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Rogue Warrior of the SAS: The Blair Mayne Legend - Martin Dillon, Roy Bradford

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Paperback: 288 pages / Publisher: Mainstream Publishing / Published: 22 May 2003

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      08.11.2012 16:54
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      Story of a remarkable man buried in mediocre writing.

      I enjoy reading about the SAS, especially the originals, the men behind the lines in WW2. These were a band of misfits - men not really cut out for all the rules and regulations of the military, but they were also the finest warriors the British army has ever known. In two years operating behind enemy lines with only a handful of men, the originals took out more enemy aircraft than the entire RAF. These are men who dared anything - but didn't always win - only a handful would survive the war. Among them was - in my opinion - the greatest of them all Lt Col Blair Mayne - or Paddy Mayne.

      Paddy was said to be without fear - a statement he denied - only an idiot would be without fear on the battle field - or as my grandfather put it " A damned fool". Paddy was certainly not a fool, perhaps one of the most intelligent men of his time. He was an educated man who excelled at anything he put his mind to. Apparently he did well in Cricket and golf but never took these sports up professionally. He did take boxing more seriously becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the Irish Universities Heavyweight Champion in August 1936. One sporting championship was not enough for Mayne though - he won 5 caps for Ireland as an International rugby star. His talent in Marksmanship would soon become his most useful sporting ability, but Paddy wasn't just an athlete. he studied poetry and law , and was a qualified solicitor when the war broke out - later becoming Secretary of the Law Society for Northern Ireland. Many sources try to make Paddy out as a drunken Irish bruiser - great in fight but not much use in peace time. I feel this is yet another injustice to the memory of one of this province's finest.

      I bought this book hoping for a bit more about Paddy's personal life - the man before and after the war. Sadly there is not much material on this. This is partially due to lack of source material as this book was written before Mayne's diary was released. Paddy was a private man who kept his personal affairs to himself. But I also feel that some aspects that do not fit with the "drunken Irish lout" image were left out. There is no mention made of his love for singing, storytelling, poetry and Irish culture. According to this book he could even speak Gaelic - not an easy language to learn and not a common accomplishment among Ulster Protestants of his time. - but again this is not mentioned. I know have read previously that he did volunteer work with youngsters as well - but there is no mention of this either. This casts an image of a man who could not cope with peacetime, and spent his last years in drunken haze. I believe this is incorrect. Certainly he did drink to excess - but he had done so well before the war. Drink is the curse of the Irish - North as Well as South - but I think there was much more to this man.

      The main focus of this book accounts of various battles. These are taken from the testimony of other members of SAS, as well as official documents. The stories are incredible - and worth buying this book for. they may be embellished, but at least a fair amount of these events actually did happen. There are also a few letters from Paddy himself, which were for me the best part of this book. I also very much enjoyed the photo sections. These are of course in black and white and not always of the highest quality but they offer a glimpse into this man, and the men who served with him, far beyond the text of this book. What strikes me the most is the expressions of the men. These are men who have come through horrific battles, lost friends and faced death time and time again. But they lack the haunted expression of many on the battlefields. They look to me enjoying the moment, living life to it's fullest in between the bloodshed.

      I enjoyed reading this book. I did not find quite so easy to follow as the previous book I had read "The Originals" The story is good and pieced together tells the story of a giant among men, not just in physical stature but in heart. The writing got on my nerves at times so much that I put the book down for days - finally finishing it only because I was anxious to start a new book - but there were parts of the book that fascinated me. I especially enjoyed the accounts of Billy Hull - another Ulsterman of the SAS taking of Belsen concentration camp. These are brutal, violent - and I'm surprised that even now this account could not get the man arrested - but their actions were fair enough considering what they found and it certainly has the brutal ring of truth. I am glad I bought this book. I feel that the story of Paddy Mayne is something that should not be forgotten - this is part of our history - and something for his countrymen to be proud of. It is certainly a story I tell my own children. But I'm not sure whether to recommend this book or not. Personally I strongly preferred the Originals - but this does have a bit more information on Mayne alone. I am loathe to recommend the Ross Hamish book simply because I have not read it - but by all accounts it looks far better and although I understand this book was also published before the official release of Mayne's diary in 2011, it appears the author was able to gain access to them before this time. I am getting the Hamish book for Christmas so will update this then. In terms of quality of writing though - I highly doubt it could get much worse.

