometer before we entered the HQ, I stopped in the village and told the convoy that they must drive to the HQ on their
own. "Barny" and I left the convoy and went to a pub were we staid for a few hours. I missed the meeting at the HQ that evening for the next day trip, but I didn't care. The next day when we were in Normandy we drove by our own, just "Barny", a few ex-paratroopers who also were stationed at our HQ and myself. The following days were beautiful and we had a good time together. We visited different places like the different beaches, Arromaches, Point du Hoq, Bayeux, the Pegasus-bridge, La Cambe, etc... with our small group. "Barny" and I left Normandy one day before our planned return, because we heard by a phone call that "Bruno Two" was hospitalised in Belgium with a brainstroke and we wanted to visit him. He recovered completely, a few months later, he just needed a stick for walking when he was tired.

The P.P.A. desert jeep at the farm in Creully (Normandy)

 

Source: P.P.A. Preservation Society.
Photos: P.P.A. Preservation Society / Research and Archive Section of P.P.A..

 

 
   

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