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Andy McNab’s survival kit, c1990
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The art of staying alive: McNab's survival kit

An SAS soldier's personal survival kit contains many everyday objects. These can be used in ingenious ways, demonstrating both the adaptability and the resourcefulness of the Special Forces.

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Captain Roger Courtney, 1943

Roger Courtney: SBS pioneer

Major Roger ‘Jumbo’ Courtney founded the Special Boat Section during the Second World War. This became one of Britain’s most important Special Forces and was a parent unit of the modern Special Boat Service.

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A six-inch howitzer of 127th Siege Battery, Royal Artillery, Salonika, 1917

Salonika campaign

From 1915 to 1918, British troops were part of a multi-national Allied force fighting the Bulgarians and their allies in the Balkans. Despite harsh conditions, they eventually brought the campaign to a successful conclusion.

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Indian troops passing through a communication trench on the Mesopotamian Front, 1917.

The Commonwealth and the First World War

Over 3 million soldiers and labourers from across the Empire and Commonwealth served alongside the British Army in the First World War.

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V Beach at Cape Helles, April 1915

Gallipoli campaign

Gallipoli was the first major amphibious operation in modern warfare. In 1915 British Empire and French troops landed on the Ottoman-held peninsula in the Dardanelles Straits with disastrous consequences for the Allies.

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The South African Engineer Corps bury a comrade, 1915

South-West African campaign

On 9 July 1915, enemy forces in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) surrendered to the Allies. This marked the final stage of a short but successful campaign of manoeuvre fought in extremely harsh conditions.

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Landing troops from transports at Lao Shan Bay, September 1914

Siege of Tsingtao

In the autumn of 1914, British soldiers fought alongside the Japanese in China. Their goal was the German naval base at Tsingtao, which finally fell in November after a two-month siege.

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A 15-inch howitzer being prepared for action on the Somme, 1 July 1916

1916: Year of attrition

1916 witnessed two of the longest and most notorious battles of the First World War. Both resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties for both the Allies and Germans on the Western Front.

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Lieutenant Colonel Robert 'Paddy' Mayne near Kabrit, Egypt, 1942

‘Paddy’ Mayne: An Irish Lion

Lieutenant-Colonel 'Paddy' Mayne is a legendary figure in the history of the Special Forces. A celebrated sportsman with a turbulent character, he played a vital role in the early successes of the Special Air Service (SAS), becoming one of its most important commanders.

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Troops in trenches at Wulverghem, 1915

1915: Early trench battles

During 1915, the British and French undertook a series of unsuccessful attacks against the Germans on the Western Front. For both sides it was a tough learning experience.

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Landrécies, 25 August 1914

1914: Mons to Christmas

In August 1914, the British Expeditionary Force was sent to France. Although small when compared with the German and French armies, it was to play a role out of all proportion to its numbers. But the cost was huge, and by December 1914 it had been almost wiped out.

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'Fall in. Answer now in your country's hour of need', 1914

1914: To arms

The outbreak of war in August 1914 was greeted with enthusiasm in Britain. But to meet its commitment to its allies, the nation would have to expand its small professional army and make it ready for war as quickly as possible.

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Lieutenant Jock Lewes, 1940

‘Jock’ Lewes: SAS mastermind

As the co-founder of the Special Air Service (SAS), Lewes played a vital role in establishing the unit’s ethos and high standards of training and discipline.

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