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EDITIONS
Friday, 29 March, 2002, 14:02 GMT
'My father the war traitor'
Douglas Berneville-Claye
Douglas Berneville-Claye sided with the Germans
Margaret Metcalf grew up believing her father was a war hero but years later discovered he was the only British officer to have fought with the Nazis.

Margaret Metcalfe was brought up the illegitimate daughter of a scullery maid in a rural village in Yorkshire. She never met her father, who disowned her at birth, but she always believed he had been a daring war hero.

"Everyone always described him as having film star looks and said he was able to charm the birds out of the trees. I always thought he was an SAS war hero and never believed he might have become a traitor," she told BBC Radio 4's It's My Story.

Margaret Metcalfe
Margaret Metcalfe: "I always thought he was a war hero"
Margaret, a former midwife, was 65 when she learned that her father was a traitor. The truth only unravelled when she decided to write her family tree.

She knew from her mother's letters that her father was the son of a pub landlord and had joined the West Yorkshire Regiment, with which he was posted to north Africa.

There, he signed up with the newly formed Special Air Service and took part in daring raids on German airfields and supply bases, deep behind enemy lines.

Missing in action

Keen to find out more, Margaret went to the Public Record Office in London to examine the regimental war diary.

We don't know why he wasn't prosecuted - there was plenty of evidence

Margaret Metcalfe
"The entry for 13th January 1942 shows that he was reported missing on operations," she says. "But I [also] noticed that he had given himself a double-barrelled name of Berneville-Claye and had also awarded himself an aristocratic title of Lord Charlesworth.

"This seemed strange because they seem to be pure inventions on his part to make himself blend in better with other members of his SAS unit.

"But I was even more surprised by the MI5 secret intelligence reports in which several eyewitnesses describe him wearing the distinctive black uniform of a captain in the Waffen SS," she says.

Secret meeting

It materialised that Margaret's father had actually been a member of what became known as the British Free Corps (BFC) or Britisches Freikorps - a unit of the German military made up of British volunteers.

Berneville-Claye as a prisoner of war
Berneville-Claye is thought to have defencted when he became a prisoner of war
In a top secret interview with MI5, the sergeant major of the BFC, Thomas Haller Cooper, recalled his meeting with Margaret's father.

"We were back at Templin [north of Berlin] where I made the acquaintance of an alleged Captain Berneville-Claye of the Coldstream Guards, dressed in the uniform of a Haupsturnfurher of a tank corps unit."

Margaret was astonished by these accounts but learned that he was just one of about 300,000 French, Dutch, Norwegian and Greek men who had volunteered to fight alongside Germany in the Waffen SS.

Among them was the BFC - a small contingent of British renegade soldiers who were recruited from prisoner of war camps.

Court martial

Their value to the Germans was largely propaganda but Berneville-Claye is believed to have been unique in that he was the only British army officer known to had donned the uniform of a Waffen SS Captain and commanded the BFC.

Berneville-Claye in Australia
In his adopted homeland of Australia
Britain's leading authority on Hitler's British fighters, Adrian Weale, has studied the papers relating to Berneville-Claye.

Strangely, Berneville-Claye was not demobilised immediately and continued to be an British army officer. Because he spoke good German, he seems to have been involved in the German War Crimes commission. But his old character traits resurfaced fairly quickly and he was court-martialled twice, in 1945 and 46, and the army eventually got rid of him.

Margaret could not understand why the British never prosecuted her father after the war, even though he was investigated by MI5.

"We don't know why he wasn't prosecuted. There was plenty of evidence from what MI5 regarded as tainted witnesses but there was virtually no independent documentary evidence of what he had been doing from the Germans."

Unknown family

During the course of her two-year investigation, Margaret discovered more secrets about her father. She had a half-brother and an extended family scattered across Britain, America and Australia that had hitherto been unaware of each other's existence.

Berneville-Claye in London, 1974
Probably the last picture of Berneville-Claye, taken in London in 1974
Berneville-Claye married again after the war, but was briefly imprisoned for bigamy. Eventually he emigrated with his new family to Australia where he re-invented his life, establishing himself as a pillar of his local community.

He taught English in a boy's school, converted to Catholicism and was much mourned when he died in 1975.

Initially Margaret Metcalfe was welcomed into the new family fold. But her revelations about Berneville-Claye began to cause schisms and the family she had found eventually disowned her. Margaret has now ceased contact with them.


It's My Story: In the Past Darkly was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Monday 1 April at 20:00 GMT, and repeated on Sunday 20 April at 13:30 BST.
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