Earl Jellicoe

Date of interview: 31st October 2002
J: just a bit of background and where you grew up and how you came to join the army in the first place, because I think you were in the Coldstream Guards weren’t you? You come from a naval family, how you came to join the army?

EJ: I was brought up I was at prep school, and then my father thought that Dartmouth was rather restrictive and it was better if I was going into the navy to go first to public school and then into the navy. And we had worked with the Lord [?] of the day — must have been early 1900s that he was senior admiralty official and got very close to Lord Solman[?] who was warden of Winchester College and I think it was he who persuaded my father that I should go to Winchester which is what I did. And I was always intended for the Navy and rather took it for granted. Until I must have been about sixteen, probably late sixteen, when I suddenly decided that I didn’t want to go into the navy and I wrote to my father and he very typically, because he was a very kind man, didn’t raise any immediate specific objection and wrote me a letter saying “George, let’s have a discussion about this. I read your letter with interest. Next time we meet, when you next have a day off. So the next time I had a day off I bicycled down to Southampton, took the boat over to Cowes, there my father met me

J: That’s the family home at Cowes was it?

EJ: No, the family home was at St Lawrence by the side of the Island. He met me there and we went off to play – he was a keen golfer and I had become a keen golfer – and we went off to play at the local Sandown and Shanklyn golf course and discussed all this whilst we were doing a round and then we had lunch in the clubhouse and I always remember at the end of lunch he was saying “Well George I see you’ve thought carefully about this and no worry as far as I’m concerned. Next time you have a day off, let’s have another chat about what you would like to do instead.

J: Can you remember what it was that tipped you away from the navy?

EJ: I don’t quite know, I can’t remember what I said to my father. But in fact I was not lying but I hadn’t told him the real reason why I was not at all keen was that I was one of those young gentlemen who from time to time peed in their bed and the idea of peeing in a hammock with somebody underneath it didn’t appeal to me! That was the truth of the matter. But in any case I decided I was keen to go I got decided reasonably soon that I wanted to go into the Foreign Office. And that’s where I was destined you know. However, the war came, I finished it, I had my three years at Cambridge.

J: You had to do three years did you?

EJ: Yes.

J: Which College were you in?

EJ: Trinity.

J: Were they happy days?

EJ: I loved it, yes. I think I put them very high in the period of my life which I really enjoyed, I put that very high indeed. I didn’t feel the same about Winchester. I had a perfectly happy time at Winchester. I had a marvellous Housemaster, a man called R.O.G. Irving[?] great mountaineer and the person who coached, the chap, I forget who was the first chap to climb with his Mallory. And I also had a marvellous history teacher there, entirely him that I got the history prize and things like that. And a reasonable I didn’t get a. of what’s it called to Trinity scholarship or whatever. Is it scholarship?. I got the other thing.

J: Bursary?

EJ: No. I forget what it was called. It was next to getting a scholarship.

J: Exhibition?

EJ: Exhibition. Yes, exhibition. I loved Cambridge. I loved Trinity.

J: It must have been a good chance for a young man to express himself, meet lots of other people?

EJ: Absolutely.

J: Parties, that sort of thing?

EJ: Yes.

J: Was it strict in those days?

EJ: No. Reasonably relaxed. Pop up to London quite often. Extremely well I’d been very well taught at Winchester. That was when I switched from science (because I was absolutely hopeless at that) No, I loved it and I think I made closer friends and I think you do make very close friends at that period of one’s life. I think I made three of the closest friends that I’ve ever made. Unfortunately were all killed in the war. One was Mark Howard, the elder of the three Howards, inherited Castle Howard in Yorkshire.

J: Did you ever visit there?

EJ: Yes indeed I did. I loved it. Another was also an extremely nice chap called Peter Pees[?]. He was killed. I was very keen on his sister at one time. And the other was a very fine person called David Jacobson. He was top scholar, had been at Eton. Very keen golfer like I was and I think if I like the opera and things like that it’s due to him. He was killed in the rifle brigade. 60th I think it was.

