Biting the Bullet: Married to the SAS

Jenny Simpson


When Jenny Simpson married she joined a unique band of women – the SAS wives – and entered a world of secrecy and danger that few outside it could begin to imagine.


How many wives have to learn to live for months not knowing where their husband is, or what kind of danger he might be in – from IRA terrorists he is stalking, Argentinian or Iraqi soldiers, a faulty parachute or a dangerous training mission gone wrong? How many women could live a life in which they must check their car every morning for bombs, knowing that the IRA has their name and address? When every stranger might be an enemy and even neighbours don’t know their true identity?


Jenny nursed her husband Ian through malaria caught in the jungles of the Far East and through the traumas of seeing his fellow soldiers die in the Falklands. She shared with him the burden of his undercover work in Northern Ireland. She grieved with friends whose husbands died in combat and rebelled against the strict rules of behaviour expected of an SAS wife. She was one of the few women brave enough to take up an offer to go into the Killing House and learn for herself some of the tricks of her husband’s trade.


Biting the Bullet gives a woman’s eye view of the SAS – the rivalry and betrayal behind the bravado and the camaraderie, the intense pressure that so often leads to domestic violence and marital break-up, a life that is at once exhausting and exhilarating. It is also the story of a passionate and fiery relationship that survived against incredible odds, an enduring love that kept two people connected from the small-town world of Hereford to the jungles of Belize, the bleak mountain tops of the Falklands and the deserts of Iraq.


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They say an albatross may have caused the accident. They believe the huge seabird might have flown into the rotor blades of the Sea King and caused it to ditch in the South Atlantic that Wednesday evening in May.


Bloodstained feathers were found floating on the waves near to where the twenty men on board had drowned. When I heard about the albatross later I thought of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and reread Coleridge’s famous lines.


The Sea King had been carrying thirty men. It had been on a routine five-minute hop across the mile of rough seas separating two ships, HMS Intrepid and HMS Hermes. On its second approach to Intrepid, 500 feet above sea level there was a loud bang and the helicopter suddenly lost all power before plunging into the waves in the darkness. It capsized and sank almost immediately.


Only ten men managed to escape. There was blind panic in the water as the survivors pushed past flailing limbs and floating equipment to find their way to the surface. Those who didn’t find their way out were lost, and nineteen of them came from 22 Special Air Service. It was the forty-eighth day of the Falklands Conflict and the greatest single loss to the Regiment since it was founded more than forty years earlier.


The news of the accident didn’t filter through immediately. Journalists travelling with the Task Force were initially told only that the helicopter had crashed and that those who died were Royal Marines. At Stirling Lines, the SAS camp in Hereford, less than a mile from my home, Pat Dawson, the Families Officer, received a phone call on the Thursday night. By mid-morning on Friday, he had started to compile a list of the dead…


What the Critics Say


“Ian Simpson was a key player and Jenny’s account of their marriage is a survival story in its own right.” Andy McNab


“Blowing the cover on what it’s like to live inside this rarefied world, this eye-opening book is the first to explore the life of an SAS man from the wife’s point of view. Outstanding.” The Mail


“In this compelling autobiography, Jenny Simpson reveals the turmoil behind closed doors…The Army’s top brass have stopped SAS men telling their stories. They could not ban this book.” The Sun


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