SAS commander Blair Mayne’s reputation reviewed in an authorised history

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

David Sanderson

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

  • Paul Hagan

    I read “rogue warrior” the biography of Mayne by martin Dillon and the late Rev Bradford 9 or 10 years ago. It was a well-written and engaging account, a bit of a boys’ own history but sad as well, given his post-war life. According to Amazon the book is still in print and I would recommend it to anyone. One things that stuck out was the discussion of the soldier’s sexuality, Dillon spent some pages analysing different reported stories from the seemingly asexual Mayne and suggesting he had been gay (albeit not practicing). While I’m never thought this was wholly relevant to the story of Mayne’s heroics, it would be interesting (as a sign of the times) whether or not it continued to be a point of discussion in his life. Of course now the British army seems to have dealt with that issue in a different way which is worth considering when you look at other WWII heros such as Alan Turing. But as I said, perhaps not that relevant.

  • the keep

    A true hero one we should be proud of.

  • Barney

    “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.”

    Every account of the British army and the SAS in particular will not mention the torture mass rape and pillage in Kenya which included roasting people alive over open fires. Also missing will be accurate accounts of the terror used to deny democracy and support slavery in Aden. These events were exactly the same as those perpetrated by the Nazis having been officially sanctioned by cabinet government.

    There is as much point to this account as there would be to a biography about Lenny Murphy that didnt mention serial killing.

  • Brian Walker

    co-author ROY Bradford, Paul, a very different person from the tragic Rev Robert MP. Dillon an old colleague did a fine job.

  • Belfast Barman(ager)

    Love the stories of Blair Mayne.
    I believe there’s an account somewhere from his time on the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa, him disappearing some evening from the rural accommodation they were staying in, coming home hours later, close to dawn, hammered out of his skull but with an antelope draped, dead, around his neck. With no clue how he came to have it.

    Probably apocryphal but that doesn’t hurt his legendary status….

  • billypilgrim1

    Mayne was a truly fascinating character. He seems like a man who belonged in the wilder reaches of pulp fiction.

    There are some men whose natural element is war, and Mayne seems to have been such a man. His genius was for destruction. One suspects that if the war hadn’t happened, he’d be remembered as a gifted rugby player (where he could be usefully destructive) who brought disgrace on his family and ruin on himself by his drinking, unsociability and predilection for violence. But the war did happen, and for six years he had something useful to offer. And boy, did he.

    The stories of his exploits during the war are extraordinary. The stories of his post-war life are really sad, and his death (a drunk-driving accident, I believe?) was profoundly bathetic. There’s an epic to be written about this man, no doubt.

    (Pathetically, I find myself wondering about his politics, NI-wise. Talk about ‘dreary steeples’ syndrome!)

  • Paul Hagan

    Oh forgive me I thought the late author was a Rev too. Must have got confused. Anyway thanks for bringing this story to our attention again.

  • Seán South

    My Dad would tell me the stories about ‘Paddy’ Maynes wild escapades around the town (Ards) fighting and drinking and flying home in his big flash car wasted out of his head towards Mountpleasant up the Scrabo Road.
    One mad drinking night he went crashing and wrapped himself around the lamp-post outside our house in Mill Street killing himself…the horn was still sounding non-stop as he lay dying from his one came out for a while, as people where apparently to scared to approach him…an enigma of a man…but there’s a story alright.

  • Brian Walker

    That indeed was the story. Outside your house in Mill Street? And you with such an old rebel nom de plume – pardon me if it’s real!

  • Seán South

    For sure…hard men from Belfast would come down to Ards and fight him constantly…’to fight the legend himself’ was a privilege and survive….(not a good idea) He went to (Old) Regent with family members and yes like Paddy…I’m also an Ards rebel…from Rev. Porter to Paddy Mayne????

  • AntrimGael

    Totally fascinating, complex character who probably deserves a film made about him. I remember watching a documentary about him and historians are divided on whether he was totally psychotic or someone who loved the buzz and thrived in a violent, warlike context. His favourite tactics were manning heavy weaponry on open jeeps and just driving into the middle of the enemy with all guns blazing. Maybe he acted the way he did to cover his sexuality because he did seem to be a tormented soul with many inner demons? However whatever your politics here you have to acknowledge he had balls of steel and was the sort of guy you would rather have on your side.

