AS ONE of the original members of L Detachment SAS Brigade, founded in North Africa by David Stirling in July 1941, Reg Seekings was involved in their first operation, a parachute drop in the Gazala area. High winds caused havoc and, of the 64 who dropped, only 21 returned that night. Seekings, however, seemed to have a charmed life: in Italy in 1943, a truck carrying 24 of his platoon was hit by a mortar round just as he was adjusting the tailgate; he was one of only two survivors.
The following year in Normandy he was hit in the back of the neck by a bullet which passed close to his spine. A medic - who later turned out to be a dentist - attempted to remove it, but Seekings carried the bullet in him throughout the remainder of the war.
His positive and powerful influence resonated through the wartime SAS and for his many acts of bravery in North Africa he was awarded a DCM, and in Italy an MM.
Reginald Seekings was born in Stuntney, near Ely, in 1920. He attended the local school from five to 14 where the headmistress, Miss Seymour, was a strict disciplinarian. Along with his younger brother Bob he would walk the mile and a half to school carrying his packed lunch and a bag of cocoa and sugar for his midday drink.
When he left school he joined his father, who worked on a local farm to which the family cottage was tied. A rebellious youth, he demanded more money from the farmer and said he would leave if he didn't get it. The farmer warned his father that he would lose his cottage if the son left.
Although almost blind in one eye, Seekings was a fine boxer, and at the age of 18 joined the Cambridgeshire Regiment (TA) and won a number of contests in East Anglia. He wanted to be a professional boxer; his brother recalled, "The more he fought, the more he wanted to fight." His hero was Eric Boon, the lightweight champion.
In 1940, along with his brother, he volunteered for 7 Commando - part of Layforce, commanded by Lt-Col Bob Laycock - and saw action with them before they were disbanded. Three days after Stirling explained his plan to form L Detachment SAS and had it approved by his Commander-in-Chief, Claude Auchinleck, he arrived at Geneifa to recruit men from Layforce for his new brigade.
Seekings was keen to join. To fool the enemy, it was designated a brigade which in wartime would normally be 5,000 men, but in fact it consisted of 64 men. A training camp was set up at Kabrit from where they received minimal help from the HQ Quartermaster. Their first "raid" was carried out on a New Zealand encampment, and involved removing tents and a piano.
After their first disastrous airborne raid in November 1941, Stirling decided that small groups of men would be transported by the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) in order to reach deep into enemy lines. Seekings's first successful raid was led by the charismatic Paddy Mayne on Tamet, where with two others, they destroyed 24 German aircraft and the pilots' mess.
As they were leaving Mayne spotted a Messerschmitt which had been overlooked. Having used all their bombs, Mayne reached into the cockpit and tore out the instrument panel with his bare hands. After they were picked up by the LRDG Seekings was amused to see the luminous glow from the instruments and that the clock was still ticking.
Seekings's next successful raid was led by Stirling and resulted in the destruction of nearly a score of petrol lorries and four food dumps. The next raid on Benina airfield was a classic SAS small-scale raiding operation carried out by three men, Stirling, Corporal Seekings and Corporal Cooper. After a difficult descent through a wadi they climbed through the wire and sat in the middle of the airfield some way from the buildings they were going to attack and waited until the RAF's diversionary raid finished.
While they waited, Stirling talked to them about the art of deerstalking in the Highlands. They then all entered the hangar and placed delayed bombs on the five aircraft and others under repair there; Stirling next kicked open the guardroom door and rolled in a hand grenade. As they made their escape the whole airfield was ablaze and exploding, particularly one Messerschmitt, which was firing rounds everywhere.
Afterwards, Stirling recommended Seekings for a DCM. His citation records:
This NCO has taken part in 10 raids. He has himself destroyed over 15 aircraft and by virtue of his accuracy with a tommy-gun at night, and through a complete disregard for his personal safety, has killed at least 10 of the enemy.
Throughout the rest of their time in North Africa, the SAS continued to make a number of daring and incisive raids on Rommel's supplies and destroyed over 320 of his aircraft. The SAS, in a few short fierce months, had established itself. Stirling alas, had been captured, but his spirit and strategy endured.
The SAS were next in action in Sicily. In an attack on a four-gun coastal battery at Cape Murro di Porco, machine-gun fire from an enemy pillbox and a nearby mortar post were causing casualties. Seekings calmly rushed the pillbox, hurling grenades and killed the occupants with his revolver. He then gathered his section and with coolness and determination led the advance on, and wiped out, the mortar post.
Seekings was also involved in the surprise landings at Termoli, on the east coast of Italy. It was here that he survived the mortar attack on the truck carrying 24 men. His brother, on learning that the lorry had been hit, made his way back, to find, to his relief, that his brother had survived with only the loss of a fingernail.
In an attack shortly afterwards Mayne told Seekings to see what was happening to a section under fire. To the amazement of the Germans, they saw a British sergeant-major walking across the field, well within their sights, yet no one opened fire. Seekings's firm belief in himself was never more in evidence. As in all aspects of his life, if he set himself a task he invariably carried it out.
Landing by parachute on D-Day, Seekings and A Squadron made their base in the Morvan area near Dijon. Here they were to carry out raids and work with the Maquis. In a successful ambush on an enemy convoy on the road leading out of Montsauche a number of Germans and Russians were killed. As a reprisal the village was burned to the ground and 13 of the inhabitants were shot by the Germans. The SAS continued to harass the enemy and were particularly adept at blowing up railways and goods yards.
Towards the end of the war, as the Allied forces pushed into Germany, it was in the small town of Celle that Seekings and his men were confronted with a terrible sight. The Germans, in attempting to move concentration- camp inmates, had panicked during an air-raid and slaughtered hundreds of innocent people, including women and children in the railway station.
Whilst still coming to terms with this atrocity, his unit was ordered to Bergen Belsen. As his close friend Johnny Cooper was to recall years later: "We stood aghast. We simply could not comprehend how it was possible for human beings to treat their fellow men in such a brutal and heinous way. The effect on Reg was one of utter rage."
The SAS was disbanded in September 1945 and, on demobilisation, Seekings and his new wife Monica took over the Rifleman Arms public house in Ely for the next nine years. They then went to Southern Rhodesia, where he set up a farm and became an inspector in the police Anti-Terrorist Unit. With the changing political landscape of the early 1980s, he returned to East Anglia, this time to Suffolk, in 1982.
Albert Reginald Seekings, soldier and farmer: born Stuntney, Cambridgeshire 19 March 1920; DCM 1942; MM 1943; married 1945 Monica Smith (died 1997); died Stanton, Suffolk 16 March 1999.
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