New photos chronicle the life of soldier who transformed the SAS

Never-seen-before photos chronicle the life of soldier who transformed the SAS and established ‘The Regiment’ as world-respected elite fighting force

  • John Woodhouse is one of the leading pioneers of the SAS, having introduced unit’s ‘selection course’ in 1952
  • Woodhouse served alongside a newly-formed SAS while fighting as a British soldier during Second World War
  • After the SAS was disbanded in 1945, it was then reformed in 1946 before being revolutionised by Woodhouse
  • Woodhouse serves with the SAS in Oman, Borneo and South Arabia, building up its now-fearsome reputation

Never-seen-before photos chronicling the life and times of the man who helped create the modern SAS and established the regiment as one of the most feared and respected elite forces on Earth have been unearthed.

John Woodhouse is considered one of the leading pioneers of the SAS, having convinced top brass that intelligence was more important to victory than inflicting casualties. 

He was also responsible for the introduction of the unit’s famous ‘selection course’ in 1952, with soldiers formerly getting picked through their, in some cases outdated, military record.

The process was dreamt up by then Major Woodhouse would become one of the most demanding military training courses in the military community and would go on to be adopted by special force units across the globe.

Woodhouse had served alongside the newly-formed SAS while fighting as a British soldier in Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy during the Second World War.

The unit was disbanded following the end of the war in 1945, but the following year it was decided there was a national requirement for a long-term commando unit within the British military and the SAS was reformed. 

No 78 Division battle patrol in Italy 1943, led by Lieutenant John Woodhouse. He received a Military Cross for his actions in the conflict. Woodhouse had served alongside the newly-formed SAS while fighting as a British soldier in Tunisia, Sicily, and Italy during the Second World War

John Woodhouse is pictured at a D Squadron base in Malaya in 1955. Woodhouse himself would join the SAS regiment in 1950, and following a successful period showing his leadership qualities to top brass he would returned to Malaya as a squadron commander in 1955

On exercise in Norway, Woodhouse can be seen shaving. Woodhouse is considered one of the leading pioneers of the SAS regiment, having convinced top brass that intelligence was more important to victory than inflicting casualties and revolutionising the unit


Renowned for his fitness levels and discipline, Woodhouse secured third place in the slalom event of the British Army Ski Championships of 1949 (shown left). On the right, Woodhouse is seen checking the route timings for the selection course that he devised in Wales in 1954

General Bourne visits D Squadron in Malaya, 1956. Woodhouse is on the right of the picture. His SAS squadrons are receiving high praise for their work in the region so far. It was during the Malayan Emergency that the SAS received its first plaudits on the world stage as an elite fighting unit

Captain John Woodhouse MC is presented with his war medals by his father Brigadier Charles Woodhouse. At the expense of his own promising career, Woodhouse continued to serve the SAS through campaigns in Oman, Borneo, Radfan and South Arabia, as it built up its unrivaled reputation


John Woodhouse and Peggy Lacey married at East Horsley on 29 May, 1958 (pictured left). On the right, Woodhouse is pictured with his parents outside Buckingham Palace after his MBE presentation in 1957

The officers of 21 SAS Regiment in 1958. Major Woodhouse, the second-in-command, is second from right in the front row. The SAS was disbanded after the Second World War, but it was reformed within just a few years when the Cold War era called for a specially trained group of highly intelligent, skilled soldiers to conduct complex and deadly missions


Lieutenant John Woodhouse is pictured left in an image taken in 1943 at Palermo. He was applauded for his service during the Second World War. On the right, Woodhouse is pictured at the headquarters of Gassim Monassir in Yemen watching the Egyptian air base in 1965

Woodhouse is pictured after his military retirement, serving as chairman of Hall & Woodhouse Brewery in 1995. He also went on to create the Panda Pops brand, a popular soft drink for children. In the years after Woodhouse’s death, author Alan Hoe was adamant that the SAS commander’s contributions to the SAS were properly recognised

An SAS reunion in 1959, with some of the Malayan veterans posing next to each other during a rare get-together of former comrades. Pictured left to right is Ian Cartwright, Bill Ross, John Woodhouse, Mick Reeves, Ip Kwong Lau and Paddy Winters

Woodhouse himself would join the regiment in 1950, and following a successful period he would returned to Malaya as a squadron commander in 1955.

Remarkable photographs of Woodhouse include an image of the young lieutenant in the midst of the Second World War, leading his men whilst cradling a machine gun.

Another shows a wiry Woodhouse in British Malaya where he helped create the rules and regulations for the modern regiment which are still obeyed today.

A more recent image shows the decorated war hero standing proudly outside Buckingham Place with his parents after receiving his MBE.  

The roots of the post-war SAS were cultivated in British Malaya, the south east Asian peninsula above Singapore, an area ravaged by war between 1948 and 1960.

The Malayan Emergency, as it became known, was one of the few successful counter-insurgency operations undertaken by the Western powers during the Cold War.

It saw British and Commonwealth forces defeat a communist revolt in Malaya with the Malayan Scouts, chiefly made up of SAS serviceman, key the conflict’s success.

The SAS in North Africa and Woodhouse’s Malayan elite force share many similarities, particularly in terms of spirit, but also show how versatile and resilient the special forces soldiers can be in different challenging terrains. 

At the expense of his own promising career, Woodhouse continued to serve the SAS through campaigns in Oman, Borneo, Radfan and South Arabia, as it built up its unrivalled reputation. 

Keystone of 22 SAS: The Life and Times of Lieutenant Colonel J M (Jock) Woodhouse MBE MC is now available.

Recruit training in the Brecon Beacons during a 1955 selection. The modern process was dreamt up by Woodhouse, with recruits given the chance to prove their worth as opposed to formerly getting picked through their, in some cases outdated, military record

A photograph from Borneo shows how even during such mundane tasks as washing mess tins, it was required for an alert sentry to be looking on.Years beforehand, the roots of the post-war SAS were cultivated in British Malaya, the south east Asian peninsula above Singapore, an area ravaged by war between 1948 and 1960

Troops are shown sorting stores after a resupply air-drop in 1955. The Malayan Emergency, as it became known, was one of the few successful counter-insurgency operations undertaken by the Western powers during the Cold War

Elements of the SAS’s D Squadron are pictured waiting for transport in an undated photograph. The SAS in North Africa and Woodhouse’s Malayan elite force share many similarities, particularly in terms of spirit, but also show how versatile and resilient the special forces soldiers can be in different challenging terrains

SAS Sergeant Bob Turnbull MM is pictured on a march into a jungle base in 1955. Note the unwieldy equipment. Woodhouse was constantly trying to find new methods to move stealthily through the dense rainforest

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