Rebel Aussie re­fused to kow­tow to a Nazi salute

He was the Aus­tralian boy who cut a swath through the he­do­nis­tic so­cial cir­cles of pre-World War II Europe, but as a new book re­veals it was the play­boy’s need for speed that brought him face-to-face with Adolf Hitler.

Sunshine Coast Daily - - HISTORY -

Fred­er­ick Joseph McEvoy tight­ened his grip on the flagstaff and leaned for­ward into the driv­ing snow. The big Aus­tralian — 6 feet 2 inches (187cm) of solid mus­cle, broad shoul­ders bulging against the white Olympic uni­form — shook the flag to rid it of the gather­ing crust of snow. The red, white and blue Bri­tish Union Jack fell free. It flut­tered slightly in the fall­ing snow that was get­ting heav­ier by the minute.

The Mel­bourne-born ath­lete’s thick mous­tache — the must-have fa­cial ac­ces­sory of ev­ery dash­ingly hand­some man in the 1930s — col­lected snow that drifted into his face.

Fred­die turned around to the 37 men and women lined up be­hind him. Here he was, an Aussie, about to lead the Bri­tish Win­ter Olympic team into the open­ing cer­e­mony of the 1936 Games, where they would march past a ra­bid dic­ta­tor. The mad­ness of the mo­ment didn’t escape him.

Six days short of his 29th birth­day, Fred­die al­ready had a Europe-wide rep­u­ta­tion as a dash­ing high-so­ci­ety play­boy with an eye for the ladies.

Fred­die’s reck­less pur­suit of speed on moun­tain slopes and in fast cars had earned him the nick­name “Sui­cide Fred­die”, and a place lead­ing the Bri­tish Olympic bob­sleigh team into Nazi Ger­many’s Win­ter Olympic Games. Bri­tish Olympic se­lec­tors recog­nised that Fred­die had a steely de­ter­mi­na­tion to win, and that he was ut­terly fear­less. His dar­ing tactics on bob­sleighs had won him races in the past few years in Switzer­land.

He’d in­vented a cou­ple of in­no­va­tions on the bob­sleigh that were con­sid­ered bold, but ex­tremely dan­ger­ous, even deadly. In the months lead­ing up to the Fe­bru­ary Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen Fred­die had driven the Bri­tish four-man and two-man bob­sleigh teams hard, train­ing on this new type of bob­sleigh, and he’d whipped them into real con­tenders against the Alpine win­ter sport su­per­pow­ers.

In­stead of pick­ing the usual up­per-crust so­ci­ety am­a­teur English com­peti­tor to lead the Olympic squad, the Bri­tish team man­agers de­cided to ap­point Aus­tralian Fred­die to the hon­oured po­si­tion of stan­dard bearer of the Bri­tish Win­ter Olympic team.

Eigh­teen years af­ter the dev­as­tat­ing Great War and the hor­rors of the trenches, the Bri­tish were de­ter­mined to beat the Ger­mans in their Bavar­ian back­yard. They wanted to show that jumped-up cor­po­ral who was now Ger­man Chan­cel­lor, rant­ing an rav­ing to cheer­ing crowds, tha Bri­tain was strong and not to be threat­ened.

The 1936 Olympics were far more about power and pol­i­tics than sport, and Freddi was lead­ing the Bri­tish team right into the thick of it.

Fred­die watched the 32-strong French team march ahead into the driv­ing snow. Now it was the turn of Gross­bri­tan­nien, the Ger­man name for Great Bri­tain carried on a plac­ard in front of the team by a pretty Ger­man woman. Fred­die hoisted the Bri­tish flag higher and stepped for­ward. The snow was six inches deep un­der his feet as he be­gan the march that would take the Bri­tish team past the roar­ing crowds, towards the wait­ing Ger­man Führer, Adolf Hitler.

The Bri­tish team, the fifth largest in the Games, fol­lowed in his foot­steps.

The team and man­agers had dis­cussed and ar­gued for a long time over what sort of salute to give as they passed the podium where Hitler would be stand­ing. They fig­ured the Aus­tri­ans and Ital­ians would give Hitler the Nazi salute, and there was con­sid­er­able pres­sure from Olympic

fi­cials to hon­our the Ger­man hosts with an out­stretched arm salute. The Olympic of­fi­cials ar­gued it wasn’t so much a Nazi salute, but an Olympic salute that had been in­tro­duced at the Paris Games in 1924. It in­volved hold­ing the right arm for­ward and hor­i­zon­tal from the body, with palm down, then bring­ing it across the chest. The dif­fer­ence to the Nazi el­e­vated right arm salute was only slight, but it al­lowed Bri­tish of­fi­cials to ar­gue they weren’t giv­ing Hitler the Nazi salute.

