Magazine article The Spectator

Gentle Spirit of Resistance

Magazine article The Spectator

Gentle Spirit of Resistance

Article excerpt

Peter de la Billiere


by Lorna Almonds Windmill Constable, L18.99, pp. 296, ISBN 1841193402 This book is an authoritative history of the founding of the SAS as well as a terrific read. Curiously, it seems to have found its moment in the wake of the appalling terrorist attacks in the US. It is the story of the repeated triumph of innovation, ingenuity and daring in the face of terrible odds. We need such capabilities now: founders set the standards for those who follow and this example is an inspiration.

`Gentleman Jim' Almonds, MM and Bar, Croix de Guerre, was among the first handful of men to join David Stirling and his original 'L' Detachment, which grew into the modern SAS in the Western Desert in 1941. Then a sergeant in 8 Guards Commando, Almonds became one of the Tobruk Four who developed the technique of four-man clandestine operations and carried it into the SAS.

A number of features makes this book unique. It is, so far, the only story of an SAS 'original' that is fully sourced and makes use of a detailed, contemporaneous diary. The author is an ex-army officer, a civil servant and the subject's daughter. She has drawn on war diaries, Public Record Office files, the co-operation of the subject (now Major Jim Almonds) and interviews with other contemporaries.

In telling this thrilling adventure story, the author also provides a rare and fascinating glimpse into the creation of the SAS and its early operations. The new factual information released is sometimes amusing, sometimes poignant. But it has a point for everyone as it reveals the practical and tactical contribution of Almonds and others like him. Then, as now, this often saved the strategic plans and visions of the greater names about which so much has already been written. Almonds was also a technical entrepreneur par excellence. His design and building of the first SAS parachute training equipment at Kabrit and his innovative adaptations of jeeps for operations in the desert and Germany all speak of a creative combination of ideas and energy undaunted by the lack of spare parts and the right tools.

This is also a significant cultural history: the SAS is part of the modern British selfimage, a source of shared pride and identity for British people well beyond the army. …

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