Major Miles MacDermot M.C.
Neill Storey (UBHS and RhArmy) Writes:-
Have been meaning to send you the attached (copy of newspaper cutting) for a while - unfortunately cannot lay my hands on my copy which would have noted the date it appeared in the Telegraph - apparently April 96.
Have to say we were gob smacked having grown up with his younger children Grania and Terry we had no idea of his wartime exploits and I dont believe anyone else in Umtali did either.
In true SAS fashion he kept very quiet. You and brother Peter must be of elder brother Tim's vintage ( ish ) and sadly I cannot recall the name of the other older brother.
Sadly their mother Mary died last week here in England.
MAJOR MILES MacDERMOT, who has died aged 75, was awarded an MC in North Africa in 1941, and the next year joined the newly created SAS, when it was destroying Axis aircraft and other targets on airfields deep in enemy-held territory.
In 1943 he was taken prisoner in company with David Stirling, the founder of the SAS; the two men escaped, but both were recaptured. MacDermot made three more escape attempts, the last of which succeeded.
After leaving the Army in 1949, he served for 25 years in the Internal Affairs Department of Southern Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe.
Miles Hugh Charles MacDermot, the son of a planter, was born on June 4 1920 in Taiping, Malaya. He was educated at Downside.
In 1939 he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery, and in 1941 he saw action in Syria, where the pro-Vichy government hadallowed the Germans to establish air-bases at Damascus, Palmyra and Rayak.
A mixed force or British and Free French was dispatched lo put Syria under Free French control. This was achieved after an arduous five-week campaign, which witnessed the last horsed cavalry charge by a unit of the British Army.
MacDermot then moved on to North Africa where he was awarded an MC the following November. The citation recorded that "OnNovember 25, near Sidi Omar, this officer's troop of Light Anti-Aircraft Guns was sited in protection of a Field Battery when it was attacked by 28 tanks.
"A very fierce engagement ensued lasting three quarters of an hour during which enemy and machine gun fire was intense. Lt MacDermot set a splendid example to his men, moving to each of the guns and endeavouring to get the damaged ones in action again. The efforts of his troop contributed in no small way to the defeat of the attacks."
The SAS had by then been created by David Stirling, with the object of destroyingon the ground German aircraft which were too fast and numerous for the Desert Air Force to shoot down.
In order to reach their targets, the SAS soon abandoned the idea of parachuting into areas behind the enemy lines. Instead they relied on the expertise of the Long Range Desert Group, a reconnaissance unit, to assist them to reach their targets, and sometimes to help to extricate them when SAS vehicles had been badly damaged in raids.
Col RB Mayne, who had been with the SAS from the beginning (and won four DSOs) wrote to MacDermot's father, "Miles joined my Squadron in September last and he wasn't very long with us before I made him a Captain; he was good. The first job he did with us was to blow out a railway line between Matuib and Tobruk, and not content with that he captured a post with 16 Italians and four machine guns, which was guarding a siding, blew the siding to pieces and then chased and caught a German truck and burnt it. He had five men with him. He was continually operating from then until he was caught. Last time he was with our CO, David Stirling, when they were motoring through to contact 1st Army, they were caught somewhere near Gabes."
By late 1943 the Germans, who had by then lost 350 aircraft and much else destroyed by the SAS, had imported a special regiment to counter them. By this time the operational area was much smaller, but the SAS managed to mine the Sfax- Gabe's railway line and destroy a number of trucks.
MacDermot and Stirling moved by night and slept by day; they were discovered accidentally by 500 Germans who were on a cordon and search exercise at the time. Both men managed to escape the next night, but were betrayed by Arabs who had been offered a large reward by the Germans.
Stirling also made four attempts to escape, but at 6 ft 5in he was too conspicuous to avoid capture for long, and was eventually interned in Colditz. After MacDermot's third escape he, too, was threatened with Colditz, but he escaped yet again during a forced march of Allied prisoners to Czechoslovakia.
To reach safety he took shelter in a forest during a battle until American infantry rolled over his position. He was repatriated and was en route to the Far East when the war ended with the Japanese surrender.
Back in England, he served with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment and was briefly adjutant with the Oxford University Officers' Training Corps.
In 1947 MacDermot was posted to Palestine, in Military Intelligence, and had a narrow escape when the Officers Mess of the Intelligence Unit was blown up by a Zionist saboteur. MacDermot was in a field hospital at the time, having broken his legplaying hockey the previous day.
In 1949 he left the Army and moved to Tanganyika to join an old friend in a fish-farming venture. This ended in disaster, the local crocodiles thrived on the abundance of fish; nets and dams were destroyed by hippo.
MacDermot then tried growing sugar in Natal, and in 1959 joined the Internal Affairs Department of the Government of Southern Rhodesia, at Umtali.
During the next 25 years in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe he made long trips into the Tribal Trust Lands, promoting agricultural conservation and encouraging peasant farmers to adopt modern husbandry methods. Later, he served on the Agricultural Advisory
Committee in Zimbabwe.
Miles MacDermot married, in 1951, Mary Gordon- Creed, who survives him; they had three sons and a daughter.
Jeepers - what a man! Special thanks to Neill for sharing this information with ORAFs.
Thanks also to the "Telegraph" for the use of their material.
Comments are welcome - does anyone remember the family in Umtali? Send comments to Eddy Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org
If anyone would like a scanned image of the newspaper cutting then please simply let Eddy know at email@example.com
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