Happy Birthday, Paddy Mayne: Sports Star, War Hero, Goddamn Lunatic
As my previous articles may have indicated, there are four things in life that I love to write about: feats of incredible badassery, Ireland, drunken shenanigans and rugby. So when I learned about a man that would allow me to combine all of these topics, Voltron-style, into one mega-article I was immediately intrigued.
This human Venn-Diagram of all my major interests was Paddy Mayne. A man who, in his short 40 years on this earth, became a heavyweight boxing champion, an international rugby player, a war-hero and a bona-fide, 24-carat lunatic! And tomorrow is his birthday.
A Portrait of the Badass as a Young Man
Our hero was born Robert Blair Mayne in Ireland in 1915 but quickly took the nickname “Paddy” in the first step of his quest to fulfil every Irish stereotype there was. Mayne excelled at rugby in school and went on to play for his college. This is actually even more impressive than it sounds because Paddy had to fit his rugby training around being the Irish Universities Heavyweight boxing champion. Evidently rugby alone couldn’t sate his inherent need for injuring people.
When he wasn’t dump-tackling scrum-halves or knocking people out in the ring he was winning golf tournaments because Paddy had decided to win all the sports that involved hitting things. His talents drew the notice of the Irish rugby team and he joined their ranks in 1937. After only five games for his country he was selected for the 1938 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa, where he would go on to make history as the most insane and rowdy player ever to wear the Lions jersey.
Please remember we’re talking about rugby here.
A Lunatic Abroad
So what could Paddy possibly do to make him stand out from rugby players as particularly rowdy?
Well, he had this hilarious running joke where he’d wake his teammates up in the middle of the night by breaking down their doors (literally) and smashing up all the furniture in their rooms (again literally). He’d then storm out, making it seem like the aftermath of a passionate lovemaking session between Keith Moon and the Tazmanian Devil.
When he wasn’t reinacting The Raid he and his buddy would dress up as sailors and go pick fights with local longshoremen along the docks. I don’t know why the sailor costumes were necessary but I’m guessing that nobody who enjoyed the sensation of an intact orbital bone was going to call him on it. Still, his naval-themed royal rumble was nothing compared to the time when he wandered drunkenly into the stadium where he’d be playing the next day and started talking and drinking with the convicts that had been press-ganged into erecting the stands for the spectators.
Mayne reportedly took a shine to one of the convicts, so much so that he crept back the following night with a pair of bolt cutters and a change of clothes and sprung the lucky guy loose. The escapee was re-captured the next day and the authorities were able to track it back to Mayne since the clothes that he’d given the convict still had his name sewn into them.
In an attempt to try and reign Paddy in the Lions management roomed him with George Cromey, his teammate and also a Presbyterian Minister in the hope that a man of God could get him to stop acting like a goddamn Viking for a half hour. This plan worked spectacularly… for about 11 minutes. Mayne sneaked away from an official dinner to go night-hunting with some guys he had just met. This was actually pretty tame by his standards so Cromey relaxed a little Mayne returned to their hotel room at 3 a.m., still wearing his formal dinnerwear from earlier, with a dead springbok over his shoulders.
Remember that time you left a rubber snake in your roommates bed to scare him? Paddy then tried something similar on one of the other players by kicking down his door and throwing a 100-lb. horned African antelope at him. Apparently transporting a freshly killed ungulate between hotels is a bit tricky so Mayne just left it in his hotel room with the note saying “A gift of fresh meat from the British and Irish Lions.” He was pretty sure that this act of madness would be the dead animal carcass that broke the camel’s back though, so Mayne reportedly went AWOL for the last 3 days of the tour so that the management wouldn’t catch him.
The story goes that he returned, three days later, as the team were boarding the ship home still wearing the formal suit he’d gone hunting in.
Some of you might have already done the math in your heads and realized that the imminent breakout of World War II was probably going to affect Mayne’s athletic career somewhat. This was the war that took thousands of scared young boys and turned them into the Greatest Generation. So can you imagine what it did to someone like Paddy “throws antelope at close friends” Mayne?
