Northern Ireland

Blair Mayne SAS diary released

Blair 'Paddy' Mayne
Image caption Blair 'Paddy' Mayne was one of the original SAS soldiers in the Second World War

He is one of Northern Ireland's most famous soldiers - a war hero, rugby international and the subject of dozens of thrilling campfire tales.

But there is still much more to learn about Blair 'Paddy' Mayne and a secret Second World War diary which was has been hidden since 1946 has more stories to add.

The BBC has exclusive access to the diary, which has been published to mark the 70th anniversary of the forming of the Special Air Service.

Mayne's brushes with authority, his exceptional bravery and the controversial decision not to recommend him for a Victoria Cross - the highest honour in the British Army - are all covered in the diary.

It includes operational reports and photographs from the very first SAS operations, deep behind enemy lines in north Africa from 1941 onwards.

David Stirling, a lieutenant in the Scots Guards at the time, set up the SAS and there was one man who he wanted to lead the small, mobile commando teams taking the fight to Field Marshall Rommel.

Military historian Gordon Stephens has examined the diary and found some new information about the recruitment of Mayne to what is now the most famous military regiment in the world.

"The diary covers the SAS from 1941-44, all the operational reports during that period," he said.

"Mayne was involved in a lot of them and he comes forward as an amazing soldier.

"David Stirling, who founded the SAS, wanted certain people and one of them was Paddy Mayne but Paddy was in the clink for beating up his commanding officer.

"Stirling had to go into prison to confront Mayne and say 'I want you out but do not hit this commanding officer' and Mayne agreed.

"At that stage it was top secret and they moved on together. I think it supports what people thought about Mayne, that he was an amazing soldier, an amazing SAS operator."

Victoria Cross

Mayne received the Distinguished Service Order an incredible four times during the Second World War but the top military honour still eluded him.

"The diary actually carried the report of the operation where Mayne was commended for the Victoria Cross. The witness statements, all the recommendations up to Montgomery recommend him for the Victoria Cross."

So why did Mayne not get the highest honour in the British Army? Mr Stephens believes at that time certain soldiers were not treated as equals.

"If you want to be cynical, he was Irish, he was SAS," said the historian.

As well as the stories of desert heroism in the fight against the Germans, the diary also helps paint a picture of the real Mayne and his relationship with his mentor Stirling.

"Mayne had to come back from an operation and he didn't like that," explained Mr Stephens.

"When Stirling got back from the operation Mayne had gone into a tent and started drinking. Everyone expected a big punch up between these two great warriors of the SAS.

"Stirling tells the story that he went into the tent and Mayne was there reading James Joyce and he looks up and said 'all I wanted to do was write' and Stirling sat down with him, poured another whiskey and said 'all I ever wanted to do was paint'.

"These two great SAS figures sit down and discuss painting and writing. That's the other side of Mayne people don't know about."

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