There was no curtain raiser on 14 November when Chris Hoare delivered his lecture on the subject 'Mad Mike' Hoare: The Legend. Here is his summary:
When people discover that Mike Hoare is my father, they always say the same things: That guy is a legend; he is an officer and a gentleman; and, he is the one guy who got off his arse and did something about what he believed in. He believed that the Russians were going to grab the Congo in 1964, and come south and take South Africa and Mike was not going to have his children growing up speaking Russian.
He also had his detractors. An East German radio station called him a 'mad bloodhound'; an officer in his unit described him as 'correct but ruthless'; and the judge at his hijacking trial called him unscrupulous. My mother, his first wife, sometimes described him as peculiar ... and then immediately ascribed it to his peculiar childhood.
Mike had an unusual childhood but, interestingly, it equipped him for what was to come. He was born into an Irish seafaring family in Calcutta, India, in 1919. His father was a master mariner, serving then as a river pilot. So immediately we see the Celtic fighting spirit and adventurous heart were in Mike's pedigree. Mike was sent to a boarding school in England and during the holidays was put in the care of one of the teachers, a Sergeant Badcock, who had fought in the Anglo-Boer War and who regaled Mike with war stories. After school, Mike wanted to go to Sandhurst but as the necessary funds were not available, he became articled to a chartered accountant, and joined the Territorial Army.
Mike started WW2 as a rifleman in the London Irish Rifles, Royal Ulster Rifles. By April 1940 he had been identified as a man with potential and was sent to the Small Arms School at Hythe, then returning to his unit to train the men in small arms. In January 1941 he was sent to the Officer Cadet Training Unit at Droitwich a report in his war record describes him as a 'forceful and aggressive type'. He then joined the elite 2 Reconnaissance Regiment, part of the Royal Armoured Corps. April 1942 saw his unit in Cape Town, en route to India where Mike did experimental work on the LVT1 (landing vehicle tracked). He was promoted lieutenant in October 1943. In March 1944, Mike's unit was rushed to Kohima and action for the first time. Mike served in the Arakan, Burma, for a spell with his main military role model, the Chindit Brigadier Bernard Fergusson and also at GHQ Delhi. Here, it was a different kind of war; there were parties and females, and in February 1945 Mike married Elizabeth Stott.
Mike Hoare was a captain in the
Royal Armoured Corps. India, 1944.
He was demobbed as major in 1946 and completed his articles before emigrating to Durban where he set up and ran a number of motorcar-related businesses, successfully so. Meanwhile he espoused the philosophy that 'you get more out of life by living dangerously', and did many long hikes in the Drakensberg and Basutoland, motor-biked Cape Town to Cairo, and Mombasa to Lobito, searched for the lost city of the Kalahari, led safaris to and in the Okavango delta in 1959 and 1962, and searched for a mysterious ape in Nyasaland in 1960.
In 1961, he volunteered to serve for Katanga after that state broke away from the Congo, leading 4 Commando as a captain; this was Mike's brief and useful introduction to mercenary soldiering. He married Phyllis Sims in June that year.
In 1964, the Congo was being overrun by communist-backed rebels. America and Belgium decided to fund a mercenary force. Why? To preserve access to the world's biggest store of coltan, a commodity used for example in space rockets. Mike was given the job of leading 5 Commando, aka The Wild Geese. Over the next 18 months they crushed the rebellion, rescued 2000 nuns and priests from barbarity, beat Ché Guevara and Mike became a legend. Mike then wrote his bestselling book, Congo Mercenary.
Mike Hoare in the Congo as the leader of
5 Commando, 1964. Photo by Kestergat.
In ensuing years, he either sought or was put forward for soldiering work in Biafra, Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique and Rhodesia, but it all came to nought. In 1970 he moved to Singapore and most likely tried to raise a 5000-man force to stop the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, but was not able to.
Earlier Mike, from his base in Durban, had sailed parts of the South African coast in his 36' Norwegian double-ended cutter, Colin Archer. Now, he bought a 23-metre Baltic trading yacht in Spain and sailed the western Mediterranean with his family as crew for three years. He then wrote Three Years with Sylvia. In 1977 he was the military and technical advisor to the film, The Wild Geese, starring Richard Burton in the Mike Hoare role. This contact with the famous Shakespearian actor was a high point in Mike's life as he had studied Shakespeare in some depth. Thereafter Mike spent three weeks touring the USA and giving 100 interviews to promote the film.
In the late 70s, he was approached to reinstate the legitimate government of the Seychelles. The president, Jimmy Mancham, had been deposed in a coup. Funding was a problem. The SADF supplied the weapons to Mike, and the National Intelligence Service took over the planning of the coup attempt. In November 1981, about 50 men were recruited and, posing as members of the Ancient Order of Frothblowers, flew to the Seychelles with AK-47 rifles hidden in their false-bottom luggage. On arrival, a weapon was discovered, and battle commenced.
Despite the irregular situation, an Air India Boeing 707 en route from Harare to Bombay came in to land, needing fuel. Some of the men refuelled the plane and, according to Mike, the captain invited the Frothblowers to fly away with them. The pilot served champagne to the leaders after take-off. The plane landed in Durban and after a trial in Pietermaritzburg, all the men were jailed for various periods for what was usually described as hijacking. Mike got 10 years in jail, but was freed in terms of a Presidential amnesty after 33 months.
He then wrote The Seychelles Affair, and two other books, Congo Warriors and The Road to Kalamata. In the early 1990s he and Phyllis went to live in a small village in south-west France. Here Mike made an in-depth study of the Cathars, a pure Christian sect who lived in the region in the middle ages, and who were wiped out by the popes of the day.
In 2009, Mike came back to South Africa to live with his sons Chris and Tim, in Durban and Cape Town, alternatively. During this time, two more books were published: Mike Hoare's Adventures in Africa, and The Last Days of the Cathars.
Mike continues to live in Durban. He turned 100 years old on 17 March 2019, which of course is St Patrick's Day.
He once said, and this tells us a lot about the man: "I would like to have been born in the time of Sir Francis Drake, out robbing the Spaniards, and when you brought the booty back to the queen, you knelt before her and she made you a knight. You were respectable, even though you were a thief!"
Certainly, there was a bit of pirate in Mike, but what most people who never met him do not
realise is that he was only 5'7" tall, and the most important thing for him was good manners. If
I was allowed two words to describe him I would say: good natured.
Chris Hoare published an authoritative biography on his father's life in 2018. It is titled: 'Mad Mike' Hoare: The Legend. Contact Chris on: firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright Chris Hoare.
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