The Wild Geese patch as shown above is often misidentified as being a mercenary or mercenary veteran’s insignia. This is untrue, however there is a real connection between it and one of the world’s best known mercenaries.
Thomas Michael Hoare (born 19 March 1919), better known as ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare achieved legendary status in the mid 1960’s for his exploits as a mercenary in the Congo suppressing a Communist backed revolt and helping to rescue up to two thousand civilians from atrocities being carried out by the Simba rebels.
Hoare’s unit, comprising around 300 mostly South African mercenaries was officially designated 5 Commando Armée Nationale Congolaise (5 Commando ANC) but unofficially referred to as ‘The Wild Geese’. This was a reference to the unit shoulder patch which featured a goose in flight below the title ‘5 Commando’ and was inspired by the “flight of the wild geese”, when Patrick Sarsfield, the 1st Earl of Lucan took his 19 000 strong Irish Jacobite army into exile in France in 1691. The term subsequently became associated with all the Irish soldiers who served with the continental European armies from the 16th thru 18th centuries. Hoare, a soldier of Irish descent, used this as a way of distinguishing his 5 Commando from the French and Belgian mercenaries also active in the Congo at that time.
In 1978, Daniel Carney’s novel about a British banker hiring a group of mercenaries to rescue a deposed African President from the hands of a corrupt dictator made its cinema debut as “The Wild Geese”. The title of the movie was based on Hoare’s 5 Commando nickname and he was hired as the technical advisor for the film which was mostly shot in South Africa. The mercenary commander, Colonel Alan Faulkner (played by Richard Burton) was patterned on ‘Mad Mike’ Hoare. The film was a commercial success and helped to reinforce the connection between the title and mercenary activities in the English-speaking world.
Meanwhile, around the same time, Seychelles exiles allied with the ex-president James Manchan were holding discussions with the South African Government about the possibility of overthrowing the new Seychelles president, France-Albert René, whose supporters had deposed Mancham whilst he was visiting London the previous year. Both the South Africans and the Americans were concerned about the presence of a socialist government in the Seychelles and gave their blessing, directing Manchan’s representatives to Hoare.
With South African support, Hoare raised a team of 54 mercenaries (half of whom were actually serving members of the South African Defence Force) for the operation which he estimated would cost US$ 5 million to fund. However, they could only secure US$300 000 and this lack of financial backing led to compromises in the plan which ultimately led to a disastrous outcome.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go into detail about the operation which involved the mercenaries entering the Seychelles disguised as a rugby club (named “Ye Ancient Order of Froth Blowers“), then disperse around the island before launching the coup whilst René was holding a cabinet meeting. Terry Aspinall provides interesting additional information about the operation and its outcome on his mercenary-wars.net website and you can also see the Associated Press uncut video ‘rushes’ showing the aftermath of the operation in the AP Archive.
On 25 November 1981, Hoare and the main party of 43 mercenaries, with their weapons hidden in their luggage, flew into Seychelles International Airport at Pointe La Rue on Mahé. Unfortunately, the AK-47 of one of the mercenaries was discovered during a luggage check, triggering a six-hour gun battle at the airport. Eventually the mercenaries commandeered a Boeing 707 (Air India Flight 224) which flew them back to South Africa, leaving behind five mercenaries, one South African National Intelligence Service (NIS) agent and a female civilian accomplice, all of whom were arrested and subsequently convicted of treason in the Seychelles. One mercenary had been killed and two wounded.
Arriving back in South Africa, the mercenaries were initially charged with kidnapping, which carried no minimum sentence, but after international pressure this was upgraded to hijacking. After a five-month trial, 42 of the mercenaries were found guilty and given between six months and five years in prison although most sentences were later reduced to six months. For his part, however, Mike Hoare was sentenced to ten years in prison but was pardoned and released on the 7th of May 1985 after serving 2 years, eight months and 10 days of his sentence.
Lack of finances had contributed to the decision to hide the mercenary’s weapons in their luggage as smuggling them to the island by boat was too costly and now, facing mounting legal bills, a plan was devised to raise contributions from sympathetic observers. This included selling ‘Wild Geese’ merchandise via the Sunday Times newspaper in South Africa and later, Soldier of Fortune magazine. The fund raising merchandise included patches and autographed paperback copies of Mike Hoare’s book, Mercenary, which recounted his adventures in the Congo.
