Gentleman Jim: The Wartime Story of a Founder of the SAS and Special Services

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Gentleman Jim: The Wartime Story of a Founder of the SAS and Special Services

Gentleman Jim: The Wartime Story of a Founder of the SAS and Special Services

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He showed great resource in managing to extricate this party with only one casualty, although all but one of his trucks had been destroyed. Short of parachutes, the recruits, facing backwards, would jump off the back of a truck moving at 30mph to practise their landings. But Blakeney was one of the largely unknown heroes of the Special Air Service at the moment of their creation in North Africa in 1941. And within the ranks of the SAS, Blakeney is one of the inspiring pioneers of what has become the most famous military regiment in the world. Ahead of this weekend’s Remembrance commemorations, and with the cooperation of Almonds’ closest family, I’m delighted to tell the story of his remarkable life.

Operating largely at night around the besieged natural seaport in Libya, the team reconnoitred enemy positions and made sporadic attacks on enemy forces. References to Jim Blakeney sourced from: Gentleman Jim: The Wartime Story of a Founder of the SAS and Special Forces by Lorna Almonds-Windmill; Special Ops Heroes by Michael (Lord) Ashcroft and Special Forces: Roll of Honour.Since the British operation codenamed Battleaxe had failed to relieve Tobruk on 15 June and General Sir Claude Auchinleck – 'the Auk' – had replaced Wavell as Commander in Chief Middle East, the numbers of men under arms in the Nile theatre had grown to around 500,000. Nor could they afford to 'piss about' disciplining anyone who was not one hundred per cent devoted to having a good crack at the Hun. Their son Jim Blakeney was a Grimsby dock worker who had joined up to serve his country in 1940, fought behind enemy lines in North Africa, been recruited into the first SAS unit, been captured and held in Italian prisoner of war camps, trekked for three weeks into the Alps to freedom and then fought the SS in the death throes of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. When he refused to talk, he was made to kneel down in an open truck with both hands shackled to an ankle and was driven around the town and shown off to the populace.

Re-joining the army, he serves as a military advisor to Emperor Hailie Selassie in the British Military Mission to Ethiopia, before becoming Second-in-Command of the Eritrea Police Field Force – a British paramilitary organization. When he was told by an Italian the Germans had taken over the camp, he escaped and set out westwards.They parked their captured lorry among the Italian and German trucks, before placing bombs on the parked enemy vehicles, while under fire, destroying several of them and, remarkably, coming out of the “beat up” uninjured. The instrument and how Mayne acquired it became the stuff of SAS legend - and it will be seen in public for the first time at the exhibition after it was loaned by the Almonds family. Riley and Almonds got hold of a three-man tent and a double; they were to share with Ernie Bond, while Lilley and Blakeney shared another.

During this period some of the human cost of war became apparent in Almonds's gaunt appearance and difficulty in readjusting to normal family life. Near the river in a small settlement, the shifta had commandeered a couple of thatched huts and lain up for the night.Its blade was of old railway line steel, but it was exquisitely made, with a handle of rhinoceros horn. And despite having no formal training, he even designed and made cars, canoes and boats in which to do it! After a raid on NOFILIA Aerodrome Jan 1942, he took command of his party after his offr had been killed.

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