For years, Jack Paley didn’t talk much about his military past.
The Second World War veteran, who turned 100 on Thursday, was part of an elite British group — the Special Air Service (SAS). In downtown Toronto, at the Historic Royal Canadian Military Institute, there was a procession for Paley to mark his monumental birthday.
“I made it — how, I don’t know,” Paley said with humour. “I’m just same as ever.”
Paley, with his wife of 70 years by his side, was presented with a cake that proudly noted his role within the SAS, a secretive group that until recently, even his own children knew little about.
“I used to think he was a spy as a kid — because it was very secretive and so we didn’t hear a lot about it,” said Anne Ison, Paley’s daughter. “Last few years has been eye opening, humbling.”
The SAS was born in the north African desert, where a young British officer in 1941 named David Stirling created a commando force — small bands of soldiers who could be parachuted in behind enemy lines and generally cause havoc.
Their motto: who dares wins.
“A lot of the work that they did is still confidential because of the nature of the work and assassinating German officers and all sorts of things like that,” Alan Bell, a former Special Air Services operator, told CTV News.
Famously, Hitler ordered that soldiers like those in the SAS were to be executed if captured.
“Oh, they shot them on the spot, yeah,” Paley said.
Still, Paley, born in England, bravely joined up and went on daring operations behind the lines in Italy and France.
“We were to train the Maquis — the French Resistance — with different weapons,” he said. “Bazookas, machine guns and mostly plastic grenades. We had to show them how to put it under the railway line.”
Paley now lives in Markham, Ont., and is only the third member of the SAS to make it to 100 years old.
To this day, he’s humble about his contribution, and honoured to have it acknowledged by other vets.
“Yeah, it’s just one of those things,” he said.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Alexandra Mae Jones