Before you read this blog, have a close look at the above picture. It is a picture of an SS soldier, and you have probably seen many pictures like it, but there is something special about this one.On the sleeve on the left arm, at the left bottom, you can see part of a flag, however it is not the German flag but the Union Jack.
The picture is of Roy Courlander, a British born New Zealander. He was one of 54 Brits,Australians and New Zealanders who served in the British Free Corps, a unit of the Waffen SS
The British Free Corps were recruited from the POW camps, they were given a choice to fight for the SS or remain in the camp. In total 54 of them chose the former. However At no time did it reach more than 27 men in strength.
I could have focused on any of these men but what is so intriguing about Roy Courlander is his background.
He was born in London in 1914, out of wedlock. He was adopted by Lithuanian Jewish businessman Leonard Henry Courlander and his wife Edith Cater .
Roy was sent to a boarding school, his parents divorced when he was 19. He was sent to live and work on a coconut plantation owned by his father in the New Hebrides in the South Pacific.
In November 1938, Roy Courlander moved to New Zealand and found administrative work with the Land and Income Tax Department in Wellington.
On the outbreak of WWII, Courlander was enlisted into the New Zealand army, he was placed in the Intelligence Corps because his linguistic abilities, and served in the Western Desert and Greece, where he was captured in April 1941. As a prisoner of war, He acted as a translator at the camp. He joined work parties in Austria and eventually in September 1943 was sent to Genshagen camp or Stalag III-D
unbeknown to his fellow PoWs, Courlander secretly had fascist sympathies and was convinced of the inevitability of a Nazi victory.
The Germans recruited Courlander in January 1944 for the British Free Corps.While imprisoned in Genshagen, Courlander came into contact with one of the most infamous British traitors of WWII – John Amery.
The British Free Corps had actually come from John Amery, son of the then serving British Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery.John Amery had travelled to Berlin in October 1942 trying to sell the idea to the Germans for the formation of a British volunteer force.
Initially christened the ‘Legion of St George’, the idea was personally approved by the Führer. On December 28, 1942.
In April 1944 Roy Courlander was promoted to Unterscharführer (sergeant). his aim was to oust John Amery and take control of the Corps.
But eventually Courlander, left the BFC by volunteering for service with the war correspondent unit SS-Standarte Kurt Eggers, which operated at the Western front. As the year wore on, even the most hardened members of the BFC came to the realisation that the war was going against Germany, and they had no desire to go into action. Their ultimate goal was to make for the Allied lines as soon as they got the chance. During thE summer OF 1944 Roy Courlander made plans to escape.,along with another BFC member, Francis Maton.
The two men boarded a train for Belgium in the company of a Flemish Waffen-SS unit. On 3 September 1944, the two men arrived in Brussels, where they teamed up with the Belgian Resistance. They partook in street fighting against the Germans. Courlander got injured during the action. The following day, they surrendered themselves to a British officer, and became the first two BFC men to be arrested.
He was Court-martialed by the New Zealand military authorities, on 3 October 1945, in Westgate-on-Sea near Margate in Kent and was sentenced to 15 years in prison on a charge of “voluntarily aiding the enemy”
In May 1950 the sentence reduced to 9 years after an appeal by Courander. He died in Australia in 1979.
What amazes me the most that although he was brought up by Jewish adoptive parents, he by all accounts gave him a good life, he joined the SS.
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