Back in those days I was a regular subscriber and after seeing the advertisement (or possibly the editorial promotion shown above) in Soldier of Fortune, I was soon the proud owner of a Wild Geese patch. This came with a personalised, serial numbered certificate, confirming that I was “an Honorary Member of the Wild Geese”. From the same advert I also bought an autographed paperback Corgi 1982 reprint of Hoare’s book Mercenary. At the time, the patch cost US$5 and the book US$12.
Unfortunately, I traded all of those items with another collector many years ago as at that point in time they were outside of my collecting interests. It was a decision that I later regretted as my focus began to shift to mercenary insignia, but thanks to the help of fellow collector Alan Bennett I have been able to get some of the original items that were advertised in SOF for my collection. Alan, who corresponded with the Hoare family at the time, also made me aware that the patch was actually made in two sizes although I only recall the larger size being offered for sale in the Soldier of Fortune promotion. I suspect that the smaller patch may be part of an earlier run of the the patches that were first offered for sale in South Africa as the note from Mike’s wife, Phylis describes them both as being ‘buff coloured’ whereas the original patch offered in Soldier of Fortune was white. UPDATE: Alan Bennett has kindly shared a picture of the smaller buff coloured badge with me and I have included it at the bottom of the post alongside his example of the larger original patch of the type sold in SOF.
I say original, because despite being somewhat of a novelty item, these patches are actually being extensively reproduced and sold to collectors via eBay with varying descriptions along the lines of “5 COMMANDO MIKE HOARE MERCENARY CLOTH PATCH BADGE WILD GEESE” and the like. Some collectors, based on the descriptions being offered, may actually be led to believe that the patch was used by the mercenaries and on occasion dealers have tried to capitalise on that asking ridiculous prices for the patches. One dealer I am aware of currently has a patch listed for US$250, which he describes as an ‘original veterans badge’ along with a black & white photocopy of the “Honorary Member of the The Wild Geese” certificate. Most of the faked patches are relatively cheap though and it is quite easy to distinguish the original patch from the copy and I’ve included pictures of both for comparison.
Alan was also kind enough to send me some other material, including correspondence with Mike Hoare’s wife, Phyllis and a scan of his “Honorary Member” certificate to include in this article as I no longer have mine. Some sources refer to Hoare creating a database of potential mercenary recruits whilst in prison by signing them up as “Honorary Members of The Wild Geese”, which has contributed to the mythology around these items, but I wonder if those sources are confusing these fundraising certificates with something more sinister? I don’t know.
It is probably a question that I should have asked Mike’s son, Chris when we discussed these patches and the Soldier of Fortune promotion recently. He recalled the promotion in SOF and also provided the following information which is also in his biography of his father.
“To assist in paying the various legal fees, Mike had some round cloth badges made in two diameters, 105 mm and 60 mm. The badges said, ‘The Wild Geese’ and showed a goose flying over an island, and palm trees. A display in the Sunday Times of 20 June 1982 advertised the badges for sale for R5 with a signed certificate naming buyer’s honorary members of The Wild Geese. For another R10, buyers could also order signed copies of the Corgi edition of Mercenary. Later, Phyllis (Mike’s wife) advertised the badges for sale for $5 in Soldier of Fortune magazine in America; someone signed Mike’s name on the numbered certificates. There was a lot of sympathy for Mike and his Froth Blowers, and more than 3500 people responded…”
Apart from reminding me of the existence of the smaller patch, which I don’t recall being offered in the SOF advertisement or editorial promotion, Chris cleared up another thing that I had been thinking about. If Mike Hoare, was in prison at the time that all the books and certificates were being sold to his supporters, how did he sign them? Well, according to Chris it was someone else and that, considering the circumstance makes sense to me. However, despite this gem of information it should not detract from these very interesting items related to a colourful and legendary soldier.
Acknowledgements: I am very grateful to the assistance of fellow collectors Alan Bennett and Alex Iide for their help in finding images for some of the source material that I used in this article. Thanks guys, your help is very much appreciated.
Postscript: In March 2019, Mike Hoare and his son, Chris, released a limited re-edition of the patch with a new certificate. This limited re-issue was limited to 50 examples.
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