Thursday 30 January 2014

Major Miles MacDermot M.C.

Neill Storey (UBHS and RhArmy) Writes:-
Have been meaning to send you the attached (copy of newspaper cutting) for a while - unfortunately cannot lay my hands on my copy which would have noted the date it appeared in the Telegraph - apparently April 96. 

Have to say we were gob smacked having grown up with his younger children Grania and Terry we had no idea of his wartime exploits and I dont believe anyone else in Umtali did either.

In true SAS fashion he kept very quiet. You and brother Peter must be of elder brother Tim's vintage ( ish ) and sadly I cannot recall the name of the other older brother.

Sadly their mother Mary died last week here in England.

MAJOR MILES MacDERMOT, who has died aged 75, was awarded an MC in North Africa in 1941, and the next year joined the newly created SAS, when it was destroying Axis aircraft and other targets on airfields deep in enemy-held territory.

In 1943 he was taken prisoner in company with David Stirling, the founder of the SAS; the two men escaped, but both were recaptured. MacDermot made three more escape attempts, the last of which succeeded.

After leaving the Army in 1949, he served for 25 years in the Internal Affairs Department of Southern Rhodesia, later Zimbabwe.

Miles Hugh Charles MacDermot, the son of a planter, was born on June 4 1920 in Taiping, Malaya. He was educated at Downside.

In 1939 he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery, and in 1941 he saw action in Syria, where the pro-Vichy government hadallowed the Germans to establish air-bases at Damascus, Palmyra and Rayak.

A mixed force or British and Free French was dispatched lo put Syria under Free French control. This was achieved after an arduous five-week campaign, which witnessed the last horsed cavalry charge by a unit of the British Army.

MacDermot then moved on to North Africa where he was awarded an MC the following November. The citation recorded that "OnNovember 25, near Sidi Omar, this officer's troop of Light Anti-Aircraft Guns was sited in protection of a Field Battery when it was attacked by 28 tanks.

"A very fierce engagement ensued lasting three quarters of an hour during which enemy and machine gun fire was intense. Lt MacDermot set a splendid example to his men, moving to each of the guns and endeavouring to get the damaged ones in action again. The efforts of his troop contributed in no small way to the defeat of the attacks."

The SAS had by then been created by David Stirling, with the object of destroyingon the ground German aircraft which were too fast and numerous for the Desert Air Force to shoot down.

In order to reach their targets, the SAS soon abandoned the idea of parachuting into areas behind the enemy lines. Instead they relied on the expertise of the Long Range Desert Group, a reconnaissance unit, to assist them to reach their targets, and sometimes to help to extricate them when SAS vehicles had been badly damaged in raids.

Col RB Mayne, who had been with the SAS from the beginning (and won four DSOs) wrote to MacDermot's father, "Miles joined my Squadron in September last and he wasn't very long with us before I made him a Captain; he was good. The first job he did with us was to blow out a railway line between Matuib and Tobruk, and not content with that he captured a post with 16 Italians and four machine guns, which was guarding a siding, blew the siding to pieces and then chased and caught a German truck and burnt it. He had five men with him. He was continually operating from then until he was caught. Last time he was with our CO, David Stirling, when they were motoring through to contact 1st Army, they were caught somewhere near Gabes."

By late 1943 the Germans, who had by then lost 350 aircraft and much else destroyed by the SAS, had imported a special regiment to counter them. By this time the operational area was much smaller, but the SAS managed to mine the Sfax- Gabe's railway line and destroy a number of trucks.

MacDermot and Stirling moved by night and slept by day; they were discovered accidentally by 500 Germans who were on a cordon and search exercise at the time. Both men managed to escape the next night, but were betrayed by Arabs who had been offered a large reward by the Germans.

Stirling also made four attempts to escape, but at 6 ft 5in he was too conspicuous to avoid capture for long, and was eventually interned in Colditz. After MacDermot's third escape he, too, was threatened with Colditz, but he escaped yet again during a forced march of Allied prisoners to Czechoslovakia.

To reach safety he took shelter in a forest during a battle until American infantry rolled over his position. He was repatriated and was en route to the Far East when the war ended with the Japanese surrender.

Back in England, he served with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment and was briefly adjutant with the Oxford University Officers' Training Corps.

In 1947 MacDermot was posted to Palestine, in Military Intelligence, and had a narrow escape when the Officers Mess of the Intelligence Unit was blown up by a Zionist saboteur. MacDermot was in a field hospital at the time, having broken his legplaying hockey the previous day.

In 1949 he left the Army and moved to Tanganyika to join an old friend in a fish-farming venture. This ended in disaster, the local crocodiles thrived on the abundance of fish; nets and dams were destroyed by hippo.

MacDermot then tried growing sugar in Natal, and in 1959 joined the Internal Affairs Department of the Government of Southern Rhodesia, at Umtali.

During the next 25 years in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe he made long trips into the Tribal Trust Lands, promoting agricultural conservation and encouraging peasant farmers to adopt modern husbandry methods. Later, he served on the Agricultural Advisory 
Committee in Zimbabwe.

Miles MacDermot married, in 1951, Mary Gordon- Creed, who survives him; they had three sons and a daughter.


Jeepers - what a man! Special thanks to Neill for sharing this information with ORAFs.

Thanks also to the "Telegraph" for the use of their material.

