A Man Named Hamish
Hamish Pelham Burn is certainly the bravest man that I have ever known.
To be asked at a young age to go in behind enemy lines to blow up one of the most important German radar installations on the coast of France and to be told that you likely will not get out alive, I just can’t imagine anyone agreeing to do that.
When I wrote Inside Camp-X eleven years ago, I didn’t know Hamish but I certainly knew of him. I didn’t know his name but his activities at Camp-X in 1943-44 were certainly famous.
One agent that I befriended was a man named Andrew Durovecz (aka Daniels). Andy told me of the famous Scotsman who trained most of the agents that went through Camp-X and just how good he was.
To quote from my interview with Andy:
“On a cold November day in 1977, I was able to convince Andy to return with me to those windswept fields of Camp-X. There, reminiscences of life at Camp-X came back to Andy like being hit by a bolt of lightning.
“As Andy and the others stepped into the building to which they had been directed, he immediately knew where their mission would take them. The reception room had been converted into their Hungarian “homeland” complete with food, folk art pieces, and wine.
Training started that first night - drinking good Hungarian wine! Naturally, the young recruits did not look upon this as a training exercise but more as a reception or a bit of R & R before their actual training would begin. Their trainers, however, certainly took it more seriously. This was the very purpose of the exercise: to learn to be able to drink as much as was possible and still hold your tongue. Some months later this training paid off, as will become apparent as Andy’s story continues to unfold.
Training went on day and night. Daytime instruction dealt with the basic skills; then, as the trainees advanced, night time instructions were added. The training was intensive, to say the least. Every minute of the day was filled. The agents were kept either running or crawling; they seldom walked anywhere. They might be either silently crawling up to a target or stealing away from it. The same exercise was repeated over and over until it was pounded into them and became an integral part of their nervous systems, until each reaction was so automatic that it became a sixth sense.
“We had to go into a dark room in the old Sinclair farmhouse where we would find a bag of gun parts. Still in the dark, we had to put them together and come out shooting.”
An obstacle course was constructed through which the agents suffered the most rigorous and grueling instruction. Specialty equipment was often received from American manufacturers, occasionally obtained with the direct intervention of President Roosevelt. Corning Glass received a request for, and subsequently provided, a sheet of bullet-proof glass some six feet high and nine feet wide. Agents would stand behind this glass while live ammunition was fired directly at them from short range.
The following pictures were smuggled out of Camp-X, copied, and actually appeared in a local Toronto newspaper in 1943. They were then smuggled back into the Camp. The agent-in-training responsible for this ‘operation’ had created a cover story to protect himself. If he were to be caught, he would simply say that he was practicing what he had been taught to see how proficient he was, and then he could return the pictures immediately. As it turned out, he did not get caught and he performed his self-proclaimed mission successfully. Photographs such as this of the agents’ training were taken routinely and became part of Major Fairbairn’s Instruction Manual.
One might wonder why it was so important to the agent in the field as well as the guard responsible for guarding the Camp to both be trained in all of these procedures. Whether the agent was attempting to “infiltrate” the Camp, or the guard was trying to prevent him from doing so, it was beneficial to both to understand the actions of the other. One only need read the following quote from Andy (Durovecz) Daniels’ book, My Secret Mission, to see why.
“I was questioned by the Gestapo as well. Once again I had to describe the methods and locations of my training, but I told them no more than I had told the Hungarians. Since I had come through Slovakia, they too tried to discover, by fair means or foul, whether I was not a “Bolshie” and a Soviet agent, giving me many a beating in the process. What they really wanted to know were the intentions of the British concerning Hungary. Where, and in which direction would the British carry out a major attack on the Balkans? How many British soldiers and airmen were being prepared for action in Hungary? I could honestly say I didn’t know.
“Once, while questioning me, the Gestapo suddenly started talking about Camp-X! Where was it? What kind of training took place there? They asked me much that I really did not know. We did not even know at that time about the code name, “Camp-X”; the people around Whitby and Oshawa had merely called it “the secret military camp.” This showed how well informed the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence) were; they even knew the code name. But they did not bother me much about this, perhaps because they knew no more, perhaps because my demeanour suggested it really was news to me.”
My old friend Andy was right. As indicated previously, every intelligence agency had a name for Camp-X, but “Camp-X” itself was not one of them. The name “Camp-X” was given by the locals at the time of its construction when they first became aware of the mysterious goings on behind the fences. Could it be that the German intelligence agents got so close to Camp-X that they believed the actual name of the Camp to be “Camp-X” because the locals living in the surrounding area referred to it as such?
It is not unrealistic that the Germans were aware of Camp-X. We now know that German records captured by the Allies at the end of the War clearly indicate that the Germans were aware of every aspect of the English Camp, Beaulieu, right down to the name of Lord Montagu’s dog. The Montagu family owned the Beaulieu Estate.
In the morning, very tough instructors, the majority of whom were from England, led exercises. Andy remembered one in particular, a very proud Scot who always wore his kilt. Another, who had already served in Europe, had a limp but was a bright, wise, and clever instructor.
The Scot instructor once said, “I’m going to go to Churchill and tell him to give us one hundred Hungarians and one hundred Scots and together we are going to ---- Hitler.” (Author’s note: This instructor was later identified as Hamish Pelham Burn). He was truly fond of the Hungarian lads. Andy thought that they and the instructors shared a peasant background, which made them able to relate to each other. There was also some mysterious “seventh sense” which bound them. The Hungarians were believed to be ideally suited for the Secret Service because they demonstrated a relentless determination, great stamina and held strong political beliefs.
At the time, I wondered about the man whom Andy was referring thinking that because I assumed that the instructors were all older he might not be alive.
Then, after my book was published in 1999, I received an e-mail from a man in Scotland who said that his good friend and neighbour, Hamish’s picture was in my book. To make a long story short, I asked if he would mind me calling Hamish and that was the beginning of a long friendship with him. Hamish sent me many photos of his time at Camp-X and his personal story of his adventures behind enemy lines. I told him that I was writing the sequel to Inside Camp-X and he asked me if I would publish his story when if the book got picked up. I decided to publish the book myself and Hamish’s story is in the first chapter of Dispatches from Camp-X.
I stopped hearing from Hamish a few years ago when I called and was told by a relative that he had been put in a home and was not well and for his own good health, they didn’t want anyone contacting him. I was as surprised as everyone else to find out that Hamish just passed away and now wish that I had had some way of getting my book to him so that he would have known his story had been told in print.
Hamish is a very loved and famous man over here in Canada.
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