The extremely rare 1961 Order of Saint John Serving Brother and Second World War Special Forces Southern Rhodesia Long Range Desert Group Albania 1944 to 1945 operations long service group awarded to Rifleman D.W. ‘Spider’ McNeilage, ‘A’ Rhodesia Squadron, Long Range Desert Group, formerly Southern Rhodesian Reconnaissance Regiment, who was one of 20 volunteers to enroll in the newly re-organised ‘A’ Rhodesia Squadron in early 1944, and went on to serve as part of T.3 Patrol under Captain R.A. Tinker and Lieutenant R.P. Marr in Albania from Oct
The extremely rare 1961 Order of Saint John Serving Brother and Second World War Special Forces Southern Rhodesia Long Range Desert Group Albania 1944 to 1945 operations long service group awarded to Rifleman D.W. ‘Spider’ McNeilage, ‘A’ Rhodesia Squadron, Long Range Desert Group, formerly Southern Rhodesian Reconnaissance Regiment, who was one of 20 volunteers to enroll in the newly re-organised ‘A’ Rhodesia Squadron in early 1944, and went on to serve as part of T.3 Patrol under Captain R.A. Tinker and Lieutenant R.P. Marr in Albania from October 1944, when his unit formed part of what was Force 266, a composite organisation which also comprised the Raiding Support Regiment, Special Boat Squadron, and also Commandos. McNeilage was 40 years old in early 1944 when he gained his Parachute Wings, and had prior to the war been the unbeaten lightweight, welterweight and middleweight boxing champion of Northern Rhodesia for some three years, as well as being the Rhodesian light weight boxing champion, having having come to the fore in 1936 and working for the Rhodesian Railways when he was invited to compete in the British South Africas Police boxing championships, in which he then won the lightweight title. Post war he became a well known Bulawayo resident, and worked for the Bulawayo Bank when he cycled from shop to shop delivering the banks papers. After 8 1/2 years employment in cycle delivery, on his retirement aged 65 he estimated that he had cycled some 22,000 miles along the Bulawayo Streets. He also became a long serving member of the Rhodesian Priory of the Saint John Ambulance Brigade, and volunteered as an Ambulance Officer, being then appointed an Service Brother of the Order of Saint John in 1961.
Group of 6: Order of Saint John, Serving Brother, 5th type insignia (1974-1984); 1939-1945 Star; Italy Star; War Medal; Africa Service Medal 1939-1945; last only named as issued to South Rhodesian’s serving with the South African forces, officially impressed; (SR.599026 D.W. McNEILAGE); Service Medal of the Order of Saint John, base medal issue with first obverse, with three additional award clasps; (9680 D. Mc NEILAGE. RHODESIA. S.J.A.B. 1959.), mounted swing style for wear.
Condition: last with the plating polished off, overall Very Fine.
Daniel McNeilage, nicknamed ‘Spider’, came from Southern Rhodesia, and as of 1936 was working on the Rhodesian Railways when he was invited to compete in the British South Africas Police boxing championships, in which he then won the lightweight title and became known. McNeilage then became the Rhodesian light weight boxing champion, being also the unbeaten lightweight, welterweight and middleweight champion of Northern Rhodesia for some three years.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, every male in Southern Rhodesia had to register and were then called up. A fellow Southern Rhodesian member of the LRDG, Alf Page, recalled that whilst he was serving with the Southern Rhodesian Reconnaissance Regiment, ‘we’re told and officer was looking for volunteers for a cloak and dagger outfit’, the Long Range Desert Group. Page recalled that this was about the time of the Allied landings at Anzio in Italy. Page recalled that in all 20 men volunteered to accompany the officers, Captain John Olivey, MC and Bar, back with him to reinforce A Squadron, and ‘Spider McNeilage’ was one of those who joined with Alf Page.
This special unit, initially known as Long Range Patrol, was founded in Egypt in June 1940 by Mayor Ralph A. Bagnold, acting under the direction of General Wavell. At first it consisted in the majority of men from New Zealand, but they were soon joined by Southern Rhodesian and British volunteers, whereupon new sub-units were formed and the name was changed to the better-known Long Range Desert Group. The LRDG never numbered more than 350 men, all of whom were volunteers.
