Authors: Rob Maylor
I dedicate this book to my wife Georgina,Â whose love
and support has enabled me to follow my dreams, and to
my girls, Lauren and Ashley, whoÂ inspire meÂ every day
andÂ fill my life with joy.
I gives me great pleasure to write the foreword to this riveting account of Rob Maylor's career in the Royal Marines and Australian Special Air Service.
The Royal Marines and SAS are both highly regarded elite military units, with countless battle honours earned from daring missions across the globe. Steeped in tradition, entry into their ranks is limited to the select few who are able to pass the ruthless selection and training regimes.
Royal Marines training is acknowledged as being the toughest basic training course in the world, with less than 50Â per cent of those who begin completing the grueling eight month commando course to earn the coveted Green Beret. Those who succeed gain entry into a unique brotherhood. A brotherhood that live by the Commando Spirit: courage, determination, unselfishness, and cheerfulness in the face of adversity.
The SAS has a reputation for soldering excellence that is second to none. Recruited from military ranks, only a select few pass selection and complete the fourteen month âreinforcement cycle' before joining their regiment.
Having worked alongside Rob on numerous operations it was clear that soldiering was second nature to him. He lived and breathed the profession, specialising in counter-terrorism, desert and arctic warfare, covert vehicle and in particular the âdark art' of the military sniper.Â Within military ranks the sniper is regarded as soldering perfection. Working in small teams snipers are trained to operate far from friendly forces, deep behind enemy lines remaining invisible to the enemy. The sniper will lie and wait for long periods of time for the opportune moment to fire a single devastating shot before moving silently onto the next target. This was Rob's speciality in both the Royal Marines and the SAS where he became a sniper team leader.
From the streets of Northern Ireland to the mountains of Afghanistan, Rob shares candid insights into his life as an elite soldier. Through rough humour Rob shares the loss of comrades on the battlefield, the sacrifices he made on the âhome front' and the shadowy world of being an SAS sniper.
Sean Chapple FRGS
(Former Royal Marine, polar explorer)
One of the joys of authorshipâwhether of fiction or non-fictionâis the way each new book propels you into a different world. The experience can be engaging, astonishing, disgusting, exciting and sometimes frightening. And occasionallyâas in
âit's all of the above.
When Rob Maylor approached me with the proposal to tell his story, my first instinct was to decline. I'd had more than enough of war, not least because however one tries to avoid it, the very act of telling the stories of the battlefield legitimises and condones the obscenity of deliberate killing. I had begun with
The Battle of Brisbane
in 2000 with co-author Peter Thompson, progressing to our
Kill the Tiger
Keep off the Skyline
(2004) and my own
(2008). It was with a tremendous sense of moral relief that I turned to the political world of the then opposition leader for
Kevin Rudd: The Biography
(2008), and thenâagain with Peter Thompsonâto the dusty mines and boardroom battles of
The Big Fellaâthe rise and rise of BHP Billiton
However, in the interim I had been invited to meet SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson when he presented his newly minted VC to the Australian War Memorial, and I presented him with a copy of
which tells the story of a number of our most remarkable VC winners. He was a close mate of Rob Mayor's, and he apparently enjoyed the book. So when Rob decided to retire, and wanted to tell his story, Mark suggested he get in touch.
Two things convinced me. The first was my meeting with Rob, who came to our Canberra home. I'm not sure what I had been expecting but it was not the tall, softly spoken bloke with a quiet gentility who told his tale with such unaffected honesty.
The second was the extraordinary response of the publishers to whom our agent, Pippa Masson, sent a very short outline of the story. Put âsniper' together with âSAS' and, it seems, a powerful reading appetite awaits. And when the opportunity arose to work again with Hachette Australia's Matthew Kelly, the last of my moral defences crumbled.
I'm glad they did. For this is a soldier's story like no other. Rob Maylor was born with khaki bones. He only ever had one goal: to be the best soldier it was possible to be. And that meant, finally, that he must aim for the peakâa sniper in the SASâand not just any sniper, but the finest of all. I was delighted to travel with him in telling the story of that quest.
In doing so he opened for me a small window into the world of the Australian SASâThe Regimentâand I was privileged to relive with him that terrible three-hour ambushâthe battle of Khaz Oruzganâthe biggest engagement of Australian forces since Long Tan in Vietnam.
That was the engagement in which Mark Donaldson won his VC when he ran back to rescue an Afghan interpreter who had been blown out the back of a fighting vehicle, and carried him 80 metres over open ground to safety. It was an action worthy of our highest award for bravery under fire, but it was not the only act of great courage that day; and some of themâincluding Rob Maylor'sâhave not been properly recognised.
He would not say so himself, but as readers will recognise, Rob's actions in protecting the American JTAC under withering fire from the enemy did more to bring the team out safely than almost any other taken on the day. It should be noted that he and other worthy recipients have yet to receive the honour that is their due.