  • Gopher

    It is welcome, if true that it will be a “warts and all” history. Society in the 21st century needs to understand in war there is an escalating level of extremity that passes a point that it can be constrained by the conventions of liberal society. “Sanitizing hell” was virtually impossible at the level Mayne fought, the public should be educated in that fact. The “Kommando order” meant both sides understood the stakes. I feel today’s historians are beginning to take a far more pragmatic view on the war away from the political and justification dynamics that drove most work for the last half of the 20th Century. Hopefully this work will continue in that path.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    He used to “invite” anyone locally he recognised as a fellow ex-officer to join him on his occasional week long binges, pulling them into his two seater and heading off to knock up one of any number of private shebeens he’d discovered just below Newry well after midnight en route to the next days drinking bout in the Free State. Most knew better than to refuse him. A few people who “survived” one or more of these bouts have described his wide grin as he negotiated the narrow back roads around the border at terrifying speeds in the early hours, after drinking enough to down a carthorse! “We will nor see his like again….”

  • Tochais Siorai

    South was only a rebel, Brian in his willingness to confront the NI state militarily. Behind this he was a fundamentalist Catholic even by 1950s standards and like Mayne, there have been strong suggestions that he was gay, not an easy path for anyone in the climate of the time. It might explain South’s extreme religiousity (and Mayne’s binge drinking) which could express itself bizarrely. A friend of mine’s father once told me that he remembered South invading cinemas in Limerick specifically to disrupt courting couples in the back seats.

    And I hate that f**king song. Give me the Roddy Mc Corley original any day.

  • Tochais Siorai

    Except when you were a passenger in his car.

  • Seán South

    I’m deflated…but I shall delve into my books and get back on that one..great contribution though..yet i do love the song.

  • Tochais Siorai

    There’s worse.

    He wasn’t from Garryowen either.

  • John Collins

    He did not have to be. As a Limerick man, I can assure you long before Sean South the moniker ‘Garryowen’ was used in relation to Limerick teams, etc and of course there is a famous US marching song of that name, which goes back to the days of the Civil War.

  • GEF

    Indeed, Paddy Mayne was a true hero, however this very brave SAS officer was only one of 16 officers who “received the DSO and three bars (i.e., were awarded the DSO four times):” Read names below:

    Archibald Walter Buckle, rose from being a naval rating in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to command the Anson Battalion of the Royal Naval Division during the First World War.

    William Denman Croft,[11] First World War army officer

    William Robert Aufrere Dawson, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment during the First World War, wounded nine times and mentioned in despatches four times

    Basil Embry, Second World War Royal Air Force officer

    Bernard Freyberg, also awarded Victoria Cross

    Edward Albert Gibbs, Second World War destroyer captain[12]

    Arnold Jackson, British Army officer and 1500 metres Olympic gold medal winner in 1912

    Douglas Kendrew, served as a brigade commander in Italy, Greece and the Middle East between 1944 and 1946. Subsequently appointed Governor of Western Australia.

    Robert Sinclair Knox, First World War British Army officer.[13]

    Frederick William Lumsden, British Army officer. Also awarded Victoria Cross

    Paddy Mayne, Special Air Service commander and Irish rugby player

    Sir Richard George Onslow, Second World War destroyer captain and later admiral[14]

    Alastair Pearson, a British Army officer who received his four awards within the space of two years during the Second World War

    James Brian Tait, RAF pilot also awarded the DFC and bar, completed 101 bombing missions in the Second World War.

    Frederic John Walker, Second World War British Navy captain and U-boat hunter

    Edward Allan Wood,[15] First World War army officer

  • SDLP supporter

    I have a very dear friend, still very alert, who has just celebrated his 98th birthday, a medical man, who was at Queen’s a few years behind Blair Mayne and who served in WW2 as a ship’s doctor. He knew Mayne, though not as well as his late older brother (also a medic) who played on the Ulster rugby team with Mayne in the thirties. My friend’s wife was an SDLP councillor.
    Regarding Mayne’s political views, I have no idea but I am retelling a story I got from someone who claimed to have heard it directly from the late Paddy McGrory. After the war Mayne, who was a qualified solicitor, became Secretary of the Incorporated Law Society. In the early fifties, McGrory, a recently-qualified solicitor and of small stature, had attended the Society’s Annual Dinner and decided to sit out the Loyal Toast. The Council of the Law Society determined that he should be given a severe talking-to by Lieutenant-Colonel Mayne, the great war hero himself. McGrory went to his office, defiant but with some trepidation given the disparity in their respective sizes. Mayne got up from his desk and walked behind the sitting McGrory, who then felt an enormous hand on his shoulder. “I think I know what happened, Paddy. When that toast was called, a wee green man came out of nowhere and sat on your shoulder, isn’t that right, Paddy?” McGrory stammered his agreement and Mayne finished the interview by saying “if it’s all right with me, it’s all right with the Council of the Law Society.” Expletives deleted.

  • Simian Droog

    No mention of his alleged repressed homosexuality which fueled his aggression, depression and heavy bouts of drinking?