J: In North Africa?

EJ: Yes. Mark , he was killed – he was in the Coldstreams, tanks – he was killed in the early days of Normandy. And Peter Pees you know was shot down.

J: Did you ever row at Cambridge?

EJ: No, no. I coxed at Winchester, the Winchester four, till I ran it into the bank one day rowing against Tunbridge. In any case at Trinity I I think it was probably Mark Howard who joined the Coldstream and went and started after what happened in 1938 one was inclined to think that war was becoming rather

J: I was just wondering that actually, at Cambridge I can imagine there was a lot of frivolity but there was also a lot of sitting around arguing about current affairs, state of the world, opinions on life. I think typically one is terribly self-opinionated at that age. I just wondered did you spend much time talking about potential war and what you would do? Were there people in your circle who felt that it couldn’t possibly happen and those who thought it was inevitable?

EJ: Certainly in that last term.

J: So Summer 1939 was your final term anyway?

EJ: Yes. I think in the last two terms one was becoming very well aware that there was certainly pretty acute danger of war and I think it may have been Mark who suggested the Coldstreams, but I had no sort of clue on you know, I didn’t do any training or anything like that.

J: You joined no TA unit or anything like that?

EJ: No, no. After I got the exhibition at Trinity (I did try for a scholarship at New College, Oxford and that sort of thing but I decided not to. I liked what I’d seen of Trinity, Cambridge and I left Winchester at the end of the March term, winter term and I had quite a long time in Germany at that time and I always remember

J: Was that purely because you were interested to go and see it?

EJ: It was to get my German going for the Foreign Office, which I had been going, learning a bit of French from time to time or speaking a bit of French and so I travelled a lot in Germany then.

J: It must have been an interesting time?

EJ: It was an interesting time. I remember I drove around with a charming person. I cannot remember names! Quite a lot older than me.

J: An English or German fellow?

EJ: German, who drove me round in his car, down the Rhine and all that, and then of-course southern Germany, Munich and things. And Bamburg[?] just looking at the lovely cathedral suddenly I’ll always remember asking him, saying I am rather worried about the possibility of war and he said I don’t think you really need worry. I’m absolutely certain that if the Fuhrer does decide or wish to do something very foolish – and I don’t dismiss that possibility – the army chiefs will not allow him to go too far. It wasn’t sort of the dominant thing at the time. It was in the back of one’s mind.

J: When you were in Germany, was it bedecked with swastikas everywhere or was it more?

EJ: No, it wasn’t. I really wasn’t very interested in political things at that time. So what happened, well then, oh we had that summer holiday and I was going to France and then decided not to and then of-course everything occurred and I went to Sandhurst. I was only there a couple of months before I got pneumonia before Christmas, rather badly. We lived in the Isle of Wight but my mother had bought the regular house at Sunningdale. I recuperated there with my sisters and my sister’s house in Kent[?]. And didn’t go back to Sandhurst of-course and then suddenly there was the suddenly found that there was a chance of joining the 5th Scots Guards, which was a skiing battalion, aiming eventually at Finland, to support the Fins against the Germans. Crazy idea, you know, we were going to send well you can check on that, I don’t know, but it was the best part of a brigade, including a ski battalion, and I was a keen skier so I joined the ski battalion. We had a marvellous time. Two or three weeks in Chamonix. And I’ll always remember going out in Chamonix as a guardsman, had a lot of people in who were Lieutenants and things and a lot of people keen to join and they were quite prepared to go down to a non-commissioned, in the ranks.

J: But you were commissioned were you, straight away?

EJ: No, no. I was a guardsman. I joined straight from Sandhurst as it were. Never finished my time at Sandhurst. I remember the trip out to Chamonix very well. And I think that people who had been interested in that would easily have known where we were because the champagne bottles were strewn along the railway line. Rather like the Russian fleet going out in 1905 round the cape to take on Kyoto in 1905, the sea was full of champagne bottles then. In any case I then joined the training battalion, Coldstream. Then [?] myself, which I didn’t like one little bit, in the holding battalion at Regent’s Park when the battle of France was going on. And I found that extremely

J: Why, because you wanted to be in France?

