Major Roy Farran, who died on Friday night aged 85, was one of the most highly decorated soldiers of the Second World War; he was awarded the DSO, three MCs, the Croix de Guerre and the American Legion of Merit.
But like some other gallant soldiers, Farran did not take easily to the peace he had never expected to see, and in the years that followed he pursued a wide variety of callings. For a time he worked with the security police in Palestine, where he was accused of murder. When the charges were dropped, he came home to Britain, where his brother was killed by a letter bomb.
Farran was head of a construction company in Rhodesia before coming home to stand unsuccessfully in the 1950 general election. He farmed in Herefordshire before emigrating to Canada. He also wrote a classic account of the desert war and the early years of the Special Air Service.
The son of an Irish warrant officer in the RAF, Roy Alexander Farran was born on January 2 1921 in India, and attended Bishop Cotton School at Simla. After Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales's) Dragoon Guards (3DGs) and sent to the 51st Training Regiment. Posted on attachment to the 3rd King's Own Hussars in Egypt, he was soon in action at the battle of Sidi Barrani.
On May 20 1941, when the Germans invaded Crete, "C" Squadron of the 3rd King's Own Hussars was in its leaguer four miles west of Canea, and 2nd Lieutenant Farran was sent to block the road from Galatos with his troop of tanks.
When he saw a party of Germans escorting a group of about 40 hospital patients who had been taken prisoner, he killed the guards. The next day he supported 10th Infantry Brigade in a successful attack on Cemetery Hill.
After the Germans broke through the line at Galatos, Farran counter-attacked to retake the village, but was wounded in both legs and an arm, and taken prisoner. He was awarded his first MC.
After being flown to a PoW hospital in Athens he made several attempts to escape, eventually managing to crawl under the perimeter wire. Greek peasants passed him from house to house at great personal risk and enabled him to evade his pursuers.
The Greeks lent him money to hire a caique, in which he set course for Egypt with a mixed group of British, Australians and others. The vessel encountered severe storms, and was blown off its course for 48 hours; and when it ran out of fuel Farran rigged up a sail made out of blankets. One of the men went off his head after the supply of water was exhausted and Farran, the senior officer on board, had to knock him out before he endangered the whole party.
The escapers were too weak to paddle, but their lives were saved by a Sergeant Wright, who made a primitive distiller which provided drinking water from the sea. After nine days Farran and his comrades, almost dead from thirst, were rescued by a destroyer 40 miles north of Alexandria; he was awarded a Bar to his MC.
In January 1942 Farran was appointed ADC to General Jock Campbell, VC, commander of the 7th Armoured Division in North Africa. Farran was driving the general when the car skidded and overturned; Campbell was killed.
Six months later Farran was wounded and evacuated to England, where he was posted to three different units before he was able to join a draft for North Africa in February 1943.
After an interview with Lt-Col Bill Stirling and a rigorous parachuting course, in May Farran joined 2nd SAS Regiment as second-in-command of a newly-raised squadron. Despite suffering from malaria, he insisted on leading a raid to capture a lighthouse which was suspected of housing machine-gun units at Cape Passero, on the south-east coast of Sicily.
In September Farran commanded "B" Squadron on reconnaissance patrols and sabotage operations in southern Italy. On the night of October 27 he led a detachment of 2 SAS which was dropped north of the River Tronto behind the German lines. Over the next five days his small force blew up the railway line, cut telephone communications and destroyed enemy transport. He was awarded a second Bar to his MC.
Farran returned to England early in 1944 and, on August 19, was landed by Dakota on an airstrip at Rennes, Brittany, to command a Jeep squadron based in the Forest of Châtillon, north of Dijon. Over the course of the next four weeks his small force destroyed 23 staff cars, six motorcycles, 36 trucks and troop carriers, a goods train and a supply dump holding 100,000 gallons of petrol.
At Beaulieu, the Germans were panicked into blowing up their wireless station and evacuating the garrison. While about 500 enemy were killed or wounded, seven members of the squadron were killed, two were wounded, one was missing and two taken prisoner. Farran was awarded a DSO in the name of Patrick McGinty, a pseudonym he had used since escaping from the Germans in 1941; he claimed that the name came from a song about an Irish goat which swallowed a stick of dynamite.
Following a reconnaissance trip to Greece, Farran led 3 Squadron, 2 SAS, in Operation Tombola to harass German troops withdrawing from Italy. Although forbidden to take personal command, he was not prepared to direct the operation from a wireless set in Florence; and, having persuaded the US aircrew to say that he had accidentally fallen out of the aircraft while they were dispatching the advance party, he was dropped on Mount Cusna, east of La Spézia.
