Living History Group
"Having returned from North Africa and completed my parachute training at Ringway, Manchester in January 1944, we were at a small camp near Chesterfield called High Han waiting for assignment to units. There I saw a notice which read “Volunteers needed for a course on Photography” and promptly volunteered. Following a trip to Fairford aerodrome to do some jumps from Stirling bombers, we were called out to go to Staines where we would be met and taken to the course HQ. Arriving at Staines we were met by a smartly dressed lady in uniform, who asked us if we were for the studios. We replied that we didn’t think so as we were going to a place to learn photography, to which she responded “Yes, that’s us” and were shown to waiting Staff cars.
When we got to Pinewood we were met by a gentle man in civvies, who introduced himself as David MacDonald, our new CO. We were told that all regular army bullshit was out and that there would be no time for parades etc but that we should keep ourselves correctly dressed, behave and put all our efforts into the task ahead."
On the road to Brussels in 1944 with fellow AFPU cameraman ‘Slim’ Hewitt looking on, as Frank Covey (left) helps a wounded German soldier.
"The commanding staff were all well known people from the film industry. The Boulting twins with Richard Glendinning and David MacDonald formed the nucleus. There was also the Crown Film Unit at Pinewood making war films such as ‘Target Tonight’, ‘Western Approaches’ and ‘Journey Together’ with Edward G Robinson. A young actor starred in some of these films, who we got to know as Dickie Attenborough!
There were also the RAF Model Makers, who made props for the films. All in all we were a mixed bunch of film, newspaper and magazine photographers from across the country. After trying out a variety of cameras it was decided that the American Bell & Howe Eyemo 35mm cine camera and the German Super Ikonta 120 format cameras were the most sturdy and the best of the bunch.
I was very pleased to see that at the end of the course I had passed out top of the classes in both stills and cine. I can’t remember all of the names very well but there was John Wilcox (son of Herbert Wilcox), the two Scots, Walker and Laurie, Bert Hardy, Bill Ginger, Smith, Jack Flack, Slim Hewitt from Picture Post and Mike Lewis."
"One day I found the Hampshire Regiment moving towards the village of Cagnes, east of Bayeux, when I saw a section crouching in a ditch on the side of the road. So I moved up until I was behind the last man, and tapped him on the shoulder and asked him what was going on. I then found that they were all dead and still warm! That really scared me and I was thinking that this must have only just happened, so whoever did it may be able to see me to.
At that moment Bill Malindine (Capt) came wandering down the road and I called to him to go back and take some cover; which he did. Eventually I came to the conclusion that whoever or whatever had killed these boys had long gone, or I hoped had, so I got up and moved on."
Ralph Richardson and Lawrence Olivier in ENSA uniform taken in Germany towards the end of the war.
Montgomery’s 21st Army Group HQ staff.
"We broke out of Normandy and followed the German retreat, at times entering villages in forests and finding that we were the first British troops they had seen.
We joined the Guards Armoured Division for their dash to Brussels. With the infantry (Welsh Guards) led by armoured cars of the Household Cavalry and Cromwell tanks; we dashed 100 miles and got to the city in the late afternoon of 3rd September 1944. It was crazy, we were covered with flowers, given bottles of Brandy etc and with faces crimson with lipstick everyone went into party mode."
"We went to the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen and Neugamme near Hamburg, where we saw the terrible carnage. At Neugamme the ovens were still there and all over the camp white discs where scattered on the ground, which we discovered were the compressed ashes of those burned.
I remained in Germany at HQ BAOR in Vlotho near Bad Oyenhausen when the unit (AFPU) was disbanded. I then spent a few months with the Ground Photo Recce Unit Royal Engineers, helping them prepare pictures for a book titled ‘Bridging from Normandy to the Baltic’. Then I went to Army Public Relations and helped them put together PR Sections in Berlin, Hamburg and Dusseldorf. The staff’s were mostly German with a British PR Officer. I then went to the War Crimes Trial at Curio House in Hamburg where I met Odette Sansom and Peter Churchill and heard the story of the Ravensbrook Camp."
"I travelled all over during the years between the end of the war and 1954, being for a time attached to Soldier magazine as a Staff Photographer and covered the Berlin Airlift, flying almost weekly back and forwards to Berlin.
I filmed the great explosion blowing up Helegoland from the deck of a Destroyer about 10 miles offshore, this was the biggest explosion before the A Bomb.
Looking back it was a great experience seeing so much of history in the making and meeting famous people along the way. Then again my career as a Senior Photographer with the MOD is another story.
My last career was in America in the management of a large Professional Photo and Film shop in San Francisco. There I met Americans who had been combat photographers in the war and one of my neighbours was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne who had jumped alongside the road as I moved up north of Eindhoven. We must have been very close to one another and did not know it."
All pictures courtesy of Frank Covey
Frank Covey in post war Germany