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

P.P.A. Preservation Society

In 1995, I found in a few articles a bit of new information about P.P.A.. My research still went on and I still participated different meetings with the S.A.S.. We also visited the "War and Peace Show" at Beltring again and there I found other capbadges of P.P.A. which I bought for people who entered my new club after a year of probation. We organised different meetings like "Operation Creekroute", which I organised since a few years, and also "Operation Cpl. Locke" which stood for the trip to Beltring. "Operation Taranto", a night dropping for different simular clubs, a 25 kilometer walk with obstacles like catcrowl, rappel, wall-climbing, etc..., like on a assault course. We had about 55 men who took part at it and we had a lot of fun that night. The first men were dropped at 21.00 o’clock and ended the course at 04.00 o’clock, very tired and with painful feet because of the heavy terrain. "Operation Rusted Nail", a survival trip for 3 days in the Belgium Ardennes around La Roche, which I organised in November. I copied that partly from the "Snowdrop" of the S.A.S., we had only 2 teams of 4 men. The weather was bad, very bad, it rained cats and dogs for the whole 3 days and I think that's the reason we had only 2 teams. Included was a walk of about 14 kilometers trough heavy terrain, it was actual a speedmarch with backpack, around the lake and hills at Nisramont. A experienced walker would take 2.30 hours over those 14 kilometers, I wanted that they did that in 1.50 hours, the time I had done it some months before. It was hard and difficult because the steep inclines and very small tracks on rocky hill sides. The teams were mostly ex-paratroopers and/or commandos and they all ended in time, but very tired.

In 1996, lives goes on and again I took part at different meetings. I visited the "War and Peace Show" again, like every year, with Rudy my second member, and a few others who I had been taken with me on probation since Normandy 1994 and who left me for some reason a few months later. We were searching for a copy of Vladimir Peniakoff's book but we couldn’t find it. At Saturday evening my second member Rudy, had been drinking to much and I thought about what happened to me a few years before, and I staid with him at our camp. He told me a whole story, which I never heard of him and he also said that he had it to warm and if I could take a blanket for him. Completely surprised I asked him:
"Why, you just told me that you have it to warm and now you ask for a blanket?".
"Yes, yes I'm rilling of the heat and want a blanket." he said.
"Ok" I said "here's your blanket", and I lay the blanket over his head and shoulders. I looked at him and at the way he sat down there with his blanket and I saw in my mind an old Indian Chief, so the next day I dubbed him into "Chief".

It was the next day that we had lucky, "Chief" and I walked around the terrain of the War and Peace Show and he saw a very little stall with old books. He went to the man and asked if he had the book of Vladimir Peniakoff, the man thought and was very quiet for a minute. "Yes.... I think... here." and he showed us a copy of Vladimir Peniakoff's book. It was an old one and dirty but all the pages were there. "Chief" said to me: "Do you want it?".
"Yes of course.... but what's the price, maybe it is possible that he asks to much for that book." I said.
"Chief" asked the man about the price. "2 ponds sir" was his answer.
"Excuse me...?" I said.
"2 ponds for that book sir." he said again. My hair stood right up and I bought the book immediately, "for only 2 pond..., we can't leave it "Chief" I said. "Chief told the man after I paid him that the book was a collectors item and very rare and the man was disappointed. He said to us: "If I had known that before you bought it, the price was 100 ponds." I was very happy and went back to the camp were I begin to read the book. Now I had a lot more information about P.P.A. and it was a little piece more for my collection. Next day we went to Belgium, very happy as you can imagine.

A week later I received a phonecall from my friend of the S.A.S. "Paddy" who said that he found an article about the grave of Popski and about two former members who did an explication about P.P.A. to the writer of the article. Great news I thought and asked "Paddy" if he could forward me the article. When I read the article I learned that the writer found a strange inscription in a modest gravestone on a cemetery in Suffolk, with the name Vladimir Peniakoff 1897 - 1951. He had done some research and found out that the strange inscription was the "astrolabe" mark of the unit P.P.A. and that Vladimir Peniakoff was the commander. A few weeks later he found two former P.P.A. members through a radio-program "Where are they", or something, and contacted them for more information about the unit, and he wrote his discovery in a little article in the magazine "After the Battle". "Paddy" had found the article in the Dutch version of the magazine "After the Battle". I was happy with the new information but what could I do to get in contact with those former members of P.P.A.. I wrote a letter to the magazine explaning what I was doing in my club and waited for answer.

The next month I organised "Operation Vladimir Peniakoff" which stood for a visit to the grave of Popski. I went to England with "Chief" in search for the grave of Popski and it would be a very long trip for us in only one day. At 06.00 o’clock we left our home town and drove to Ostend, there we took the boat to Suffolk. Than we drove in the direction of London. "Chief" was my map reader and did his job very good. From London we drove in the direction of Cambridge and a few hours later we found the little village where Popski was burried. We visited the cemetery for about 20 minutes, longer was impossible because we had to return in time for the boat back to Belgium. On our way back we tried to find the writer of the article in another village nearby but we failed to find him, because our time was limited. It was 23.30 o’clock when we arrived at home after a 685 kilometer drive, for a visit at the grave of Popski. Afterwards we learned that we sat more in my car than we could stay at the cemetery but we were happy that we found the grave, so it was worth it. We decided to do our next visit in two or more days.

Popski's modest gravestone.