It is my hope and belief that his remarkable story, as told in these pages, will go some way toward compensating for that failure, at least among the reading public. Rob gave himself willingly to the soldier's life; it was only when the mutual love between himself and his family took a proper precedence that he laid down his arms. But it would be fitting if his efforts on Australia's behalf were sealed with the reward he so richly deserves.
Robert Macklin 2010
Afghanistan, 2 September 2008:
The Taliban had caught us in a classic ambush. Somewhere between 100 and 150 fighters were pounding us from three sidesâdown in the green, up in the high ground and to the front of us. Two of my closest mates were badly wounded. Then a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) exploded a metre behind me and tore into my legs and back.
Hoady and I ran for the American Humvee about 40 metres in front of us and we were getting absolutely hammered by fire. I got clocked on the elbow. Luckily I was running; that meant the elbow was bent and the bullet from the Taliban fighter skimmed off. Had it been straight it would have gone right through and I'd probably have lost my lower arm.
I could see rounds striking the hard ground in front of me and as we raced for the car I could see bullets hitting its armoured flanks. All of a sudden it too was a target, a magnet. An American who was watching said later, âMan, that was awesome. The bullets were chasing you everywhere; we thought you were history.' The car was getting absolutely smashed.
Hoady grabbed the door handle and yanked it open. There were six members of the Afghan National Army inside. I kept on going. I saw a ditch, a washout, about 30 metres in front of the car, slightly off to the left flank, right beside the road. I ran down towards it and threw myself into it. It was close to half a metre deep, just enough for my body to move around without showing over the edge. I still had my sniper rifle so I got down behind it and started to observe for any targets.
I was hurting. As I was running between the cars I could really feel my wounds. The shrapnel had cut into my foot, my calf, my thigh, my arse and my lower back. I was in a lot of pain and covered in blood.
Suddenly I was taking fire from 360 degrees. I could tell that I'd been targeted. There were rounds hitting the edge of the washout from every side. It was at that point that I looked down at the ground, the hard, flinty ground of Oruzgan. I shook my head and said, âAre we ever going to fuckin' get out of this?'
I was born to be a soldier. I have no idea where it came from. Certainly no-one in my immediate family was that way inclined. My father had no time for the military life at all. Maybe he lost a relative in World War II, I really don't know, but he was dead against it and still is. But from my earliest memories I was attracted to soldiering.
I have always thought I had a pretty normal childhood. But one Christmas when I was very young my parents gave me some little plastic toy soldiers as a present and it wasn't long before I had hundreds of them, plus Action Man, a British-made boy's doll that came with a range of military uniforms and plastic hardwareâthe best toy in the worldâever! I used to make parachutes for him out of plastic bags and throw him off the roof of the garage. When I wasn't playing war with the other kids around the area, I was living a military fantasy through Action Man, my toy soldiers or watching war films that starred the likes of David Niven, Anthony Quayle, Roger Moore, John Wayne and Michael Caine. Come to think of it, maybe that's not normal after all.
Both my parents are from Anglo-Saxon stock. My father Bob and mother Sara migrated from Cheshire to New Zealand in 1964. He's retired now and living in Perth. He was a toolmaker and she was a receptionist when they married. They've lived a quiet life, not much socialising and much less now that she suffers from multiple sclerosis.
Mum seems to be handling it okay. They go to the MS society in Perth, do what exercises she can and stay in touch with the new drugs as they come onto the market. But we've never been particularly close and that's mostly my fault, I suspect. I never had a strong relationship with my father as a kid. He couldn't really talk to me. We don't argue or anything, but we just didn't talk much and over the years nothing's changed. I was happy living in my own world pursuing my own interests.
I was the eldest; my sister Louise is three years younger than me and it was the same with herâwe have never really been close. She's been in Canada for about 15 years and I haven't spoken to her in that time. Even as a kid I didn't get on with her either. I just liked different people.
We grew up in Manurewa which is in South Auckland, New Zealand; a quiet, respectable area at the time. Our school backed onto farmers' fields and it wasn't uncommon to see a group of children laughing and shouting as they chased a frightened rabbit or hare from one side of the school to the other.
I never particularly liked school and always resisted learning, something I regret now. I can't put my finger on why; I just didn't like it and spent most of my time daydreaming about the Rhodesian bush war or being on patrol with the Americans in Vietnam. They tell me I'm bright enough and whenever I did a military course I always produced good results. I find something has to really interest me before I'll put my mind to it and somehow school just didn't cut it. We had a class of about 20 and I had one really good mate, Craig Sharpe, a real champion of a bloke. In fact we're still the best of mates today. Generally we'd hide up the back to muck around.