EJ: Yes. It was rather ghastly what was going on there I was pootling along in a holding battalion. And one tended to go out later and later at night to the Bag of Nails and that sort of thing. And eventually I got confined to barracks and that coincided with the formation of the commandos and the possibility of joining the commandos. I’ll always remember going for my interview with that with Bob Laycock who commanded

J: How did you hear about it?

EJ: Oh it was public. It was Winston who played a big part in the formation of the commandos. I’ll always remember going to see John [?] who was famous riding, hunting figure and most of the senior officers of number 8 commando were White’s Club [?] at that and he asked me the obvious question which I hadn’t prepared myself for, I wasn’t used to being interviewed, and I hesitated and he answered for me: “I suppose, Jellicoe, you want to have a crack at the Bosh. I said “Yes, Sir. All I wanted to do was get out of Regents Park Barracks in fact. So I joined Number 8 Commando. We trained at Burnham and Crouch and then in Scotland and then we were shipped off to the Middle East, to Africa.

J: Was the training good fun, exciting?

EJ: Yes, very good.

J: What sort of things was it? What were the commandos doing in training that the regular infantry weren’t for example?

EJ: I suspect rather an emphasis on long distance perhaps more testing

J: Did you do training in hand to hand fighting and that sort of stuff?

EJ: No, no. But quite a lot of training on ships and rubber boats and that sort of thing.

J: Camouflaging and that sort of thing?

EJ: Yes. Nothing very particular. But it was not bad at all. In fact on the trip out to the Middle East that I first really got to know David Stirling. He had also joined. He very seldom emerged except to play Chemin de Fer in the evening. We called him rather curiously enough “The Giant Sloth because of that. On the way back his nickname was not repeatable. And we were, well Layforce[?] we were then 3 commando and he was no longer just commanding number 8, he was commanding Layforce. And after some on the whole rather unsuccessful things: the attack on what was aimed at on Rommel and Rommel’s headquarters and Rommel wasn’t there. Where young Keys[?] was killed and got a VC in that. And then there was meant to be a we went up to Tobruk and in a (I forget the name of the ship now) but there was an attempted raid on a German airfield west of Tobruk and our ship was there was a lot of chaps you know it was very quickly detected and bombed and everything else.

J: But presumably you went round the cape and stopped in Durban and stopping in the Suez?

EJ: We went up through. I don’t know where we actually disembarked. We trained at Qabreet[?] on the canal.

J: But as commandos rather than the SAS hadn’t been formed at this stage?

EJ: Oh lord no. No. That was the time of the first Rommel offensive in which he was successful and there was a need for reinforcements of what became the Eighth Army and our commando and most of Layforce was disbanded and then we all went our own way. I’d been up in Tobruk just after we were disbanded. My friend Carol Mather, he’s written a very good book. He had come to the same platoon as I had. We were both on that raid, rather a large craft, so easily detected it would seem far more sensible if one’s going to raid a German airfield to do it with a small force by surprise rather than in a large force which is very likely to be detected long before it was you know, reached it’s objective. And we were in Tobruk for the best part of six weeks or so, aiming to do a raid on that particular airfield again. We just had one other rank with us: Bedlams[?].

J: But under what with 8 disbanded, you said you had all gone your separate ways, were you under any? Were you just supernumerary at that time?

EJ: Well, yes. We’d had permission to go there and we were briefed of-course by (I forget by who but it’s all in Carol Mathers book) in any case we twice set off for this airfield and twice a chap who was navigating our small craft for some reason he couldn’t find the way there, he was a bad navigator, which is just as well I think for us because although we might got might possibly have blown up a few airplanes, we had an absurd idea of he was going to come back after dropping us we had an absurd idea that we were going to come back through the German lines. Well then we were 18 Indian Cavalry Regiment which was the one that we were going to come through. I doubt whether they would have let us through. In any case, after this we Carol went his own way. He served under Monty. A lot of us went back to our parent unit. My parent unit was the Coldstream so I went to the 3rd Battalion of the Coldstream. I was part of the guards brigade there.

