Gerald Hough, Desert Raids with the SAS (Pen & Sword, 2021)
One of the reasons I think we study war is that conflict brings out the best and worst in those who fight. Take Tony Hough, for example; a man probably destined for an adventurous life anyway, but he and the adventure of war were made for each other, though as with all warriors, Hough paid a terrible price in the loss of friends and of his innocence – a worn cliché, but an apt one in Hough’s case. Desert Raids with the SAS is his story, told by his son.
An excitable and youthful Hough had already joined the territorials when war broke out – ‘Suddenly life was full’. He joined the Scots Guards who were looking for skiers. Expecting to fight in Finland, Hough ended up in North Africa where he would make his reputation as a solid, dependable officer in the Rifle Brigade. Fighting the Italians with relative ease did not prepare Hough for the horrors of combat against the German blitzkrieg that enveloped and all but destroyed the British and Commonwealth forces. He took part in the Allied counter-attacks as a seasoned officer. In 1942, Hough’s battalion was disbanded, and he was invited to join the newly formed SAS.
Hough undertook his first SAS mission in November 1942, operating far in advance of the Allied army. But within a month, he was captured by the Italians and shipped to Italy in a submarine. In September 1943, Hough escaped his POW camp, then under German control. He and his comrade evaded the Germans by living in friendly houses and in a cave while they awaited the Allied advance up the peninsula. With the German heat ratcheted up where they were hiding, and his comrade missing after wandering down into the valley, Hough decided to make a run for it over the mountains. He crossed the lines with great difficulty and in terrible physical condition, but he made it – his comrade was captured and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. Hough convalesced in Algeria and England before returning to his regiment. He ended his service as a mayor of a town in occupied Germany. Gerard Hough finishes his story with an account of his own travels to Italy to retrace his father’s footsteps, and the story of the German evacuation of the village his father hid in during December 1943.
This is a curious ‘memoir’ that is told in the first person by Hough’s son with some of his father’s original material mixed in. That makes some aspects historically suspect beyond the usual issues with memoirs and faulty memories, but the novelistic approach also makes for a riveting read. The story of Anthony Hough is one of extraordinary courage, not just on his part, but that of the men he fought alongside and the people who helped him on his remarkable journey to freedom. It is one that once read will not be easily forgotten.