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Robert Blair Mayne
Paddy Mayne near Kabrit, Egypt, in 1942
|Born||11 January 1915|
Newtownards, County Down, Northern Ireland
|Died||14 December 1955 (aged 40)|
Newtownards, County Down, Northern Ireland
|Years of service||1939–1945|
|Commands held||Special Air Service|
|Battles/wars||Second World War|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Order & Three Bars|
Mentioned in Despatches
Légion d'honneur (France)
Croix de guerre (France)
Secretary to the Law Society of Northern Ireland
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne DSO & Three Bars (11 January 1915 – 14 December 1955) was a British Army soldier from Newtownards, capped for Ireland and the British Lions at rugby union, lawyer, amateur boxer and a founding member of the Special Air Service (SAS). During the course of the Second World War he became one of the British Army's most highly decorated soldiers and by destroying 47 aircraft in a single action he may well have destroyed more German aircraft than the RAF's highest scoring ace . He was controversially denied a Victoria Cross.
Robert Blair "Paddy" Mayne was born in Newtownards, County Down, the sixth of seven children in a Protestant family. The Maynes were prominent landowners who owned several retail businesses in the town. He was named Robert Blair after a second cousin, who at the time of his birth was a British Army officer serving in the First World War. The family home, Mount Pleasant, is situated on the hills above Newtownards. A paternal ancestor was Gordon Turnbull, who led the famous Scotland Forever Charge at Waterloo.
He attended Regent House Grammar School. It was there that his talent for rugby union became evident, and he played for the school 1st XV and also the local Ards RFC team from the age of 16. While at school he also played cricket and golf, and showed aptitude as a marksman in the rifle club. On leaving school he studied law at Queen's University of Belfast, studying to become a solicitor. While at university he took up boxing, becoming Irish Universities Heavyweight Champion in August 1936. He followed this by reaching the final of the British Universities Heavyweight Championship, but was beaten on points. With a handicap of 8, he won the Scrabo Golf Club President's Cup the next year. While at university Mayne was an officer cadet with the Queen's University, Belfast Contingent, Officer Training Corps.
Mayne's first full Ireland rugby cap also came in 1937, in a match against Wales. After gaining five more caps for Ireland as a lock forward, Mayne was selected for the 1938 British Lions tour to South Africa. While the Lions lost the first test, a South African newspaper stated Mayne was "outstanding in a pack which gamely and untiringly stood up to the tremendous task". He played in seventeen of the twenty provincial matches and in all three tests. On returning from South Africa, he joined Malone RFC in Belfast.
While on tour in South Africa with the Lions in 1938, Mayne's rambunctious nature came to the fore, smashing up colleagues' hotel rooms, temporarily freeing a convict he had befriended and who was working on the construction of the Ellis Park Stadium and also sneaking off from a formal dinner to go antelope hunting.
In early 1939 he graduated from Queen's and joined George Maclaine & Co in Belfast, having been articled to TCG Mackintosh for the five previous years. Mayne won praise during the three Ireland matches he played in 1939, with one report stating "Mayne, whose quiet almost ruthless efficiency is in direct contrast to O'Loughlin's exuberance, appears on the slow side, but he covers the ground at an extraordinary speed for a man of his build, as many a three quarter and full back have discovered." His legal and sporting careers were cut short by the outbreak of the Second World War.
In March 1939, prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Mayne had joined the Supplementary Reserve in Newtownards and received a commission in the Royal Artillery, being posted to 5 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, in 8th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, later 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment. When the battery was assigned to 9th Anti-Aircraft Regiment (later 9th (Londonderry) Heavy AA Regiment) for overseas' service, Mayne was transferred out to 66th Light AA Regiment in Northern Ireland. Then, in April 1940, he was transferred again, this time to the Royal Ulster Rifles. Following Churchill's call to form a "butcher and bolt" raiding force following the evacuation of Dunkirk, Mayne volunteered for the newly formed No. 11 (Scottish) Commando. He first saw action in June 1941 as a second-lieutenant with 11 Commando during the Syria–Lebanon Campaign. Mayne successfully led a section of men during the Litani River operation in Lebanon against Vichy French Forces. The operation was commanded by Major Dick Pedder, Highland Light Infantry, who was killed in action.
