British Homefront during WW2: ATA Pilot Margaret ‘Mardi’ Gething.

Margaret ‘Mardi’ Gething (IWM)

Margaret ‘Mardi’ Gething was an Australian pilot with the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) who ferried military aircraft from British factories to operational RAF airfields throughout the United Kingdom. From 1941 to 1944 she ferried Spitfires, Hurricanes, Tempest, Typhoons, Mustangs, Wellington and Blenheim bombers. She flew 42 different types of aircraft, delivered over 600 aircraft to RAF operational airfields and often flew three different types of aircraft in a day. Margaret ‘Mardi’ Gething died in Australia in July 2005. 

Alan Malcher.

Sekonaia Takavesi: A legion in the SAS.

Original text and photograph published with permission from Art in Motion.

“Tak” now has the portrait that I painted for him, presented to him by “Mal”Kenneth Peers, my old work mate, and old SAS colleague of Tak.

I’ve added a small bit of info about Tak, for those wondering, which will explain what a legend he truly is.

Sekonaia Takavesi – Soldiers do not come any tougher or more fearless and loyal than Sekonaia Takavesi. Known as “Sek”, he became – in the words of his Army superiors – “a legend in his own time within the SAS”.

Takavesi was born in Fiji in 1943. Brought up on the Pacific island, he enlisted in the British Army on November 13, 1961, joining the King’s Own Border Regiment. Two years later, he successfully sought selection to the SAS.

Takavesi had undertaken dangerous undercover surveillance in Aden during the mid-1960s. At one time, he and fellow Fijian, Trooper Talaiasi Labalaba, had confronted and shot dead two terrorist gunmen. However, it was in Oman in July 1972 that the same two men were given the opportunity to display their immense courage and determination.

On the morning of July 19, 1972, the Adoo (guerrillas) launched a carefully planned attack with the aim of using 250 of their most élite fighters to capture the small town of Mirbat on the Arabian Sea, where Takavesi suffered wounds so serious that most people would have died from them. Yet he not only survived but went on to serve with distinction in the SAS for 13 more years.

Takavesi survived the battle and had some other adventures as time went on, though nothing quite like single-handedly firing a WWII anti-tank cannon at a horde of Communists from point-blank range while dudes flung hand grenades in his face. He participated in the Iranian Embassy raid in 1980, when he and 20 other SAS men stormed a terrorist-controlled structure on national television, killed 6 terrorists, and saved 18 of the 19 hostages held inside. He was also working as an advisor during the 2003 Iraq War, when the 58 year-old Fijian found himself in a blazing gunfight on a tarmac near Baghdad –outnumbered by a dozen guys who were shooting his jeep up with AK-47s, Tak put his hands up and pretended to surrender, and the second the enemy lowered their guards he pulled the MP5 off his lap, smoked them, and then leaped out the driver’s side door, tackled another guy, and clubbed him to death with the stock of his weapon. The bad guys managed to shoot Tak in the thigh, chest, and head during that particular encounter, but, as you can probably imagine, he still simply managed to dust himself off, get in the car, and drive himself to the hospital.

Original text from Art in Motion.

In the News: My interview with Ankara Centre for Crisis and Policy Studies published 13 October 2022

ANKASAMAnkara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies

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Orchard Court and SOE’s French Section during WW2

Orchard Court near Portman Square London W1, was commandeered for war service in 1940 and its use was a closely guarded secret and only became known during the 1960s.

To hide the location of the headquarters of SOE’s French Section even from their agents, outgoing and incoming agents were briefed and debriefed at flat 3 Orchard Court. The section used a large car with blinds over the rear windows to hide agents leaving Orchard Court through the archway as they made their way to an airfield to infiltrate France by parachute or flown to Gibraltar where they were transported to southern France by felucca flying a neutral flag.

Berlin was aware of the interior of the building even down to the black and white tiled bathtub in the briefing flat but wrongly believed Orchard Court was the headquarters of a secret British military organisation. The information is thought to have been obtained from an agent under torture.

Alan Malcher

SOE Finishing School Beaulieu Palace

Beaulieu Palace in the New Forest is noted as a motor museum but in 1940 was commandeered for war service and became the ‘finishing school’ for agents being selected for service with the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Even students who passed the induction course followed by extensive training in Irregular warfare in the harsh terrain of the Scottish Highlands were rejected if they failed Beaulieu which taught tradecraft and security. Wireless operator Cyril Watney described the course as being equivalent to a modern-day university degree syllabus because it was so intense.  

Tony Brooks who served with SOE remembered two students who did not take the training seriously and said, “I regret to say neither of those chaps survived… They were both caught, and both died. Beulieu, I think was the most important part of the training and I took it very seriously. That’s why I’m here.”

There were eleven schools deep inside the New Forrest, students were accommodated at three remote buildings so members of various European country sections never saw each other and approximately 3,000 students received their security and tradecraft training on the estate.

Alan Malcher

Lysander 161 Special Duty Squadron RAF

Part of the Shuttleworth Collection. The Lysander with distinctive extra fuel tank bolted between its undercarriages to allow the aircraft to fly deep into occupied France and return to RAF Tangmere during ‘pickup’ operations (delivering and extracting SOE, MI9, SIS, RF agents). Also distinguishable by the matt black fuselage and underside of wings to allow the aircraft to blend in with the moonlit sky and tops of wings camouflage to blend in with the ground when night fighters approached from above.

Alan Malcher

Albert Guerisse- WW2 Escape Line

Image IWM

Albert Guerisse, known as Pat O’Leary, was a founding member of the Pat O’Leary escape line (also called the PAT Line) operating in Belgium and France during WW2. Over 600 allied aircrews and soldiers were rescued by the PAT line and taken to neutral Spain. Photograph taken in Marseille in 1941. Albert Guerrisse’s British military honours included the GC, KBE and DSO.

Alan Malcher