Silly, sad or sinister? In Yorkshire, Britain's 'Waffen-SS' soldiers play a dangerous game with History.
British Troops Fall in for the Führer.
He really is a soldier: a lance-corporal in Quebec Company of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers based at Aldershot. But in his spare time he dons the more sinister uniform of the Waffen-SS, armored division of the Nazi blackshirts, assumes the identity of a long dead German soldier and attends camps where Heil Hitler salutes are given and the Horst Wessel song is sung to evoke the atmosphere of the third Reich.
This twilight world of Nazi insignia, second-world-war firearms and black uniforms that breeds the likes of Stephen Bateman, the 22-year-old former air cadet who shot himself dead along with two British women in an apparent suicide pact in the United States. Bateman went from reading gun magazines and building model panzer tanks to wearing an SS uniform and leaving a bogus cheque for £6m as his last testament of hate: "£1 for every Jew".
SS-Sturman Clauswitz - real name Chapman - is a non commissioned officer in 9 Kompanie, a unit recreated from an SS panzer grenadier regiment. Its self-styled "SS-Haupsturmfuhrer" is David Mitchell, a senior aircraftman with the RAF in Croatia. Its second in command is Rodney Goodinson, alias SS-Hauptscharfuhrer Kettler, a captain in the Territorial Army responsible for teaching part-time soldiers who have answered a new £5m government recruiting campaign featuring saatchi television commercials.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said last week it would investigate the high incidence of serving and former members of the armed forces in 9 Kompanie "as a matter of concern". There may also be security implications: one of the unit members is a military policeman at Edinburgh castle, another is a former paratrooper who served in Northern Ireland.
The leaders of 9 Kompanie insist they are just a "living history society" with no interest in Nazism. However, they send mourners to the funerals of SS veterans in Germany, invited members of the neo-Nazi Hitler Jugend from Germany to their camps and have been barred from official displays because they refuse to remove their SS patches and death's head cap badges.
The Waffen-SS was divorced from the death squads in the concentration camps, but it was still responsible for the slaughter of innocent civilians. On June 10 1944, four days after D-Day, the Waffen-SS's Das Reich division wrought havoc on the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane. The 200 men of the village were herded into a barn and machine-gunned; only five survived. The women and children, the elderly and babies, numbering about 400, were packed into the village church and burnt alive.
Last weekend, in the wake of the suicide shootings in Arizona and California, The Sunday Times infiltrated a weekend camp held by 9 Kompanie at a colliery infill site near Rotherham known as the Imhoff ground in honor of the war-time commander of the company.
Next month 9 Kompanie is due to undergo "battle training" at a secret location in Scotland. In reality, it does not pose much of a threat: with fewer than 30 members it is hardly likely to invade Poland. However, the danger comes from the impression it leaves on young minds attracted by the "glamour" of Nazi uniforms and discipline.
It advertises for members in the sort of gun magazines Bateman read. It attracts those who listen to the same white supremacist music that poisoned the minds of Bateman, Jane Greenhow and Ruth Fleming, the trio who died in America.
Kevin a young dental technician from Bedford who was among last week's recruits to 9 Kompanie, had just been to a concert by Celtic Warrior. "It was wonderful," he said. "There were between 500 and 600 people there and men in Nazi uniforms waved swastikas on the stage." He said he believed in "sending back the blacks".
Last weekend's camp was meant to resemble wartime training as closely as possible. The recruits were fed a breakfast of SS rations - sausage, bread and black coffee.
Drill training was followed by morning parade, in which letters were read out. One, from Mitchell, the company's commanding officer stationed in Croatia, told how he had not bothered to go and see President Bill Clinton to cheer him when he visited the country. "If only it had been our Fuhrer," the letter added.
Later three recruits were addressed by Kettler, the second-in-command. He told them that members "leaned to the right" and that he was the unit's "token Nazi".
The recruits, who were not asked for any money, were taught how to strip and clean a rifle. This was followed by maneuvers in which they carried out mock assaults on imaginary British soldiers. Their machine-guns were deactivated, but most of the rifle were capable of firing live rounds, although only blanks were used.
Later, at night, everyone gathered around a lantern in the command tent to sing Lili Marlene, Horst Wessel and the Panzer Song in German, swap stories about alleged allied atrocities and toast the Hitler Jugend with schnapps.
At his home in Blyth, Northumberland, Goodinson, alias Kettler, last week claimed 9 Kompanie vetted its recruits and denied it attracted fanatics. He added: "We are not interested in Nazism. It is dead politics ... it is the uniforms, weapons and insignia that appeal to us. People want to escape from reality."
As the MoD said it would investigate breaches of military discipline, the Home Office warned that people who dressed up as Nazis might infringe the 1936 Public Order Act, passed to combat Oswald Mosley's blackshirts and a previous generation of Nazi worshippers who did not have the advantage of hindsight.
This article is (C) The Sunday Time and is reproduced here for the benefit of public discussion, not profit. All rights acknowledged.