Roll of Honour
This quality collection meticulously records the stories of every fallen member of the SAS and LRDG, 1941-47, including never-before identified casualties
Your chance to win a limited edition box set of the SAS LRDG Roll of Honour
The Special Air Service and Long Range Desert Group conducted daring, clandestine operations behind enemy lines in the desert of North Africa, the Mediterranean, occupied France and beyond. The men who fought and died in these operations were highly trained, immensely brave and up until recently have largely gone unrecognised. Now, this new book collection recounts the incredible stories of 374 special forces casualties, who are commemorated in sites across 17 countries.
The book’s author, writing anonymously under the pseudonym Ex-lance-corporal X, served in the British Army for 12 years and is the holder of the Queen’s Gallantry Medal (QGM). For security reasons he cannot be named. He spent 13 years researching and compiling the book’s service records, medal citations and operational reports. 100 per cent of profits from the book’s run is being donated to charity, with £100,000 going to Combat Stress and the remainder funding small memorials to those shot after capture. History of War has a copy of The SAS & LRDG Roll of Honour 1941-47 to give away to one lucky winner, so simply visit www.historyanswers.co.uk to enter. It is a limited print run of box sets and they are only available from www.sas-lrdg-roh.com. Below, the author explains more about the book and his work putting it together.
HOW: The preface to the book details the execution of SAS men by SS troops. Why did you choose to open the book with this scene? EX-LANCE-CORPORAL X:
I’d already been working on the Roll of Honour for a couple of years when I discovered those lines. They detail the last moments of eight members of second SAS who had been captured in eastern France in September 1944 while operating behind the lines. Handed over to the SD, the men had been interrogated roughly then driven to a remote, wooded spot where they were shot one by one in the manner described. Undoubtedly they were afraid but refused to show it. The last simply turned to his murderer and said, “We were good men”. Here was bravery that clearly deserved full, contextual recognition, and these four words inspired me to find and record everything I could about this group of eight, as well as the 366 other members of wartime special forces who are commemorated within this box set.
There’s another reason. Although the bodies were exhumed in November 1945
(and eventually interred at Durnbach War Cemetery, Germany), no one seemed to know where the actual shooting had taken place. A similar forest junction had been identified as the murder site in the 1980s and a memorial
“THE BOOK’S AUTHOR, WRITING ANONYMOUSLY UNDER THE PSEUDONYM EXLANCE-CORPORAL X, SERVED IN THE BRITISH ARMY FOR 12 YEARS AND IS THE HOLDER OF THE QUEEN’S GALLANTRY MEDAL (QGM)”
erected there. However, I was sceptical and eventually was able to locate the exact location through thorough cross-referencing. It’s one of the many mysteries solved in this box set, and it seemed appropriate to open with this extract, as part of the profit from sales will help fund a small memorial at this spot, as well as at other forgotten sites where similar crimes took place.
What were your intentions by compiling the Roll of Honour? Is it intended as a historical record, a commemoration, or both?
Both. I felt there was a gap in history that needed filling, my aim having been to ensure that every member of the British SAS and the Long Range Desert Group (plus all attached ranks) who lost their lives during WWII is commemorated equally, regardless of military status, social background or honours won.
Moreover, aside from providing information, wartime veterans and next of kin trusted me to produce a fitting tribute that would celebrate the lives of their fellow soldiers, brothers, fathers, uncles and grandfathers. I wanted to complete it while as many of them as possible were still alive to see their friends and loved ones memorialised in this way. I’m extremely proud to have repaid that trust, and of the overwhelming feedback the box set has subsequently received from all corners. It not only commemorates the men fully, but in doing so also uniquely forms the true history of wartime SAS and LRDG operations, from North Africa to the Aegean and Italy to northwest Europe.
In general, did you find there were any similar traits and backgrounds with men listed in the Roll of Honour? Are there any identifiable tropes that might even be in common with special forces soldiers today?