As soon as reinforcements arrived from the SAS, Farran raised a force composed of British commandos, Italian partisans and escaped Russian prisoners which became known as the Battaglione Alleato. At the end of March he led a night attack on the German 51st Corps HQ at Albinea, near Réggio Nell'Emilia, again in contravention of orders.
Although the enemy put up a spirited defence, a German general and his chief of staff were among the casualties.
Subsequently Farran led a series of raids against Highway 12, south of Modena. After the victory parade at the end of the campaign, he expected to be court-martialled; but his operations had been of great assistance to US IV Corps, and those pressing for his court martial had to give up when the Americans said that they were awarding him the Legion of Merit.
When the war ended, Farran went to Norway with 2 SAS to help with rounding up the Germans there.
In 1946 he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Becoming second-in-command of the 3rd Hussars, he accompanied them to Palestine. One day he was lunching in the officers' mess at Sarafand when terrorists attacked a nearby ammunition dump. Farran and his comrades pursued them, wounding two.
After a spell as an instructor at Sandhurst he returned to Palestine to put his knowledge of clandestine intelligence-gathering at the disposal of the Palestine Police. He formed "Q" Patrols, made up of hand-picked undercover police officers whose job it was to infiltrate the terrorists' network.
There were claims that a hat bearing Farran's name had been found at the spot where a 16-year-old Jewish youth, Alexander Rubowitz, had been abducted; and there were also reports that the youth had been killed. After allegations had appeared in the Palestine Post, Farran was put under house arrest.
Farran claimed to have a water-tight alibi, but believed that he would be sacrificed by the British authorities in order to demonstrate impartiality in dealing with the Jews and Arabs. When he heard that he was to be charged with murder, he stole a car and, accompanied by two of his NCOs, crossed the border into Syria and told his story to the head of the British Legation in Damascus.
Farran flew back to Palestine with the Assistant Inspector-General of the Palestine Police and was incarcerated in Allenby Barracks, Jerusalem. He escaped again, but surrendered after members of the Stern gang started to take reprisals against his friends.
At his trial it was maintained that no body had been discovered and that Farran had not been identified in a line-up by those who claimed to have seen the boy taken away in a car. The case was dismissed because of lack of evidence. But when he was in Scotland shortly before the first anniversary of the boy's disappearance, Farran's youngest brother, Rex, was killed by a letter bomb sent to the family home near Wolverhampton; Farran suspected the Stern gang.
After a brief spell as a quarrymaster in Scotland, he moved to Kenya and then Rhodesia to head a construction company. He then flew home again to stand as a Conservative for Dudley and Stourbridge in the 1950 general election, but lost by some 13,000 votes to the future Labour paymaster-general George Wigg.
Farran subsequently emigrated to Alberta, where he made his home for the rest of his life, though he was to offer his services to the War Office during the Suez crisis. He took up dairy farming at Calgary, worked as a reporter and columnist for the Calgary Herald and, in 1954, founded the North Hill News, which became the country's leading weekly newspaper.
In 1961 Farran was elected a city alderman and, 10 years later, a Progressive Conservative member of the provincial legislature. As minister of telephones and utilities he was responsible for providing gas supplies to every farmer. Then, as solicitor-general, he introduced breathalyser tests and outdoor camps for young offenders.
On stepping down from politics in 1979, Farran became chairman of the Alberta Racing Commission and head of the North American Jockeys' Association. He was a columnist for the Edmonton Journal in the 1980s and a visiting professor at Alberta University from 1985 to 1989. He established the Farran Foundation in the French Vosges as a centre for exchanges between French and Canadian students and, in 1994, returned to Bains-les- Bains in the Vosges to accept the Légion d'honneur from the French government.
In 1996 Farran went to Zambia and Zaire to trace the route of a cattle drive made by his brother Kit in the 1950s. He was held up by rebels, and had a close brush with a lion. Three years later he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had his larynx removed; but he mastered talking through a hole in his throat so well that he was able to return to public speaking.
Aged 80, while herding cattle at his ranch, Farran was thrown from his horse, breaking his back for the sixth time; the first two injuries were the result of wartime accidents, while the others were caused by riding falls.
Farran had a strong Catholic faith, and used to say the Hail Mary before going into action. In later life he said that he did not dislike Jews and bore no ill will towards the British authorities over his arrest and court-martial, believing that they had been placed in an impossible position.
His books included Winged Dagger (1948) and Operation Tombola (1960) about his wartime exploits, as well as a history of the Calgary Highlanders and some half dozen novels.
Roy Farran married, in 1950, Ruth Harvie Ardern. She predeceased him, and he is survived by their two sons and two daughters.
Courtesy of the Daily TelegraphRead More