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

© 2021 Ankara, Türkiye. All Right Reserved.

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

Pearl Cornioley (nee Witherington) SOE French Section

On the night of 22-23 September 1943 Witherington arrived by parachute to a reception committee on farmland near Tendu, France and became the courier of STATIONARY circuit and supported another SOE courier called Jacqueline Nearne. In November she joined a new circuit called FREELANCE and changed her identity to Marie Jeanne Verges (codename Pauline) with the cover occupation of a cosmetic consultant which gave her a pretext for travelling great distances whilst carrying messages and liaising with other agents and members of the resistance. This involved countless train journeys during which she was frequently stopped and questioned by the SD and civil police and after being unable to find a suitable safehouse she resorted to sleeping in unheated train carriages during the winter which added to the exhaustion she was already suffering. For an agent this was a dangerous medical condition because mistakes were easily made, and their judgment became increasingly clouded.

After meeting agents and helping to coordinate the preparations for D-day her circuit organiser Maurice Southgate was suffering from exhaustion when he failed to use basic security checks which he had used many hundreds of times before and walked into a mousetrap (a blown safehouse were German forces were waiting). After Southgate was arrested by the SD his large STATIONERY circuit was transformed into two circuits – an agent named Maingard became the organiser of what was called SHIPWRIGHT, Witherington organised a circuit called WRESTLER and under their leadership engaged in coordinated sabotage to support allied forces.  On the morning of 11 June 1944 her headquarters near the village of Dun-le-Poëllier was attacked by German forces which arrived in 56 lorries; 32 Maquis were killed, their weapons were destroyed, and Witherington hid in a corn field whilst under heavy fire before escaping. Witherington then cycled to Saint-Viâtre to meet another SOE agent to arrange a resupply and on 24 June three heavily laden aircraft dropped weapons and ammunition to her circuit and WRESTLER continued its attack on German forces and Witherington is noted for being the leader of 3,500 men of the Maquis. Maurice Southgate, DSO survived Buchenwald concentration camp and Pearl Witherington Cornioley died in France on 24 February 2008 at the age of 93.

Alan Malcher

Denis Barrett SOE Wireless Operator

Denis Barrett (fieldname Honore) arrived in north-eastern France by parachute in April 1943 and worked as the wireless operator for a clandestine circuit in the Troyes area. He was in regular contact with London until his cover was blown several months later and escaped to England after being extracted by Lysander aircraft from No.161 Special Duty Squadron RAF.

Barrett volunteered to undertake a second mission to France and arrived by parachute in early March 1944 and worked as the wireless operator for a new circuit called MINISTER located in Seine-et Marne, northern France. Barrett had two wireless sets; one was in Tores the other was hidden in the countryside several miles from the town. The Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) were aware of a British agent in contact with London and Barrett transmitted from several locations to avoid his safehouses being located by direction finders.

After an agent was captured whilst transmitting to London Barret stopped using his wireless located in Tores and for several months travelled by bicycle to the countryside to use his other wireless. During his journeys he avoided German patrols and, on several occasions, cycled past stationary wireless detection vans which were listening for signals.

Despite constantly changing his location to avoid detection London became aware there was a problem after his signal abruptly stopped in mid-sentence and Barrett was later reported missing presumed dead.  

After the war Barret’s name was found scratched on the wall of a cell at the SD headquarters in Avenue Foch, Paris and it is known he was later moved to Buchenwald concentration camp. It was later reported he was among the first of thirty-one agents who were hanged at Buchenwald during the first week of September 1944, but it is now believed he was among the eleven agents shot at Buchenwald on 5 October that year.

Alan Malcher

Roland Alexandre SOE

Roland Alexandre was born in France but educated in England and worked as an aircraft fitter at General Aircraft Ltd at Feltham Middlesex and joined SOE on 23 December 1943 and used the cover name Roland Esnault. He was sent to France to build clandestine circuits in the Nantes and Anger area after the original circuits had been destroyed by the Gestapo and his new network of circuits were to concentrate on sabotaging railways.

On the night of 8 February 1944, he was dropped by parachute with wireless operator, an American called Robert Byerly, and two other agents named Francis Deniset and Jacques Ledoux, onto remote farmland near Poitiers to a reception committee made-up of members from the PHONE circuit but London was unaware PHONE had been infiltrated by the SD and the agents were dropped to German troops.

Typical of the confusion surrounding the fate of missing agents there are several conflicting reports regarding his fate. Alexandre was last seen alive on 11 September 1944 and witnesses said he had been greatly illtreated which often meant he was tortured for information, and it is believed he was executed at Gross-Rosen concentration camp. The fate of the other agents is also surrounded by conflicting information and requires further research.  

Alan Malcher

SOE X Section (Germany)

Otto Pichl and Ernst Hoffman were Sudeten Germans, but their nationalities are also listed as Czechoslovakian? After passing selection and training they were assigned to X Section, the country section responsible for Germany and arrived in eastern Germany by parachute on the night of 8- 9 May 1944.

The only clue to their missions is Hoffman’s cover story of being a Luftwaffe ground crew and after arriving in Germany they were not heard of again.
After the war it was discovered that Ernst Hoffman was captured by the Gestapo and shot and before being captured Otto Pichl swallowed his ‘L’ pill (Cyanide capsule), and a note was found by his body saying “I have Jacksch’s mission {?}. Long live freedom” and was buried by the Germans without being identified. Both men are listed on the Brookwood Memorial in England.