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The originals – The secret history of the birth of the SAS in their own words. Gordon Stevens.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, and in the case of this book it certainly is true. Can you believe that in the mid 80s, the surviving few of the original SAS members were holed up in a hotel and over a period of three day’s intensive filming amassed over 120 hours of footage? More incredibly, that footage was never used for the purpose intended and it was stashed away and forgotten about? Seems unbelievable doesn’t it? But that forgotten footage is the basis of this book as compiled by Gordon Stevens.

It’s a brilliant book. Stories from those that were there at the time: it’s their take, it’s their words, and it’s their individual stories.

The book shines a light on much of the preparatory work of those early days and dispels many rumours. Rumours such as Stirling never giving interviews: he clearly did, even if he was a touch uncomfortable doing so.

I think I’ve previously read about most of the operations that the SAS carried out during the early days, but reading this volume is different because you get the human element and it’s the human stories that fascinate me. How these guys felt, what they thought, how they interacted during the time the SAS was developing their methods and strategies. These originals come across as warm, humorous, genuine people, who were incredibly dedicated and determined to see their work through.

The author’s preface gives some insight into the grit and determination of these guys. He highlights that on their first operation 65 men took part. Only 21 or 22 (apparently, records are unclear) made it back. Three months later, that original 65 was down to 13. - Thirteen that Stirling subsequently referred to as the ‘dirty dozen’ and declaring that the SAS was “forged in Hell!”

I found reading the book engrossing once I’d adapted to the style of writing and sorted the commentators in my own mind. It’s rather like watching The World At War and seeing different people give their views on what happened. However, it did frustrate me a little to start with.

I normally like to retire to bed with a book (and a good glass of whisky) unwinding from the day’s events, but this was something I simply couldn’t do with this book. For some reason, I found it utterly impossible to read the book under electric light. I know the print is small (even so the book still runs to 340 pages) but I simply couldn’t read it with, or without, glasses. Strangely enough, I had no such issues in natural daylight, but that’s the reason it took me a lot longer than normal to read the book.

I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the military; it’s certainly worthy of a wider audience than just military historians.

I’ll rate this at 4 3/4 anchors, it would have been 5 had I been able to read it as I intended.