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Category: Army History/WW2

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BRITISH FREE CORPS in the WAFFEN SS –  Aussies fighting for Hitler

The Cuff title of the BFC

<<< Sleeve badge of the Britisches Frei-Korps

 Aussies & Kiwis in Hitler's Army

Time and again contradictory information about numbers andbattlefeats of the British detachment in SS-Waffen, which included several Australians, keep turning out in various books and Internet publications. For example till recently one could have come across allegations or speculations that this group of people took part in the defence of Berlin in April-May 1945. The most comprehensive data based on document declassified in 1980-90-ties was given in the book "Renegades. Hitlers Englishmen” (Adrian Weale, 1994). This page is based on that book. It has to be emphasized that this story does not relate to the other group of the British renegades which took part in Nazi propaganda war targeted against Great Britain.

This text is copied from


This detachment commenced formation in the second half of 1943 when the strategic-military situation of Germany had greatly deteriorated. Volunteer POWs from Great Britain and her dominions became the main source of servicemen for the detachment. The first Commander of the Corps was Hauptsturmfurer SS Hans Werner Roepke – an English-speaking German. 

  • Officially the British Free Corps (BFC) was founded on the 1 January 1944. All up over the remaining 15 months of war 39 people served in it. 

Initially 6 men comprised the Corps: Thomas Cooper, Fransis MacLardy, Roy Courlander, Edward Martin and Alfred Minchin. It was so called ‘Big Six” of rather hard line Nazi who were involved into recruitment of new members. What kind of people were they?

Cooper, a son of an Englishman and a German woman, applied to join Police College, RN and RAF before the war but was rejected because of his partially German background. 

The disappointed man joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and in 1939 went to travel to Germany with his mother. His was caught by the war there and faced a difficult choice – to be interned as a British subject or to be drafted into the German Army. 

The chose the latter and later served in various detachments of the Totenkoph Division.  

In 1941 he was in Poland and later bragged of his participation in murders of Poles and Jews. 

He spent some time at the Eastern Front and was wounded.

MacLardy, former pharmacist and BUF member from Liverpool was captured by Germans in Belgium in 1940 and in 1943 after a series of illnesses joined BFC having decided that he “would not survive another Polish winter” (his POW camp was in Poland – VK).

Roy Courlander, a son of a Lithuanian Jew and an English woman was born in London, served in New Zealand Army and was captured in Greece in 1941.  

He posed as a “White Russian émigré” and was typical of extremely anti-Russian views. Before he joined BFC he had participated in the Nazi broadcast for England

Little is known about the past of Canadian Edward Martin who was captured after failure of the Dieppe landing. 

Alfred Minchin – a merchant seaman from SS Empire Range – was captured after his ship had been sunk en route to Murmansk. Later he told that he had joined BFC reckoning that it was purely a propaganda unit. Former Sergeant John Wilson was probably coerced into joining the Corps.

In February 1944 the Corps already numbered 8 “free Britons” although it is noteworthy that the composition of BFC had been constantly changing: people had been coming and going. 

Former boy seaman of the Royal Navy Kenneth Berry who was captured in 1940 when he was only 14 also joined the Corps.

 But already in March Martin quit and returned to POW camp. Soon a few more people joined the Corps: Robert Heighes, Robert Lane, Norman Rose, Wood (Australian) and Thomas Freeman. 

The latter was fully acquitted after the war as he had managed to prove that his aim was sabotage the whole project and escape. Once upon a time he was a member of BUF and shared their anti-Communist and anti-Semitic views but during his time in BFC he really conducted anti-Nazi propaganda amongst his co-servicemen and instigated them to escape. Being involved in recruitment he would chose people whose interests were far from the aims of BFC and who as he told the British investigators later, “would bring only chaos”. Thus Freeman and Wilson recruited Australians Chipchase and Albert Stokes and Sergeant Theo Ellsmore – Belgian who masqueraded as South African. Chipchase spent in BFC only several days and returned to the camp. Stokes was Freeman’s friend and initially intended to participate in sabotage of the project…