J: Had you been commissioned by this stage?

EJ: Oh yes. I was a Second Lieutenant or Lieutenant. I was commissioned as soon as I joined the Number 8 Commando. I was already commissioned in the holding battalion of the Coldstream. And I had I suppose about nine months with the 3rd Battalion of the Coldstream and I very much liked it too. Marvellous Company Commander whose name I if you want me to let you know it I can let you have it. I very much enjoyed our time there. We were up above to the west of Tobruk in the hills. And did the odd patrol. And then there was the November offensive.

J: Was that Crusader?

EJ: Was it called Crusader? Yes.

J: November 1941?

EJ: That’s right, yes. And we then ended up past Benghazi and then on further. We were on the extreme right wing of the Eighth Army (was it called that then?). And had had not very much coast to coast fighting. Certain number of raids and

J: Was that raids to get prisoners and that sort of thing?

EJ: Yes. A lot of reccies and things like that.

J: Presumably most of that was at night time was it?

EJ: Yes. And I remember when I was there I was asked by my Company Commander to take a patrol out. We were really there was the coast road and then the sea and a few sand dunes in between the coast road and the sea. I suppose it might have been half a mile deep sand dunes between the road and the sea. Something like that. And our right wing – and we were the right wing of the Eighth Army – was actually by the road. And I was asked to take a small patrol out just before dawn to cross the road and go up through the sand dunes and get into an observation post which I did with a small truck to begin with and then we had to drop that because of the sand dunes. And as dawn broke we heard a bit of noise away to one’s left, but because of the sand dunes one couldn’t see what was going on so we went on to a place that we could see and then we saw the German attack was taking place. So we went back as quickly as we could. Found I can’t really remember our truck had been destroyed. And by that time the German advance was going rather fast and the Eighth Army was beginning to fall back. And so we had rather a long only about six or seven of us a pretty walk back all that day and half the next day. By that time we were getting very thirsty because we hadn’t thought that we were going out for a long time. And suddenly we came to a place where it looked like there was some sort of water, possibility of which I went forward with the chaps to see. I got to within about 50 yards of it and suddenly we were opened fire on. Rather erratically. We had really no choice but to turn back and run and I went back about a couple of hundred yards, then slowed up. And was then knocked over by it wasn’t serious but I was shot through there, out there.

J: On your side or your arm?

EJ: Well it went in somewhere in my back and came out under here, yes.

J: Sounds quite serious.

EJ: No, it wasn’t.

J: Was it German fire?

EJ: I don’t know who it was. Always rather suspected it might have been some advance party we had. I can’t believe it actually because we got very close. It might have been some Arabs who had been working with us, I don’t know. In any case we had another day’s march back and then ran into

J: Presumably, even if a light wound it must have been pretty painful wasn’t it?

EJ: No really, no. We then got back to some of our armoured cars and they ran us back to Benghazi. And then I found my way back to my own Battalion which was then west of Tobruk.

J: They must have been pleased to see you?

EJ: Well I was very pleased to get back. I did a certain number of patrols and then my thing went bad. The wound got inflamed. I was seen by Malcolm Bladall[?] who was our Battalion doctor. He became doctor of the SAS actually later. He said that I must go to Tobruk to whatever it was, not a hospital. And after a day or so there they said “It’s no good. Went back to hospital in Alexandria. And I was only about ten days in hospital and things were got under control. Rather enjoyable really. We had a marvellous nurse I remember very well. She had snow white hair.

J: I’m just wondering how far you had walked in this epic?

EJ: I’ve no idea. Nothing 80 miles, that sort of thing? No it wasn’t epic.

