SAS South Georgia Boating Club began life as a war diary kept by me in a notebook during the Falklands War in 1982. Many years later, and with the encouragement of my grown-up son, this became the nucleus of an idea to write my life story with the war diary sandwiched in the middle of the book. The original title of the book was The Pilgrimage, but because there was another book with a similar title and also because the publisher wanted something that would better relate to the target audience, it soon became SAS South Georgia Boating Club, which is the nickname that 17 (Boat) Troop, D Squadron, 22 SAS used after the Falklands War.
The book chronicles my personal journey to make a success of life and describes me growing up in a run-down part of Birkenhead. In those days, Birkenhead was a major ship-building town on the southern bank of the river Mersey. Unusually for a largely military-based book, the foreword is written by the chairman of Tranmere Rovers football club, Mark Palios. Mark was the former Chief Executive of the Football Association and went to the same school as me.
The book continues through 30 plus years in the army, including service in the SAS and afterwards on commissioning as an officer in the Royal Corps of Signals. The section on the Falklands War runs to four chapters, including the voyage south and the retaking of South Georgia, before detailing my personal experiences during the liberation of the Falkland Islands. The book finally describes what I have done since leaving the army and provides an insight into life as a security consultant in various Middle East terrorist hotspots.
If you are expecting to read about any heroics you will be disappointed. I was nothing more than an average SAS trooper, but then again there is no such thing as an average SAS trooper. The book was submitted by me to the MOD Disclosure Committee (special forces desk) and was granted Express Prior Authority in Writing (EPAW) to publish. Several of my contemporaries had previously read the manuscript and by and large have been very supportive of my efforts. There are several threads that run through the book, including brief mentions of Tranmere Rovers, hardly unexpected considering that I have supported the Super White Army since the age of twelve! Another thread is one commonly seen amongst special forces operatives and that is the need to strive for excellence in all that we undertake. I was no different and I often achieved excellent results on all the training courses that I took during a long career in the British Army. Other threads include my interest in foreign languages and my interest in travel, unsurprising considering that I have visited over 50 different countries during my lifetime. The book has been timed to be released as part of the lead-up to the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War and the initial interest and feedback has been very good. The book should appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about the SAS, The Falklands War, the British Army, the Royal Corps of Signals, and of course Tranmere Rovers.
I was fortunate that I had already served nearly four years in Hereford before I attempted SAS Selection. During this period, I was a radio telegraphist in 264 (SAS) Signal Squadron attached to D Squadron, 22 SAS Regiment, as a “scaley” (signaller) in D Troop (Signals). This not only gave me an opportunity to study the SAS at close quarters, it also meant that I had already qualified as a military parachutist before attempting Selection. When I volunteered for Selection, it was decided to move me out of D Squadron and into the Signals Training Troop. This move gave me the opportunity to get up into the mountains most weekends.
My role in the Signals Training Troop was to train patrol signallers from the SAS and SBS and also newly arrived radio telegraphists coming in to the Signal Squadron. I spent most of my time instructing in Morse code and voice & telegraph procedures, but also taught other subjects as required, for example antenna theory & propagation.
Before beginning SAS Selection, some finals words of advice were given to me by D Squadron’s Sergeant Major. Lawrence sat me down in his office and told me that SAS Selection would be the hardest thing I would ever attempt in my life and the only chance of success was to keep going whatever happened. He reminded me that the only way you can fail SAS Selection is if you voluntarily withdraw from the course or if you are hospitalized or die. In an attempt to inspire me he reminded me of the macabre joke, if you could call it that, which was circulating around the Regiment at that time “Death is nature’s way of telling you that you have failed SAS Selection.” This pep-talk only made me more determined to keep going whatever the odds. I asked him for a favour which was if I was successful would it be possible for D Squadron to claim me and could I be posted to Boat Troop? Lawrence said he would see what he could do but made no promises. The sergeant major’s parting words to me were ominous. He told me that I would be totally ostracized by D Squadron while I was on the course and furthermore, I was banned from the squadron lines and was to be treated like a pariah so there could be no accusations of favouritism. I felt like a monk about to start a pilgrimage. Although I didn’t fully realise it at the time, I had been working towards SAS Selection since the moment I had been born. Sadly, Lawrence was to die in 1982 in the SAS Sea King helicopter crash during the Falklands War.
Tony Shaw is the author of SAS South Georgia Boating Club: An SAS Trooper’s Memoir and Falklands War Diary, published by Pen & Sword.