Joe Bertony

Joe Bertony
Born(1922-03-04)4 March 1922
Corsica, France
Died7 April 2019(2019-04-07) (aged 97)
Sydney, Australia
EducationNaval engineering in Saint-Tropez
Engineering career
ProjectsRoseville Bridge, Sydney
Significant designSydney Opera House temporary works

Joseph Bertony (4 March 1922 – 7 April 2019) was a French-born Australian engineer. Trained as a naval architect, he served in the French Navy during the Second World War and, after the Fall of France, as a spy for the French intelligence services. Bertony was captured twice by the Germans and imprisoned in concentration camps and successfully escaped both times. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his bravery and emigrated to Australia after the war. Bertony worked as a civil engineer and played a key role in designing the temporary works that allowed construction of the Sydney Opera House sails. This entailed making more than 30,000 manual calculations with an accuracy of 0.5 inches (1.3 cm). Subsequent computer checks showed that he had not made a single error. In later life he worked on wind turbine projects and as a mentor to young engineers.

Early life and war service

Bertony was born in Corsica, France on 14 March 1922. His mother died soon after the birth and he was sent by his father to be brought up by an aunt and uncle.[1] Bertony developed an interest in mathematics and studied naval engineering at Saint-Tropez.[1][2] Following the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the French Navy.[1] Whilst there Bertony's intelligence was recognised and he was recruited as a spy.[3][2]

Shortly after he began his work in intelligence he was detected and captured by the Germans, who imprisoned him in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex in Austria.[2] He was put to work as a forced labourer but managed to escape as a result of an administrative error made by the guards whilst he was being transported.[1][2] Bertony resumed his work undercover but was arrested in Paris and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. He was forced to make use of his technical skills, working in an underground factory producing V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets. Though he had little choice but to comply, Bertony remained ashamed of his role in producing these weapons for the rest of his life.[2]

The forced labourers received very little food, being lucky to receive a loaf of bread per day between five men.[1][2] Bertony had a good metabolism and would often give his allocation to other prisoners, angering the SS guards. He was sometimes put to work on farms where he was designated a "carotenfuhrer", a prisoner with responsibility for guarding silos of carrots.[2] The prisoners were prohibited from eating the crops they harvested, and during this time Bertony survived by eating boiled grass.[1] As "carotenfuhrer" if Bertony allowed a prisoner to eat the carrots, which he did many times, both he and the prisoner would be stripped and flogged.[2]

Towards the end of the war, in 1945 with US forces approaching, the prisoners from Mauthausen-Gusen were marched to the German-Czech border and loaded onto a cattle train. They were then taken to a remote spot to be executed by shooting. Bertony anticipated this and escaped the train in the company of another man.[2] The two men endured ten days in the snow with no food and clad only in their thin camp uniforms.[1][2] They survived to be rescued and became firm friends for the rest of their lives.[2] Bertony was awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French government for his actions during this escape.[1]

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