J: So the lovely nurse?

EJ: She was called Donna Bugle[?]. Only about 25. We nicknamed her Penny Whistle. And she was I think very much the girlfriend of the chap who is now the Duke of Wellington. She didn’t marry the Duke of Wellington but she married after the war. Any case, on sick leave before going back to my

J: Sick leave in Alex?

EJ: No, sick leave well I was in Cairo on sick leave at the time.

J: Was Cairo a fun place?

EJ: Oh yes. Cecil Hotel was, you know Shepherd’s Hotel, sorry, was the great centre of it. And I found myself for some reason at the bar of Shepherd’s Hotel, and I ran into David Stirling by sheer chance, who by then, after the rather disastrous November operation, the first of the SAS, had scored, he and his team had scored some remarkable successes: Paddy Maine[?] and people, and he’d already made a great name for himself. And I ran into him by sheer chance. And he, to my intense surprise said “Very nice seeing you, George. I’m looking for a Second in Command. Would you consider it? I said “I’d be delighted and honoured if my Battalion would release me. And not to my surprise, my Battalion had no difficulty about releasing me.

J: Really?

EJ: No, difficulty at all, no. Absolutely.

J: Why not? Sounded like you were doing good work for them.

EJ: I think that David by then had people he wanted. He was used to pulling strings. In any case, so I joined him.

J: I suppose you had some commando experience already and had done commando training, he felt that would be enough for you to take over the Second IC position?

EJ: I suppose he did. I can’t think why, but. He wasn’t very much interested in that stuff. He also particularly said would I take a particular interest in the Free French who had joined him. That was a squadron of Free French under a very fine man: George Berget[?]. You know about him? [end of side A]

J: And as soon as you joined, it was more training or straight into the thick of it?

EJ: No, no, I went down to Qabreet[?]. Yes, I did some training because I did parachuting which I hadn’t done. Never like it. Always hated parachuting. It was very  frightening. In those days parachutes sometimes didn’t open. I never liked parachuting. We were at Qabreet[?].

J: Can you remember – you must have known what you were doing was particularly dangerous, or did it not really cross your mind? Your chances of survival with the Special Forces must have been less than if you’d been with ordinary.?

EJ: No, I don’t think so. The regular units had very heavy casualties. He lost a lot of people, in the very first thing. It was a tiny thing, the old detachment SAS brigade was only 70 strong I think. 60 and six officers I think. And about two thirds of that were lost in the November operation. They dropped in very high wind, you know. David Lloyd Owen I think commanded that particular troop and when David was really converted by David Lloyd Owen that the right approach was not from the air but from the desert.

J: So this must have been Spring 1942?

EJ: Yes, something like April 1942 I think. Might have been March, might have been early May.

J: Part of the appeal of it was the fact that you were this separate unit with what seems to be almost your own rules and codes and.?

EJ: Yes, I think it was. And I was excited at the thought that I knew that they had scored great successes in some of their attacks on German airfields already and it seemed a very exciting thing to do. Of-course I’d enjoyed my time in the Coldstreams very much. But in any case I suspect I was very flattered by David asking me in any event. So really, as a result of that the first thing I went on because he’d asked me to take a particular interest in the French squadron under Berget, he was asked by GHQ to mount a number of raids on German airfields to coincide with the passage of the eastbound convoy of relief to Malta. It was planned for June. One convoy from Gibraltar and then the westbound convoy starting form Alexandria, if possible to reduce some of the air attacks on the convoy. And as part of that I think there were a number of raids planned by the SAS in which the Free French were by then playing a part. They were very well trained, too. Very active. Very well officered too.

J: Can you remember that first raid you were involved in?

EJ: Yes. It was in Crete.

J: Is this at Heraklion?

