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

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Meet the Lincolnshire man who lived possibly one of the most extraordinary and unusual lives of anybody from our county in the last 100 years. As the leader, Almonds was threatened with execution, but was sentenced to solitary confinement in a POW camp in Ancona. In Singapore and Ghana, he designs and hand-builds boats (no power tools), sailing his 32-foot ketch, out into mid-Atlantic and back to England. Almonds judged him to be about his own height, around six foot three, but heavier at around fifteen and a half stones. Showing astonishing resilience, he kept alert by designing a sailing ketch in his head, reciting the details each day until they were committed to memory.

Well out into the desert, the barren dusty little camp of a few tents was at first sight completely deserted. He had designed her and memorized the details when under sentence of death in an Italian prisoner of war camp. They must not expect to be spoon fed by MEHQ (Middle East Headquarters) or have everything done for them. It takes a very special sort of man to go out with a few trusted comrades to cause mayhem when he knows the result of failure will be almost certain death. 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 retired from the Army in 1961 as a major and went back to the house in Stixwould where he was born. The doctors said he would "always be a weakling" but at home the boy quickly recovered and later went on to command an SAS squadron at Hereford. The short barrels and small calibre might support such a notion but success depended on an accurate hit – and Almonds was a marksman. In 1956, whilst serving in Ghana, he began building the boat in his garden and sailed back to England in this craft in 1961. His fellow Tobruk Four veteran ‘Gentleman’ Jim Almonds would later describe Blakeney as “intelligent, courageous and uncomplaining.

At Kabrit he was given the task of building up the camp, which included three towers for parachute jumping. Led by another founding SAS legend Jock Lewes – played by Alfie Allen in Rogue Heroes – the unit based around the besieged port of Toburk pioneered the stealthy tactic of sneaking through enemy lines to pinpoint positions or launch deadly surprise attacks. Earlier that day, he had agreed with Duncan Cumming, Britain’s Chief Administrator running Eritrea, to catch the shifta and retrieve fifty stolen cattle. Faded blue wings on the left breast of his tattered tunic meant only one thing: L Detachment, 1st SAS.Almonds was moved to Campo 65, Gravina, where he was kept in solitary confinement and allowed no exercise. Almonds’ Military Medal was announced in November 1942 when the confidential recommendation from Stirling stated: “This NCO has at all times and under the most testing conditions shown great powers of leadership.

Jim Almonds, a sergeant in the Guards Commandos, sailed for the Middle East as part of “Layforce” in January 1941, with David Stirling and others destined to become SAS L Detachment “originals.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. This,’ he said to them, ‘is for you, because the Italian people were very kind to me and looked after me when I was an escaping prisoner of war in Italy. Asked how she saw her father, Almonds-Windmill added: “It was only writing the books that made me really appreciate quite what an exceptional man he was. He had the job of driving a jeep packed with ammunition and limpet mines into the harbour, intending to scuttle a ship and deprive Rommel of the use of the port.

During the blistering heat of the day, they tested their skills and endurance at remaining hidden close to the Axis lines and pioneered the tactics that would form the basis of the training of special forces in the future. Twelve men lay on their stomachs around a camp fire, facing outwards, with their feet towards the glowing embers. On April 8, 1945, Blakeney, was in one of the SAS jeeps when they were ambushed in woodland near Hannover by large number of fanatical German SS troops including heavy armoured cars. And he knew Kumasi would always right herself and would not ship much water because no hatches were allowed open. There were just the two of them but they pulled in and parked their captured lorry among the Italian and German trucks.

The SAS tried to launch a counter attack and eventually were able to reach Blakeney and a second comrade, John Glyde, from another jeep. With Rommel's supplies coming through Benghazi harbour, the port became a natural target for the SAS. He had not been blessed with the physique, strength and stamina of the average Commando but he looked keen and intelligent.

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