In spring 1944 the “free Britons” were involved in recruitment of new members in POW camps. During this period of time BFC was joined by William How, former lance-corporal of Military Police, and Ernest Nichols who used to be a petrol storekeeper in the army. In May-June they were joined by former merchant seamen Herbert Rowlands and Roland Barker (Australian). Ironically enough Rowlands fought in Spain in the ranks of International Brigade during the Civil War, deserted it and later joined BUF. Barker was later characterised by Cooper as a man of very low intelligence – he joined BFC attracted by prospects of an access to better food, alcohol and women… 

In June John Leister and Eric Pleasants joined. Pleasants was a former member of BUF and in the past refused to serve in the army on the ground of his pacifist views. Leister was born in London in a German family, in 1935-36 he lived and studied in Germany. Pleasants and Leister worked on one of the British islands in the English Channel (doing alternative service) in 1940, found themselves in the area of German occupation and managed to have looted a few houses abandoned by refugees and finally, when attempting to escape to England on a motorboat, were captured by Germans and sent to a prison in France for six months. They eventuated in prison camp for merchant seamen. They joined BFC because of the same reasons – hoping to have better food, alcohol and access to women.

Amongst the novices of the spring-summer draft were also Harry Dean Bachelor, former sapper, Hugh Cowie (previously made several attempts to escape and joined BFC to avoid court-martial for possession of banned radio-set); Roy Futcher (joined of fear to be court-martialled for relations with German women); Frank Maton, before the war – a BUF member, later corporal in commando units and participant of Nazi broadcasting for England; and Tom Perkins, former lance-corporal of Military Police. Out of these people only Maton was distinguished of his pro-Nazi convictions. In June BFC reached numbers of 27 people.    This is a short extract. More details.


Roy Courlander in SS Uniform

Copied from 

During World War Two, the military wing of the German Nazi organisation, the Waffen SS, began forming units of foreign nationals to fight for Germany. These units were mostly recruited from sympathisers who came from the countries occupied by Germany and most believed they were going to fight the Russians. One of these units was the Legion of St George, later known as the British Free Corps (BFC).

An early volunteer for the BFC was Lance Corporal Roy Courlander of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2 NZEF).

Roy was born in London, England, on 6 December 1914 and was greatly influenced as a boy by the attitudes and opinions of his Lithuanian stepfather, who had married his mother in 1920. When his parents divorced in 1933, the 19 year old Roy went to Vanuatu in the Pacific where he worked with his father on a copra plantation. At some stage, Roy had moved back to New Zealand and in 1939, he was living in Napier, where he was convicted of breaking and entering as well as an assault charge. On 3 October 1939, Roy enlisted in the 2 NZEF and went off to Egypt with 18 Battalion and because of his knowledge of German, he was attached to the Intelligence Section.

In May 1941, now a Lance Corporal, Roy was captured during the retreat through Greece. As a prisoner of war in Stalag XVIIIA, Roy became the camp interpreter and soon after volunteered to fight for the Germans against Russia. In June 1943, Roy went to a special camp just south of Berlin where he broadcast propaganda for the German foreign radio service. It was at this time that Roy was issued his German SS uniform.

In April 1944, Roy was promoted to Unterscharfuehrer (Waffen SS Sergeant) and he began touring prison camps trying to recruit others, especially New Zealanders. He succeeded in persuading six men from 28 Battalion to volunteer, but they were eventually turned down by the SS. During one recruiting visit he was punched in the face by an outraged New Zealander.

Despite its grand title the BFC was never more than 30 strong and the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944 signalled its demise. As the Allies advanced, the BFC began to disintegrate, with its members deserting or trying to rejoin the ranks of liberated prisoners of war. At the end of September 1944, Unterscarfuehrer Roy Courlander surrendered to the Allied Forces in Belgium.

Lance Corporal Courlander was arrested and tried by court martial by the New Zealand military authorities in Margate, England, and on 3 October 1945, six years to the day after enlisting, Roy was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In 1946, he was transferred to Mount Eden prison in Auckland, New Zealand, until his release in 1951. It is believed that Roy Courlander left New Zealand in the 1960's and that he died in Australia in 1970.

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