Secret’s out – SAS photography collection in sale

Never-before-seen Second World War photos of Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers – a military unit swathed in secrecy – have been uncovered and will sell at auction. They offer a rare pictorial glimpse into the day-to-day life of men who served in the SAS, a highly classified special forces unit of the British Army formed in 1941.

Paddy Mayne, SAS commanding officer
Renowned SAS commanding officer Paddy Mayne

The 1940s images, described as ‘an exceptional find’, appear in a unique photo album set for auction as part of a military collection relating to L/Cpl Gerald Hutchinson 1st SAS Regiment (1922-1989).

The album of unpublished photos from WWII and the post-war era show SAS troopers on manoeuvres in the desert of North Africa and later in ski uniforms during training exercises. It also contains photographs of renowned SAS commanding officer Paddy Mayne, plus other soldiers, some named.

Multi-talented Mayne, DSO & Three Bars (1915-1955), from County Down, Ireland, was a founding member of the SAS. In addition, he was capped for Ireland and the British Lions at rugby union, was an amateur boxer and worked as a lawyer.

During WWII, he became one of the British Army’s most highly decorated soldiers. However, he was controversially denied a Victoria Cross. His acts of bravery included leading armoured Jeep squadrons through the front lines toward Oldenburg, Germany. He rescued wounded men and eliminated a German machine-gun position.

Members of the SAS with skis

A citation, approved by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Allied 21st Army Group, recommended Mayne for the Victoria Cross. His ‘brilliant military leadership and cool calculating courage’ and a ‘single act of bravery’ were praised. However, the award was downgraded and Mayne received a third bar to his DSO.

The military collection includes L/Cpl Hutchinson’s full set of medals and corresponding miniatures, rare uniform cloth badges, scrapbooks, poems and associated paperwork including a certificate signed by Lt-Col Mayne.

It states that Hutchinson Served in the 1st Special Air Service Regiment from 1942-1945 during campaigns in the Western Desert and Italy, and that he was awarded the 1939/45 Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp and the Italy Star.

Photography capturing members of the SAS

The collection will be offered in Hansons Auctioneers’ Medals and Militaria Auction on June 15 with a guide price of £4,000-£5,000.

The firm’s militaria consultant Matt Crowson said: “This could be the find of the year. It’s an exceptional collection offering a pictorial insight of day-to-day life for SAS regiment soldiers in the 1940s. It deserves to perform well at auction. The guide price has been set at £4,000-£5,000 but I’m confident it may eclipse that and hammer closer to £10,000 based on previous auction results. I understand from the seller, Gerald Hutchinson’s grandson, that his grandfather was a very humble man. He rarely spoke about his wartime experiences but occasionally pulled out the photo album if asked to share wartime stories.”

Hutchinson was born in Scotland in 1922 and later relocated to the north of England. In the post-war era he emigrated to Canada, becoming a miner for a number of years. He later worked for the Department of Health and Social Security until his retirement.

Matt said: “The family don’t really want to part with the collection but feel it is so important it deserves to be in a war museum or preserved as part of Britain’s WWII historical records.”

Sgt Bunfield of the SAS from the collection of photography

The Special Air Service (SAS) is a special forces unit of the British Army. It was founded as a regiment in 1941, during WW2, by David Stirling and in 1950, it was reconstituted as a corps. The unit specialises in a number of roles including counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, direct action and covert reconnaissance. Much of the information about the SAS is highly classified, and the unit is not commented on by either the British government or the Ministry of Defence due to the secrecy and sensitivity of its operations.

L/Cpl Gerald Hutchinson military collection will be offered in Hansons Auctioneers’ Medals and Militaria Auction on June 15.