Donald Large had one of the aptest last names in the history of last names. He was a beast, 6-ft. 6 inches tall and 240 pounds by the time he went through SAS selection the first time (more on that in a moment). But his road to military service started when he was just an over-sized tyke.
Born in 1930, he was just a boy when British troops preparing for service in France and Germany began training near his home. He watched the men readying to take the fight to Hitler and decided he would be a military man as well, a goal made even easier by his frame, and the frequent hunting trips his dad took him on.
He started as an Army Cadet, a sort of military-affiliated Boy Scouts in Britain, and then managed to get into the real British army at just 15 years old. As he trained in the military and then served Britain, he grew to his adult height and received the nickname “Lofty,” but he still craved combat.
Despite thinking Korea was a useless war, Large volunteered to serve in it and was ordered to the Gloucestershire Regiment. He fought at the Battle of Imjin where a terrain feature was named Gloster Hill after his unit’s defense.
But Large was wounded from a gunshot and shrapnel in the fighting and was taken prisoner, surviving a 10-day forced march to a prisoner of war camp. He survived another gunshot wound, disease, 80 pounds of weight loss, and two years of muscle atrophy and near starvation before he was swapped in a wounded prisoner exchange.
The army tried to give him a medical discharge, but he came back swinging over four years and put on even more muscle than he had lost. Once doctors cleared him, he put in for Special Air Service Selection, one of the most grueling military selection processes in the world. (When the U.S. formed Delta Force in 1977, the American officer in command formed the selection process from the SAS model.)
Despite all the scar tissues, Large reportedly did quite well in selection, only struggling with jumping out of the plane due to his being oversized for the plane and parachute. He weighed enough that he fell faster than other paratroopers, and this combined with a fear of heights made falling the hardest part for him.
But he was a stalwart man and made the jump anyway. He had proven himself capable and was on his way to the SAS.
Except that he rode a motorcycle soon after and crashed, crushing his ankle. The SAS told him that he would need to go back through selection to prove he was still capable of meeting the unit’s high standards. While most people would’ve probably waited a few months if they ever went back, Large simply re-bandaged his ankle, found out what his new boot size was with the swelling and bandages, and went back.
Yeah, he went back through selection while his ankle was still injured. He had only taken four weeks from crash to his second selection process.
He would serve with the SAS around the world and retired in 1973. He died in 2006.
(A hat tip to Today I Found Out whose video, embedded at top, brought Large to our attention. Their article on Large is good as well. People who want to know more about him and his exploits can see an interview series with Large on YouTube. The SAS Commando wrote his own biography before he died, Soldier Against the Odds, but it’s sadly out of print.)