Saturday, 11 April 2020

Life highlights of Leonard Berney, my father, born 100 years ago today

Leonard Berney 
11th April 1920 - 7th March 2016
(photo: Hy Money)

  • Adolphus Leonard Berney was born on 11th April 1920 at 169 Oxford Street, London. He was named after the filmstar Adolph Menjou who his mother found attractive. For some reason, Dad favoured his middle name over his first. ;-) This is the earliest photo I have of him, aged 3.

  • A very intelligent boy, he was destined for Cambridge University but WW2 came just at the wrong time.
1939: 2nd Lieut. L Berney, Rotal Engineers, Territorial Army
  • In 1939, he and his Anti-Aircraft regiment were mobilized for full-time military service in the defence of London. He took part in countering the Blitz and the V1 flying bomb attacks.
  • On 11th April 1944, on Dad's 24th birthday, he was promoted from Captain to Major, becoming one of the youngest Majors in the Britsh Army as 24 was the youngest permitted age for the rank of Major at the time.
  • In 1944 for a period of four to five months, Dad was appointed as Instructor to train hitherto static Anti-Aircraft regiments to become mobile in preparation for the invasion of France. Based in Kinmel Park Camp, north Wales, he put six regiments on a two-week training course. With each regiment comprising 600 men, he trained a total of 3,600 men!
  • In August 1944, he was in Normandy as Staff Officer, Anti-Aircraft Defense, of XIII Corps of the British 21st Army.
  • From 15th April 1945 for a period of 19 weeks, he played a significant role in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp as documented in his 2015 book, Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp.

  • In September 1945, he testified in the Belsen Trials at Lüneburg, Lower Saxony, Germany against the men and women of the SS who ran Belsen before its liberation.
  • Following his time at Belsen, he was appointed Military Governor of Schleswig-Holstein and was released from the army at the end of 1946 with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
  • Lamenting, one day, in a bar about not knowing what he was going to do for a career, it turned out that the person he was talking to was Leslie Berker, founder of Berkertex Ltd who happened to be looking for managers at the time and so offered him a job.

  • Married fashion model, Pat Purser, (my mother) on 28th July 1951 at Plymouth Registry Office.

  • Dad became the father of three sons and three grandchildren. My parents divorced in 1963.

  • Dad went on to become General Manager of the firm which, in turn, became the UK's largest clothing manufacturer. The company was originally based in London but moved to Plymouth in around 1950.
Dad giving Reginald Maudling a tour of Berkertex in the late 1950s
  • An ardent traveller, Dad became a pilot of light aircraft and flew his own plane to many destinations around Europe and he even once flew to Canada. In fact, he flew himself to 35 countries and 183 airfields. In the 1970s, he flew me and a school friend to Deauville on the north coast of France for lunch! In total, he visited around 150 countries in his lifetime. A veritable explorer!

    Dad and co-pilot, Stephen Bruh, in Narssassuaq, Greenland having flown across the Atlantic in his Piper Twin Comanche G ASMH.
  • Dad didn't let his age get in the way of him having fun.

  • In his later years, Dad started talking and writing about his experience of liberating Belsen. He wanted future generations to know what happened there in the hope it might help prevent further atrocities. Holocaust deniers also irritated him very much.

  • Delivering his talk on Belsen at Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson on 27th Jan 2014
  • He appears in the 2015 documentaries that marked the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust: Night Will Fall and No Asylum - the untold chapter of Anne Frank's story.

  • On 15th April 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Belsen, Dad published his book, Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp - a personal account which gives a unique and detailed perspective of the liberation.

    (photo: Hy Money)
  • In April 2020 to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Belsen, filmmaker Mark Gorton released tWWIItter: Leonard Berney's Story - the liberation of Bergen-Belsen which, in my opinion, is a breakthrough in Holocaust education. It imagines social media existed in 1945 and that Dad documented the liberation of the camp on Twitter.

  • See also:

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Kenwood Memories: The Story of an Iconic Brand

David Murray has done a sterling job in writing "Kenwood Memories: The Story of an Iconic Brand" published by The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant. It is a remarkable record of everything you've ever wanted to know about Kenwood, particularly if you or a family member ever worked for the company.

I was asked to write the introduction for the book!

Here is the press release about the launch of the book:

Memories of Kenwood workers feature in new book

A new book featuring the memories of workers at Kenwood’s factory and offices in New Lane, Havant, has been published by The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre.