The LRDG was formed specifically to carry out deep penetration, covert reconnaissance patrols and intelligence missions from behind Italian lines, although they sometimes engaged in combat operations. Because the LRDG were experts in desert navigation, they were sometimes assigned to guide other units, including the Special Air Service and secret agents across the desert. During the Desert Campaign between December 1940 and April 1943, the vehicles of the LRDG operated constantly behind the Axis lines, missing a total of only 15 days during the entire period. Possibly their most notable offensive action was during Operation Caravan, an attack on the town of Barce and its associated airfield, on the night of 13th September 1942. However, their most vital role was the 'Road Watch', during which they clandestinely monitored traffic on the main road from Tripoli to Benghazi, transmitting the intelligence to British Army Headquarters.
By the time that McNeilage joined however the war in North Africa was over, the Mareth Line having been broken in March 1943. During a subsequent lull in the operations, the LRDG had regrouped at Azzib in Palestine and conducted parachute training and then moved to Lebanon for ski and mountain training. A return to Palestine saw the practising of combined operations, and in January 1944 the unit moved to Abla in Syria. Following the invasion of Italy the Italians had surrendered back in September 1943, and the LRDG had been involved in the failed defence of Leros that same month, where the officer who had approached both Page and McNeilage had won the Bar to his Military Cross in escaping from the Germans and travelling through Greece. With the New Zealand element of the LRDG being recalled to the 2nd Echelon New Zealand Expeditionary Force, it was decided that a fresh intake of Rhodesians would bring the units numbers back up, and hence the recruitment drive for Page and McNeilage joining, as A Squadron was in the process of being formed for the men of the Southern Rhodesian volunteers.
McNeilage and the other volunteers were sent to Egypt, and then to Rodi, a base in Italy not far from Bari on the Gargano Peninsula where they were to undergo para training. Everyone had to do 7 jumps to earn their wings, and McNeilage was 40 years old when he qualified. McNeilage is shown in the book ‘LRDG Rhodesia’ as serving as a Rifleman (No.SR599026 and No.RH6857983), having already seen service with the Southern Rhodesian Artillery, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and South African Armoured Corps, this latter having almost certainly encompassed his time alongside Alf Page with the Southern Rhodesian Reconnaissance Regiment.
During the spring of 1944, the LRDG from into the command of the Central Mediterranean Forces, and the Rhodesian ‘A’ Squadron was placed under the command of a Kiwi, Major Ken Lazarus, and joined Force 266, a composite organisation comprising the Raiding Support Regiment, Special Boat Squadron, and then Commandos. The LRDG’s primary roll was to provide reconnaissance in all types of terrain with a secondary role of providing communication links between allied or guerrilla forces operating behind or to the flanks of enemy lines.
Operations were to be carried out in Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia and Northern Italy, and included similar missions to those carried out in the desert, albeit with distinctly different models of transport. The force conducted raids on enemy garrisons and a shipping watch, much like the old road watch in Libya but over shipping routes. They’d radio in about what they had seen and pretty soon RAF Typhoons would attack the craft or MTBs would come in with a torpedo run. To get to their destination the forces used a vast array of vessels including sloops, caciques, MTBs, launches, kayaks, fishing boats, and landing craft. On land the Chevrolet trucks of the desert had given way to jeeps armed with machine guns, a hugely versatile vehicle packing a punch well above its weight.
In June 1944 Force 266 split up with A Squadron coming under the command of Land Forces Adriatic, and was involved in the liberation of Athens. During this period of operations, McNeilage had formed part of T.3 Patrol under Captain R.A. Tinker and Lieutenant R.P. Marr and took part in operations in Albania from October 1944. McNeilage is photographed in the LRDG Rhodesia Reunion at Selukwe in 1977.
After the war, McNeilage went on to return to Rhodesia and work for the Bulawayo Bank and cycling from shop to shop delivering the banks papers. He also became a long serving member of the Rhodesian Priory of the Saint John Ambulance Brigade, an volunteered as an Ambulance Officer, being then appointed an Service Brother of the Order of Saint John in 1961. At the time of his retirement from the Bulawayo Bank, after 8 1/2 years employment in cycle delivery, he estimated that he had cycled some 22,000 miles along the Bulawayo Streets. He was then aged 65.