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Incredible photos reveal SAS football team in WWII

Incredible photographs that capture the SAS fighting their way through Nazi Germany and liberating occupied Norway also reveal the regiment’s love for the beautiful game.

The treasure trove of images and records belonged to Lance Corporal William Cooke, of the Royal Hampshire Regiment, and include medals and documents accumulated by him towards the end of the Second World War.

Remarkable images of Cooke’s wartime exploits show him and his comrades operating behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France, riding tanks, manning machine guns, posing with captured Nazi flags and relaxing during their time off.

But while all of the photos offer a rare and compelling insight into the life of arguably Britain’s most notorious and expert fighters, one picture reveals a gentler side to the expert troops.

The picture captioned ‘SAS Wanderers’ shows 11 servicemen and a coach lined up in football kit posing for a team photo. 

SAS Wanderers: This charming photo of SAS footballers was found among a remarkable collection belonging to Lance Corporal William James Cooke

SAS Wanderers: This charming photo of SAS footballers was found among a remarkable collection belonging to Lance Corporal William James Cooke

SAS Wanderers: This charming photo of SAS footballers was found among a remarkable collection belonging to Lance Corporal William James Cooke

Pictured: SAS armoured jeeps tear across a football pitch during their liberation of Norway in May 1945

Pictured: SAS armoured jeeps tear across a football pitch during their liberation of Norway in May 1945

Pictured: SAS armoured jeeps tear across a football pitch during their liberation of Norway in May 1945

Many of L/Cpl Cooke’s 50 photographs depict the servicemen smiling and are accompanied by surprisingly lighthearted handwritten captions. 

His accomplishments have come to light after a family member presented the bequeathed collection to Hampshire-based auctioneer Bellmans, which will sell it tomorrow.

SAS jeeps were armed with mounted machine guns, a dozen drums of ammunition, three inch mortars, searchlights and a bazooka in the rear and were often shot at by snipers hidden in roadside forests.

Photos taken as they fought behind enemy lines in Germany show them driving down Hitler’s Autobahns and viewing the damage caused by Allied bombing.

Another is captioned ‘still at it’ and shows the soldiers inside their heavily armed jeeps, which were employed for swift hit and runs on the enemy.

Left: Allied planes drop vital supplies to SAS troops in the French Alps, right, victorious members of the SAS show off captured Nazi flags

Cooke also compiled a selection of dramatic action shots while serving in the French and Norwegian mountains.

One captioned ‘Jumping in the Alps’ shows paratroopers in the air as imposing peaks loom over them while ‘more supplies’ shows supply planes dropping provisions.

A picture of L/Cpl Cooke’s squadron in an amphibious vehicle crossing the Elbe river reads ‘us in a duck going over’.

L/Cpl Cooke died in 1999 aged 78 and his archive was passed down through the family. They have now been made available for sale at auction in Winchester, Hampshire.

John Lewes, who has published a book about the prominent role his uncle, Lieutenant Jock Lewes, played in founding the SAS, spoke of his excitement following the discovery of L/Cpl Cooke’s photos.

He said: ‘This incredible collection of photos includes more than a smattering of the SAS’s heroism, dash and sheer cold calculating courage.

Pictured: SAS troops ride in armoured jeeps, which could boast machine guns and even bazookas, as they drive on patrol

Pictured: SAS troops ride in armoured jeeps, which could boast machine guns and even bazookas, as they drive on patrol

Pictured: SAS troops ride in armoured jeeps, which could boast machine guns and even bazookas, as they drive on patrol

‘To come across such an extensive album that’s never been seen before is incredibly rare and hugely exciting.

‘While it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is happening in many of them the concise captions allow us to piece some things together.

‘Particularly interesting are his ones from Norway, where 2nd SAS played a hugely prominent role in liberating the country.’

L/Cpl Cooke, who was from Hampshire, served in the Royal Hampshire Regiment and then the Parachute Regiment.

He became a member of the 2nd SAS, which was formed in 1943 by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Stirling, who was the brother of SAS founder David Stirling.

While most of the images are undated, the SAS’s movements during and after WWII would indicate they stem from 1945 and 1946, only four years after the regiment was founded.

L/Cpl Cooke dedicated many of his photos to his friends, and one of them in particular, Derrick, is pictured a number of times.

Soldiers and members of the SAS, riding motorcycles and crowded onto tanks, travel deep into enemy territory in Germany during 1945

Soldiers and members of the SAS, riding motorcycles and crowded onto tanks, travel deep into enemy territory in Germany during 1945

Soldiers and members of the SAS, riding motorcycles and crowded onto tanks, travel deep into enemy territory in Germany during 1945

A picture of the semi-naked serviceman about to take a dip in a Norwegian lake is colloquially captioned ‘Derrick caught napping’.

Other referenced names include Brian, Bill, Harry, Sammy, Ken and Taffy. Accompanying captions include ‘some of the boys in France’ and ‘three tough guys’.

Another snapshot into L/Cpl Cooke’s personal life show him alongside wife Doris.

Many pictures, such as one of a church in Ostend and another of a lake in Norway, could easily have been taken by a tourist.

One of the more sinister inclusions in the collection is a Luftwaffe Soldbuch, or identity book, that belonged to a German officer called Siegfried Holzinger who was kidnapped as part of a mission by L/Cpl Cooke.

Along with the book come a selection of his photographs, one of which shows a Nazi funeral.

So many of L/Cpl Cooke’s photos are from Norway because in 1945 2nd SAS spearheaded the tip of an Allied army that was invaded Germany and liberated its occupied territories.

In August that year the unit were tasked with capturing, disarming and housing 300,000 German soldiers who had been occupying the Scandinavian country.

Non-photographic items within L/Cpl Cooke’s collection include a Red Cross map of Paris, an SAS membership card and various event programmes.

Pictured: L/Cpl Cooke's comrades enjoy a moment to relax in the sun at this unknown location while serving with the SAS

Pictured: L/Cpl Cooke's comrades enjoy a moment to relax in the sun at this unknown location while serving with the SAS

Pictured: L/Cpl Cooke’s comrades enjoy a moment to relax in the sun at this unknown location while serving with the SAS

His gunning credentials are evidenced by a first place shooting medal while a second place one for tug-of-war is also included.

Both awards are engraved with his service number and presented in their original boxes.

There’s also a letter to L/Cpl Cooke’s wife warning that her husband won’t be able to write for some time as he was engaged behind enemy lines.

Julian Dineen, of auctioneers Bellmans, which is selling the archive, said: ‘This is a truly fascinating collection of SAS records dating right back to the regiment’s inception during the Second World War.

‘The nature of his job means there is a limited amount of information about William James Cooke, however, these records give us a before unseen view into his duty of service.

‘The current owner, Cooke’s daughter, wants to pass her father’s collection on to someone who’ll cherish it.

‘I wouldn’t be surprised to see this sell for over our conservative estimate.’

Bellmans estimate Cooke’s collection to sell for £300 when it goes under the hammer in Winchester tomorrow (Tues). 

 


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