Kenwood Memories: The Story of an Iconic Brand traces the history of the internationally famous company, which was founded by Kenneth Wood in Woking in 1947 before it moved to Havant in 1962.

Funded by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the book covers Kenwood’s early successes in Woking, including the invention of the iconic Kenwood Chef, before focusing on the move to Havant and subsequent takeover by Thorn in 1968, which led to the departure of Kenneth Wood. The company’s more recent history, including the management buy-out in 1989 and takeover by current owner De’Longhi in 2001, is also featured.

John Wood, stepson of Kenneth, says: “With a great deal of detail, including examples of actual staff contracts and correspondence, and many wonderful photos, the book takes you right up to the present day with chapters on the management buy-out, the manufacturing move to China and the De’Longhi takeover. As well as the ultimate reference guide to all things Kenwood, this book is a glorious trip down memory lane if you, your parents or even your grandparents ever worked for the company.”

The book is available to buy from The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, priced £5.

A screening of No Asylum at the GSA in the presence of Anne Frank's stepsister, Eva Schloss

Prof. Sean McNamara, Heather Gorniak, Eva Schloss MBE, Marta Miranda, John Wood. Photo credit: Steve Porter

I was honoured to have been invited to an incredible evening at the Guildford School of Acting (GSA), part of the University of Surrey where I studied in the 1980s for my degree. Firstly, there was the screening of No Asylum: The Untold Chapter of Anne Frank's Story in the presence of the incredible Eva Schloss MBE, Anne Frank's stepsister and Auschwitz survivor, followed by a Q&A that I was asked to be part of, representing my father, Belsen liberator, Leonard Berney, author of Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp - a personal account. who appears in No Asylum together with Eva. This was followed by a performance of The Diary of Anne Frank by GSA students which was so professional and also very moving!

Here is a video of the Q&A

The Q&A after the screening of No Asylum

Me with Rabbi Alex Goldberg, University of Surrey Chaplain

Here is the press release issued by GSA about the event:

Eva Schloss MBE, author and Holocaust Survivor, discusses her experiences on the occasion of GSA’s production of “The Diary of Anne Frank”

On December 13th 2019, GSA had the privilege and honour of welcoming Eva Schloss MBE, author, international speaker and holocaust survivor to the University. GSA held a special screening of “No Asylum”, a documentary about the lately discovered papers that meant researchers could, at last, chronicle the journey of Anne Frank’s family. Eva Schloss is the step-sister of Anne Frank, daughter of Otto Frank who features in the film. Also present was John Wood, the son of Major Leonard Berney, the first British Officer to liberate Bergen-Belsen. John, like Eva, makes it his life’s mission to share these first-hand stories, “Lest We Forget”.

The extraordinary screening and Q&A event in December came about serendipitously following Director Nicholas Scriven’s decision to stage the play “The Diary of Anne Frank” with the BA Actor Musicians. The production was a chance to speak to a new generation about the oppressive nature of discrimination and prejudice. Nicholas Scriven's idea to incorporate original music written by Ilse Weber, Pavel Haas and Gideon Klein, all composers that had died in the Holocaust, was particularly poignant. The combination of elements and the talented cast made for an arresting and powerful piece, clearly appreciated by the audiences who gave standing ovations.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play was originally written by Frank Goodrich and Albert Hackett in 1955. It won the Tony Award for Best Play and was then adapted into the Oscar-Nominated Diary of Anne Frank in 1959 prior to being revised in 1997 by Wendy Kesselman.

The cast of Anne Frank attended the screening of “No Asylum” and actors Marta Miranda and Heather Gorniak, (playing the title role Anne Frank and her sister Margot Frank respectively) joined Eva & John and Head of GSA, Sean McNamara on stage afterwards for the Q&A. Cast and audience were both visibly moved to hear these first-hand personal accounts from this tragic chapter in history and Eva’s clear message of tolerance, compassion and indefatigable hope echoed the chiming words of Anne Frank in that tiny attic all those years ago.

In the audience was University of Surrey’s Rabbi Alex Goldberg, who later tweeted “Attended the final performance of GSA’s The Diary of Anne Frank having met with her step-sister Eva Schloss yesterday. Thanks to Nicholas Scrivens and all that I met in rehearsals whose dedication reminded me of Anne’s words “I believe that people are good at heart”." Even now cases of anti-Semitism still regularly feature in the news. In the Q&A that followed the screening, Eva talked about examples of genocide and persecution in the world today and the ever-important relevance of retelling this story and learning from our mistakes.