I think we’re all full to the brim with the usual SAS Boy’s Own melodrama, but there’s been absolutely no need for that here. The men’s stories speak for themselves and, strikingly, the common denominator is that these were mainly ordinary men with ordinary backgrounds. They came from cities, towns and villages all over the UK, the former Commonwealth and many other countries and, before volunteering for special forces, originated from all three services. They were of all faiths, ethnic backgrounds and political beliefs. From Barnardo’s boy to aristocrat, milkman to lawyer, from those barely out of school to university professors. These are the stories, told for the first time, of regular and territorial soldiers alike, all of whom who were sadly killed in action, posted missing without trace while on operations, who died in accidents or of sickness, those killed while saving others, and those who were shot either while escaping or after capture – ordinary men who volunteered to carry out extraordinary tasks for the sake of others. Their humble but confident attitude is as prevalent today within our special forces as it was then.
“I’M EXTREMELY PROUD TO HAVE REPAID THAT TRUST, AND OF THE OVERWHELMING FEEDBACK THE BOX SET HAS SUBSEQUENTLY RECEIVED FROM ALL CORNERS”
The books detail previously unknown casualties, and even detail stories that have only just come to light. What was the process for researching these casualties and filling in the blanks, as it were?
Each of the 374 individual entries are based on years of meticulous cross-referencing of service records, interviews with veterans and next of kin, and operational reports found in collections around the world. I’ve also visited every grave, these being scattered over 17 different countries, as well as the scene of the men’s actions to fully understand the truth.
In addition, I examined the casualty listings for all relevant formations to ensure that any
men left off in the past have now taken their rightful place on this Roll of Honour. The fact that some were omitted may come as a surprise, but record keeping was not as it is now. For example, until June 1944, wartime members of the SAS were administered by clerical staff of their parent units, often far from the relevant theatre, and casualties were therefore reported directly to them. In unusual circumstances, such as when men died of wounds long after capture, news of their demise was sometimes not relayed to the regiment.
Such scrupulous research has resulted in proper history, packed with new information and photos, including the only known photograph from the first ever SAS raid, which I came across in a private collection.
Why is it that these accounts have received relatively little attention? Has the secretive nature of the SAS in any way prohibited accurately accounting for and documenting the service records of these men?
Of course, the SAS and LRDG have always commemorated their wartime casualties. Pilgrimages, both private and organised, have honoured them since the end of the war and will continue to do so. However, their individual stories have never been published, not for reasons of secrecy but because there has never been the time to do so. The SAS has, for example, been operationally deployed every year bar one since the end of the Second World War and veteran welfare has, quite rightly, taken priority over any such publication.
“OUT OF THESE TRAGIC STORIES I’M PLEASED TO SAY THERE’S ALREADY BEEN AN UPBEAT AND POSITIVE OUTCOME”
Many of these accounts are incredibly humbling, brutal and tragic. Personally, is there one story or account that particularly stands out for you, for any reason?
It’s difficult to pull out just one example from the 374 individual entries, but I’ve always found the story of Parachutist James Dowling particularly heart-rending. He was a 17-year-old removal man who, when joining the infantry, lied and increased his age in order to have a better chance of serving abroad. He was a model soldier until going AWOL after being refused compassionate leave to visit his dying father. Sentenced to 12 months detention, he was released early after expressing his wish to serve in Airborne Forces and subsequently volunteered for Second SAS. His first time on foreign soil was when he parachuted behind the lines into eastern France in early September 1944. Sadly he was one of those shot after capture. If he’d been granted compassionate leave his fate would no doubt have been very different.
100 per cent of profits from sales of the book go to service charities. Could you discuss the work of these charities and why this donation is so important to them?
Out of these tragic stories I’m pleased to say there’s already been an upbeat and positive outcome that I hope to add to. Thanks to all those who have supported the project so far, the first £100,000 has already been donated to Combat Stress, an incredible charity that ensures servicemen and women suffering from PTSD receive much-needed assistance. It will soon receive a further £15,000. I’m also ring-fencing £20,000 to help fund the small memorials already mentioned, where some of the subjects of these three volumes, including James Dowling, were shot after capture.
Joseph Maurice and Philippe Rousseau, two brothers, both died in the line of duty. Joseph Maurice died serving in Second SAS in 1944
Lieutenant James Desmond Black was one of eight SAS men who were executed by the SS after surrendering in eastern France in September 1944
Captain John Richard ‘Jake’ Easonsmith of the LDRG photographed the SAS’S first ever raid. He went on to command LRDG and was killed in November 1943
ABOVE: Captain Easonsmith took this photograph of the SAS after their first raid, named Operation Squatter