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: