In 1940, shortly after the disaster at Dunkirk, the British Army commenced the formation of the Commando units. With Winston Churchill's enthusiastic blessing, volunteers were called for, men of "the hunter class", ...to form special raiding companies that would harass the German occupation forces in Europe. Volunteers were to be the sort of men who had exceptional initiative, physical-fitness, and tenacity. This was a signifigant step in establishing modern military special-operations, and the Commandos' influence in that field is still evident 70 years later.
Here we have the account of the very first volunteer, John Durnford-Slater. Originally an artillery officer, Durnford-Slater formed #3 Commando, the first of many such units to form in Britain's armed forces. 3 Commando made the first awkward raid on Guernsey, followed by significantly more successful actions in Norway (Lofoten, Largs, Vaagso). 3 Commando participated in the disasterous raid on Dieppe, and narrowly escaped being completely destroyed at sea, when a patrol of German naval vessels shredded their ship and landing-boats. 3 Commando prevailed, to see action in North Africa, Italy, France, and eventually Germany.
With much affection for his personnel, Durnford-Slater's narrative is generously supplied with anecdotes and reminiscences, both humorous and tragic, of the many exceptional and valorous men who served under his command:
-Bill Lloyd: Both of his ankles were broken by the blast of a mortar bomb (one ankle had a compound fracture!), while fighting in Sicily. He mounted a bicycle, ...and continued to lead his Commandos in an attack! Sadly, he died on that mission.
-Peter Long: Captured during the fighting in Sicily, he later escaped from a p.o.w. camp in CENTRAL GERMANY, ...and actually managed to trek all the way through occupied Europe to Gibraltar, ...and returned to #3 Commando!
-Three other Commandos who had been captured on Sicily, escaped from the p.o.w. train in the Brenner Pass. They walked some 600 miles across Italy to rejoin the Allied forces!
-Jack Churchill: An eccentric modern-day warrior, he was originally Durnford-Slater's Executive Officer. Armed only with a Scottish broadsword, "Mad Jack" captured German personnel on Vaagso. He also made the only confirmed archery kill of the war, shooting a sentry with his longbow, on another mission.
Jack Churchill was later appointed to command #2 Commando.
What an epic tale!