Digby 'Otto Von Pivka' Smith
Digby's first tentative steps into the fascinating realm of Napoleonic history came about by chance at Bradbury Barracks, Krefeld Germany in 1965. As a qualified German linguist and serving Captain in 16. Signal Regt Hm.Forces he had been asked to research the history of the Barracks original German regiment's history as part of 16 Signal's 20th anniversary at the location. His research took him back to the 2W Westfalien Hussars, Regiment NrII these turned out to be direct descendants of the green and amaranth clad chevau legers Lanciers De Berg. A regiment of some notoriety boasting the colourful Murat as their originator. He was hooked ~ postings to Germany became superb opportunities to carry out further research, even family holidays could double as detail gathering expeditions. Attention to detail and an enquiring mind had him commissioned from the ranks and now served him well in disseminating and organising the wealth of information he dug up.
Born 15th January 1935 at The Louise Margaret Military Hospital in Aldershot to Catherine Mary Smith and George Frederick Smith, a Corporal 2nd Division Signals Regiment, matters military were instilled at the outset. Aged three he arrived in India where his father had been posted to the 9th (Indian) Division Signals Regt. Stationed up against the Afghanistan border in Quetta, Baluchistan, the family had the misfortune to arrive in an area still recovering from an earthquake three years earlier, this meant accommodation was of the tented kind, allowing a highly venomous Krait snake to become an unwitting bath toy to the young Digby. Thankfully all ended well as the snake fled having been unceremoniously turfed out of the tub by a terrified Catherine.
The commencement of hostilities with Japan saw George Frederick commissioned and sent to Malaya &emdash; Here he took part in fighting from Kota Baru down the peninsular eventually being captured in Singapore and subsequently forced to work on the Burma-Siam death railway for three and a half years.
Returning in 1942 to Aldershot after a long sea voyage around the Cape of Good Hope with his mother and sister, he was sent to East End Primary School and there won a Scholarship to Farnborough Grammar School. Uprooted again in 1948 the family were re-united in Rawalpindi, Pakistan where George Frederick was now a Major seconded to the Pakistan Signal Corps. In the absence of adequate schooling, George sent the thirteen year old Digby to the Pakistan School of Signals near the Halkurti Bazaar where he received his first training in electronics.
Returning to Farnborough Grammar School in 1950 he could not settle and so enlisted as a boy soldier on 14th February 1951 on a three year apprenticeship in the Army Apprentices School.
Posted to 87 Telecommunications Workshop in Minden in 1954 as a Technician III Class, he was able to develop his German language skills, a talent which earnt him a transfer in 1956 to 77 special tels workshops in Duisburg. George Frederick died in 1956 of a heart attack whilst stepping off a London double decker.
The British Army was on the scout for qualified German speakers to send to the Pintsch Electro Radio Factory in Konstanz. This six month stint on the beautiful shores of Lake Constance had a purpose. Digby was to learn about the complete chain of radio relay equipment that the British Army was buying. Back at Duisburg he met his wife Rita Prime.
By 1957 he had qualified as a Tels. Tech 1st Class and been selected for 2 years Artificer training. Having qualified as an Artificer he was promoted to Staff Sergeant and posted back to 77 (Spec) Tels Workshop in Duisburg.
In 1960 the war office selection board sent him to Mons Officer Cadet School Aldershot, where he received his commission as a Lieutenant in 10 Signal Regt. Krefeld Northern Germany. Here he was a Troop Commander using the pintch equipment familiar to him from his months Konstanz.
The disbanding of 10 Signal Regt. in 1965 saw him transferred to 16 Signal Regt. in the same location (Bradbury Barracks). Still on a short service commission, his new C.O. at 16 Sign. Regt. recommended he apply for a permanent regular commission. Having come through the ranks he was now too old for the Royal Signals career structure and so transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) and was posted to the Central Ordnance Depot, Donnington Salop, England, as a Captain and Systems Analyst on an enormous ICL 2400 computer (the modern equivalent of which is now a kids Christmas stocking filler).
From Donnington it was back to Rheindahlen Northern Germany to the RAOC Planning and Work Study Unit. Four years there and then off again in 1970, with accelerated promotion to Major, to Ordnance Services Berlin, again managing a computer (an NCR 800 to anyone interested).
A stint in the Ordnance Directorate in London was cut very short by his selection to attend the Fuhrungsakademie Der Bunderswehr in Blankenese North of Hamburg as a member of the 15en Lehrgang Des Heeres (The Bundeswehr Staff College).
In 1974 it was back to the UK for a spell in the M.O.D. Whitehall, where his claim to fame was the ousting of the two piece collar shirt and its replacement with the shirt K.F. Although die-hard wingers complained of the new shirts itchy material and resistance to all but the most determined ironing (thank heavens for the now ubiquitous Norwegians). His last posting was to the Materials Handling trials unit in Bicester Oxfordshire. On his resignation in 1979, he re-located his family (wife and three sons) to Suffolk and set off with his partner, Vernon Rayner, to sell body armour to the German Police Force. The demise of the Bader Meinhof and other terrorist gangs also saw the demise of Raynor and Smith and his entry into the civvy street job market.
His language skills took him back to Germany working for I.C.L. and thence in 1981 to Cable and Wireless in Saudi Arabia. 1984 to 1987 saw him as European Logistics Manager for Computervision Inc. and from there he moved to International Telecommunications Germany. Within I.T.S. he was sent to Moscow as Deputy Director General to oversee the birth of their Russian operation and spent some four years there in a tiny Moscow flat, avoiding the plague, perfecting his Russian, learnt whilst stationed in Berlin, and of course quenching his thirst for Napoleonic research. This included tons of data and three visits to the Field of Borodino, with expert guides Nikolei and Timojei Shergakov.
The time spent abroad strained his family relations resulting in a divorce from his first wife in 1984 and subsequent marriage to 'Wren' whom he met whilst she was working as a nurse in Saudi Arabia.
Now retired and living near Hanau, the scene of Wrede's defeat at the hands of Napoleon, he has been able to devote his time to his Napoleonic studies. The first result of his re-emergence as an author saw him plunge straight in at the deep end with the Greenhill Napoleonic Wars data book and represents the distillation of many years of methodical research.
Due out in October will be a book published by Windrush Press on the battle of Borodino, hopefully with some good Russian perspective detail. This will be his first real foray into narrative history writing but will, if passed form is anything to go by, still be packed with concise detail.
The curious Nom De Plumbe of Otto Von Pivka has suffered from much conjecture regarding its origin. As a member of H.M.Forces, any published work had to go through a convoluted process of Whitehall bureaucracy. In order to avoid this, Digby sought anonymity behind the name Otto Von Pivka. The name was entirely of his own making. The Otto came from his school days German lessons. All students in class were referred to by the German translation of their names. There being no obvious substitute for 'Digby' he was simply named 'Otto'. The Pivka refers to a Prussian Drum Major of the 1870's who, to the Austrians, represented everything pompous, overbearing, bullying and ridiculous about the Prussians.
Regarding the 'Von'
"Oh, I stuck in the Von to satisfy my burning social deprivation imposed on me by my - unfortunately - common birth in the class ridden British Society". As over 50% of any inter-personal communication is non verbal, I must add that the above was accompanied by a wry smile.
For the future, there are a good many books in the old dog yet and he plans to move back to the UK in a couple of years time. In the meanwhile he is currently sorting out his own Internet access and, probably his own web site.
Books Published to Date
For Osprey Men-at-Arms
For David & Charles
For Arms & Armour Press
For Blandford Press
For Greenhill Books
Books Translated from German into English
Membership of Professional and Other Bodies
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