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The well-known adventurer and soldier of fortune, Lt Col Hoare, died in his sleep and with dignity aged 100 years at a care facility in Durban on 2 February 2020. A spokesman for the family and Mike Hoare’s biographer, Chris Hoare, said, ’Mike Hoare lived by the philosophy that you get more out of life by living dangerously, so it is all the more remarkable that he lived more than 100 years.
‘Most people who met Mike described him as a legend, and as an officer and a gentleman; only a few realised there was a bit of pirate thrown in. Known as Mad Mike, he was short and dapper, impossibly charming, unaccountably enigmatic, always polite, strangely proper, absolutely sane, good-natured, a brilliant leader and an absolute legend.’
Mike Hoare was born in 1919 in India of Irish parents, and educated in England. During World War II he attended officer training school. Later he saw action at Kohima, India, and in Burma. He was demobilised from the Armoured Corps as major. Qualifying as a chartered accountant he immigrated to South Africa in 1948.
He knew Africa as few would dare to. He took long-distance mountain hikes, and then rode off on motorbikes Cape Town to Cairo, a distance of 16,750 km through the world’s most primitive and dangerous continent. He also motorcycled from Mombasa to Lobito, and was later a safari leader in the Kalahari Desert.
During the Congo Crisis 1960 – 1965, Colonel Mike Hoare led 300 Wild Geese during which conflict they crushed the communist rebellion, rescue 2,000 nuns and priests. Later he would become a technical adviser to The Wild Geese movie, starring Richard Burton as the lead character based on Hoare.
In his father’s biography, Chris Hoare writes: ‘About 250 men from 5 Commando struck out from Bunia on 15 March 1965. Their twin targets were the important town of Aru and the nearby Esebi mission which was now a rebel training centre.
Here he is relaxing in the jungle after his men have captured Watsa, in the Congo.
Hoare was in his best mood as ‘nothing is as nice as a good march’. Then, the sky opened. A wall of water fell down on us. In the pouring rain, we ran into a village, but the rebels had fled. We pressed into the abandoned houses. Everything was dripping wet. Hoare allowed three hours’ rest. The freezing men fell to the ground as if dead and slept soundly.
A few started a fire and somehow we found we had a large pot of hot tea. ‘One recognises a good English troop,’ the lieutenant-colonel proclaimed, ‘by the speed with which it manages to make hot tea under the most difficult conditions’.
We lay on the ground side by side. The thoroughly soaked commander-in-chief trembled with cold. After all, he was no longer so young. Some soldiers persuaded him to put at least his shoes, trousers and socks near the fire to dry.
Michael Hoare with a bodyguard in Congo at the peak of his career in 1964 | Source: GETTY IMAGES
‘In the flickering of the flames, I saw his sleeping face beside me. There was something innocent and wise about him, like an elderly child. Why this slim man, who could lead a comfortable life in the paradise city of Durban, with his pretty blonde wife, and among valued friends, came here to march through the night and the storm is incomprehensible. He could have led the operation comfortably, as did the Belgian officers, from a headquarters far behind the lines, or at least from a comfortable vehicle or well-equipped quarters in abandoned villas.
‘But he did not do this. He was always out in front and showed less mercy to himself than to his soldiers. Perhaps it was because this wild band of adventurers, drinkers and similar ilk loved him, although he often treated them like dogs. To the Belgians, he was a mystery and magnificent.’
On another occasion, Germani said Mike had discussed politics and literature with him, and recited English verse. ‘Only now did I begin to know this strange man. He was a genuine British officer in his posture and behaviour, but also a genuine Irishman in his recurring sentimentality and his fighting spirit.’
Now 52 Commando was pushing up toward Aba. Griffin recalls, ‘We were driving in a long column of trucks. Tactics were to travel till you got ambushed and then get out and crawl into the ditches, and then thump the rebels.
I was pretty nervous in the beginning, actually most of the time. Mike was travelling in the tentacle, when we got ambushed. We were all lying in the ditches on either side. The shooting was still going on. Mike shouted, ‘Sergeant, get out my map table.’ Mike put the table out in the middle of the road, put his specs on and got the maps out and rather ostentatiously went through the maps, and we all rather sheepishly climbed out of the ditches.
I think it was an act, but it was pretty impressive. He was trying to show us to keep a cool head, he put things in perspective. 5 Commando completed their mission at Niangara, having taken only seven weeks to seal off the north-east.
Mike was certainly a master in the art of being the ‘calm presence’ and always used it to great effect. He did so whether it was whilst patching up one of his men who had a bloody foot, or in keeping rescued hostages calm while at the same time getting them out pronto.
Further on, beyond Bondo, Mike took the wheel of a ferry for a hazardous river crossing. 55 Commando’s Volunteer Eddie McCabe describes the ensuing events:
‘We went downstream a hundred yards or so and then all hell broke loose. The rebels had lined the bank and as the ferry reached the closest point to their positions they opened up with everything they had. I took cover behind some drums of diesel fuel and started firing.
In the middle of this, it suddenly occurred to me that if the steersman was hit we would be in REAL trouble, and I moved so I could see who this was, and it was Mike Hoare.
He was really exposed, a lot higher than anyone else with no cover at all and he was bowed down-firing with his 45 automatic. Judging by the number of shots he fired I would estimate that he fired as many, if not more, shots than most of the men on the ferry.’
On to Buta, but they were too late to save 38 priests from massacre and others from atrocities. By now, Mike had had enough again and told Mobutu so. But Mobutu offered him a family home in Albertville, with sentries, and command of a campaign to rid the Fizi-Baraka area of rebels. Mike accepted and flew south to Durban for a month’s leave. Around this time, Mike was invited by the rector of Michaelhouse to give a formal evening talk to the boys.
‘For over two hours Colonel Mike Hoare held the entire school of 450 boys and 40 members of staff spellbound, pacing up and down the stage without a note. Like a valiant Crusader returned from the Holy Land, he captivated us with stories of horror and heroism, adversity and adventure, barbarism and bravery.
At question time a forest of hands went up, fingers clicking for attention. There were groans of despair from the staff sitting at the back of the hall, sensing that years of investment in an expensive liberal/Christian education were under threat.
When it was sadly all over, the colonel could have filled a battalion with us zealous underage recruits for his next adventure. Such was the power, clarity, inspiration and charisma of his unforgettable address.
In 1981 Mike Hoare led a failed coup attempt in Seychelles, and served nearly three years in South African jails for air piracy. He lived in France for 20 years, making a study of the Cathar religion, before returning to South Africa in 2009.
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