He joined the British army in 1939, becoming an officer in the artillery division, but being in charge of huge guns that were throwing bombs at Germans miles away didn’t appeal to Paddy who felt like this mindless violence was just too impersonal. He quickly volunteered to join the newly formed No. 11 Scottish Commando division so that he could return to the up close, one-on-one violence that he loved so dearly.
The No. 11 was the brainchild of notorious Nazi-disapprover Winston Churchill who had a vision of a specialized raiding platoon that could unleashed across Europe to cause carnage for the enemy. Funnily enough “creating absolute anarchy” was something that Mayne seemed to excel at and his reputation brought him to the attention of a man named Captain David Stirling. Stirling was in the process of setting up the S.A.S, the granddaddy of all modern special forces regiments, and offered Mayne a position in the new unit. A position that he gladly accepted since it was either this or sit in jail for another few months.
Yeah, Stirling recruited Mayne straight out of prison after he’d been arrested for striking a superior officer (because of course he was). Stirling had a feeling that if he could just channel the Irishman’s innate lust for hitting things at the enemy instead of their own command then he could be a useful tool.
One of Mayne’s first missions was to help destroy German airfields in Egypt and Libya. Perhaps unsurprisingly, destroying heavily fortified military bases in the goddamned desert turned out to be a bit tricky. Being remarkably practical men, Stirling and Mayne came up with the delicate and strategic tactic of loading down their Jeeps with as many machine guns as they could physically hold and then just driving past the airbases at full speed while squeezing the trigger. This tactic, seemingly borrowed from too many games of Saints Row 4, was terrifyingly effective and helped Mayne personally destroy over a hundred aircraft. A hundred! For a short period in 1942 he was responsible for more plane damage than gravity.
When Stirling was captured in 1943 the S.A.S was split into two divisions: The Special Raiding Party and the Special Boat Party. Mayne became the head of the raiding party in case he tried to declare war on Poseiden. Mayne went on to lead the S.A.S through France, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, meaning he blew up more European countries than most U.S high schoolers can find on a map.
His mission reports sound like something that a pair of 7-year-olds would come up with when playing war in their back yard. When the S.A.S were to parachute behind enemy lines in France, Mayne was explicitly instructed to stay behind and coordinate as he was too high-ranking to risk in the field. Paddy must have misheard this order but to be fair to him it’s kind of hard to hear when you’re parachuting into Nazi-occupied France.
Training and working with the French resistance Paddy organized raids on communication and transportation lines and impressed his French comrades so much with his ability to explode Germans that they awarded him the French Legion of Honour, the highest honor a foreigner can get.
When an S.A.S unit was ambushed in Germany Mayne personally commandeered a Jeep and took out the gun positions pinning down his men before pulling up to them and ferrying his wounded to a medic (we’re guessing after pulling a sweet handbrake turn).
That’s just two missions. To fully do justice to all of them I’d need 44 pages and more explosions than the entire Michael Bay filmography.
It’s said that the brightest flames burn half as long. If this is the case then Paddy Mayne was a thermonuclear explosion. He only lived to be 40 years old but managed to cram enough life into those years than any dozen octogenarians that you care to name.
In a story that is all too depressingly familiar, the very qualities that made Mayne such an terrifyingly effective soldier made him ill-equipped to deal with a non-explosive existence. Alcohol abuse and violence were large parts of his life after he returned home and on one particularly bad night he crashed his car into a parked truck and was killed instantly.
His entire hometown came together in loss and surprise as they’d previously assumed that, in a collision between Paddy Mayne and a truck, they’d end up burying the truck.
Richy Craven is a sophisticated machine for turning whiskey into regrettable life-choices. You can check out more of his stuff over at Cracked, A Series of Terrible Decisions or, if you like mediocre jokes about Batman and Game of Thrones, follow him on Twitter.