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Silvio Tasselli - Articles - Decorations and badges of rank of the "S.A.S."

Major David Stirling of the "Scots Guards", who first joined the 8th Army Commando and later the "Layforce", already during S.A.S.'s first military operations in the Libyan desert in 1941, was going to create a special badge and a motto which could properly betoken his unity.
Stirling, being the founder of this Corp, wanted to involve all his men in this search, so he decided they should enter into a competition and gain a reward for the best choice.
The winner was Sergeant Tait. Stirling had been impressed with the badge's designTait had created, but he did not like the motto Tait had suggested, that is "Hit and Destroy!"
The winged sword represented on the badge might recall "Excalibur", King Arthur's mythical dagger, that is the sword of freedom; the two wings which are reminiscent of Ancient Egypt had been actually copied from a fresco situated in Shepheard Hotel's foyer in Cairo: a white ibis with unfolded wings. For ancient Egyptians it was a sacred bird and very common at that time along the Nile.
Even though David Stirling was enthusiast about the drawing, he was not crazy for the motto.
Stirling together with Captain Randolph Churchill, Winston's son, the old british lion, offered 10 pounds as a prize to whom, of the two men, was able to create the best motto.
They both agreed to think and discuss over the matter for three hours at the most.
During those hours, helped also by some cool beer, the two men confronted their own ideas. David, remembering a motto belonging to an old oustanding british family, suggested the sentence: "Who dares wins"; Randolph replied he did not like it at all but at the same time was not able to suggest anything better.
After three hours, short of ideas, Randolph had to subdue to his friend David, who won 10 pounds. The famous S.A.S. motto was born.
The winner of the competition among the men was Robert Tait 'Bob' M.M. (Military Medal): even though his badge's design was considered far the best, Stirling asked the lucky winner if he could substitute his motto with his own:" Who dares wins".
The young sergeant not only agreed, but , like all his fellow-soldiers, was enthusiastic since that meaningful motto perfectly expressed SAS's spirit, the new combat style David Stirling had first pictured to himself and then greatly expressed in words.
That's how, in 1941, the glamorous SAS badge of rank was born, still worn today by the 21st and 23rd English SAS, currently engaged in the "hot" areas of Afghanistan.
While that country was experiencing a serious crisis, an article entitled : " SAS, the leather necks who subdued Rommel" published on "Corriere della Sera" (24th September 2001) and written by A. Alt, reported that ".....who manages to, can wear the beret on which there is the badge representing Damocle's sword, and can go fighting throughout the world, since the bold motto 'Who dares wins' gives the soldier strength and courage. ( The columnist, noticing the sword pin downwards mistakenly thought it was like Damocle's sword, tied to a horse hair and usually seen hanging from an unfortunate person's head).
Since the first enamel coated badges were too much fragile and expensive, later they were brass and cloth made.
While Stirling was creating SAS badge and the motto "who dares wins", he was also projecting a badge of rank for SAS Parachutists to show on their breast but, above all, he wanted to pay honor to the bravest men during military operations. At first he adopted two unfolded wings to be worn on soldier's breast, like pilots had, but he wanted to find wings completely different from those adopted by the British Army, particurarly by RAF.
His dearest friend Lieutenant John Steel Lewes, "Jock", of the "Welsh Guards", dived head-first in studying the project. He quickly found the solution when, looking through a book about Egypt, came across a drawing of the famous Golden Scarab, the scarab god with beautiful, bright colored unfolded wings. For David Stirling it was love at first sight, and immediately decided to have it stylized : thus he created that same splendid badge that english SAS men still wear today.
The young Major declared that the wings were the prize for those who had successfully carried out the seven jumps with parachute necessary to obtain the qualification, as well as for the soldiers who had succeeded in achieving at least five missions in the enemy's territory and were worthy of praise.
Young Jock Lewes was the first among SAS men who had the honor to wear them; unfortunately for a short time, in fact a few days later he was killed during a mission.
Afterwards Major David Stirling reduced the missions to three and then with only two honorable missions a man could be awarded with the "egyptian wings".
Not only all SAS men envied that badge, but that symbol stirred up jealousy among Staff Officers in Cairo. They tried with every mean to abolish it, declaring that wearing it was illegal! However one day, during a General Staff meeting upon strategy, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, called "the Auk", Chief Commander of the English Army in Egypt, taking a glimpse of Stirling's badge on his chest, exclaimed loudly: "What a wonderful badge you have, major, I must congratulate on you!"
This warm approval reduced to silence all the bitter and wretched oppositions. Stirling had won.
These so-called Operative wings (that was the name given to the ones applied to left small pocket) were light blue ( Cambridge University) and dark blue (Oxford University). In fact Lewes had been a rower at Oxford while his colleague Lieutenant Thomas B. Langton was at Cambridge: when they were students they both had taken part in the famous regatta on the Thames.
The cap's choice was not an easy one: at first a white "beret" was chosen, then after endless discussions and mockeries from A.N.Z.A.C.'s Australians and Newzelanders, the kaki beret was adopted, followed by the yellowish one. As soon as SAS men returned to Europe they had to wear the parachuting troops' red beret; only a man continued to put the yellowish beret on his head: Col. Robert Blair Mayne "Paddy", 11th Scottish Commando. Mayne, after Stirling's capture in Tunisia, had become the leader of that Corp. This officer, thanks to his brave deeds, had been pluri-decorated with D.S.O. (Distinguished Service Order), but because of his quarrelsome behavior ( he used to get drunk too often and once, even though he was a subaltern, had beaten a senior officer) they never conferred him the V.C. (Victoria Cross), the greatest honor in the british army.

