Why do books only mention relatively few names?

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  • #288

    dan
    Keymaster

    I’m sometimes asked a question along the lines of “why hasn’t this individual been mentioned much – if at all – in the many books about the WWII S.A.S.?”.

    Having recently answered that question in an email to a new research member, I thought I’d share my reply here (paraphrased).

    It is sadly the case that much of the documentary history of the WWII SAS to date has tended to focus on certain individuals – mainly officers. To a certain extent, this is inevitable, due to the lack of primary source evidence from the period that details the experiences of the ‘rank and file’. For example, the operational reports of the period often only mention personnel of ‘other ranks’ by name if documenting exceptional events concerning those individuals.

    Additionally, the early days of the SAS was not well documented, or at least those records did not survive the war. Much of what we do know is from documents contained within the so-called ‘SAS War Diary’, which was previously known as the ‘Paddy Mayne Diary’.

    At the end of the war, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne (DSO & Three Bars) commissioned an intelligence officer to collate remaining documentation and attempt to write a wartime history of the SAS. The resultant ‘dairy’ formed the basis of many books, such as the renowned “The Phantom Major”, by Virginia Cowles.

    The so-called ‘War Diary’ had been in the possession of private individuals since the end of the war, until several years ago, when it was placed in the SAS Regimental Archive. A limited run was then published (at an astronomical price) by the company Extraordinary Editions. The material contained in this tome has since informed the work of authors of SAS History who have cultivated a relationship with the SAS Regimental Association and formed the basis of TV documentaries, such as Ben Macintyre.

    The ‘War Diary’ presents an intriguing but incomplete narrative of SAS wartime history. It was collated and authored after the event by those motivated to produce “a history”. It was produced to present the story of the wartime SAS and contains a wealth of primary source documentation and photographs.

    The War Diary is undeniably a fantastic source of evidence. However, one also has to bear in mind the context of its collation and production, including the hierarchical positions and motivations of those who chose what material to include, and what to discard. Whilst a great resource, the War Diary presents an incomplete and, in some cases, inconsistent narrative of events. Some of the material included is factually incorrect, whilst the context and origin of included documentation is at times ambiguous.

    In most presented histories, the material in the War Diary is supplemented by documents available in The National Archives (there’s not a great deal of relevant material there), and the SAS Regimental Archive.

    Our motivation behind creating and maintaining the online repository is to make material from personal family archives available to the world, in digital form. These documents, photographs, anecdotes and artefacts may otherwise be lost to history. It is our hope that this material may, at some point, better inform historical works, resulting in the presentation of a more rounded version of events – including the experiences of ‘rank and file’ – than has been possible to date.

  • Author
    Posts
  • #288

    dan
    Keymaster

    I’m sometimes asked a question along the lines of “why hasn’t this individual been mentioned much – if at all – in the many books about the WWII S.A.S.?”.

    Having recently answered that question in an email to a new research member, I thought I’d share my reply here (paraphrased).

    It is sadly the case that much of the documentary history of the WWII SAS to date has tended to focus on certain individuals – mainly officers. To a certain extent, this is inevitable, due to the lack of primary source evidence from the period that details the experiences of the ‘rank and file’. For example, the operational reports of the period often only mention personnel of ‘other ranks’ by name if documenting exceptional events concerning those individuals.

    Additionally, the early days of the SAS was not well documented, or at least those records did not survive the war. Much of what we do know is from documents contained within the so-called ‘SAS War Diary’, which was previously known as the ‘Paddy Mayne Diary’.

    At the end of the war, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne (DSO & Three Bars) commissioned an intelligence officer to collate remaining documentation and attempt to write a wartime history of the SAS. The resultant ‘dairy’ formed the basis of many books, such as the renowned “The Phantom Major”, by Virginia Cowles.

    The so-called ‘War Diary’ had been in the possession of private individuals since the end of the war, until several years ago, when it was placed in the SAS Regimental Archive. A limited run was then published (at an astronomical price) by the company Extraordinary Editions. The material contained in this tome has since informed the work of authors of SAS History who have cultivated a relationship with the SAS Regimental Association and formed the basis of TV documentaries, such as Ben Macintyre.

    The ‘War Diary’ presents an intriguing but incomplete narrative of SAS wartime history. It was collated and authored after the event by those motivated to produce “a history”. It was produced to present the story of the wartime SAS and contains a wealth of primary source documentation and photographs.

    The War Diary is undeniably a fantastic source of evidence. However, one also has to bear in mind the context of its collation and production, including the hierarchical positions and motivations of those who chose what material to include, and what to discard. Whilst a great resource, the War Diary presents an incomplete and, in some cases, inconsistent narrative of events. Some of the material included is factually incorrect, whilst the context and origin of included documentation is at times ambiguous.

    In most presented histories, the material in the War Diary is supplemented by documents available in The National Archives (there’s not a great deal of relevant material there), and the SAS Regimental Archive.

    Our motivation behind creating and maintaining the online repository is to make material from personal family archives available to the world, in digital form. These documents, photographs, anecdotes and artefacts may otherwise be lost to history. It is our hope that this material may, at some point, better inform historical works, resulting in the presentation of a more rounded version of events – including the experiences of ‘rank and file’ – than has been possible to date.

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