Uncle Edmund and the SAS

Edmund Frederick Astley Birtwistle (1924-1986)

I can remember hearing lots of stories about my Uncle Edmund’s exploits during WW2, and how he’d been in what became the SAS. There’s one about falling overboard on a night raid across the channel and being lucky enough to have been spotted on their return. Something about having to hide in a farm house while on of his companions was tortured to death by the Gestapo in the courtyard outside. I visited my my mother yesterday and she showed me a letter from SAS co-founder Major Roy Alexander Farran to my cousin Pip. 

Letter to Pip Birtwistle from Roy A. Farran June 24, 2001

Dear Pip Birtwistle

Thank you for your letter. Of course, I knew your uncle well. On Operation Wallace-Hardy, he carried out one highly successful patrol, killing several Germans in horse-drawn vehicles near Luxeuil-les-Bains in France.

You can ask me any question you choose. But remember I’m now over 80, breathe through a hole in my neck due to my larynx’s having been removed because of cancer and am just an old fart with an unreliable memory.

Yours ….

Roy Farran

Uncle Frog with his mother (Mue) and sister Annette

Edmund was known as frog by his family and I’ve included a poem dedicated to him by my mother below:


Back from France by small boats
and night trains,
the last one stopping
to let him down in the wet fields,
he’d pick his way
through the warm breath of cows,
tensing at every vixen’s bark,
owl call, twig-snap and leaf-rustle,
at something half-seen
behind the bramble-mound,
then over the stone stile,
like a final obstacle in an old game,
up the pot-holed drive,
past the duck pond,
and in at last to the kitchen,
where some mornings
we’d find him there asleep.
spark out on the dog-haired sofa.

In the creased photograph
beside his mother’s bed
he leans against her,
nineteen, thin inside his uniform,
the bloodstained bandage
tight against his hair
and for years after there were times
when the dreams came back
till we grew used to it, waking
to the shouts and screams,
to the glimpses of him
struggling naked
in his damp and foxy bed


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