N.Africa 1 SAS -> Stalag Luft III Escape Organiser

Discussion in 'Special Forces' started by Matt5100, Oct 12, 2018.

  1. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

    Hello - I’ve hit a brick wall on my grandfather - have researched him for 2 years, National Archives, SAS curator, FOI etc... done all the standard things!

    Probably easier if I copy paste my summary to date which is supported by documents and first hand statements. I’ve left out the stories!

    Sgt. Tony O’Brien 1 SAS, 8th Army, Middle Eastern Command

    Of British East African descent, he enlisted initially in the Kenya Regiment in 1937. He then served in the Kings African Rifles where he received his commission, serving in Nyasaland and Abyssinia. After a “wild party” in a bar in Addis-Ababa he received a field court-martial for an altercation where he supposedly shot and killed another man.

    Family connections saw him released from military prison in Nairobi as his father was adjutant to the Governor of Kenya. Of his own accord he hitched a lift on an RAF Baltimore Bomber to Cairo. He re-enlisted then with 1 SAS, 8th Army, Middle-Eastern Command as a Sergeant where he saw service in the North Africa Campaign,namely Libya.

    He was eventually captured behind enemy lines when caught up in an Italian retreat, sentenced to execution for being SAS, other prisoners with him from the RAF helped fabricate a story that he was with them when they were shot down. From that day on he spent his time under the illusion as an air force member and as a PoW transported through Italy to Poland and finally Germany. Spending time in PoW camps run by the Luftwaffe. Stalag Luft III, Stalag Luft VI, Stalag Luft I and Stalag Luft 357.

    He had leading involvement in the famous “Tally-Ho”escape committee and also tunnel construction in all camps, notably Stalag Luft III in 1943, the same camp as “The Great Escape”. His name is mentioned several times in the book “Stalag Luft III - An Official History of the Great Escape PoW Camp”.

    His liberation report in 1945 details his involvement in the escape committee, tunnel construction and an altercation in Stalag Luft I where he was charged for “not shaving” and reduced in rank, where in reality it was because he would not sit idle and continued to organise escapes, much to the disapproval of the senior British officers who wished for an easy life with the Luftwaffe in Stalag Luft I until the end of the war.

    Post war, we suspect he was liberated back to Great Britain and interviewed by MI9, he then returned to Nairobi, where he married in 1946 and moved to Uganda. He farmed coffee until 1948 near Entebbe, his farm house was burnt down by locals after he ploughed up their ancient grave sites. Spending time thereafter in Kenya and Tanzania as a “White Hunter”.

    His post-war life has been described as “a mix of fun, farming, polo, professional hunting. His organisational skills were his forte. He was well known in Kenya. Alwaysimpeccably dressed and demanding high standards. He died young.” - Col. Jonny O’Brien (retired).

    **Highly decorated veteran – Military Medal, Africa Star, Italian Star, 1939-1945 Star, Efficiency Medal – there are about 5 more but cannot determine from the pictures and we don’t have them unfortunately.
    Incredibledisc and Lindele like this.
  2. Lindele

    Lindele formerly HA96

    Hello Matt,
    Welcome to the forum.
    your grandfather seem to have had a jolly good, interesting and always changing life. RIP Jonny.

    Matt5100 likes this.
  3. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

    Thank you!!
    I now need help haha - anyone who is a dab hand at foraging national archives? My uncle says he can pay haha
  4. Lindele

    Lindele formerly HA96

    Just keep cool man and be patient., there are plenty of experts on KEW files around and will certainly help you.
    Cheers. Stefan.
    Matt5100 likes this.
  5. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

  6. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Do you have his service records??


    I have to say at this time - one does NOT enlist into the SAS
  7. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

    Yep but they are mainly his court martial and disputes over pay post war.
    Basically no juicy service history.
  8. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    So you have no service history for him - odd

    Do you have his Military Medal Citation?
    From your story he was never in Italy so when was he awarded the Italy Star

    If you dont have the medals who does - plus if you have pictures why dont you post them