Mayne played a distinguished part in the raid, for which he was awarded a mention in dispatches His name was later recommended to Captain David Stirling by his friend Lt. Eoin McGonigal, a fellow officer of No. 11 (Scottish) Commando, and an early volunteer for the Special Air Service (SAS) – then known simply as the Parachute Unit. It is widely believed that Mayne was under arrest for hitting his commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Charles Tasker Keyes when Stirling met him. This story is untrue. A hand-written entry in Keyes' personal diary proves conclusively that he was not at the officer's mess of No. 11 (Scottish) Commando at Salamis on Cyprus on the evening of 21 June 1941, the date on which Mayne was accused of beating up a fellow officer, Major Charles Napier. Keyes had stayed the night elsewhere, and arrived at Salamis the following day, 22 June 1941, when the trouble was already over. Keyes states in his diary that he conducted an investigation and found Mayne responsible.
Keyes' diary makes it clear that Mayne was brought before the Divisional Commander, Brigadier Rodwell, on 23 June, for assaulting Napier, the second-in-command of his battalion. Mayne had a grudge against Napier, who had not taken part in the Litani raid, and who, according to a serving member of 11 Commando, had shot Mayne's pet dog while Mayne had been away. Mayne was attached to his pet (there is a famous photo of him carrying a dog on his shoulders), and was furious about this. Keyes' diary records that, on the evening of 21 June, after drinking heavily in the mess, Mayne waited by Napier's tent and assaulted him when he returned. Keyes also records in his diary that Mayne was dismissed from 11 Commando the following day, 23 June, but does not say that he was arrested.
There is no proof that Mayne was under arrest or in prison when Stirling first met him, nor that Stirling obtained his release so that he could join the newly formed SAS. From November 1941 through to the end of 1942, Mayne participated in many night raids deep behind enemy lines in the deserts of Egypt and Libya, where the SAS wrought havoc by destroying many enemy aircraft on the ground. Mayne pioneered the use of military jeeps to conduct surprise hit-and-run raids, particularly on Axis airfields. It was claimed that he had personally destroyed up to 100 aircraft. His first successful raid at Wadi Tamet on 14 December 1941, where aircraft and petrol dumps were destroyed, helped keep the SAS in existence, following the failure of the previous initial raid behind enemy lines. For his part in the Tamet raid Mayne was awarded the DSO. He also received a mention in despatches on 24 February 1942.
Mayne's official report on the Tamet raid notes:
The following damage was done on or in the vicinity of the aerodrome:
(a) Bombs were placed on 14 aircraft. (b) 10 aircraft were damaged by having instrument panels destroyed. (c) Bomb and petrol dumps were blown up. (d) Reconnaissance was made down to the seafront but only empty huts were found. (e) Several telephone poles were blown up. (f) Some Italians were followed, and the hut they came out of was attacked by sub-machine gun and pistol fire and bombs were placed on and around it. There appeared to be roughly thirty inhabitants. Damage inflicted unknown.
Mayne took part in the most successful SAS raid of the Desert war when on the night of 26 July 1942 with eighteen armed Jeeps, he along with Stirling raided the Sidi Haneish Airfield. They avoided detection, destroyed up to 40 German aircraft and escaped with the loss of only three Jeeps and two men killed. The regular Army wanted to disband the SAS but the success helped keep the critics at bay.
Following Stirling's capture in January 1943, 1st SAS Regiment was reorganised into two separate parts, the Special Raiding Squadron (SRS) and the Special Boat Section (the forerunner of the Special Boat Service). As a major, Mayne was appointed to command the Special Raiding Squadron and led the unit in Sicily and Italy until the end of 1943. In Sicily, Mayne was awarded a bar to his DSO. The official citation reads as follows:
On 10 July 1943, Major Mayne carried out two successful operations, the first the capture of CD battery the outcome of which was vital to the safe landing of 13 Corps. By nightfall SRS had captured three additional batteries, 450 prisoners, as well as killing 200 to 300 Italians. The second operation was to capture and hold of the town of Augusta. The landing was carried out in daylight – a most hazardous combined operation. By the audacity displayed, the Italians were forced from their positions and masses of stores and equipment were saved from enemy demolition. In both these operations it was Major Mayne's courage, determination and superb leadership which proved the key to success. He personally led his men from landing craft in the face of heavy machine-gun fire. By this action, he succeeded in forcing his way to ground where it was possible to form up and sum up the enemy's defences.
