Northern Ireland

Blair Mayne: SAS soldier who never got the Victoria Cross

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

Sunday marked the centenary of the birth of one of the most decorated British soldiers of World War II.

Blair Mayne helped set up the Special Air Service (SAS). His war-time exploits were the stuff of a Boys' Own adventure.

But despite many daring acts of bravery behind enemy lines, he was never awarded the military's highest honour, the Victoria Cross.

His fearsome reputation was matched by a hair-trigger temper.

Image caption Blair Mayne's funeral procession who died at the age of 40

He had a healthy disregard for some of his senior officers. Blair "Paddy" Mayne is viewed by many as the consummate war-time soldier.

Courageous and ruthless in combat, his exploits on and off the battlefield were legendary.

Capt Doug Beattie of the Royal Irish Regiment said he was the right man, in the right place, at the right time.

"This is a man who did not conform to military law and the people who were in charge of him," he said.

"He was a rogue soldier. He liked to do things that he thought were right and that he thought would be productive and that didn't always sit well with his superiors."

Mayne was born and raised at the family home, Mount Pleasant in Newtownards. At the outbreak of war he enlisted in the Royal Ulster Rifles, before joining the commandos and then becoming a founder member of the Special Air Service (SAS).

Andy McNab of Bravo Two Zero fame, is a former SAS soldier and now a best-selling author. He says Mayne's boot marks are all over the regiment's training manual to the present day.

Image caption Blair Mayne died aged 40 in a road accident in his native Newtownards in 1955

"He has been and always will be a legend," he said.

"lf you look at the foundations of the Special Air Service, he was instrumental in that. We have the SOPs - standard operating procedures and many of those are fundamental and must never change.

"Many of those arise from Paddy's operations during the war. He's just a byword for what goes on within the SAS and he is part and parcel of what we are today."

Among his many medals and awards, Mayne received the Distinguished Service Order four times.

He received a citation for the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, but was turned down. He died aged 40 in a road accident in his native Newtownards in 1955.

There have been campaigns for the VC to be awarded posthumously, so far without success.

Derek Harkness helped set up the Blair Mayne Association in Newtownards.

"It was a hell of an injustice," he said.

Image caption The statue tribute to Blair Mayne at Conway Square, Newtownards

"Blair Mayne deserved his VC, but for a brigadier who had the wrong glasses on when he read the citation and said that wasn't a single act of bravery needed to get the Victoria Cross.

"It didn't need to be a single act, it was a signal act of bravery. I believe that's how Blair Mayne didn't get the VC."

Local MP Jim Shannon has taken the fight to the floor of the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

"We achieved the support of the NI Assembly and I pursued it at Westminster level as well," he said.

"Unfortunately, at each stage we came up against obstacles and those seemed to be not necessarily from politicians or the prime minister but probably from within the Ministry of Defence."

Doug Beattie was awarded the Military Cross for action in Afghanistan. He is in awe of what Blair Mayne did as a soldier.

"As somebody who has been decorated, I stand in the shadows of men like Blair Mayne and, without a doubt in my mind, he should have been awarded the Victoria Cross," he said.

More on this story