David Archibald Stirling

David Archibald Stirling was born on 15th November 1915, from a wealthy family of scottish aristocracy , in Keir (Stirlingshire), where a castle bears his surname. 
07His family is composed of four males and two females, Margaret and Irene; two brothers are later involved in David's military enterprises. Peter, Embassy secretary in Cairo, carries out political relations; William, elder brother, is the founder of the 2nd SAS in Algeria. Another brother, Hugh, dies in spring 1941 in North Africa, while patrolling.
Archibald Senior, this big family's father, has been Brigadier, a Member of the English Parliament and Deputy Lieutenant of Perthshire, a very desired office among the families living in that area.
Among David's cousins there is the 17th Lord Lovat; his mother is the fourth daughter of Baron Lovat, Fraser Clan's leader, and his cousin is the son of the man who constituted the "Lovat Scout" Regiment during the english-boer war, as well as Commander-in-chief of the Commandos which set ashore in Normandy.
David was 6feet 6inches tall (nearly 2 metres tall) and weighed 16 stones (more than 100 Kilos). He studies at the College in Ampleforth, at the Trinity College, and after studying Architecture at Cambridge, he goes to Paris to get specialized in drawing.
Soon he realizes he doesn't own necessary talent,so he tries to achieve other targets: he wants to be the first man who has climbed Mount Everest and in order to acquire some practice he attends rock-climb courses and mountaineering in Switzerland.
In 1939 the second world war breaks out in Europe.
Stirling, following family's tradition, enrols as a Second Lieutenant in the Scottish Guards. After the defeat at Dunquerque, he is transferred to the 8th Army Commando. After the dissolution of the "Layforce", he manages to form a unity of about sixty people and calls it "L Detachment" (L comes from Layforce, but other sources say "L" stands for Learner); afterwards the unity will be called 1st SAS.
On 25th January 1943 he is captured after he has destroyed aircrafts as well as enemy's depots and carried out with his men hundreds of raids behind the italian-german lines.
He manages to escape but he's recaptured: at first he stays in the transit camp N° 66 in Capua, Italy; then he's deported to camp N.5 at Serravalle (Genua), a camp for dangerous individuals. He has succeeded in running away four times but he's always been recaptured, betrayed also because of his extraordinary height. After 8th September he is deported to the fortress of Colditz, in Germany.
Released in April 1945, he goes back to his mother-country only to find his SAS unity utterly changed. He tries to take possession of it again and he would like to transfer it to the Far East, but he fails in his purpose.
Laycock, General and the"Combined Operations" Leader, expresses this opinion about Stirling: "...a complete leader, with extraordinary skills and one of the most 'under-decorated'officers in the british army......Many times would he have deserved the highest honors that a King can offer. He was not awarded simply because while performing such honorable actions there wasn't a senior officer witnessing his heroism".

