This entry refers to activities of British troops on the Croatian Island of Brač during World War II. It is based on three elements - a plate, a man, and a hat -, ponders their mutual relation, outlines my connection to these elements, and ends with some questions that hopefully might yield some answers or inputs (for which I'd be very grateful). The length of the text got a bit out of hand, so thanks in advance to those who stick to it till its (very far) end.
The plate, as it can be seen on the accompanying picture, had been encountered this April on the highest peak of the Croatian island of Brač, Vidova Gora (778 m), also being the highest peak of the Adriatic Sea at all. It commemorates the men of those British Forces who fought and died on the island during the days of May to June 1944. On the plate, an enumeration of the following units can be found:
* Royal Navy
* 40 & 43 Royal Marine Commando
* No 2 Army Command
* Highland Light Infantry
* Raiding Support Regiment R A
* Royal Air Force.
Not sure how many people are going to read this entry, but I am sure that a certain British officer by the name of ("Mad") Jack Churchill will mean something to some of you. As my approach to the WWII era in general is based more on occasional flares of curiosity rather than permanent interest, my first encounter with Lieutenant-Colonel Churchill happened while browsing through an entry of, well – Heroes of Normandie (not quite the historian approach). Soon after, while the name still lurked around in my memory, an online article caught my interest for dealing with Churchill's life. There again the detail that he had been captured by German Forces on the island of Brač stayed with me due to having family roots to that place. A more recent article found on warfarehistorynetwork.com (March 6, 2017), titled "'Mad Jack' Churchill - A Rare Breed of Warrior", provides a gripping narration of his military career, including a quite detailed account of the events on Brač. The linked picture had been taken by a German officer after Churchill's capture, depicting him already as a POW.
So, when earlier this year above mentioned plate caught my attention, my synapses fired right away. And they were right in doing so, as all British Forces mentioned on that plate had been involved in the attack led by Churchill.
The third element of this listing, while primarily being an item of personal value, might also hold some historic value or interest for being connected to activities of British Forces on Brač. This is one aspect to which in particular I'd like to ask knowledgeable readers for input and feedback. Thanks in advance. The item I am referring to is a hat, a wide-brimmed, sturdy model of originally a roughly light yellowish-greenish color (see the picture) that has been passed on in my family for three generations.
The story runs like this that my grand-father, who by the time of WWII owned a small ship-yard at the Western coast of the island, acquired hat plus further equipment by trade from a British soldier. He kept on using the hat throughout post-war years while working in the ship-yard. After his retirement, my father picked up the hat and wore it ever summer. In the year war broke out in by then Yugoslavia, I took this hat with me and henceforward it accompanied me on uncountable climbing and mountaineering tours in the High Alps and on travels and hikes through Europe, Northern Africa and South-America. I retired the hat soon after the millennium, battered, bleached and patched due to 60 years of ongoing use, but also still in one piece and basically in wearable condition (maybe not at a pageant). What an incredible lasting piece of garment.
PLATE, MAN and HAT
Now, in order to bring together the three elements, while standing in front of said plate and at the same time remembering the story of Jack Churchill, the hat also came to my mind. I had never inquired into its background story of the acquisition from a British soldier and by now even my father and his siblings had passed away. However, I do think that more of the original equipment survived through time and will search for it in our house during my next stay on the island. The hat bears on its inside a meanwhile barely readable name written in bold letters, quite likely the original soldier's one (see picture). Maybe the equipment, if found, will bring forth further evidence as to who once had owned it.
Concerning the story of the acquisition, as my father's brother was with the Partisans, fighting alongside Allied Forces, maybe the equipment came to us that way. Or maybe by hiding a lost British soldier in our cellar. Who knows, deciphering the soldier's name might perhaps shed some light on that matter.
1) Firstly, I am curious whether this hat really is a British military WWII item. If there is someone knowledgeable amongst you to answer this or being able to suggest or recommend sources to me for further investigation, I would be very grateful.
2) Furthermore, I'd also be grateful if there would be any suggestions for readings, for literature dealing with this particular theater of war, the Adriatic Sea. So far, my search hasn't really been fruitful.
3) As for Jack Churchill, it appears that despite the fact that this man truly led an incredible life worth to renarrate, no biography (in shape of a book) currently seems to be available (found one, though OOP). Or did I miss a publication?
4) In addition, for this being a board game forum, any suggestions on wargames with a focus on that area and time?
As I recently finished reading Patrick Leigh Fermor's "Abducting a General" (just as gripping and enjoyable as W. Stanley Moss' account of the same incident, "Ill met by moonlight"), I envision the situation on the island of Brač comparable to the one on Crete. Apart from the obvious, both being island, the landscapes are also comparably wild and shaped by typical elements of karst, such as caves, sheer cliffs and bluffs, and a lack of fresh water. Groves of olive trees, cypresses, pines, or strawberry trees, interspersed with vineyards or sheep pastures shape the face of both islands. Furthermore, in both places the German Forces hadn't treated the island's population well, triggering vigorous partisan resistance.
Another thought that springs to mind when contemplating the lives of Paddy Fermor and Jack Churchill is the extent to which they both share being interesting, interested, and daring personalities. Tracing their vitae is a perpetuated exercise in astonishment.
Lastly, and you might have figured that out by now, English is not my mother tongue. If you do find any mistakes in spelling and/or grammar - well done. You can keep them.
I have not read it, but there's a book, "Churchill's Folly: Leros and the Aegean" by Anthony Rogers (there are different editions with variations in the title) that may help.
I have a book on Leros, the title of which escapes me, that was limited to that particular battle.
Not a theatre that seems to command a lot of attention, but there is a summary of the battle here:
Seems there was a setback on Brač, but the island fell after D-Day.
The Balkans were something of a strategic backwater despite (Winston) Churchill's hopes, but the SOE was heavily involved which means a lot of the Oxbridge types that later wrote memoirs were there. Evelyn Waugh is the most famous one, you may want to check out his writings.
Pretty strategic location, as shown by the fact that another battle was fought there 47 years later:
As for the headgear, it looks quite similar to the British jungle hat:
Not an exact match, but as you can see different batches looked a bit different. There is definitely a general similarity.
Thanks, your replies are much appreciated.
I wasn't aware of the BBC archiving WW2 memories. A fascinating resource.