In January 1944 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed commanding officer of the re-formed 1st SAS Regiment. He subsequently led the SAS with great distinction through the final campaigns of the war in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Norway, often campaigning alongside local resistance fighters including the French Maquis. In recognition of his leadership and personal disregard for danger while in France, in which he trained and worked closely with the French Resistance, Mayne received the second bar to his DSO. The official citation stated:
Lt-Col. R.B.Mayne DSO has commanded 1 SAS Regiment throughout the period of operations in France. On 8 August 1944, he was dropped to Operation Houndsworth base, located west of Dijon, in order to co-ordinate and take charge of the available detachments of his Regiment and co-ordinate their activities with a major Airborne landing which was then envisaged near Paris. He then proceeded in a jeep in daylight to motor to the GAIN base making the complete journey in one day. On the approach of Allied Forces, he passed through the lines in his jeep to contact the American Forces and to lead back through the lines his detachment of twenty jeeps landed for Operation WALLACE. During the next few weeks, he successfully penetrated the German and American lines on four occasions in order to lead parties of reinforcements. It was entirely due to Lt-Col.Mayne's fine leadership and example, and his utter disregard for danger, that the unit was able to achieve such striking successes.
During the course of the war he became one of the British Army's most highly decorated soldiers and received the Distinguished Service Order with three bars, one of only seven British servicemen to receive that award four times during World War II. Additionally, the post-war French Government awarded him the Legion d'honneur and the Croix de Guerre.
The question of why Mayne was not awarded a Victoria Cross was raised by his contemporaries, and the matter came to a head when brought before British Parliament in January 2006 after a public campaign to re-open the case. The British Government declined to do so, though the Blair Mayne Association vowed to continue their campaign to have the Victoria Cross retroactively awarded. Mayne's actions were not in doubt and his citation, approved by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Allied 21st Army Group, noted that he led two armoured jeep squadrons through the front lines toward Oldenburg. The success of his mission to clear a path for the 4th Canadian (Armoured) Division and sow disorganization among the enemy was due to his "brilliant military leadership and cool calculating courage" and a "single act of bravery" which "drove the enemy from a strongly held key village thereby breaking the crust of the enemy defences in the whole of this sector." However, in a standard practice of the time, the award was downgraded to a lesser award, and Mayne received instead a third bar to the DSO (in other words, a fourth award of the DSO).
Major General Sir Robert Laycock, Post-war Chief of Combined Operations, wrote :
|“||I feel I must drop you a line just to tell you how very deeply I appreciate the great honour of being able to address, as my friend, an officer who has succeeded in accomplishing the practically unprecedented task of collecting no less than four DSOs. (I am informed that there is another such superman in the Royal Air Force.)
You deserve all the more, and in my opinion, the appropriate authorities do not really know their job. If they did they would have given you a VC as well. Please do not dream of answering this letter, which brings with it my sincerest admiration and a deep sense of honour in having, at one time, been associated with you.
Some historians have suggested that this could be interpreted as a possible reference to Basil Embry, although others have argued it could be James Tait, but as both of these RAF Officers were awarded the DSO and three bars, it is not clear which of these officers Laycock was referring to.
|“||This House recognises the grave injustice meted out to Lt Col Paddy Mayne, of 1st SAS, who won the Victoria Cross at Oldenburg in North West Germany on 9th April 1945; notes that this was subsequently downgraded, some six months later, to a third bar DSO, that the citation had been clearly altered and that David Stirling, founder of the SAS has confirmed that there was considerable prejudice towards Mayne and that King George VI enquired why the Victoria Cross had 'so strangely eluded him'; further notes that on 14th December it will be 50 years since Col Mayne's untimely death, in a car accident, and this will be followed on 29th January 2006 by the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Royal Warrant to institute the Victoria Cross; and therefore calls upon the Government to mark these anniversaries by instructing the appropriate authorities to act without delay to reinstate the Victoria Cross given for exceptional personal courage and leadership of the highest order and to acknowledge that Mayne's actions on that day saved the lives of many men and greatly helped the allied advance on Berlin.||”|
After a period with the British Antarctic Survey in the Falkland Islands, cut short by a crippling back complaint that had begun during his army days, Mayne returned to Newtownards to work first as a solicitor and then as Secretary to the Law Society of Northern Ireland. He suffered severe back pain which prevented him from even watching rugby as a spectator. He rarely talked about his wartime service.