    Lindele likes this.
  9. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

    My summary is what I know from speaking to one person who knew him directly and what I have found document wise.
    I have left out the rumours and hear say.
    I agree about the Italian star. I have no record of him being there but on a black and white picture I have had numerous people say one of his ribbons is an Italian star. Whether it is or not - I don’t know...
    Service history, not too revealing... not that odd... after meeting in person the people in Glasgow who archive all of the MoD service history, they say it’s quite normal and it was never intended to say who did what and when and for relatives to dig up much later... it was more communications and pay/accounts etc... Also the Blitz permenantly removed a lot of records.
    I am lacking his SAS service history, everything else I have. I’ve done pretty well I think.. I have a few documents stating him as SAS and two pics of him in uniform and my grandma has an SAS broach. His PoW friend of 3 years in various camps who I met last year also filled me in on a lot..
  10. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    What is all this - the Blitz only destroyed some WW1 records nothing to do with WW2 - IF he was in the British Army then he will have a military record which will be available. Once you have that military record then you can do more research but without it you will, as you have stated above, be charging off all over the place without meaningful results

    Good luck
    Lindele likes this.
  11. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

    dude they lived in east Africa, he got kicked out of three countries by force for being white.. he didn’t care about medals. They lost everything, why are you being so sceptical!
    I have just joined the forum and am
    Doing this on my phone.. there is a button here that says upload file so I’ll upload a picture.
  12. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

    I dont
    not correct I’m afraid..
    I’d rather speak to someone else who isn’t so negative. Thanks for your “input” though
  13. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Because you say:
    He has an Italy Star - yet he didnt fight apprently in Italy

    The only POW in NW Europe with the initials and name ATK O'Brien is

    UK, British Prisoners of War, 1939-1945
    Name: A T K O'Brien
    Rank: Private
    Army Number: ME/3977635
    Regiment: Welsh Regiment
    POW Number: 884
    Camp Type: Stalag
    Camp Number: 357
    Camp Location: Oerbke, Lower Saxony
    Record Office: Infantry Record Office, Exeter
    Record Office Number: 22

    Guy Hudson likes this.
  14. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

    How do
  15. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

    Pic attached as I'M NOW ON A PROPER COMPUTER AND NOT MY PHONE! I only joined about an hour ago. I'll upload the rest of the documents as soon as i find out how
  16. Matt5100

    Matt5100 Member

    Liberation report uploaded to the resources section now
  17. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    Welcome to the forum.

    If you search the forum you may be surprised to see a number of previous topics from new members asserting that a relative was a SAS member. Unlike you most of them don’t produce any supporting documentary evidence to support their assertions when requested to do so. They were then “unhappy” to discover, after research from forum members, that there was no foundation to their assertion.

    It was that background that was behind the requests for information/clarification - what you term “scepticism” - from a long standing and valued member of the forum (who’s further input you may now miss out on). Experienced members will always request new members asserting family SAS connections to produce documentary support if possible. The request is often met with a “spikey” response similar to yours.....but as Stefan said just keep cool and be patient :)

    From the MI9 record you’ve posted I note it has the same service number as appears on the POW Index reference TD posted above. It shows his “parent” Regiment. I wonder if the ME prefix is to indicate an overseas enlistment in the Middle East? I’m not sure that SAS ever appeared as a Soldiers Regiment in the POW Index.

    You ought to apply to the Red Cross in Switzerland for his POW record. It should give you his full POW history. The next application window is in January 2019. You’ll need to be quick off the mark on the morning it opens though as the application form was only online for about 3 hours in the last window before it was closed due to over subscription.

    Requests for information about people held during Spanish Civil War or the Second World War: Quarterly limit reached

    I note your initial post asking for a look up in the LRDG/SAS book. Have you used the associated email to contact the author? If so what information did you glean?

    Good Luck.

  18. wtid45

    wtid45 Very Senior Member

    Have looked in my copy of Honour to the Airborne part 2 by David Buxton, and can find no entry for the award of a MM to T O’ Brien or any O’Brien. Book list SAS awards from 1941-1982.
  19. wtid45

    wtid45 Very Senior Member

    Matt a suggestion... the pic of your Grandfather in your Avatar would appear to show a dark beret or maybe a maroon beret which was worn by some SAS in Nw Europe circa 1944-45 something else to consider.
    SAS and red berets
    Tricky Dicky likes this.
  20. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member


    My father was awarded a Italy Star and was never in Italy long enough to qualify. Those serving in Greece and other Balkan countries where awarded the Italy Star.

    Sergeant A T K O'Brien (service number 3977635). Service: Army, SAS, ME Comd, [Special... | The National Archives

    Nothing on the London Gazette or Discovery Search (TNA) about his MM and there should be.

    Missing Believed POW 30/12/42 in Libya - 1st Btn Welch Regiment. Later changed to def POW. (FMP)

    He was commissioned in 1945 into the African Colonial Forces Section as a 2nd Lieutenant. (ANC)

    Hope this helps


Share This Page