A few weeks later I received a letter from the article writer and he was glad to hear that we were interested in P.P.A. and forwarded the address of a Former P.P.A. member. A few days later my first letter was on its way to this member. Every day I looked in my mailbox for a response from my letter and it took a few weeks before I found a letter in my mailbox from Jim Eastham. He was very happy to hear from us because he thought that the history of Popski and his men was lost in time and that young men like us had so much interest in the unit. He would help us with our research, as good as he could.
In June 1999 the honorary chairman of Yeomanry asked me again if I could take a convoy to Normandy. I agreed but only if I could take jeeps and their crew with me who would do the trip just in one day. He wasn’t happy about that and I said I would do the trip in only one day because of the problems 5 years ago. He looked for people who wanted to drive in one day to Normandy and he just found 5 jeeps and one GMC-truck. I was happy to have a few vehicles, except for the GMC-truck because they had a lumbering pace. I had a talk with the driver and he said that it was not a problem for him. He was a truckdriver and he promissed me that he wouldn’t disappoint me. He kept his promisse for the whole trip. We passed a few different convoys the last part of my trip, the second day for the convoys, before they arrived at the farm where we had again our HQ and they couldn't laugh with it. I didn't took any other vehicle with me for the daytrips, exept from the S.A.S. and a few others. We hadn’t had any problems the whole 10 days we were there and had a lot of fun.
One day in Arromanches when my jeep stood near the beach, I went for a walk with some S.A.S. members in the streets and somebody came to my jeep and said to one of the S.A.S. members who was guarding the jeeps: "That's a Popski jeep", because of the astrolabe mark on the front of my jeep. Completely surprised he said "Yes it is..." and the man told him that his brother was a P.P.A. member in WWII. Sadly I wasn't there at the moment and the man couldn't stay because he had to catch his bus, together with a few former WWII-veterans and there women, to go back to England. When I was told what happened and I was angry at myself that I wasn't there that moment.

The first step was already set and I received more letters from Jim Eastham and we both had good intentions. He brought me in contact with Ben Owen and a few other surviving veterans and soon I received a lot more and new information about P.P.A.. From Ben Owen I received his book for which I'm very grateful and it gave me a better idea of living with P.P.A., and several photos from Eric Farr, John Campbell, etc... for which I'm also very grateful. From now on I could check the information that I found by the former members and soon my documentation of P.P.A. grew and grew. I wrote letters with questions and photos to check my information about Popski and it still grew for the whole of the year 1997. It was a busy year because of all the collected information, organising meetings and visiting other meetings.

In 1998 I received a letter from Jim Eastham that he wanted to meet me if I had the time. No problem for me and in July I went to England where I met Jim and his beautiful family. It was a sunny day and we talked a lot about... P.P.A. and I was in honored to meet him. He was a little disappointed because he tought that we would visit him with our jeeps and I promissed him to do so the following year. I visited Jim again with two desert jeeps and he was very happy about it. I was very honored because I could now tell and shown a few photos on meetings with a P.P.A. veteran in my jeep. We drove through the whole village, went to his club and we had a lot of fun. I must say that Jim Eastham was the man who brought me in contact with other P.P.A. veterans and family for which I'm very greatful and that he was the man that brought me closer to P.P.A.. Very sadly, he died December 19th 2003. We'll never forget him!

 

Tpr. Jim Eastham and Kurt van Looke, 1998.

Very proud Jim Eastham sat in the P.P.A. desert jeep.

During the following months after my second meeting with Jim I made my first website which was checked by Jim and his son-in-law Peter, and not much later I put the website on the internet. Very short after the first website was 'online'  I made contact with the family of David Porter (D.C.M.), Georges Sonley, Adam anderson, George Waterson, etc.., all family of former P.P.A. members who passed away. My research stood not still and I found copies of Jean Caneri's papers, the P.P.A. War Diaries, more photo's, the drawnings of how the jeep was build, etc... The most information I found was from the time Popski was in Italy and I decided to rebuild my jeep into the Italian-look. I had copies of the plans how it was build, so it was possible and I searched for a little more information about which I could find by the P.P.A. veterans. In the meanwhile I made contact with Michele Cahill who gave me several copies of photos and other information for which I'm also very grateful and found also a few photos about the P.P.A. jeep.
The next morning I began to rebuild the jeep completely as shown on the drawning that I got from Jean Caneri's papers. It was a succes, I worked two months on it with help from a few P.P.A. veterans for which I was also very greatful and I was pleased with the result. A little while later I changed the name of my club into P.P.A. Preservation Society. The reason for that was that all the information I found about the P.P.A. jeeps, the men in P.P.A. and much more, could be checked now by the P.P.A. veterans and I recieved accurate information back from the veterans.Now my jeep was 100% accurate with help of the P.P.A. veterans and was very proud of it.

On different meetings some people, mostly people who aren't a member of a club because in the different clubs here in Belgium they know me as 'Popski', a little gift from "Bruno Two", told me that this jeep never existed in the war, no marks or sign, very heavily armed, a second spare wheel, the place of the extra jerry-cans, etc... I smiled and after they told me the story of how the jeep in WW2 was build, I asked them if they knew Popski's Private Army. Mostly they looked amazed and didn't knew anything about it. I showed a photo of the jeep with P.P.A. men on it and than mostly there mouth felt open and they went off without a word. This happened different times and I'm always grateful that I could tell the story of P.P.A. because the unit is very unknown and that’s the major purpose of my club: 'to keep history alive'.

? and Pat Blake in Popski's old Patrol jeep somewhere in Italy.

 

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

 

 
   

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