Sunday, November 20, 2016

Rogue Heroes

So this is my kind of book. I love Ben MacIntyre's stuff. He did that book Operation Mincemeat about the plan to fool the Nazis about the invasion of Sicily and he did a great documentary on the BBC about that traitorous scum Kim Philby. Before MacIntyre's documentary the BBC had done a couple of other documentaries about what a decent but conflicted chap Philby was, but MacIntyre makes clear that he was an awful person who worshipped Stalin. MacIntyre's war books are guilty pleasures. They're dad books. Sort of like watching Top Gear or The Grand Tour you can't really understand why you're doing it but you feel yourself sucked in. I wasn't going to mention Rogue Heroes here on the blog because I thought it was the sort of thing only I was interested in, but actually The Washington Post just picked this as one of its 10 best books of 2016 so I guess other people might get a kick out of it too. 
I picked up Rogue Heroes because I wanted to read more about the mad Ulsterman at its heart: Blair (Paddy) Mayne. Blair Mayne was an Irish rugby international and lawyer who discovered in 1939 that he had an extraordinary genius and love for war. He joined the British Army, became a commando and first fought the Vichy French in Lebanon at the famous Battle of the Litani River. (A river I visited in very weird circumstances but that's a story for another time.) Thrown into a Cairo prison for striking a superior officer he was facing court martial and years in a military stockade when David Stirling got him out and asked if he wanted to help form a new organisation called the SAS who were going to strike Rommel's airfields and supply lines hundreds of miles behind the lines in the Sahara desert. Mayne said yes and the two men invented the Special Air Service. Mayne went onto blow up dozens, perhaps hundreds of Luftwaffe planes on a succession of crazy raids all over North Africa. 
Stirling got captured on one of those raids and taken to Colditz Castle while Mayne's SAS moved to Italy and France blowing up trains, supply dumps and airfields for the rest of the war. Mayne seems to have had the time of his life, never feeling better when he was under fire or facing imminent death. He was a warrior poet like some dude out of the Iliad reading and writing verse while surrounded by enemies trying to kill him. It was peace-time Mayne couldn't handle and at home he went on drinking binges and got himself in fights with all and sundry. This book tells the story of Mayne, Stirling and the SAS from 1940 - 1945. A dad book, yes, but if its sounds like your cup of tea you, like me, will dig it.