Features

Stirling’s Forgotten Hero

david stirling

Credit: Pete Lowrie

by Fraser Lundie

High above campus lies a towering monument to a man considered to be a Scottish hero, a Victorian era tower with its awe-inspiring height and views that stretch for miles across Stirling and the surrounding area. It is nothing short of iconic and undoubtedly seen as a defining part of the Stirlingshire landscape.

Not so far from campus – down the road to Doune – lies a smaller and more understated monument to a man whose life can only be described as nothing short of legendary, but yet is often overlooked.

That man was David Stirling. Stirling was an aristocrat, the son of Brigadier Archibald Stirling and Margaret Fraser, a descendant of Charles II.

Having been educated at Cambridge University, Stirling had dreamed of being the first man to climb Mount Everest until war broke out in September 1939.

Not a natural soldier, Stirling had a complete disregard for authority and discipline and – due to his towering height and extreme laziness – was nicknamed the “giant sloth”.

What made Stirling different, though, was a revolutionary idea.

Not terribly impressed with how the war was going in the spring of 1941, Stirling believed that what was required was nothing short of `skullduggery’ – small groups of hardened men, dropped deep behind enemy lines to wreak havoc against the enemy’s air force.

Stirling’s plan to get these men to the ground was by parachute. Without any training or experience he got in a plane, strapped on a parachute and jumped.

Suffice it to say, this didn’t end well.

With two broken legs, Stirling was hospitalised in Cairo. It was there that he drew up plans for his band of merry men.

Knowing that his idea was unorthodox and likely to be binned through the official military channels, Stirling had to act radically.

Hobbling up to the tall gates of British Army HQ on crutches, he was denied entry due to having no security pass.

Undeterred, when the guards turned away, Stirling climbed over the fence – using his crutches as a ladder – and made a dash into the building, hotly pursued by the guards. He dived into the first office he found.

Luckily, this was the exact office he was looking for.

Behind the desk was General Sir Neil Ritchie – who, despite the odd way in which he had received the plans, agreed to read them over. It didn’t take him long to realise that Stirling had an idea that could change Britain’s fortunes in the War.

Soon after Stirling selected his men and his unit was given a name – L Detachment Special Air Service Brigade.

Better known today as the SAS.

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