Roger James Allen Courtney, also known as Jumbo, was a significant figure in British military history, particularly known for establishing the Special Boat Sections which eventually led to the formation of the UK Special Boat Service. Born in 1902, he led a life marked by adventure and innovation.

Before the war, Courtney’s life was far from conventional. He worked as a bank clerk in Leeds, England, but his passion for adventure led him to East Africa, where he became a professional white hunter and gold prospector. His African experiences were so rich and varied that he authored a book titled “Claws of Africa, Experiences of a Professional Big-game Hunter,” published in 1934. Additionally, he served as a sergeant in the Palestinian Police Force.

With the outbreak of World War II, Courtney, then in Africa for big-game hunting, returned to England and proposed the idea of a “commando folding kayaker” to the British Army. Initially rebuffed, he joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps as a Rifleman, where he quickly rose to the rank of corporal and was commissioned in November 1939. His relentless pursuit to establish a kayak brigade led him to demonstrate its effectiveness through a daring infiltration of HMS Glengyle, where he left his initials in the captain’s cabin and stole a deck gun cover. This audacious act earned him a promotion to captain and command over the first Special Boat Section, comprising twelve men.

Courtney’s brother, Gruff (G.B. Courtney), also played a pivotal role, commanding a second section of the SBS. These units executed several successful raids in the early years of the war, particularly in the Mediterranean, proving the viability of Courtney’s innovative small-scale attack strategies from the sea. However, the heavy casualties suffered led to the merger of the SBS personnel into the new Special Boat Squadron in 1943, under George Jellicoe’s leadership. This shift resulted in Courtney losing his command.

Post-military, Courtney took up a role as a locust control officer. He passed away from pneumonia in Hargeisa, Somaliland, on February 15, 1946, at the age of 46. His contributions to military tactics and the formation of specialized forces remain a significant part of his legacy.

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  • RARE, 1948: Footlose in the Congo, by Roger Courtney

    Footloose in the Congo is a rare first edition book written by Roger Courtney and published by Herbert Jenkins Limited in London in 1948. The book is a scarce account of the author’s life during a locust campaign as Chief Field Officer for an area in East Africa. The volume is not dated but has an inscription on the blank title page that reads “To Leslie, 1953.” The book is a blue cloth hardcover with impressed lettering on the spine and has moderate signs of fading and wear. There are minor signs of yellowing and aging on the pages, and there is a faded stamp on the inside of the back cover that reads “25 April 1953.” The book is in very good condition, aside from the faded cover, and might benefit from being rebound.

    This book is a non-fiction account of the author’s experiences in East Africa during a locust campaign. It provides a rare glimpse into the life of a Chief Field Officer during this time period. The book is a first edition and is considered a valuable collector’s item. The author’s signature and an inscription on the blank title page add to the book’s value and historical significance. The book is in good condition, with only minor signs of wear and aging, and would make an excellent addition to any collection of books about Africa or non-fiction works about life in the mid-twentieth century.