On the night of Tuesday 13 December 1955, after attending a regular meeting of the Friendship Lodge, Mayne continued drinking with a masonic friend in the nearby town of Bangor, before making his way home in the early hours. At about 4am he was found dead in his Riley roadster in Mill Street, Newtownards, having reportedly collided with a farmer’s vehicle. At his funeral hundreds of mourners turned out to pay their respects and to see him interred in a family plot in the town’s old Movilla Abbey graveyard. After his death his masonic jewel was preserved for many years by an old school friend before it was presented to Newtownards Borough Council where it was displayed in the Mayoral Chamber of the Council Offices.
During the 1938 Lions tour it is said that Mayne relaxed by "wrecking hotels and fighting dockers". During the war, his men admired him in battle but were very wary of him during quiet times once he had consumed alcohol. Many urban legends of his post-war years exist in Belfast and Newtownards. These mostly tell of incidents in which, after drinking for several hours, Mayne would challenge every man in the bar to a fight, which he would invariably win. Other accounts describe him as a courageous leader of his men and a ferocious opponent. Mayne is also described as growing increasingly withdrawn as the war progressed, preferring books to the company of friends. This tendency was said to have become more marked after the death of his father during World War II. Mayne was refused leave to attend the funeral and a story has him embarking on a drinking binge and rampage in central Cairo in an effort to find and beat up Richard Dimbleby, although Dimbleby may have been in London at the time. After separating fact from myth, it is clear that Mayne was an extraordinary war hero, and some of the criticism comes from disbelief that one man could have achieved what Mayne achieved, without injury, although Mayne suffered from longstanding back pain sustained in the Western Desert.
Mayne was inclined to remonstrate with colleagues in the armed services who showed little or no understanding of the complex politics of Northern Ireland.
A less-than lifesize bronze statue of Blair Mayne stands in Conway Square, Newtownards, and the western bypass of the town is also named in his honour.
In 2003 a temporary British Army base in Kuwait, occupied by the first battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment, was named after him – Camp Blair Mayne. It was there that Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, 1 Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment's commanding officer (himself a former SAS officer), gave his celebrated address to his troops on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
A film of Blair Mayne's life has long been mooted. Eddie Irvine has become executive producer for the film.
A number of books have been written about Mayne, the first being Colonel Paddy by Patrick Marrinan (1960).
Rogue Warrior of the SAS: the Blair Mayne legend was written by Roy Bradford and Martin Dillon (1989, updated 2003) and features a foreword by David Stirling, who endorses the book. It purports to separate the facts from myths.
Paddy Mayne by Hamish Ross (2004) has also sought to debunk the myths and concerning Mayne's character and exploits, preferring a more circumspect account based on tangible evidence. Ross's book is endorsed by the Mayne family.
The Regiment by Michael Asher (2007) contains a detailed account of Mayne's part in the creation of the SAS Regiment, and credits Mayne, rather than Stirling, with the main role in perpetuating it. Asher presents the most accurate account of Mayne's dismissal from 11 Commando, for striking his 2 i/c, Charles Napier, rather than his CO, Geoffrey Keyes (based on entries from Keyes' personal diaries, property of Lord Roger Keyes, Private Collection)
Another book, SAS: The History of the Special Raiding Squadron: Paddy's Men by Stewart McClean was published in early 2006.
Legendary Warrior of the SAS by John O'Neill was published in 2012 and describes his character and publishes for the first time letters to family.
Stirling's Men: the inside history of the SAS in World War Two, by Gavin Mortimer [Cassell, 2004], also features extensive accounts, both of Mayne's exploits and of his character, by many soldiers who served with him in the SAS.
|Companion of the Distinguished Service Order and Three bars (DSO & 3 Bars)||24 February 1942|
21 October 1943 (1st Bar)
29 March 1945 (2nd Bar)
11 October 1945 (3rd Bar)
|Africa Star||With '8th ARMY' clasp|
|France and Germany Star|
|War Medal 1939–1945 with bronze oak leaf for Mentioned in Dispatches||24 February 1942 (MID)|
|Officer of the Legion of Honour||(France)|
|Croix de guerre 1939–1945||(France)|