A WWII veteran of the SAS has described how he and his elite colleagues fought their way through Europe, operating behind enemy lines, causing mayhem and frustrating the German defences in the closing months of the Second World War.
Alec Borrie, who at the time was the youngest member of the regiment, joined the 1 SAS in 1943 before parachuting behind the German lines during the Allied invasion of Europe.
He was just 19 when the D-Day invasion got under way, and solemnly recalls that between his Battalion and 2 SAS, 320 men were lost as they fought their way through France - almost half the total number of the men on their books.
Alec recalled: “The camaraderie in the SAS was like nothing else, anywhere. And it still is!"
Alec is one of the 126 WWII veterans who received a limited edition VE Day 75 commemorative gift from forces charity, the Taxi Charity For Military Veterans, in celebration of the 75th anniversary of VE day.
The token gifts, specially designed biscuit tins, were delivered in person to the veterans by black cab drivers as a thank you for their service and to bring a little extra cheer to them on the special day on Friday.
The Taxi Charity For Military Veterans was established in the post war years, with an original mission to support veterans of the Second World War by providing assistance through the black cab, either by organising and driving disabled veterans on day-trips away, or by helping the vets get around in their day-to-day lives.
Many veterans of WWII became black cab drivers in the years following the Second World War.
Those activities still exist in the charity’s purpose, but today, the trips are often further afield, including to battle sites in Normandy and Holland. They also organise lunches, bringing together veterans from not just WWII, but also from theatres including Malaya and the Falklands.
One of the veterans receiving a biscuit tin this week is Alec Borrie.
Two years before Alec found himself jumping behind enemy lines into Nazi occupied France, Adolf Hitler had issued the Commando Order, which instructed military officials to summarily execute any captured member of the SAS, on the spot.
This order alone saw 65 of Alec’s colleagues executed by German soldiers, in two separate incidents in July and October 1944.
Of this additional danger, Alec said: “I would never have not done it!”
Alec, who is now 95, said he joined the SAS almost by accident.
“I was in Orkney in the middle of winter and it was just like the arctic. It went up on the board that volunteers were wanted for something called the SAS. We didn’t know what it meant, and it wasn’t until we did our jumps that we found out what it was we had volunteered to do. I just wanted to get off Orkney Island, it was the middle of winter.
“One of the jobs we had was to pick up war criminals in Germany – I only did that once.”
When VE Day finally happened in May 1945, Alec was back in the UK recovering from an injury he had picked up while operating covertly in Germany.
“I ran over a mine and was knocked about a bit in Germany. There were three of us on the jeep when it happened, two survived, one didn’t.
“So, I was back in the UK, and they just came in and said, 'It’s VE Day, you’ve got the day off'.
“Like everybody else, we went down the pub. I got back at 1am - an hour late - and got a charge. The next morning, once they’d found out I was SAS, they released me to be returned to my unit, but the charge followed me there. It got put in the bin though.”
Alec said he would sum VE Day up with two words: “Getting drunk.”
“The SAS association is one of its own. It’s the best, they have reunions every year, somewhere in the country so everybody can meet up with their mates at least once.”
In 1948, the Taxi Charity For Military Veterans was established under the name The London Taxi Benevolent Association For War Disabled, at the Bedford Arms pub in Fulham.
Later that year, the charity’s first outings took place, taking 50 injured veterans to Brighton and Worthing with the use of 25 black cabs.
In 1982, Black Cab drivers took injured Falkland War veterans on trips to places including Leeds Castle.
To mark the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, 75 Black Cabs carrying 150 Normandy veterans were given a royal send-off ahead of a drive to northern France, as HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and Dame Vera Lynn inspected the cabbies and their passengers, on Horse Guards Parade in London.
The Taxi Charity has four patrons, including Joanna Lumley and Dame Vera Lynn.
Speaking to BFBS, the charity’s Vice President, Dick Goodwin, said that this year it was more important than ever to do something special for our VE Day survivors and veterans.
“Wherever people served in WWII, wherever they were on VE Day, we are sending them a tin. And it’s full of goodies and sweets that were available in 1945, one way or another bearing in mind there was rationing going on.”
The charity had to alter its original planned events due to coronavirus. Dick said that plans were afoot to take a group of veterans abroad.
“We were hoping to take around 40 veterans to Holland in about 30 taxis. We had the accommodation booked, we were taking the veterans to a town called Wageningen, which is where the liberation parade takes place.”
Those plans have had to be cancelled, but the organisation is keen to return to mainland Europe with the WWII vets as soon as possible following the easing of social distancing measures.
Dick, who in the 1970s and 80s was a Metropolitan Police Officer, has his own personal connection to WWII - his father was a member of the Royal Artillery and landed on Sword Beach on the morning of D-Day.
Speaking about his father, Dick said:
“My Dad was in 7 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. Their weapon was usually a 25-pound gun, which was the standard gun, however for D-Day, with the lessons learned from Dieppe, they changed over to American Priests, a self-propelled gun. He fought all the way through to Bremen, as part of the British 3rd Division.
“He had a few war time photographs that I used to look at, of course I was born at the end of the fifties, so I grew up on the black and white war films. I’d ask him, “Dad what did you do?” or, “Dad were you there?”
“Because there were so many around, they weren’t looked at as heroes. They were looked on as being off doing a job, and luckily they survived.
“Before the war, Dad worked for a well-known paper supplier in Aldgate, East London. When he went back five and half years later, after the war, the warehouse had survived, and I remember him saying to me that the kettle was even in the same place when he got back there.”
When asked what, if anything, could be learned from WWII veterans today, Dick felt that there were some differences between them and us, but considering the recent coronavirus outbreak, there were also similarities between the generation of yesteryear and the men and women of Britain today.
“Comradeship - they had such a can-do attitude. It’s so funny this lock-down has come now, 75 years later, because it’s a lot of what they went through. You go to the shops and there’s nothing there.
"We haven’t got the bombing obviously, but you’ve got the rationing in a way, and you’ve got losses. I’ve had friends I used to work with, people I know, who’ve passed away through the virus.”
Dick said that members of the public are always urged to support the Taxi Charity but because of the nature of the work - getting out to the veterans and transporting them around in the taxis - that support must be from a distance. People who wish to support their work are encouraged to make a donation.
After the war, Alec Borrie remained with 1 SAS until 1947. He says that although he could have stayed on and served longer, there were other important things in his life.
“I came out January 47, when my de-mob number came up. I was offered to go back for what I thought would be war in Malaya, but it turned out to be Kenya.
“But, I was getting married in two weeks’ time, and my dear old lady gave me a choice, she said, “Alec, you can have your army, or you can have me”. It was never a choice.
“I didn’t think of the SAS for years after, apart from reunions.
“The one thing we never did, and it’s still the same today, is talk about what we done.”
Alec, like Vice-President of Taxi Charity, Dick Goodwin, says that although it is sad that the trip to Holland has been cancelled for veterans like him, he will still be celebrating the 75th anniversary of VE Day, but instead at home with his son.
“I don’t particularly want to remember the war, but I will be.”
With a chuckle, Alec said: “I’m not sure about going all the way to Arnhem in the back of a taxi, anyway.”
To find out more about the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, or to support them, visit their website at taxicharity.org