      As mentioned - I do take issue with the attempts to portray my hero ( and yes I'll freely admit to hero worship here so I mightn't be the most objective in this department) as a man unfit for peace time. I believe the crippling back injury that forced Paddy's return for operations on his back from his Antarctic mission played more of a role in his life than any trauma from the war. In fact I don't think he was traumatised at all - by all accounts he enjoyed life and was always up for a bit of fun - just a bit too much fun - and drink. A driving accident while drunk would later claim his life. Still he lived life to the fullest and at the age of 40 he had truly lived much more than most of would in a dozen lifetimes.

      As to the fighting - I'm afraid drink and fighting go hand in hand, but it is quite clear that a large number of the fights were not his fault - just some idiot wanting a go at the big man. One account is given where he was set up and attacked by a number of men - very poor judgement on their part. In all fairness - the author does point this out, and there certainly is some entertainment in reading about Paddy's unorthodox exploits - I wouldn't mind reading about the drinking and fighting - I just think too much focus is given to this and not enough to other aspects of his life.

      I also resent what I see as an authors attempt to make a bit more of an exciting story with a bit of scandal. I am quite confused with his conclusions which make as much sense to me as 2 + 3 = 357. The author has concluded that Paddy Mayne hated women. This is based on the fact that Paddy never married ( although he did propose once the girl ended up marrying someone else while he was away with the army). Other evidence for the fact that he hated women was the fact that he apparently avoided prostitutes and at one point became quite angry when a hotel manager/ pimp kept sending young girls to his room. I can't quite see the refusal to pay some dirty old man for sex with a young girl as proof of hating women. If it is - I do hope a lot more men hate women. Is the author so unfamiliar with decency that he sees it as flaw? Finally there is an incident where he was sharing accommodation with several other men. as they were parting into the night he went to bed by himself but came out later - asked the working girls to leave and then physically threw the men out behind them. he never touched the prostitutes, nor apparently was he unkind to them - he simply asked them to leave. Again this doesn't sound like hatred to me - perhaps he just wanted a bit of peace and quiet.

      But what is often forgotten about is the fact that he was in fact a gentle man. He seems to have treated women kindly and with respect. If he had affairs, he kept them very quiet - but it is quite possible that he did not. It is said that he would not even allow the men to use curse words around him - and especially not in the company of women. His devotion to his mother and sisters is well known, and his letters show concern for other women as well. Too much is made of his devotion to his mother though, as if it is mentioned to prove a point. We do have Paddy's own words on marriage in one case - reported by a friend and fellow SAS member. Paddy sadly said "What woman would want an ugly giant like me". A shame he did not have the same confidence with women he had on the battlefield.

      Finally, the author speculates on the sexuality of Paddy Mayne, something I felt was wrong in this respect. Personally I could care less what Mayne's preferences may have been. Whether he was gay or straight would make absolutely no difference in my opinion of him, nor would it change any of the heroic things he did. But I strongly resent any attempt to create a scandal to sell more books and the author is losing 2 stars from me for this. I also feel like his earlier assertions on Mayne hating women and being to attached to his mother are both incorrect stereotypes used only as "evidence" for his later speculations. There is also plenty of evidence that would contradict Dillons theory, but none of this is mentioned. I strongly resent the fact that this was treated as something "wrong" with him. The drink was surely a fault, as was a quick temper - but we all have faults and I prefer a flawed hero. Although the author does not say this explicitly and even goes on to praise men hiding homosexual urges in the military - there is something about the way it is written that comes across as sleazy to me. It reminds me of a bigot saying "some of my best friends are ......." As if he feels he is uncovering dirt.