Il Magg. Robert Blair Mayne

Major Robert Blair Mayne, Commander of Squadron "A", 1st SAS, after Stirling's capture in Tunisia in January 1943, was in Cairo waiting and hoping to receive the permit to go back to his mother- country for his father's funeral. Just then he meets the war-correspondent Richard Dimbley and picks up a quarrel with him. The reason is that, in Mayne's opinion, the journalist has written inaccuracies and stupidities about Mayne. The arrival of seven M.P.s (Military Police) exasperates Mayne' s anger and gives vent to his fury on the wrong people. He is arrested after having knocked out a Provost and two M.P.s . 
09He remains for a short period in a fortress before being judged by a Court-Martial. He is discharghed mainly for two reasons: brave performances testified by his medals, and the Headquarters' pressure, which require men of his rank and skills.
Robert Blair Mayne, known as "Paddy", was born on 11th January 1915 at Mount Pleasant (Northern Ireland) and he is called like his mother's cousin, who will die five months later in Flanders in command of the 5th "Borderer Regiment", later decorated with the D.S.O.
He has two brothers and three sisters, to whom he is very affectionate; in spite of his misogyny he particularly loves his mother.
Young Mayne begins his studies at the Regent House School of Newtonwards and continues at the Queen's University in Belfast. At the age of 21 is a heavy-weight champion at University: during an elegant party, he disappears and comes back shortly afterwards with his suit torn and splattered with mud, but carrying a hart royal on his shoulders.
During another party, Mayne, a giant with reddish hair, player in the rugby national team of Northern Ireland, throws out of a window an adversary player after a match, but fortunately the window is on the ground floor.
War breaks out and he joins an anti-aircraft artillery; on 4th April 1940 he enters a Combat detachment, the "Royal Ulster Rifles"; among the first men to join Commandos, he is sent to the 11th Army Commando, also called "Scottish Commando".
He is said that it was New Years' Eve, he was in the barracks when a colleague arrives earlier since he must be on duty early the following morning. Mayne asks him for some water, but when the other man refuses to give him the carafe, Mayne first beats him and while the unlucky man is trying to run away, he shoots him.
The next morning at 8 o'clock Mayne is in the dormitory, quietly sitting on his folding bed, eating a leg of lamb and a huge steak, with two round leaves of bread and surrounded by 36 bottles of Cherry Brandy.
Before entering SAS, he operates in the "Layforce" in Syria near river Litani, where Moshe Dayan, future leader of the israeli army, had lost an eye.
They tell that one evening, while Mayne was playing chess, he started to quarrel with Major Geoffrey Keyes, because the latter had excluded Mayne from the raid at Beda Littoria (Lybia), organized in order to capture or kill Rommel.
During that raid Keyes died and was awarded with the "Victoria Cross".
Mayne fought in North Africa and, among his exploits, one deserves a mention: he was flying over an italian airport when, run out of fire-bombs, destroyed with his bare hands the instrument panel of a fighter. Then he set ashore at Capo Murro di Porco, in Sicily and fought in the bloody battle of Termoli.
At the beginning of 1944, SAS men went back to their homeland to reconstruct all the unities and to plan North Europe's invasion; Mayne and his men ended the war in Norway.
He went back to civilian life and found a job in a notary's office as a lawyer but paper-work depressed him , so he became a hen-breeder but it was a failure; he decided then to grow daffodils but that ended in a complete disaster.
On 14th December 1955 he was at a Lodge meeting: since that place was for teetotallers only, at the end of the meeting he went with a friend to the local pub to drink and play darts. Later he accompanied his friend home and there he gulped down many glasses of beer; that night he crashed his potent Riley into a van.
There death met one of the most decorated men of the United Kingdom: four D.S.O., Africa Star, Italy Star, France & Germany Star, Defence Medal, War Medal & Oak Leaf, Legion d'Honneur and Croix de Guerre avec Palme.
Many times Laycock and Stirling had proposed him for the "Victoria Cross",but he was never bestowed with it, perhaps because of his quarrelsome and unruly behavior.

01
Standing from left to right, three men of L.R.D.G. (Long Range Desert Group), Alan H.C. Nutt, F.R. Brown and I.G. Mc Culloch 'Snowy'. Sitting: Sergeant Edward John Almonds 'Gentleman Jim' and Lance-Corporal Robert Lilley. These two are S.A.S. men and wear the white beret , mocked and contested by New Zealand and Australian troops.

02
Forage cap with S.A.S. badge of rank. It belonged to Paddy O' Dowd - 1942

03
The "Winged Dagger", King Arthur 's mythical "Excalibur", designed by Sergeant Bob Tait...

04
...and made in Egypt in various models

05
"Egyptian Wings" produced in Egypt in 1942 and previously designed by Lieutenant John Steel Lewes 'Jock'

06
Sergeants Johnny Cooper and Reginald Seekings wearing the white beret, on leave in Cairo, December 1941

08
Paddy Mayne with S.A.S beret, 1942 libyan desert

10
Stavanger Airport (Norway) May 1945, from left to right: Major Pat Hart, Lt-Col. Paddy Mayne with his typical beret, Maj. Roy Farran.

11
David Stirling and Jock Lewes, egyptian desert 1941, ready for the next raid

12
Jock Lewes with a fractured wrist; the incident occurred while he was training to jump from a truck at 30 miles/hour

13
A series of S.A.S. badges of rank to wear on shoulders, North Europe 1944-1945.