Photo credit: Steve Porter

Nicholas Scrivens, Programme Leader at GSA, said: “Sadly, Anne Frank’s story is as relevant today as ever, with anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice still rotting society. Its messages, communicated in such a poignant way by GSA’s actor-musicians, need to be heard.”

“One of the things that struck me was that the diary acts as a kind of "window" through which we can begin to approach the Holocaust… when one has knowledge and understanding of what has been before it there is a greater sense of need and obligation to share the story from generation to generation.”

Photo credit: Steve Porter

“Music is an intrinsic part of theatrical storytelling and on the Actor Musician course we integrate music to further the narrative. Rather than simply "scoring" for this project, it was an opportunity to re-visit the work of artists murdered in The Holocaust. The tragic element is that all of these voices were silenced by 1945. But the joy and power of theatre is that a new generation can re-tell their work to the world. We have to remember that the Nazi's aim was not just to eradicate all of the Jews in Europe but to eradicate a culture, its music and its language. Therefore, each performance using their music, words and themes are a defiance and a way of saying - you failed and you will always fail as long as people have empathy and tell the stories and sing these songs.”

“I have never worked with a company of students so dedicated or committed to the telling of one story. In their own time and together as an ensemble they visited the Imperial War Museum, The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, some journeying on to visit Auschwitz. Their research informing every choice and every moment of the play.”

The BA (Hons) Actor Musician programme is a relatively new GSA course, taught by industry-leading professionals, that develops the actor-musician’s skills to be able to take advantage of the ever-growing demand for versatile professional performers who can combine superb acting ability with a high standard of musicianship.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

I Married Gemma on Monty Python's 50th Anniversary

On 5th October 2019 at the beautiful Ravenswood wedding venue, I married my fellow Python-fan devotee love, Gemma, at our heavily themed Monty Python wedding.

Throughout the building, around 150 Monty Python "exhibits" were on display including very silly posters, a fish tank full of fish with faces, a 16-ton weight hanging over everyone's head and a nine-foot dead parrot on the top table. They took Gemma two years to create.

We performed the Buying a Bed sketch and we sang and performed the Sit On My Face sketch, and to cap it all, Carol Cleveland herself turned up by surprise on the day and became our guest of honour! During the ceremony, the rings were presented within the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and, yes, we did have Spam on the menu.

It was SUCH a fun, happy day. Many of the guests, themselves not Monty Python fans, told us that it was the best wedding they had EVER been to!

The wedding even has its own website:

Thursday, 26 September 2019

'And Then They Came for Me' in the presence of Eva Schloss at Solihull School

I was honoured to be invited back to Solihull School on Monday 23rd September 2019, the previous time being last January for the screening of No Asylum - the Untold Chapter of Anne Frank's Story in the presence of Holocaust survivor and Anne Frank's stepsister, Eva Schloss. This time it was for a performance of And Then They Came For Me by James Still (Moondog Productions), also in the presence of Eva Schloss.

The play is, essentially, a very real and graphic multi-media representation of Eva's entire Holocaust experience. It brings it home to you much more effectively than reading about it or even watching it on film. And Then They Came For Me seems to be permanently on tour, so go and watch it - it's a must-see! For me, it was an unforgettable experience which, I feel, should be part of every school's Holocaust education curriculum.

Back row:
David Lloyd Headmaster: John Wood, son of Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Berney, Bergen Belsen liberator; The Right Honourable The Lord Glasman, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research UK
Front row:
Mark Penney Head of the Junior School; Diana Crabtree; Eva Schloss MBE; Lord Lieutenant of the West Midlands, John Crabtree OBE

Headmaster of Solihull School, David Lloyd, addressing the audience before the start of the play, 
with Eva Schloss and many other dignitaries in the front row. 

Patrick Withey as a Hitler Youth

Nazi officials (Patrick Withey and Benjamin Hardy-Phillips) arresting Eva (Gemma Reynolds) 

A testimony by Eva plays on the big screen while Patrick, Benjamin and Gemma recreate Eva's interrogation 

The Hitler Youth telling us how he was ordered to strangle his puppy, 
otherwise he'd never be a real German 
The cast on stage with Eva
After the play, Eva answered questions from Mark Penney, Head of the Junior School 
(organiser of the event) and from the audience

Eva with the cast after the show (left to right: Eva Schloss, Patrick Withey, Savannah Betts, 
Benjamin Hardy-Phillips, Gemma Reynolds)