We both loved the outdoorsâsport and hunting ranked right at the top. Of course, my father hated me shooting, so I had to ease him into the idea and started off with the old spud guns, which were great. But it took a lot of convincing for my father to get me a slug gun. It didn't help when I was shooting birds through my bedroom window with a friend from school, when this bloke didn't check his muzzle clearance and shot the wooden sill, putting a nasty-looking hole in it. Because I knew what was going to happen when my old man came home, I began to panic. I couldn't patch the hole up because there was too much damage. I just had to take this one on the chin. My old man went mad and I copped a few wallops for that one. I reckon I deserved it. It wasn't abuse, it was general discipline; pretty much the way he was brought up.
It didn't stop me shooting. Next I bought a .22 BSA Meteor Super.
The father of one of my mates from high school was the principal of a nearby girls' borstalâa low-to-medium security prison for juvenilesâand it was surrounded by acres of land on an estuary. So we used to go down there with a shotgun, .22s and slug guns and shoot birds, rabbits and ducks and seagulls; anything that moved really. We'd take light bulbs down there and throw them in the estuaryâthey'd float in and out with the tide and we'd shoot them too.
Craig and I both left school at 15. I really wanted to join the New Zealand Army but my father wouldn't wear it at any price. And he's never changed.
In 2003 after selection for the Special Air Service (SAS) and a number of courses into the cycle you are awarded your beret. There's a ceremonial parade. The family comes along and it's a day when you really feel you've made it into the top level of your chosen profession. The captain who was running the reinforcement cycle at the time said to my father, âYou must be proud of your son.'
âNo, not really,' he said, âHe's too oldâshouldn't even be here.'
That's why we don't get onâwe're just totally different. He has never asked me about the work I do, and that's okay. But I think it's sad if there isn't a bond between the generations, and that was part of my reason for leaving the SAS while still relatively youngâto make my own family bonds stronger.
Anyway, since the army wasn't an option, both Craig and I did apprenticeships. This meant I left school without any educational qualifications at all, but I was unlikely to pass any of the exams anyway, so at 15 I got my driver's licence and became part of the New Zealand workforce.
Craig became a horticulturalist and I signed on for a mechanical apprenticeship in a small workshop in Manurewa with a bloke called Roger Bertram. Roger was about 40 at the time, a short fellow, very wiry, no fat on him at all, and he occasionally sported a goatee. His claim to fame was that he was the New Zealand speedway champion 10 or 11 years in a row. No doubt this attracted a bit of business. Speedway fans would bring in their cars to be fixed and he'd charge them for the privilege of meeting him. Some would return, but most felt that they were over-charged and wouldn't come back.
I got on with him very well. He was very professional, very down-to-earth, and wasn't afraid to tell people the truth, even about their cars. He was a brilliant mechanic, especially when it came to the big V8s. I was never going to be a top mechanic but Roger was patient with me and I crewed for him a few times at Waikaraka Park, one of two speedway venues in Auckland. These cars were built with a few modifications. The alloy and titanium space frame cradled a heavily worked V8 that was normally aspirated, which means the fuel was fed into the engine through a carburettor and not fuel injected like the sprint cars at Western Springs, the other Auckland venue.
I was too inexperienced to do any mechanical repairs on the car between races so I just ended up being the gofer and pushing the car on and off the race track with a few of the others. There was a fair bit of posing to be done as wellâafter all, I was working for the New Zealand champ. There was a lot of competition and testosterone being thrown around the pits area, and most people loved to hate Roger because he was such a serious competitor.
Coincidentally, Roger did his mechanical apprenticeship while in the New Zealand Army. I remember his stories at lunch time of fixing heavy machinery in the pine forests while on exercises. Generally they had to make or repair broken items, as there were no spares. Little did I know at the time that mechanics would play such a big part in our battles against the Taliban.
He was also a boxer as a young bloke, and one night while watching him race things got a little out of hand and tempers boiled over. A few of our crew ended up in fisticuffs with the crew of another driver. I stood back and watched as it was all rather pathetic. It was all over in seconds and no-one was hurt, only the odd bruised ego, but our team got a few good shots in.
Unfortunately Roger sold Speedway Automotive to a bloke named Bob Homewood, another race car driver, whose passion was rally and circuit cars. Bob was an older man with a very clever mechanical mind. He had a strange air about him and always seemed very on edge, as though he was about to explode.
It was okay for the first 12 months, but morale took a big dive when one of the other lads, John Kelly, was fired in front of me after a heated argument. I felt bad for him as he was a good worker and friend. I should have stuck up for John that day but didn't and I still carry that burden today.
Throughout my apprenticeship, Craig and I continued to knock around together even though we had separate careers. One day he invited me on a pig-hunting trip with a mountain of a man called Jim Hales. He had a tattoo of a star in the web of each hand and slicked-back hair. He had a very tough looking exterior but he turned out to be a lovely bloke.
