When I first saw this book, I thought it was another generic book on the SAS, which would join a long list of similar publications. How wrong I was. This is a thrilling and very specific book, and the clue that it is not a general account of the SAS lies in the subtitle, The Last Stand of the SAS and the Hunt for their Nazi Killers. SAS Band of Brothers
This is the story of a particular group from 1st SAS Regiment in 1944 who flew to France to join the Normandy invasion. The group were named SABU 70, so called from the name of an Indian actor who played Mowgli in the film Elephant Boy. This may seem to be an unusual name for a team of highly professional soldiers but then this is only the first of many extraordinary features of this operation.
The book is a story about a group of “colourful and curiously dressed ruffians”. The principal actor is Pat Garstin, a young officer in the Ulster Rifles who won an MC during the retreat to Dunkirk and then joined the embryonic SAS. He is a remarkable man who achieves so much but tragically is killed. The other players, whose accounts form the basis of this book, are Lieutenant Rex Wiehe, a Mauritian, Corporal Serge Vaculik, a Czech who had joined the Free French and Corporal Thomas ’Ginger’ Jones, and a miner from Wigan.
The story is in three parts. The first is an account of a daring and successful operation behind enemy lines in the days following D-Day. The second recounts a disastrous operation by the same team only a few days later, and the third part is the follow-up to achieve justice for the those murdered out of hand by the Gestapo and SS.
SAS Band of Brothers is written in an accessible and informal style. As a reader, one is drawn in through the personal and graphically told stories of the key players, so that by the end, you know the participants and are concerned for their fate. The privations of being a prisoner at the mercy of the Gestapo are horrifyingly described. The murky world of secret service organisations has a light shone upon it too. Its amoral pragmatism was defended by a “bodyguard of lies”, an expression used by Winston Churchill.
A couple of small criticisms. I wish the publishers had allowed the author the luxury of an index and perhaps a Dramatis Personae.
This is a cracking read which I managed get through in just a few sittings. Lewis has written another page-turner, which members of the military and general readers, interested in WW2 and the SAS, will enjoy. SAS Band of Brothers is an emblematic story of warfare – a tragic tale of courage, determination, and ultimate sacrifice.
Review by Evelyn Webb-Carter.