Comments are welcome - does anyone remember the family in Umtali? Send comments to Eddy Norris at

If anyone would like a scanned image of the newspaper cutting then please simply let Eddy know at

Ref. Rhodesia



At 31 January 2014 at 09:40 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Nick Baalbergen (INTAF) Writes:-

Miles MacDermot was an Agricultural Officer in the Umtali District (Intaf - District Commissioner Umtali). I was based in Umtali in 1972/1973, Miles MacDermot was a fellow member of staff. He was instrumental in preparing the groundwork for the establishment of the new district of Mutasa, which covered the Honde Valley. I remember that his daughter was a student at the University of Rhodesia at the time.

At 31 January 2014 at 11:48 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

I read your story on Major Miles McDermot with great interest. What a story and yes we never knew of his exploits did we. Mum and Dad were great friends of Miles and Mary. I can remember as kids going to their house at the top end of Main Street, just down the road from the Convent. It was usually for a drink in the good old Rhodesian tradition! If I recall well Claire also stayed with them for some time in 1969 to finish her final term at school in Umtali up the road literally at the Dominican Convent. 1969 was the year when the folks moved down to Chipinga. I certainly recall Grania, a real looker with her big brown eyes and her long dark hair. Thanks for the memory ORAFs.

Best regards,

Mike Morkel

At 31 January 2014 at 14:27 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Nick Baalbergen Writes:-

Our memories differ slightly (I may well be wrong)..................long dark hair and blue eyes, she was a finalist in the University beauty pageant in the early 70's (possibly '72).

At 1 February 2014 at 08:58 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Keith Addison Writes:-

He was the Senior Agricultural officer for Umtali DC's district but covered mostly area east of Odzi river, He was the AO for the 2 irrigation schemes I ran (Maranke and Chitakatira) You could have knocked me down with a feather when I read the article because he NEVER mentioned any of that. Maybe Barry Dilton- Hill (now in the Cape???) who was the other Agricultural Officer and lived near Manyika bridge, might know more

At 2 February 2014 at 09:02 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

I spent a couple of days talking with Terry in Mutare early Jan this year, where he also stayed with my family (Jen and Roland Baker) as I was too. He had just flown in from England after seeing his Mum and attending her 90th birthday I think Terry said. It is sad to hear she passed so soon afterwards but very glad Terry got to see her. I too can't recall his brothers name though we spoke about him. Terry lives in Adelaide and I am in Brisbane.
It was good to catch up with them all and I will forward the email to them.
Margaret (nee Bull)

At 2 February 2014 at 09:05 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Sheila Morkel (Umtali and Chipinga) Writes:-

Thanks for sending through all about Miles MacDermott.
I know all of them very well.
He was a great guy, my parents were very fond of him. He spent many a happy hour with Theo, my father talking about the war etc.
Dad helped him on the small holding they had inland from Port Shepstone.
Mother was very good to Mary & the children.
I hope I will be able to contact Grania when I go to U.K. later in the year.
Youngest boy was teaching Art In Adelaide, South Australia.
Would love a scanned page of the newspaper.
I must have missed it.

At 2 February 2014 at 09:06 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Geoff Higgs Writes:-

As a school friend of Miles' stepson, Tim (Hughes), I stayed with the family at times and knew them well, though Terry and Grania were a fair bit younger. Tim's older brother is Geoff Hughes. Apart from Miles and Mary being family friends of my parents, as a District Officer I worked very closely with Miles from the DC's office in Umtali and later in the Honde Valley and at Mutasa where we had to plan and lay out an area on the old Downs and Kufara Wattle Estates for (later) a new district office and resettlement of a number of people in 1973 from the Nyamkwarara Valley below Stapleford. Miles was a wonderful and modest man and he and Mary were always great company; I last saw them with my parents in the late 80's in the Cape. I remember Miles once getting a letter at the DC’s office from overseas, addressed to him as 'Major' and when asked he made some gruff non-committal remark and put it in his pocket. David Stirling used to correspond with him after WWII and after forming the Capricorn Society which he thought would save Africa, Miles told him he was talking nonsense and I understand the correspondence then ceased ! (Miles told me that). On one occasion in the 70's when Miles was in the Honde/Pungwe/Holdenby area he had to show a river or border crossing in that area, as I recall, to some SAS blokes; I don't believe they had any idea of the background of their 'guide' in his old land rover at all . When he died, Miles' family received a number of letters from African agricultural staff who had worked with him over his years in Internal affairs, such as Simeon Magwenya and Nelson, all of whom greatly respected him. Although Miles was not in the Rhodesian element of the SAS there is a well deserved entry about him in Jonathan Pittaway's book 'SAS Rhodesia, the men speak'.

At 2 February 2014 at 15:01 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Nick Baalbergen (INTAF) Writes:-

I have just read the latest comment to your article on Major Miles MacDermot, written by Geoff Higgs - a comprehensive account from one who knew him well.

At 18 February 2014 at 16:22 , Blogger Unknown said...

It has been very touching to read all the kind comments and apt remarks about my stepfather Miles - particularly as the family is currently mourning the death of Mary (our Mum) on 23 rd January 2014. Miles never spoke about the war at all or his role in it, so most of what we learned was from reading "The Phantom Major: The Story of David Stirling and the SAS Regiment" by Virginia-Cowles. (See Amazon and other sources).
We greatly respected him for his modesty and distaste for the heroics of armed conflict. I think he just viewed it as 'doing his duty'.

At 10 February 2015 at 16:07 , Blogger rodbfg said...

I'm new to blogging, but if it's possible any of you can read this message after such a long silence, and you knew Ben de Maine from Chipinga days, a friend of the MacDermot family, I'd love to hear from you ... Rod de Maine

At 19 April 2015 at 12:56 , Blogger Unknown said...

rodbfg - Rod de Maine. I have no means of contacting you but you can message me from my Google+ account.

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