Page Turners: Rogue Heroes - Ben Macintyre
Welcome to Page Turners: Where we give you the lowdown books that you won't be able to put down!
This year for Remembrance Day I decided to read Ben Macintyre's Rogue Heroes. While many of us are busy taking down Halloween decorations and putting up Christmas lights we forget to take a moment to reflect on all the veterans past, present, and future that have laid down their lives on the altar of freedom.
Rogue Heroes is the true story of the formation of the SAS (Special Air Service). A band of wild, rag-tag soldiers that had the crazy idea that a small number of well trained allied soldiers could be dropped behind enemy lines and cause insurmountable damage. What sounded crazy at the time is what we consider modern warfare today because the SAS was the start and inspiration for Special Forces operations all around the world.
The story starts off introducing the reader to David Stirling. A bored British Officer who came up with the idea of the SAS while laying in a hospital bed in Cairo after a failed attempt at parachuting during the beginning of World War 2. He was an unconventional soldier according to his peers and superiors.
"Stirling was one of those people who thrive in war, having failed at peace. In a short life, he had tried his hand at a variety of occupations--artist, architect,cowboy, and mountaineer--and found success in none of them. Privledged by birth and education, intelligent and resourceful, he could have done anything, but had spent the early part of his life doing little of consequence. The war was his salvation."
Upon discharge from the hospital, still on crutches, Stirling put his plan into motion. After storming the British Middle East Headquarters (by hopping through a gap in the fence after being denied entry) and barging into the offices of the highest-ranking officers he could find to plead his case, David Stirling made his dream into a reality. Authorized to raise a team of six officers and sixty men he headed off to their new private training camp in the middle of the dessert.
The training was brutal, long marches in the desert with restricted water, jumping off the back of a speeding lorry (to simulate the effect of a parachute landing), as well as desert navigation, and explosives work. It all paid off in the end, the SAS was able to wreak havoc on unsuspecting German airfields and fuel dumps behind their own lines. However, not every mission was a success. Many SAS men lost their lives in those early desert operations either due to unsuccessful parachute jumps, being captured by the Germans, or being stranded in the desert. The training and determination can be encapsulated in this one excerpt about Bill Fraser who was stranded in the desert after a raid behind enemy lines:
"In the space of a fortnight, Fraser had almost died of thirst, drunk his own urine, crawled across a minefield, dodged bullets, hijacked a German car, eaten a tin of semi-cremated beef, crossed the front line, and trudged for nine days across 150 miles of desert."
When the war was pushed back out of Africa and into Europe the SAS men were introduced to another type of war, the brutal war that we recall today filled with many civilian casualties, and horrific violence. Here's one story that may be able to put into your mind just how gruesome the war really was for members of the SAS.
"The lorry and it's human cargo seemed to disappear under a direct hit from a 105mm shell. Pieces of smoking human flesh lay scattered across the street. "Here lay a man with half his head blown off, an arm lay there, and elsewhere an unrecognizable lump of flesh," one witness recalled. Bill Fraser sat dazed in the middle of the road, blood pouring from a shoulder wound. .... In the telegraph lines overhead hung a piece of Chris O'Dowd's skull. A torso was found blasted into the second floor of a building sixty yards away. .... The Italian family lay in the doorway, the mother and father both dead, torn to pieces. The teenage girl had vanished. The boy lay amid the shambles, alive, but with his intestines spilling out. "Suddenly he got up and ran around screaming," Seekings later recalled. "Terrible sight. There was absolutely no hope for him, and you couldn't let anybody suffer like that. So I caught him, and I shot him." .... It took one sort of courage to attack an enemy airfield in the middle of the night, but quite another to kill a little boy with his intestines blown out."
The book is filled with stories like this. All from research done in the SAS War Diaries and the personal diaries of the men that lived through it. It is an inspiration to read through the stories of sacrifice these men made throughout the course of the war. I highly recommend it to everyone, so this Remembrance Day head to your local book store and pick up a copy.
One last thing, I understand the holidays can be a busy time but please remember to take some quiet time today and reflect on the ultimate sacrifice our veterans have made to ensure we enjoy the freedoms we so often take for granted.