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Obituary: 'Mad Mike' Hoare

'Soldier of fortune' whose campaigns in the Congo inspired the film 'The Wild Geese'

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DAPPER: ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare with his ever-present beret which gave him a passing resemblance to Field Marshal Montgomery

DAPPER: ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare with his ever-present beret which gave him a passing resemblance to Field Marshal Montgomery

CENTRAL PRESS/AFP via Getty Imag

DAPPER: ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare with his ever-present beret which gave him a passing resemblance to Field Marshal Montgomery

'Mad Mike" Hoare, who died last Sunday aged 100, was an Irish accountant who became the world's most famous mercenary. His career as a "soldier of fortune" ended in a humiliating anticlimax, however, when a botched attempt to overthrow the president of the Seychelles in 1981 landed him in jail.

Hoare's adoption in his forties of a new career as a leader of mercenary forces probably owed at least as much to the influence of well-placed business contacts as to any evidence of military prowess during his service in the army.

He had been running a number of small businesses in South Africa when, in 1961, he was introduced to the Congolese politician Moise Tshombe.

When Tshombe hired him in July 1964 to crush the Simba rebellion, which was backed by Cuban forces led by Che Guevara, Hoare was unknown to the wider world; by the time the campaign was successfully completed 18 months later he and his unit, 5 Commando, were internationally famous.

Hoare dubbed his men "the Wild Geese", a nickname borrowed from the Irish mercenaries of the 18th century, and strove to duplicate the spirit of a conventional British army regiment among his "volunteers" ("we don't much care for the word 'mercenaries' ourselves", he once said).

In contrast to the preponderantly French and Belgian mercenaries then at work in Africa - whom he regarded as "swaggering, crapulous, foul-mouthed and quite unnecessarily armed" - his men had regulation haircuts, no beards or pointed shoes, church parade on Sunday mornings and (despite the Congo's punishing heat) regular football matches.

There were many who thought Hoare's greatest feats of tactical skill were in the field of self-promotion. When, in November 1964, he and his men took part in the liberation of the rebel-held city of Stanleyville, he discovered that the photojournalist Don McCullin had smuggled himself aboard their aircraft; Hoare, initially furious, quickly saw the value of letting McCullin accompany his men as they went about rescuing the thousands of white nuns and missionaries whom the rebels had been holding hostage.

Although a Time reporter observed that Hoare could not prevent his men from looting the places they relieved, western public opinion, previously hostile to mercenaries, began to turn in their favour.

Much of Hoare's appeal to the public lay in his apparently genuine lack of interest in financial reward. He rejoiced in the sobriquet "Mad Mike" that the press conferred on him after East German radio had begun regularly to denounce him as "that mad bloodhound Hoare".

Hoare's cachet reached its zenith in 1978 with the release of Andrew McLaglen's mercenary adventure film The Wild Geese, starring Richard Burton as Colonel Allen Faulkner, a thinly disguised portrait of Hoare, alongside Richard Harris and Roger Moore.

Hoare toured America to promote the film and was feted by the press.

Within a few years, however, he had become something of an international laughing stock, following the failure in 1981 of 'Operation Anvil' in the Seychelles.

Hoare and his men escaped from the island to South Africa after hijacking an Air India plane.

They were tried in South Africa the following year. Most received sentences of only a few months but Hoare, at 63, was given 20 years, with 10 suspended.

Thomas Michael Bernard Hoare was born to Irish parents in Calcutta on March 17, 1919. He attended Margate College and planned to apply to Sandhurst, but the sudden death of his father meant he had to take up a profession, and he studied accounting.

He enlisted with the Royal Ulster Rifles in 1941 and later served in India and Burma; he claimed to have fought with the Chindits against the Japanese.

He was demobbed from the Royal Armoured Corps as a major and returned to accountancy, setting up a practice in South Africa in 1953.

In person he was short and dapper. His ever-present beret was perhaps intended to emphasise a passing resemblance to Field Marshal Montgomery.

Hoare's memoir Congo Mercenary (1967; later reissued simply as Mercenary) was a bestseller and reprinted many times.

Among his other books were The Road to Kalamata, Congo Warriors and The Seychelles Affair, as well as the non-military memoirs Adventures in Africa and Three Years with Sylvia. Sylvia was his beloved former Baltic trading yacht.

When he had passed his 90th birthday - perhaps the unlikeliest achievement of all for a mercenary - he recorded his collected works as audio books, his beautifully modulated English officer-class accent becoming more Irish in proportion to the rortiness of the anecdotes.

Mike Hoare married Elizabeth Stoot, in 1945 and they divorced in 1961, having had a daughter and two sons.

He then married, in the same year, Phyllis Sims, a South African air stewardess. She died in 2009; they had two sons.

Sunday Independent