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Gentleman Jim: The Wartime Story of a Founder of the SAS and Special Services

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As a collector of medals for valour, I have long been in awe of Almonds’ courage, all the more since purchasing his gallantry and service medals in 2007. Although when they were out in the desert there might not always be enough water to wash and shave, nothing was changed the rest of the time. Later, he parachuted into occupied France, where he harried the Germans so effectively that he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. In Singapore and Ghana, he designs and hand-builds boats (no power tools), sailing his 32-foot ketch, out into mid-Atlantic and back to England.

Written by Gentleman Jim’s daughter and based on Almond’s own diaries, various primary sources and interviews with other ‘originals’, the action throughout is vivid and immediate. The only way to hunt them down was to chase and catch up with them, then mount an early morning raid before they could move off at daybreak. Sergeant Jim Almonds was a non-commissioned officer of the British Army and a member of the Special Air Service (SAS).

The short barrels and small calibre might support such a notion, but success depended on an accurate hit – and Almonds was a marksman. When he refused to talk, he was made to kneel down in an open truck with both hands shackled to an ankle and was driven around the town and shown off to the populace. The moon had not risen and the stars of the immense desert night gave little light, cloaking their clandestine mission. While the team concept remained important, each one of them had to develop a sense of their own independence and personal effectiveness.

However, it was also renowned for the notorious incident of when Paddy Mayne and his men gunned down Germans and Italians in the officers' mess. He showed great resource in managing to extricate this party with only one casualty, although all but one of his trucks had been destroyed. During the Second World War he was captured in a bungled raid in Benghazi, Libya, in September 1942. As number two in the Eritrea Police Field Force, he led a bandit-chasing outfit in a race against the clock to catch wanted rebels in time for Britain to bring in a 1952 UN resolution to join Ethiopia and Eritrea under the Ethiopian Crown. And it was in Ghana that he embarked on an epic three month voyage across the Atlantic to Boston, Lincolnshire, aboard his 32-ft home-made boat.Quite apart from the dangers of training, and the times when he came under “normal” enemy fire, he narrowly escaped death no less than nine times. SAS jeeps were being used to foray ahead of allied lines to seek out German defenders or strongpoints. Wainman, with Blakeney and Alec Hay had fought back with their twin Vickers machine guns against the 20mm cannon and heavy armour of the German armoured vehicles “until the enemy were so close they were throwing hand grenades from their turrets”.

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