EJ: Yes. There were I think four raids or three raids planned against Crete and the German airfields there. And David decided that he would get his SAS he was overall commander of these raids but he would have an SAS team going for Heraklion which was probably the biggest airfield. And the rest was done by the SBS who were still not part of the SAS. And Berget had three of his chaps: a chap called Jacques Mouhot who was a Sergeant and then two Corporals: Sibard who is still alive (the only one who is) and then Pierre Leostic who in fact was only just 17 I think. And he managed to enlist in England, pretending to be older

J: It was just five of you was it?

EJ: There was one Greek Officer. Don’t know his name.

J: The party was just six of you?

EJ: Just six of us, yes. It was under George Berget’s command but I was the sort of number two. From previous training and knowing the navy and things like that, I was able to play quite a significant role in the planning at Alexandria.

J: And the planning involved HQ in Alexandria, you’d sit round a table with maps?

EJ: All that sort of thing, yes. We went to Crete in a Greek submarine from Alex. I’ve got all the things of it, but I can’t remember the name a pretty ancient submarine, originally French, built in the early 20s, not the most comfortable submarine I’ve ever been on in all my life, I have to admit. That was fine. And then we carried out the raid. That’s all been recorded. We were dropped east of Heraklion – rather further east than intended and in fact we had quite a difficult row in in the rubber boats because we were three miles out rather than a mile. So we got ashore a bit later than was intended and then it was extremely rough, hilly, stuff and we were actually overloaded. We got rid of quite a lot of stuff. But the result was we didn’t get that first day as far as we should have. So we hadn’t been able to survey the airfield and we did get up to it the first night to inspect it to attack it, but because we hadn’t see it was very heavily fenced and we were spotted by German patrols and then had to withdraw because we would have lost all surprise. As a result of that George and I were able to we got to a position where we surveyed the airfield the next day, just south of Heraklion, and then we attacked it the next night. In fact, we again got into trouble. We were going through the barbed wire and a German patrol came down. We thought they had passed us but the last chap found us and I was lying behind Mouhot and really one had make very quick decisions. I don’t know what on earth would have been the right he made the right decision: almost instantaneously he turned on his back and started to snore. And we found later from the German things when we were back in the desert, that they’d taken us for drunken Greeks. So they moved on. We slipped our way onto the airfield. They did come back I think at one moment and again we were lucky because they’d been attacked by a couple of our bombers (they weren’t going to attack the first night but then they attacked the second night) and they did come back, but they got dispersed because of the bombers. Anyway, we had a vast bag. We destroyed about 20 plus aircraft.

J: It’s a question of sticking some explosives underneath a wing of something like that is it?

EJ: Yes, sticking what was called a Lewis bomb which had been after Lewis who was one of the early officers in David’s SAS and was very very bright and he had invented this Lewis bomb which you could control how long it would be before it would explode. He was killed unfortunately in the 2nd lot of raids earlier on. And well that was that. We had problems later on because it was a long walk of-course at night. I think it took us three or four nights, I forget which, and we crossed the whole thing and were lying up this Greek man said would we like some food and drink and we said yes and George had a very sense of feeling and I remember him saying to our Greek “There’s something about that man I didn’t like, and he replied “No, I come from this valley, I know the family and he’s perfectly OK. And in fact he wasn’t. He was a very rare thing: a Greek quisling. Of-course as soon as he got back to the valley he sent his young son running into the (I forget the name) and I then went off with our Greek to make contact and came back in the night to rejoin them. Our Greek friend’s feet had given out from marching across the mountains, and I remember very well going down the valley which I thought was where I’d left the men and couldn’t find them and then went down two or three valleys to the left and two to the right and couldn’t find them and then withdrew until just before it was getting light I went down again the first one and I immediately saw it was the right one and then I came to the place where they had been and I found some of their belongings there, all very tidily arranged. And I knew immediately that something had gone wrong. What in fact had happened was that the Germans had sent out a rather strong force. They’d surrounded them before opening fire and things. They’d tried to fight their way out. Young Leostic had been killed and the others had been wounded and Berget had no option but to surrender. Very luckily he was taken prisoner by the German air force people at Heraklion and they were interrogated for about a week. Perfectly responsibly, no torture or anything like that. They all thought they were for it but in fact they were shipped off about ten days after capture and flown to Italy and then taken to prison. And Berget ended up at Colditz where David Stirling was, too. Became a General of the French Army before retiring. He was a very remarkable person and it was very very sad that he was captured. But he did have a very first rate person who took over, who was his Second in Command, a man called Jorean who is still alive, who then after the war became French Ambassador in Vienna and then in Poland.

