Well whaddya know! The last shreds of mystery have been torn away, as the UK government has authorised “Rogue Heroes, an authorised History of the SAS” by Ben McIntyre. The Times (£) has been extracting from it as he is an assistant editor. The history is limited to the WW2 and the immediate post war period. It doesn’t take in more recent SAS activity like the “war on terror” in Iraq and even Syria and long days spent on surveillance in ditches in our own border country. Not to mention Loughgall.
But we do have a place at the origin of the story, summed up the life and legend of Blair Mayne, whose reputation is lovingly tended locally. He’s called “Paddy “ in the book and headlined “a brawler” in the paper. To poshboy Brits all the Irish are Paddy aren’t they? You can’t tell’em apart and anyway they’re all pissed… Though even in the SAS circles it seems, there was a certain ambiguity about Mayne’s’ reputation.
Colonel Rupert Prichard, the president of the SAS Regimental Association which granted access to the archive, said yesterday that they hoped the book would “do justice to the exploits” of the soldiers and “everything they did to pioneer the SAS”.
He said it was vital that it had been “based on truth rather than myth”, adding: “It had to include the bad, the ugly, the flaws, the frailties and the really impressive cock-ups that there were along with the good.”
Even David Stirling, the service’s founder, felt that some members, including Paddy Mayne who later led the service, went too far. There is a chilling account of Mr Mayne killing every German and Italian soldier who was drinking in a mess hut.
Mr Macintyre added: “It is not a story of unalloyed British bulldog heroism. These people were tough as tungsten but they were also human and frail and huge mistakes were made.”
In my youth we were agog with tales of his fearsome reputation in the bars around north Down.
Brawler had more enemy plane kills than any pilot
September 22 2016, 12:01am, The Times
Paddy Mayne excelled at rugby, playing for Ireland and the Lions before taking his natural aggression into
An Irish bar-room brawler who was recruited to the SAS from military prison has emerged from archive records as one of Britain’s most successful soldiers.
In countless missions behind enemy lines, Major Paddy Mayne destroyed more aircraft than any fighter pilot on either side during the course of the war between Britain and Germany, according to Ben Macintyre.
He said the SAS archive showed that Mayne had accounted for the destruction of more than 200 enemy planes. Even his comrades thought him cold-blooded. He typified the SAS recruitment policy, whose finds were the “sweepings of prisons and public schools”.
The Ulster Protestant, who rose to command the SAS when its founder, David Stirling, was captured, had excelled at rugby, playing for Ireland and the Lions. On a tour of South Africa he “broke all records for drunken misbehaviour”.
Mayne was recommended for the Victoria Cross, but denied it, an act described by Stirling as a “monstrous injustice” done by “faceless men who didn’t want Mayne and the SAS to be given the distinction”.
The campaign continues around Newtownards and beyond for him to be awarded a posthumous VC. You can see a ” recommendation ” signed among others by Field Marshal Montgomery with “VC” crossed out.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London