SAS Trooper by Charlie Radford, edited by Francis Mackay

I really enjoyed this book, and probably for different reasons than intended. And probably for what some people consider to be the least glamorous parts of this story!

Charlie Radford grew up in Devon. Joining the Royal Engineers just prior to the start of the Second World War as a boy Sapper. We follow Charlie to North Africa, where he was in action with an RE Field Company in Algeria and Tunisia – one of the least known campaigns of the war. Volunteering for Special Forces, Charlie then joined the SAS. The SAS had been formed only a few years before in North Africa, and Charlie Radford joined just in time to take part in operations behind enemy lines in German occupied France, immediately after D-Day. After returning from France, his unit were then sent to Italy, to link up with Partisans in Northern Italy.

The SAS in 1944 was still in its infancy, and although the modern Regiment traces its lineage back to this time, the early pioneers were still very much finding their way by trial and error. Trained to parachute into action, the SAS had much success operating in North West Europe behind German lines, with heavily armed and mobile Jeeps. It was a tactic that had worked in the Desert. By contrast, when Radford and his comrades parachuted into Northern Italy, they seem to have struggled for equipment and supplies, and were dependant on local partisans – a slightly precarious position, one feels.

After leaving the SAS, Charlie had to serve out his service with the Royal Engineers, his parent unit. He didn’t do this quietly, for he was sent to East Africa as an NCO in an Engineer Squadron, working with African natives, in particular the Askari tribe, in Kenya, Tanazania and Somalia. These were interesting times, and Radford’s recollections of life in 1940′s British Africa are fascinating. In fact, to consider this just another  Special Forces memoir is to do it a diservice.

The stories of SAS raids are exciting, and I suspect why the publishers felt Radford’s memoirs deserved to make it into print. But for me, it is the human elements that make this story so interesting. The memories of a young man from Devon joining the Army and going through basic training, life onboard troopships, liaisons with women during wartime, Army food, and things like that. For example, Charlie felt that Winston Churchill lost the General Election in 1945, as his generation were more educated and more independently minded than their forefathers in 1918, and did not want to be controlled or talked down to any more. Interesting stuff for the social historian. In particular I was rivetted by his experiences in East Africa, certainly not a part of the world that many young men from England would have known much about in the 1940′s.

But all throughout, Radford sounds like a very normal, down to earth young man – something that is very endearing to the reader, and very important in keeping our sense of perspective that these men were young men, the same as we are today. The more of these kinds of memoirs that make into print the better – we will be very glad of it in years to come.

SAS Trooper is published by Pen and Sword

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5 Comments

Filed under Book of the Week, social history, special forces, Uncategorized, World War Two

5 responses to “SAS Trooper by Charlie Radford, edited by Francis Mackay

  1. John Erickson

    Sounds like a great read. I used to only read about the technology, studying gun sizes, tonnages, and such. When I started re-enacting, I started reading more personal histories, to get the “feel” right. What an eye-opener! It’s amazing how big a role the person plays in fighting a war (obvious to soldiers, less so to the public). We need more books like this, before we lose the memories of these soldiers.

  2. Sue Poyntz

    Thank you for your kind remarks. Charlie (Cyril) Radford was my Uncle.
    It took him five years to write this and in longhand, as he did not have a computer. Sadly he died before the book was published, but I had the opportunity to read some of it before he died.

    • James Daly

      Hi Sue, you are very welcome, I enjoyed reading your Uncles memoirs a lot. They are a great contribution to our military history.

    • Hi Sue
      I was fortunate to meet with Cyril regularly during my visits to Cyprus, used to run the five miles from my in-laws to his home in Trimiklini, have a dip in the pool, a quick beer and chat about the army (I was a TA Para at the time). Great company, my Father in-law was honoured to read his eulogy

      Pete Sutcliffe from Bradford

      (ex Sgt 4 Para)

  3. Oh my, I had the very fortunate pleasure of corresponding with your Uncle, Sue. My Grandafather was on Op Cold Comfort with him. Cyril shared so much with me, for which I am eternity grateful.

    I wil most definitely be gettng a copy of this, rest in peace Mr Radford

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