J: On that raid, what sort of kit would you have been wearing. Camouflage?

EJ: Oh no. Pretty normal I think.

J: Normal, desert Khaki drill? No special disguises or anything?

EJ: No.

J: Frightening experience? Adrenaline takes over?

EJ: I think one is anxious beforehand. Once one gets involved, one forgets the anxiety. And it was rather exciting and I’ll always remember, there was this rare thing the Greeks were marvellous by and large and it is always a pleasure to go back to Crete. I was there last May. It was the 60th anniversary of our raid. Quite a big turnout. But I mustn’t bang on. And after that my only other time in the SAS was about I suppose the best part of two months or I don’t know how long we were David had then decided to establish a base behind the German lines at Alamein and he was discussing this with [?] west of the road between Cairo and Alexandria. I took, with his orders, quite a large force. He had managed to get a good supply of the first jeeps really which came available to the British army, certainly in the desert, and took up quite a large force. We went down just north of Alexandria and then up to join David at very close to Eighth Army headquarters. And then went out across the Qattara depression.

J: In these jeeps?

EJ: Yes. With the odd three tonner or truck too. We were quite a large force.

J: Was it nerve-wracking navigating the Qattara Depression or presumably it had been done a couple of times by then?

EJ: It hadn’t been done very much.

J: It was considered at the time a high risk strategy?

EJ: Yes, that one might get stuck. But it was OK. And there David carried out a number of raids.

J: You were going out with supplies and all sorts were you, with this force?

EJ: Well I took the force down and then David joined us and we went on through the Qattara depression and established this base camp just north of it: about 70 miles behind the German lines I think. That’s a guess. It may have been more but I don’t know.

J: The aim was disrupt supplies coming up?

EJ: Aim as usual was to attack airfields but also to lie up near the main road, east to Tobruk, to Alamein, and

J: Observe and report back?

EJ: No, the LRDD would have been doing most of the observing, but to attack. And there were quite a few. The last was very exciting one. We did that and I went back with David in the middle of it to get some more people I think and report to Cairo etc and then drove back with him and with a few new chaps. And then he decided on an attack on an airfield called Sidi Haneish which was a major airfield. And instead of doing it in a stealthy way, just two, three or four chaps going on, creeping onto the airfield and then doing what they could, I think we took 17 people but I can’t be certain about that, in formation: two columns of seven jeeps. One led by Paddy Maine, one by myself. But he was in the middle, leading the thing, with his navigating officer immediately behind and one other I think behind that. And we had practiced the night before and it went quite well. And then made this rather long approach to Sidi Haneish, some of it in daylight, but unobserved. And the last major bit, at night. We got onto the airfield at about midnight probably. And then just cruised round it, shooting up their planes.

J: Shooting it up with guns?

EJ: Oh, yes. Each jeep had four brenn guns: two lots with two brenn guns each. So it produced quite a bit [?]. I don’t know how many German aircraft were destroyed, but a substantial number. I think it was claimed up to 40 but I don’t know if it really was. And then after that, the date I don’t recall, but he came back

J: You left the SAS at that point did you?

EJ: I didn’t leave the SAS, no. What happened to me, I was having trouble with a knee and it was getting coming back from that raid for example it stuck like that, and I was operated on in Cairo about, must have been six weeks, a month or so later, and then I was out of action for about two months. They thought the sensible thing for me was to come back to the UK for two months, which I did. Saw Mountbatten and you know, Chief of Command Operations at the time, saw Soli Zuckerman who was aiding him on scientific things. And having a rather jolly time.

