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How It Was,
This review is from: He Who Dares: Recollections of Service in the SAS, SBS and MI5 (Hardcover)
The value of this book and others like it is that they tell it how it was, from the subjective viewpoint. They are not official histories or the often inaccurate versions penned by supposed "historians" who write what they think happened. This book is firsthand reportage and that has, for me, a value higher than rubies.
The author was born into a rather posh background (Eton, grouse shooting, yachting etc; his family owned at least two country houses) and was commissioned into that most sturdy (and tough) of Scottish regiments, the Black Watch, when still only 18, in 1939. He eventually joined the fledging SBS which, in the Mediterranean theatre at that time or not long after, came under SAS command, i.e. that of Lt-Col Stirling, the founder of the SAS Regiment. The author's tales of very sharp end fighting, often landed from canoes or small boats or submarines, are the very stuff of derring-do.
After WW2, the author fought the Greek Communists in the mountains and hills of that often tragic and depressive country and was later an instructor, leaving military service only when it was explained to him that he would remain a major until 1962, at which point he would assume command of 1st battalion, Black Watch. Unimpressed with what he calls the "snail-like" pace of promotion in Scottish regiments at that time, he accepted an offer (old boy net; strings pulled) to join the anti-sabotage part of the Security Service, in which he met, though did not, it seems, know well, both the egregious Peter Wright and the eventual Director-General, Roger Hollis. His account of this part of his life is very "buttoned-up".
The author seems to be on the whole, despite the sights he saw and must have seen, a decent person, an example of which was the occasion when he took some German prisoners-of-war to the leading Cairo cafe, Groppi's, for ice-cream, coffee etc. This earned him a stinging rebuke from a senior officer, which he returned with advantage! Perhaps that is one reason why officers should be of more or less "upper" social rank, an unfashionable view today (quaere?), i.e. so that they are not always over-awed into "just following orders" (and see the story of the playwright William Douglas-Home in the same vein).
I enjoyed the book. The author does not exhibit any great intellectual powers and we look in vain for traces of any political, ideological or even philosophical viewpoint; still I liked it on the whole.