Peter McAleese, the man who took over from the notorious ‘Callan’ as the leader of British mercenaries in Angola, is now an active member of the Rhodesian army fighting guerrillas of the Patriotic Front. He owes his place on the front lines to his earlier career with the Special Air Services regiment.
Mr McAleese, aged 36, has been in Britain on a month’s leave. For more than two weeks, he was in custody in Glasgow where he pleaded guilty to charges of assaulting his father and brother in 1976. He also visited his old regiment’s headquarters in Hereford where he boasted to friends of his ‘high kill rate’. He told one that he had killed more than 70 men.
His presence in the Rhodesian army is a source of embarrassment to the regime which has always insisted that it does not want foreign mercenaries. He gained his position in January 1977 after making contact in Salisbury with friends from his SAS days in the 1960s.
His British training stood him in good stead and, despite his Angolan reputation as a mercenary killer, he was put through six months training by the Rhodesian SAS in Salisbury. He is now a sergeant and has told friends that he has been regularly attached to the Rhodesian SAS.
Mr McAleese was among the original group of 19 mercenaries recruited by Mr John Banks’ Security Advisory Services who travelled to Angola in January 1976. After the massacre at Maquela in February, when ‘Callan’ Costas Georgiou ordered the execution of 14 British mercenaries, Mr McAleese was promoted to colonel and given Callan’s job by Holden Roberto, leader of the FNLA.
It was soon after his return to England, in March 1976, that he was charged with assaulting his brother and father in Glasgow. He appeared in court in Glasgow in June that year and was bailed. By the time his case came up, in January 1977, he was in Rhodesia.
He has been in Rhodesia since then. But when he returned home on leave at the beginning of July, he went to stay with his wife in Hereford and was picked up by the police on July 4. The next day he appeared before the Sheriff Court in Glasgow and pleaded guilty to assault, breaching of the peace and malicious mischief.
He was held in custody until July 21. During that time he was examined by a psychiatrist who reported that he was fit and sane but liable to become aggressive when drunk. He told a social worker that he was a full member of the Rhodesian army, that he hoped to emigrate there and that he would be charged with desertion if he was not back by July 25.
The Sheriff Court fined him £100 on July 21 and freed him. But at the last moment, Mr McAleese cancelled his reservation on the July 25 flight. He is believed to have left on a British Airways flight to Johannesburg on Tuesday, July 31.
Mrs McAleese and her daughter, aged 14, are still in Hereford. Mrs McAleese says she has no way of getting in touch with her husband and does not know whether she and her daughter will join him in Salisbury.
“I can’t talk about what he does out there,” she said. “He doesn’t tell me anything. He has tried other jobs, but the SAS has always been his life. It’s like any other trade – if you are highly trained, you can’t give it up. There’s nothing else for him.”
Other mercenaries and former SAS men refused to discuss their role in Rhodesia or Mr McAleese’s activities there. They are bound not simply by the extraordinary camaraderie between them but also by the knowledge that the Rhodesian government would he embarrassed by the discussion of their role.
One mercenary, an old associate of Mr John Banks, who was with Mr McAleese in Angola, said: “Mercenaries and people like Peter McAleese are not really wanted in Rhodesia, especially if their reputation precedes them, as his did. Publicity could cause incalculable damage to them.
“It gives the opposition all the ammunition in the world. People like Peter and myself feel very strongly about Rhodesia, and that’s why we’re there. But he is there on sufferance, on parole.”