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The Last Gentleman of the SAS: A Moving Testimony from the First Allied Officer to Enter Belsen at the End of the Second World War Kindle Edition
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Today he is in his 90's. During the war he was in the SAS. As a young man he enjoyed wine, women, played rugby and treated every day as if it was his last. In the SAS he served with David Niven and once pushed Churchill's wayward son Randolph out of a plane (he was uninjured)!
This superb book is partly based on diaries that have never been published. There are chapters on, for example,the 'Phony War', time in Carthage during the North African campaign, and as far a is possible some of the exploits of the SAS, for example Haft and Operation Haggard.He reminds us of the degree of French collaboration with the Nazis, collaboration based on a long history of anti-Semitism. By 1944 some 90,000 Jews had been deported for 'resettlement', ie extermination. The Gendarmerie Nationale was at the forefront of arrests. Indeed as Randall points out, as have many others, the persecution of Jews, communists and homosexuals was at times entirely French without any bidding by the Nazis, but then there has long been a strong current of anti semetism in the French nation, as witness the infamous Dreyfus case.
Of all the many incidents that befell John Randall nony :/e affected him as much as the horrors of Belsen. He describes the ghastly Josef Kramer and the brutal and evil Irma Grese a 22 year old, neither having an ounce of regret over the thousands they had murdered. Of 450 SS staff put on trial only 45 ever faced retribution, a disgrace. All those imprisoned were released by 1955 because by then the Allies believed that in order to combat the communist threat German help was needed. So scores of murderers were released or not even pursued. Many of these reopened their shops, and surgeries and merged back into the welcoming community. Only a twisted racist mind could deny that tens of thousands of similar atrocities occurred regularly in 78 other camps. Sadly, as this book makes clear, such sick people exist. Those that deny the holocaust are literally beyond the pale.
Randall writes how as a 24 year old he came upon Bergen-Belsen camp in April 1945 while in a Jeep. From the imposing gates he thought the drive would lead to a magnificent country residence. For the rest of his life he regretted his decision to go down that driveway for what he witnessed was unimaginable evil'. He says from that day his view of Germans would never be the same again. Many decent people share his view. He describes in detail the smell, the skeletal bodies, the dead babies in their mother's arms, and the well-fed SS and Kapos. He describes a pit from hell some 50 feet square and 20 feet deep. Thousands of the inmates carried tuberculosis, diphtheria and typhus. Thousands died over the next month. A major described the camp later as a charnel house. A writer wrote: 'all the paper and ink in the world could not record the horror'.The camp was full of rotting corpses. Corpses were being torn apart for food. A women was seen knawing on a thigh bone. Later German guards were made to carry the corpses and bury them in mass graves. Many were clubbed by Tommies. Once all the survivors had been evacuated the hell camp was burned to the ground.
Shortly after Randall had arrived at Belsen he had been greeted by a smiling Kramer (Commandant) who introduced himself and said 'welcome to KL Bergen-Belsen'. Two days before Kramer had shot down 20 inmates 'for fun' from his office window. No wonder at another camp a US Sgt shot dead 35 SS on the spot. Several other soldiers had to be restrained by their superiors from doing the same.
Soon after even worse horrors were discovered at many other camps including Buchenwald where over 56,000 inmates were murdered and tortured. A US rifleman said 'I have. Been in the army for 39 months. I would gladly go through it all again if I knew that things like this would be stopped'.
Randall tells us of the end of 1 SAS Regiment after 1945 although it rose again later in Malaya, Belfast and the Middle East.
He was not a career soldier. He married, had two children and enjoys a very happy life. For a while he became a course director at the Institute of Marketing College. On several occasions he met up with David Stirling. He ends by telling us what befell his many wartime friends.
A remarkable book that is highly recommended.
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