AS a former accountant with a hatred of swearing, Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare was not your typical soldier of fortune.
But his adventures as a mercenary leader across Africa brought him international fame — and inspired 1978 film The Wild Geese, starring Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore.
The former British Army major, who died aged 100 at a care home in South Africa on Sunday, hit headlines after leading an 18-month offensive against communist-backed rebels in the Congo in 1964.
As part of that mission, he went deep into the jungle to rescue 2,000 nuns and priests being held captive in brutal conditions.
He later recalled: “What I saw tore my heart.
“The room was full of nuns and priests so badly bruised and beaten that some were difficult to recognise as normal human beings.”
But his mercenary career was to end in humiliation after a bungled coup in the East African archipelago of the Seychelles in 1981.
His plan to sneak 46 men into the country posing as a drinking club of former rugby players called Ye Ancient Order Of Froth-Blowers was rumbled when one of the men joined the wrong queue at the airport and had his bag searched.
When a dismantled AK-47 was found hidden under fluffy toys inside, the man panicked and shouted: “I don’t know what it is but there are 44 more with bags like mine outside.”
'A LEGEND, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN'
It was then that Mike decided to shoot his way out.
His mercenaries managed to storm the control tower and hijack a Boeing 707 jet to fly them home to South Africa.
On landing, the men were arrested and later tried, with Mike eventually serving three years in prison.
But it is doubtful he ever regretted his choices.
Paying tribute last night, his son Chris said: “Mike Hoare lived by the philosophy that you get more out of life by living dangerously, so it is all the more remarkable that he lived more than 100 years.
“Most people who met Mike described him as a legend, and as an officer and a gentleman.
“Only a few realised there was a bit of pirate thrown in.
'A BRILLIANT LEADER'
“He was short and dapper, impossibly charming, unaccountably enigmatic, always polite, strangely proper, absolutely sane, and good natured — a brilliant leader.”
Mike was born to Irish parents in Calcutta, India, and sent to school in England at the age of eight.
Aged 20 at the outbreak of World War Two, he signed up to fight as a private in the London Irish Rifles.
That took him to Asia, where he first saw action in a failed offensive against Japanese forces in Burma.
His next fight was the Battle of Kohima in India.
The British stand with Indian forces there is seen as the crucial turning point against the Japanese and has been described as “Britain’s greatest battle”.
By the end of the conflict, Mike had been promoted to major.
After the war, he married and returned to London, where he took up the quiet life of an accountant. After three years, Mike and wife Elizabeth, with whom he went on to have three children, emigrated to South Africa.
There he set up a motor business before running a safari in the Kalahari Desert.
In 1961, he divorced before marrying air stewardess Phyllis Sims two years later. They went on to have two children together.
It was in 1961 at the age of 42 that he first pulled together an international team of soldiers for hire, spurred on by a desire to protect Western interests against communist insurgents.
Called 5 Commando, they were nicknamed The Wild Geese after their wild goose flag and shoulder patch.
During their first action — fighting for the breakaway republic of Katanga in the Congo in 1961 — Mike claimed two of his men were eaten by enemy soldiers.
While most mercenaries had a reputation for poor discipline, Mike’s men followed strict rules.
'CUT OUT HIS LIVER'
They had to sport regulation British Army haircuts, were not allowed beards or pointed shoes, and were expected to treat Sunday as a religious day.
When one of his men raped and murdered a Congolese girl, Mike knew the others would not stand for an execution. Instead, because the man was a keen footballer, Mike shot off his big toes.
He considered himself a fair man, though, judging his forces by their actions in the field rather than on their backgrounds.
Unusually for the time, he praised the abilities of the gay men fighting alongside him, calling them “these highly sensitive and usually very intelligent gentry”.
And he always remained calm in a jam himself. Once, when his soldiers jumped in a ditch under heavy fire, Mike responded by ordering his assistant to lay out a table so he could study his maps.
When the man Mike had backed in Katanga overthrew the Congo’s first democratically elected prime minister in 1964, the nation spiralled deeper into civil war — and the Wild Geese were called into action once again.
During the struggle, communist Simba forces supported by Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and Soviet Russia took Stanleyville in the north, capturing Americans and slaughtering any locals sympathetic to the West.
Mike wrote: “The mayor of Stanleyville, Sylvere Bondekwe, a greatly respected and powerful man, was forced to stand naked before a frenzied crowd of Simbas while one of them cut out his liver.”
Alongside Belgian troops, his force of 300 paid men eventually drove the rebels out.
But Mike then went further into enemy territory than his paymasters had requested in order to rescue priests and nuns who had been taken captive.
His heroics led to a book, which was later adapted into hit film The Wild Geese — with Richard Burton’s character heavily based on Mike.
When a former ally of the mercenary pointed out that Mike never swore, Burton removed all swear words from the script.
Further missions took Mike to the former state of Biafra, Angola, Nigeria and finally to the Seychelles, where he was offered £6million to overthrow the military dictatorship there in 1981.
After his escape from the failed plot in a hijacked passenger plane, he faced trial in 1982 for taking a jet by force.
RESCUED PRIESTS AND NUNS
Dapper in the witness stand, Mike did not hold back.
When the prosecutor questioned his honesty, he replied: “It would take a braver man to say such things outside this court.”
Mike was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison, but only served three.
He was also expelled from the Institute of Chartered Accountants and later joked: “If there’s one thing that bloody hurts, it’s that.”
On his release, Mad Mike wrote several books and moved to France, where he lived with Phyllis until she died in 2009.
He leaves behind five children, Chris, Tim, Gerry, Mikey and Simon.
Despite his embarrassment in the Seychelles plot, which was coined the “package-holiday coup”, Mike felt he had plenty to be proud of.
He said: “Taking Stanleyville was the greatest achievement of the Wild Geese. We made a big difference in many lives.”
And not many lives have made as much difference as Mad Mike’s.