Through the driv­ing snow Fred­die saw the ranks of the French team in front of him reach the bal­cony of the ho­tel Olympia Haus, where Hitler and his cronies stood to take the salute. The French flag dipped and the crowd roared out its de­light as the French team ex­tended their right arms par­al­lel to the ground in front of them. Tech­ni­cally it might be the cor­rect Olympic salute, but to the Ger­mans watch­ing it sure looked like the French team had just given their Fuhrer the Nazi salute. They were ec­static.

Fred­die was un­der strict or­ders from Bri­tish team of­fi­cials to dip the Bri­tish flag and give the Olympic salute as he passed un­der Hitler’s gaze. Fred­die wasn’t po­lit­i­cally minded, and didn’t care much whether he saluted Hitler or not. He’d lived most of his adult life in the Swiss Alps at the rich play­ground of St Moritz, and spoke both Ger­man and French flu­ently. He’d mixed so­cially with the wealthy of Ger­many, as well as the rest of high so­ci­ety, on the Alpine slopes. He’d heard many rich Ger­man hol­i­day­mak­ers and aris­to­crats speak ad­mir­ingly of Hitler, say­ing he had dragged Ger­many out of eco­nomic de­struc­tion, that he was restor­ing Ger­man pride and that he had crushed the com­mu­nists.

As Fred­die came abreast of Hitler and his in­ner cir­cle, he dipped the Bri­tish flag and briefly held out his arm par­al­lel to the ground in the Olympic salute. Fred­die looked up at the bal­cony and for a mo­ment his eyes locked with the cold black eyes of Adolf Hitler, stand­ing bare headed in the fall­ing snow in a thick black leather coat.

Hitler briefly nod­ded to ac­cept the salute, but there was no warmth in the ges­ture. Hitler didn’t smile at the gi­ant Aus­tralian dip­ping the Bri­tish flag. Hitler’s face was haughty, stiff and un­emo­tional.

Hitler broke his brief eye contact with Fred­die, and turned to make a com­ment to the weaselly look­ing man stand­ing be­hind him, who quickly nod­ded his agree­ment. That was

Joseph Goebbels, Min­is­ter for Pro­pa­ganda, who had planned this spec­ta­cle. Fred­die turned his head to the front, and con­tin­ued the march into the pa­rade ground.

As the Bri­tish team be­hind Fred­die gave the Olympic salute, the crowd roared its ap­proval.

They took the salute to demon­strate that their former wartime en­emy was honour­ing their Fuhrer.

The of­fi­cial Ger­man pro­pa­ganda film made of the open­ing cer­e­mony cut out what came next.

The 55 Amer­i­cans, who were sec­ond last in the pa­rade just be­fore the Ger­man hosts, did not dip their flag or give any salute as they passed Hitler. The proud Amer­i­cans to this day are adamant their flag will never dip in salute to any mor­tal. Ac­cord­ing to non-Ger­man me­dia re­ports of the time, the only other Olympic com­peti­tor na­tions to join the small anti-Nazi protest of not dip­ping their flag to Hitler were Bul­garia and Ice­land. Aus­tralia, which was sec­ond onto the pa­rade ground with its one ath­lete, speed skater Ge­orge “Ken” Kennedy rep­re­sent­ing the land Down Un­der, did dip the flag.

The last coun­try to en­ter the pa­rade ground was the host, Ger­many, march­ing un­der the red, white and black swastika of the Nazi flag. The 77strong team’s syn­chro­nised Nazi salute and loud shout of “Heil Hitler!” as its mem­bers passed the Führer was greeted with a mas­sive roar from the crowd. As one, the en­tire au­di­ence saluted back with a sea of arms ex­tend­ing the Nazi salute.

Adolf Hitler signs au­to­graphs for Olympic ath­letes and the Ger­man crowd, and (be­low) Fred­die McEvoy and his bob­sleigh team pre­pare for their sec­ond run. Pic­tures cour­tesy: Ha­chette Aus­tralia

This is an edited ex­tract from The Scan­dalous Fred­die McEvoy: The True Story Of The Swash­buck­ling Aus­tralian Rogue, by Frank Walker pub­lished by Ha­chette Aus­tralia, $32.99

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