It was with great sadness that I read of the death of Sergeant Jimmy Storie, aged 92. He was the last surviving member of "The Originals", the small number of men who first joined “L” Detachment, the Second World War unit that developed into the Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment.
But what a remarkable life he enjoyed especially as – given the incredibly dangerous nature of his missions – the odds were firmly stacked against him ever seeing his 30th birthday, let alone birthdays into his 90s.
“L” Detachment was based at Kabrit, close to the Nile, during the early 1940s and was led by David Stirling who was to become the founder of the SAS. I first studied their daring activities against Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps as part of the research for my book, Special Forces Heroes, first published in 2008.
I have had a lifelong interest in bravery, which has led to a special respect for those who have showed “cold courage”, including past and present members of our Special Forces. Such an individual knows that if his mission goes wrong, at best, he might be captured and kept as a Prisoner of War (PoW) for months, or even years. At worst, he might be seized, tortured, mutilated and killed.
“L” Detachment’s brief in 1941 was to operate deep behind enemy lines carrying out hit-and-run attacks on airfields, parked aircraft, convoys and fuel dumps, as well as derailing trains. Even their instruction period was brutal: two men jumped to their deaths during parachute training and broken bones were common place.
Storie took part in numerous raids with officers such as Stirling and Paddy Mayne, whose exploits have become legendary. Yet, unsurprisingly, things did not always go to plan, including on their first major mission.
In November 1941, Storie took part in a raid on two German airfields in Libya only for he and his comrades to parachute into a sandstorm. One man broke his back and, with no possibility of saving him, had to be left with a bottle of water and a revolver.
Only 21 of the original 54 reached their pick-up point, with the rest being killed or captured, and after that the unit preferred taking Jeeps to their targets, with greater success. In one two-week period, “L” Detachment destroyed 100 enemy aircraft.
Storie, who was born in Ayr in December 1919 and left school at 14 to become a tiler, had originally joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers before serving with 11 (Scottish) Commando and, finally, being recruited to “L” Detachment. There were just 66 men in the original unit and Storie outlived every one of them.
In one early raid, they avoided sentries and crept on to an airfield, planting bombs with delayed-action fuses on the fighter aircraft lined up on each side of the runway. They also broke into the hangars and planted more charges on bomber aircraft before throwing grenades into the guardroom and making their escape as explosions erupted all around them.
When the Germans reacted by employing more guards, they switched tactics: a raid in July 1942 on the airfield at Sidi Haneish saw them going in with force rather than stealth.
“The planes were all parked up on either sides of the field,” Storie once recalled. “We drove our Jeeps in a line and went in with guns blazing. Each of us singled out an aircraft, brewed it up and then we swung around and went down the other side.”
Storie and his brave comrades were able to prove that Stirling was right when he claimed that a small number of highly-trained, well-equipped men could, under the right conditions and using the element of surprise, wreak more havoc than a whole regiment using conventional tactics.
Time and again, Storie diced with death. On one occasion, in darkness on the Benghazi plain, he, Paddy Mayne and five other comrades encountered a large German roadblock. When a German soldier demanded a password, the British group member who spoke German explained how they had been in the desert for six weeks, needed a bath and were in no mood for formalities.
Knowing they were about to be rumbled, Mayne and Storie played for high stakes and cocked their revolvers. The sentry, knowing he would be shot if he raised the alarm, let them through.
Storie was eventually captured in the desert and flown to Germany. He feared he would be killed because Hitler had ordered the execution of any captured Special Forces operatives. However, under interrogation, Storie persuaded his captors that he was an RAF crewman whose aircraft had been shot down.
After a spell in solitary confinement, Storie ended up in a PoW camp in Czechoslovakia. He was liberated in 1945 and soon afterwards married Morag Hutton, whom he had met before the start of the war.
His first post-war job was also not for the faint-hearted, as a warder at Barlinnie prison, Glasgow. However, then, and for the second time in his life, he became a tiler. Storie ended his career in 1979 and spent a long retirement in a village close to Aberdeen.
Jimmy Storie is survived by his wife, four children, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. Every one of them should be immensely proud of the tough, modest, Scot whose neighbours only found out after his death that they lived in the same village as the last surviving member of “The Originals”.
* Anyone wanting to know more about Lord Ashcroft’s book Special Forces Heroes, and its accompanying television series, should visit: www.specialforcesheroes.com .