He too had a New Zealand Army and boxing background and was as strong as an ox. In his pig-hunting prime around Tokoroa, he was reported to have carried two pigs out of the bush at a time. I'm guessing he would wear one like a backpack by tying its legs together and then drape the other over the topâquite a feat considering the pigs weighed from 30 to 70 kilos each.
Our first hunt took us to a private property just outside of Kaiaua, on the eastern flats of the Hunua ranges not far from South Auckland. Jim had two working dogs for tracking and bailing up the quarryâAdam, a bloody nut case, and a labrador/pit bull cross which resembled a fit looking lab with a large head. I can't remember what her name was but I eventually ended up with Sid, one of her pups.
Anyway, off we went and soon, legs pounding and lungs burning, Craig, Jim and I were nearing the crest of a steep and heavily vegetated hill when in the distance we heard, âYap! Yap! Yap!'
Feral pigs are very strong and are as hard as nails; they can carve a dog up with their razor-sharp tusks quite easily. They use them to gore and cut like a pair of scissors. The dogs hang onto the pig's ears to hold its head down, which stops it from running off, but either way it's a little too close to their adversary's weapons. We had to get there quick.
Over the crest and running down the steep hill, it wasn't long before my body started to travel faster than my legs. I could see where the ground dropped away in the distance and tried to stop. I was kidding myself! I tried to grab a Ponga trunk (a tall native fern) to stop me, butÂ on impact the rotten trunk exploded into dust and I kept onÂ going, straight off the small cliff landing face first in the soft undergrowth.
Craig who was behind me, fell over with laughter. Jim just kept on running towards the commotion. I picked myself up, quickly threw a few obscenities at Craig and continued with the chase. The barking became louder, andÂ suddenly through the thick green foliage we could see the two dogs had a nice looking Captain Cooker bailed up in the creek line. It was a sow, 40 odd kilos. âGood eatin' size,' Jim said as he burst through undergrowth and crashed the 2 metres into the trickling creek.
He rapidly closed onto the rear of the black feral animal; with the dogs at the front, he grabbed its back legs with huge hands that looked like a bunch of bananas and twisted the sow so she fell on her back; knife in hand and with a swift movement Jim had severed the carotid artery and cut into the trachea. Brightly coloured blood pumped by a rapidly beating heart gushed and bubbled from the throat. We watched on as her movements became gradually less aggressive until she lay still.
It took Jim only seconds to show us how to dress the animal and prepare it for carriage out of the bush. He tied the trotters of each side together with baling twine and turned it into a very heavy and uncomfortable pack. Craig was first up to start the extraction of our Sunday roast and it wasn't long before Craig's back, bum and the tops of his legs were covered in blood from the carcass. He did extremely well to carry it as far as he did, then with great relief Craig handed over the âbackpack' to me. âFuckin' hell, this is heavy!' I muttered under my breath. It wasn't long before I was in the hurt locker but I wasn't going to show the other two that I was struggling. It was about 3.5 kilometres to Jim's home-made VW ute but the terrain for the first 2.5 kilometres was through pristine native rainforest as thick as jungle. There were times when I would walk 3 metres uphill, but then slip back five; I'd pick myself up and give it another crack.
Downhill presented different challenges as it was quite treacherous under foot and I took a few bruises to the back of my head where the pig's jaw cracked me every time I fell backwards. All the time both front trotters were putting direct pressure on each clavicle, and my legs started to tire by the minute. âSurely we aren't far from the car by now!'
When we broke out of the bush and onto the rolling cleared pastures I could see how far away Jim's ute was. 1 kilometre to be exact, but it seemed bloody miles away! Jim let me struggle for about another 500 metres before he took the pig off me. I did say, âNah, it's okay mate, I'll take it.' But Jim insisted; he was probably concerned about the painful look on my face. But I reckon it was a personal test of his to see if I was tough enough to be invited back.
Jim threw the pig onto the wooden tray at the back of the ute and strapped it down with more bailing twine. Even though it had gone four in the afternoon, we sat on the grass next to the VW and ate our cut lunches. Jim asked me where should we hunt next weekend. I had passed the test!
I continued to hunt with Craig and Jim as often as I could until I travelled to England. Jim was an absolutely magic bloke and very down-to-earth; he called a spade a spade and if he said he was going to do something he would. One time he got sold a dud from a dodgy car yard; they told him that if he wasn't satisfied with it over the weekend to return it and they'd give him his money back.
When he did they welshed on the deal. Jim said, âIf you don't give me my money back I'm going to drive the car through your showroom window.' The salesman didn't take him seriously. He should have. Jim drove the ute through the huge glass window, hitting a couple of cars before he stopped. The mechanics from out the back heard the crash and came out to investigate then started to fight with Jim. Bad idea. He knocked most of them out.