J: Catching up with old friends in London?

EJ: Yes. And making some new friends. But then I came back in early January.

J: Had London changed much in the time you had been away?

EJ: Well there was this steady night bombing, the thing that struck me most, which I don’t think I’d experienced much of it before going out. Didn’t seem to impair me too much. And then when I got back I had orders to take up the Airos Lokos[?], the Greek regiment which had joined the SAS.

J: So you went back to Alexandria did you?

EJ: No, I went back to Qabreet[?] where they were. They were commanded

J: Was that in January 1943?

EJ: Early January 1943. They were commanded by a man again who became like the French, a very dear friend of mine. A man called Christodoro[?] Tsigantes. He founded what was the third Greek Sacred[?] Regiment, founded in classical times. Founded it mainly from people who had Greek community, some in Egypt and Sudan, people who had escaped from the German occupation of Greece. And they were a very fine lot too. And I got to know them driving up to Tripoli, where by that time although I didn’t know it at the time, the SAS had got much bigger and I think David was thinking about the future shape and things. He wanted a much more senior Second in Command and he wanted me to take over command of the boating squadron.

J: So you caught up with Stirling in Tripoli?

EJ: No I didn’t because when we got to Tripoli it was to hear he’d been captured. But I don’t think this is of great use to you.

J: It’s fascinating. All this fits into the timeframe brilliantly.


EJ: I always found it really rather present, both the nights and the day time.

J: Didn’t find the flies a problem?

EJ: I never found the flies a problem, no. But south wind could be very unpleasant if it was blowing hard. That was very rare.

J: And when you weren’t on patrol or on a particular mission, back to Alexandria, back to Cairo and you’d just? Where were you spending your time when you weren’t on a particular mission?

EJ: Well I was really tended to be at Qabreet[?], which was the base camp. But if I had a good reason for being in Cairo I went to Cairo and probably stayed in Peter Stirling’s flat there (the  brother of David Stirling who was in the Embassy in Cairo) and that house was very much the whole part of the SAS establishment there. David used it a great deal. It’s all been commemorated in various books: “All about Mo who is the Arab chap who Did you ever know Peter Stirling? Did you ever meet David? He was a very remarkable person. I don’t think in a fairly long life, I’ve ever known anybody with certainly in wartime, his power of leadership.

J: It was something that was instantly apparent was it? An aura about him?

EJ: Well one of the things about him of-course was that he’d never ask you to do anything that he wasn’t prepared to do himself. Also, it was not only his power of leadership, it was his quick reaction on technical matters, on things like that. One couldn’t help but admire the astonishing way which more often than not he got what he wanted, out of headquarters, his contacts there, it was very remarkable.

J: And overall, when you think back on it now, it sounds like you rather enjoyed many aspects of it?

EJ: Oh yes, certainly. I think one enjoyed above all the fellowship of it. Very close friendships one had with people one was with. I had two lifelong friends I made. One was Carol Mather who became an MP, prominent Whip. Sir Carol Mather. He’s written two first rate books. He of-course had a major, two sessions with Monty as his sort of fine young men. The other was Steve Hastings, now Sir Steven Hastings, also an MP and again a remarkable career, very much to begin with well he got sick at one time and left the SAS and had some time on the staff in Cairo and then towards the end of the war he joined SOE and he had this fascinating time in the north west of Italy, partisans, and indeed there were deserters, there were Russians there, some deserters from the German army. He spoke about all this at a fine thing only the other day.

J: I should write to him.

EJ: He lost a marvellous second wife: Lizzie Anne. She was a very bright lady. She rather late in the day went to University College, got first class honours, and then a major role at Christies, Egyptian and that sort of she was a very remarkable lady indeed. Died about three years ago. But Steven does many things. He’s mad about horses. And now has quite a decent stud farm. Lizzie Anne had this very fine house near Peterborough. He has a very nice house too not far from there and has this very active horse life.

[end of tape]