      This type of journalism would be more appropriate for a tabloid than a serious work of non fiction. His sexuality was not a fault regardless of whether the allegations are true or not, and one could only wish we could transport the authors back in time - to say it to Paddy himself or some of his men, and perhaps become better acquainted with the fault of a quick temper. My husband is also familiar with the author as a journalist and feels his claims along these lines ( he has the same theory about other men) result from repressed inclinations of his own. I do not. I feel he considers this to be and insult - and he uses this as wee dig at men. But he also has an obsession with homosexuality being linked to violence that speaks volumes about his skill as a journalist - or lack thereof. He is quite willing to push his own prejudices as fact, with no regard for the truth.

      I will share a brief quote from the authors and you can decide for yourself whether this rings of true journalism or sensationalism: "Such an inner conflict could account for the sudden explosions when released by alcohol, the repressive lid blows off, and the seething frustrations, conscientiously contained, foam out in violence". *Gag* - on second thought - I'm giving this book 2 stars. this is pure drivel, and one of the authors is from Belfast. He knows full well Paddy's behaviour is not really unusual here. I know so many people who would react in much the same way - but this makes a better story doesn't it? This type of prose surely deserves the loss of another star.

      On the plus side though, the author does at least seem to agree ( as anyone with a shred of common sense and knowledge of the facts would) that Lt Col Blair Mayne surely deserved the Victoria Cross - that he did not receive it was evidence of the regular army's prejudice against the irregulars and perhaps a personal dislike by many for a man who lived by his own set of rules. There was often resentment of the SAS and many wanted it disbanded. The simple fact was - they were far too good to do away with based on the prejudice of others. I still believe Mayne should be given the Victoria Cross posthumously - it is an honour long overdue for the man, the men who served under him, his family and for Ulster.

      *** I have felt the need to come back and update this review as I have become more aware of the actual facts concerning Paddy Mayne. In all fairness many of these records were not available at the time this book was written. But where evidence was available - if it didn't not suit the stereotype the author was building it was ignored - and there appears to have been no effort whatsoever to separate fact from hearsay. If a bit gossip suited his story - he made no effort to see if this was true. Dillon is fairly well known as a writer in Northern Ireland - and his reputation does nothing to further the credibility of this book - I knew that at the time of reading, but I had assumed as a former journalist he would have done some checking of his facts. It appears he got an awful lot of them wrong, placing Mayne in prison when he was really in a malaria hospital - claiming a fight in Cairo as he tried to reach a journalist in a rage for reporting from safety far behind the lines. The man was well behind the lines at the time of the fight and the last 6 months prior to this - he was in London the whole time - I can't see a huge brawl breaking out as men strive to keep them apart. I think anyone with a shred of common sense would let the over 2,000 miles much of which consisted of very rough terrain not to mention both the Mediterranean Sea and The English Channel do the job for them.

      The inaccuracies are simply too many for this to be sold as a biography. Instead it should be sold as an adventure story inspired by the life of Paddy Mayne.Dillon set out to write the story of a Rogue Warrior, he was unwilling to see the man as more than a warrior - wishing to perpetuate every stereotype about drunken brawling Irish. This book is sadly a combination between the worst of tabloid journalism and Hollywood style hype. Perhaps the author hoped to write a screenplay. It should never have been billed as non fiction.

      Despite the absolutely horrid excuse for journalism here though - I would still recommend the purchase of this book and I am still leaving with 2 stars. I'm afraid by calling this writing mediocre I may be giving it the appearance of being far better than it is, but I'll leave my summary. The copies of the letters from Mayne himself, the apparent interviews with some of Paddy's men and the photos alone make this book worth buying. I would most certainly buy the Ross Hamish book first - but I am still happy to have this. My advice - just look a the pictures, read the letters and a few of the interviews. Everything in the authors' words I would treat with same credibility as that of my 4 year old discussing the secrets of the universe. It may be a good story but don't believe to much of it.

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