Wearside Echoes: A life of adventure in the SAS

SCHOOL DAYS: Dawdon Infants School - where Alf and Cecil first met.
SCHOOL DAYS: Dawdon Infants School - where Alf and Cecil first met.
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BRITAIN was in the grip of the Great Depression of the 1930s when two little boys met on their first day at Dawdon Infant School.

Cecil Halliday and Alf Tasker were to quickly became firm friends. But, while Cecil settled down to life as a miner in Seaham, the lure of adventure saw Alf leave the pit for the SAS.

“Alf seemed a quiet sort of lad when I first met him,” recalls Cecil.

“In later years he didn’t talk much about what he had been through either – so I’m sure many people will be amazed at his life.”

Born in Seaham in December 1930, Alf grew up on the newly-built council estate of Parkside and took a job as a miner after leaving Camden Square Senior School.

A spur-of-the-moment decision, however, saw him enlist in the army at South Shields in September 1952 and, in November 1954, he joined 22 SAS in Malaya.

“From then on, Alf was happy man. Everything about the SAS and Malaya appealed to him,” said Lieutenant Colonel Bill Mundell, who was a friend of Alf’s during their army days.

“Alf soon proved his worth as a decisive jungle operator. During the next five years he took part in operations against communist terrorists and helped with the resettlement of aborigine tribes.”

Once the Malayan emergency came to an end in 1959, Alf returned with the SAS to a new regimental base in Malvern, Worcestershire, where he met his wife-to-be.

Alf and his Welsh-born sweetheart, Margaret, married that same year and, for the next two years, he was able to spend some precious time at home with his wife and new baby son.

“Then in January 1963, at short notice, his squadron was dispatched to Borneo at the start of the confrontation war with Indonesia. So Alf packed his bags again,” said Lt Col Mundell.

Alf was moved on to the Middle East in April 1964, to help tackle problems caused by dissident tribesmen in the mountainous region of Aden – although Margaret didn’t know about it at the time.

“Initially, families were not aware their men were overseas, until a news release revealed that two SAS soldiers had been killed in the Radfan mountains,” said Lt Col Mundell.

“Alf was a member of an eight-man patrol that took part in this particular engagement against an estimated 50 well-armed tribesmen. Fortunately, the remaining six members returned safely.”

After cheating death in Aden, Alf spent the next four years on further tours of Aden and Borneo, as well as taking part in military exercises in countries such as Canada, Guyana and Norway.

Two further years were then spent as an SAS instructor in Birmingham, before Alf was sent back into action as part of Operation STORM, in the Dhofar Province of Oman in 1970.

“Dissident tribesmen, with the support of communist regimes, had established themselves in the mountainous regions near the coast,” said Lt Col Mundell.

“This was another protracted campaign, which didn’t end until late 1975. But, by now, Alf’s time in the Army had run out and he was discharged in March 1975, having completed 22 years.

“In true Alf fashion, he maintained that he was too young to hang up his boots!”

Alf, who was awarded a British Empire Medal for his SAS work in 1973, spent several years working in the Middle East for a UK security firm after his retirement from the army.

But it was a move to Angola in 1983, for what he believed would be a “secure and steady job” at a De Beers diamond mine, which brought adventure back into his life with a vengeance.

“In February 1984, the mine was over-run by Unita guerilla forces and the entire staff of about 100 foreign nationals, including 20 Brits, were abducted,” said Lt Col Mundell.

“They were forced to march under very arduous conditions, inadequately clothed and ill-fed, for 300 miles over a period of five weeks into Northern Angola.

“They were eventually released and repatriated to the UK after 12 weeks in captivity. And so ended Alf’s sojourn in Africa.”

Alf’s next, and final, job was working for the Brunei Royal family, helping out with security aspects of their estates in the UK and working as a body guard for the Sultan of Brunei.

“This job suited him quite well; apart from the occasional trip overseas, he spent most of his time in England, allowing him more time with Margaret,” said Lt Col Mundell.

“He remained in this job for 13 years, eventually retiring in 1997, at the age of 67, at last hanging up his boots.

“He was an exceptional character who led an extraordinarily adventurous life, taking part in all the major SAS campaigns and distinguishing himself as a courageous soldier.”

Alf’s retirement was spent travelling the world with Margaret, although he never lost touch with his East Durham roots either – always keeping in touch with former school pals.

“Although he died in 2003, he is still sadly missed, as he was a great lad,” said Cecil, who still lives in Seaham.

“It was only after his death that I found out he done so much. I was surprised, so I’m sure others will be too.”

* Alf’s name can be found on the 22 SAS Roll of Honour, just above novelist Andy McNab, and he is also mentioned in the 2008 book SAS Heroes – Remarkable Soldiers, Extraordinary Men.