Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne, DSO & 3 Bars, is a man who has divided opinions over the years since his exploits during World War 2 in the newly formed Special Air Service. Fiercely brave, loyal, intelligent, and sometimes ruthless, Paddy Mayne was pretty much the perfect candidate for behind the lines raiding action against the Germans. Rumour has it that David Stirling found Mayne languishing in jail after punching a commanding officer, although there is no substantial evidence to prove this. Born in Newtownards on the 11th of January 1915, Mayne grew up to be quite the sportsman, excelling in Rugby for which he went on to represent Ireland, and the British and Irish Lions, he was also a talented boxer and could turn his hand to other sports such as golf, cricket, and shooting. He later studied Law in Belfast.
There were two sides to Paddy Mayne, the thoughtful, quiet and caring man, and the man he became when drinking. His exploits on a Rugby tour have become a thing of legend. Having smashed up one or two of his teammate’s rooms he then went on to free a convict he had befriended, who was working on one of the stadiums that they had played at. Attempts to curb his exploits had little effect once the effects of alcohol took over.
In 1939 Maybe signed up for the Royal Artillery Territorial Unit, and shortly thereafter on the 4th of April 1940 found himself transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles. With the phoney war well underway and not much in terms of action to satisfy his needs he volunteered along with his best friend Eoin McGonigal, to transfer to the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) who had put out a request for officers, the reason for which is not entirely clear. The transfer did not exactly end the boredom and when the opportunity arose to join a new elite raiding unit, Mayne and McGonigal jumped at the chance.
After Dunkirk, Prime Minister Winston Churchill set the wheels in motion for the creation of an elite raiding force that would carry out raids on enemy held coastline. Known as the Commandos, these units would be trained in rapid assaults on enemy installations, attacking from the sea and exfiltrating the same way. Perfect work for a young talented officer such as Paddy Mayne. Mayne was a natural leader and quickly established himself as an elite soldier and born leader; during the Litani River action in Syria Mayne distinguished himself as both.
When the SAS was in the process of being born, Mayne was hoping to be transferred to the far east, to take part in a top secret mission in China. Stirling was looking for a highly competent troop commander, he had already succeeded in convincing Jock Lewes to join him as training officer, and now he turned his attentions to Mayne. He convinced Mayne to join his fledgling unit, a decision that he wouldn’t regret. Mayne’s exploits in the SAS are the stuff of legend, much of which would seem out of place in a work of fiction; he was fearless, tactically brilliant, and occasionally ruthless. On countless occasions he put his own life at risk to save the lives of his men and took it personally when one was killed or seriously injured. Had he not been such a divisive character who had the ability to rub his senior officers up the wrong way he would surely have won the Victoria Cross for his exploits.
Following the capture of David Stirling in Tunisia in 1943, Mayne took his place as the commanding officer of the unit and went on to lead them with distinction in Italy, as ever leading from the front. he and his men fought off a fierce German counter attack against the odds to secure the town of Termoli during the allied invasion of Italy; yet another demonstration of Mayne’s tactical awareness, leadership and bravery. Like Stirling, he never really sat well with the traditional officers of the British Army, in spite of this he went on to achieve more than many, putting his life on the line and leading from the front wherever he went.