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

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Boats fascinated him and, aged 10, he built his first craft, a punt made out of a bacon box with toffee tins as outriggers.

The decoration was announced in April 1944 after the confidential recommendation had stated: “Captured at Benghazi on 14 September 1942, this NCO was first taken to Campo 51 (Altamura). The son of a Lincolnshire smallholder, my father had left school at fourteen without any educational qualifications. One or two were even taken while still fully erected by grabbing each corner and lifting them noiselessly from around their sleeping occupants. He was one of the very first Rogue Heroes, the daring men recruited by SAS founder David Stirling into his elite regiment in the Second World War. Not long afterwards, Almonds learned that his 20-year-old wife had discharged their son from the hospital where he was receiving no treatment and was expected to die.Eventually despite their experience, Blakeney and his small band of survivors became disorientated in the pitch black desert and were captured by Italian guards at Tmimiu airfield. Corporal Bob Bennett, a cheerful cockney from the Grenadier Guards, pale complexioned, thin faced and slightly intense, squatted on his haunches next to Corporal Jimmy Brough, a canny Scot with beetling brows from Stirling's own Scots Guards and Commando days. He had a way of making the most impossible request seem perfectly reasonable and anyone who did not immediately accede to his demands feel a total spoil sport.

Mr Almonds also re-joined the SAS and fought Communist soldiers in the steaming jungles of Malaya, before retirement from military service at the rank of major in 1961. L" Detachment subsequently joined up with the Long Range Desert Group at Jalo Oasis, and in December they raided the aerodrome at Nofilia, Libya. Determined to get into action, he volunteered to be a gunner on a trawler and a rear gunner on a bomber. He showed great resource in managing to extricate this party with only one casualty, although all but one of his trucks had been destroyed.He was in Ghana as officer commanding the boys' company of the West African Frontier Force and there was all this wonderful timber available that he decided he would make a 32-ft ketch and sail her back to England. Dawn was breaking when the convoy of some 200 men and 40 Jeeps came to a halt in front of a pole barrier on the outskirts of the town. Travelling south towards the Allied advance, he met up with an American pilot who had been shot down and they made off together, passing through a minefield which Almonds mapped; he led, telling the airman to walk in his footsteps. Mayne's strong recommendation that Almonds be granted a commission was approved after the briefest of interviews. Jim Almonds always ran to the battle,” wrote the late Earl [George] Jellicoe, then President of the Special Air Service Regimental Association.

Operating largely at night around the besieged natural seaport in Libya, the team reconnoitred enemy positions and made hit-and-run attacks. A great wartime escaper, it is no surprise to me that Almonds was determined to escape from ever having an ordinary job. A first escape – abandoned when one of the group he was leading got pneumonia after two weeks on the run in the sleeting Italian winter – had led to his solitary confinement. Nor could they afford to 'piss about' disciplining anyone who was not one hundred per cent devoted to having a good crack at the Hun. Almonds was moved to Campo 65, Gravina, where he was kept in solitary confinement and allowed no exercise.

More than anything, I hope that this book will encourage people who began life holding very few cards.

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