Jack Paley (front left) training in Scotland with Norwegian paratroopers, 1944
Jack Paley (left) and Cyril Radford aboard the troopship SS Franconia, bound for Port Said and Mobassa, respectively. February, 1944.
Behind enemy lines, Castino, near Alba, Northern Italy. Jack Paley on the far left. April 1945.
Cyril Radford and Jack Paley (right) at the grave of one of their SAS officers, killed in action at Époisses, France in September 1944. Photo taken September 1998.
Jack Paley upon returning home in 1946
"When the train, the weight went over the charge, it would blow a section of the line up, and the train would of course come over. But by then, we would take off."
We joined the 2nd SAS [Special Air Service Regiment] which was formed after the 1st [SAS Regiment]. The 1st was in the desert. They came back to England, the 1st SAS, so they decided to form the 2nd. We came from the [1st] Airborne Division to the 2nd SAS. I wouldn’t say that we were fully trained like the 1st but we did our bit in France.
Training was pretty tough. You didn’t have much food. Walking up in Scotland, I froze one night. I got pneumonia, well it wasn’t pneumonia, it was appendicitis. And I had to be put up in a church until the ambulance came for me. I was sick that time. But the training was I think as tough as going into France. In France, we had very little food, only what we could get out of the Maquis [rural French resistance], the French people. But they were good to us. We used to go into farms and we were singing the First World War songs, and the Germans wasn’t too far away but they never caught us.
I went with some guys to a place called Metz [France]. It was Operation RUPERT. We were resupplied to guys that was already there. With it being rather, there was too many Germans around, we couldn’t contact our main party, so we had to operate on our own. The officer, once we got lost for a week, he went to try and find the main party. In the meantime, we would go with the Maquis, the French resistance, and we had the pannier bags that was dropped with us, we had explosives that we dropped, and we put charges on the railway lines.
Going to the railway lines, they plan it out when the train was advancing, and they go that night and we had Maquis up the line and I actually was with a Bren Gun [light machine gun] up on the south side. And my friends laid the [explosives] charge. It was a little jack; you could put it under the railway line about three feet away from the main charge. When the train, the weight went over the charge, it would blow a section of the line up, and the train would of course, come over. But by then, we would take off.
We went to an operation called CANUCK [January 1945]. It was in the Po Valley, a place called Alba in Cuneo [Province, Italy]. Before we went in, the main party, I should say the advanced party, Captain [Buck] Macdonald [the operation’s Canadian leader] and the radio operator and a couple of guys would go in, two or three weeks before, and they would organize the partisans in the area that were friendly. And they were organizing for us, the main party, to come in, to back up. And there was SOE [Special Operations Executive] guys down there, too.
We dropped in the valley, about 20 miles south of Alba. It was a place called Castino and a place called San Donato. It was little villages up in the hills, and we got organized up there with the partisans and we would go down by trucks, any vehicle possible, into the suburbs of Alba. We would lay on the top of the hill giving covering fire for these partisans to attack the town. But several times, the fascist troops [Germans and Italians], they had heavy mortars, they were lobbing them [mortar shells] back, and we didn’t take it for about, I think it was three weeks. We went down three times and the last time, we took the town. And we followed up after with the machine guns into the town and just did mopping up of snipers.
And we stayed there until, a little while, we went to a place called Cuneo [Piedmont, Italy] and they were mopping up the Germans there. There was a lot of sniper fire and that’s where we ended our time in Italy.
The BBC sent us news [over the radio] and we had a code, in fact, I’ve still got the silk map, and the code that we could decipher, that would tell you who was in the vicinity, what area, and when the aircraft were coming for resupply, what night they would be coming, and we would have to put the lights out on the DZ [Drop Zone], which is just a gasoline can, and fuel lights, and they would drop the resupply.
The [SAS] Regiment disbanded 1945 October, so we could go to whatever regiment we wished to go. I went back to my parent regiment, The Parachute Regiment, and I served my last six months, nine months I think it was, in Palestine with the 7th Para Battalion.
It [the SAS] was a good unit, many happy memories and I’ve been back many times to reunions. As I say, we go put wreaths on the graves and we have reunions in London once a year.