Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne typified those individuals who seemed to exist on this planet for one thing: to fight wars, and fight them well. To possess a heroism envied by many, yet lack the needed traits in peacetime that so often led to trouble.

The following story is about such a man, one who made his mark in British and military history as one of the truly great soldiers of any age. Remembered as one of the ‘Originals’ in the Special Air Service’s early era, Paddy Mayne was one of those grizzled specialists who traversed the foreboding North African desert to strike fear into the enemy during World War II.

Paddy Mayne was born in Northern Ireland on January 1, 1915, the youngest of seven children. During his teenage years, he became an able rugby player and also played golf and cricket. He also demonstrated apt skills as a marksman while studying for college to become a solicitor. It was here, after entering Belfast University, that his athletic ability spoke for itself as he became a Rugby star and took up boxing to become a heavyweight champion in 1936, only to lose on points before claiming the more prestigious University’s title.

Rugby managed to carry him on, and in 1938 he was selected for the British Lions team tour of South Africa, where, even though the team lost, he won praise for his skill before returning to Belfast to play for a local team.

After graduation in 1939, his career was put on hold by the onset of war. Having joined a reserve unit during school, he was able to receive an officer’s commission (Lieutenant) into the Royal Artillery, being posted with an Anti-aircraft battery in his home country. He stayed in this position until 1940, when he transferred to the infantry. There the request that would forever change his life arrived.

Blair "Paddy" Mayne, a Special Air Service 'Original'
Blair “Paddy” Mayne, a Special Air Service ‘Original’

Winston Churchill had urged creation of a “butcher and bolt raiding force,” after the sting of the Dunkirk withdrawal, which created the Commando units. Mayne embraced this call for volunteers and tried out for the newly formed 11 (Scottish) Commando. After training, he undertook his baptism by fire in 1941, when he led his men in a successful river operation against the Vichy French in Lebanon.

The abilities Mayne displayed during this assignment brought him to the attention of Captain David Stirling, leader of L detachment, a unit that would soon become the Special Air Service. Mayne, ironically, was in jail at the time when the offer arrived, having hit his commanding officer and chasing him with a knife. So, it was conditional that if released, he had to join, and so he set off to become one of the ‘Original’ members of the S.A.S, and was assigned to North Africa.

In autumn 1942, victory in the desert war was still far from certain when he arrived and devised a unique form of hit and run raid. After the original plans of parachuting behind the lines proved disastrous, he created tactics of using modified jeeps with machine guns, extra fuel and ammunition. Now, he and his men would set off under the shimmering 130 degrees temperature and disappear into the featureless plains to begin striking at night against vulnerable enemy installations, particularly airfields.