The Colonel Farnes Collection
I started collecting Third Reich militaria from the age of 10 when, in 1948, a school-friend arrived with six medals from the Third Reich era. To my mind the Wehrmacht produced perhaps the most attractive array of medals and combat badges prior to and for the Second World War, enhancing their traditional medals and badges of the Great War. It was Hitler who said words to the effect that: “Give them medals and badges and they will fight all the harder”. Now, 70 years later, I have realised that I cannot take the last of my collection with me; my family will have little interest; thus I feel it is better to sell them at auction to those who, perhaps, share my enthusiasm.
Initially I collected from friends, ‘swapping’ the likes of cigarette cards for badges and medals (it was that easy!). This was an era in which a mass of such items were brought back to UK by servicemen but were soon no longer wanted. For example in my late teens I inserted advertisements in my local newspaper and was even given a SA Dress Dagger and a NSKK one with chains. In those cases the owners said they revived too many unpleasant memories. Before long I had a large, growing collection of essentially varied items.
Later I was to view such Nazi Party and SS items with distaste so I either sold or exchanged them. A year, living in Germany and by now in the Army, proved productive as they still had several shops in the 1970s which were keen to dispose of Third Reich items. Later attachments to the US Army were even better. Visits to Bad Tolz, the former SS training school and then the HQ for the American 10th Special Forces, was good for ‘trading’ (the American equivalent to ‘swapping’).
Individuals proved very kind. Major Dare Newell MBE, formerly with Special Operations Executive, gave me his German P38 pistol, holster, belt and badges from his times in the Balkans. These I later gave to the Regimental museum. The late Sir Christopher Lee, whom I met in the Special Forces Club, was an enthusiast and after seeing my collection gave me an SS ‘Fez’ from the Muslim ‘Handschar’ Division which he had collected when serving as a translator to the SAS forces operating in Europe 1944-45. This I did keep. Others added items ‘found’ in their lofts!
Throughout the 1980s I worked in the Arabian Gulf. By then, with a more limited, collecting interest, I dealt occasionally with established dealers such as Adrian Forman and Alan Beadle, acquiring some of their more esoteric items.
On returning to the UK in 1989 I sold half of my collection, following an expensive illness. This included most of those esoteric items - e.g. Admiral Doenitz’s medal ribbons and epaulette plus several Knights Cross citations, retaining only a few such items which were of real interest - e.g. the two connecting with the famous Wehrmacht Army Generals, Baade and von Schwerin, who had such interesting, background history.
Throughout, I was never a ‘consistent’ and organised collector. Various collectors of my acquaintance despaired that I was attracted to examples of such a variety of items - from citations, medals and badges to period history books, flags, helmets, odd items with provenance or hinting a history, this remainder now being relics from my 70-odd years of happy collecting.
Colonel (ret’d) Keith Farnes
Hereford, April 2019