Inside SAS’ brutal jungle training where clothes ‘snap off’ from sweat

The Special Air Service (SAS) is deemed by many as the toughest elite forces unit in the world.

And it is the gruelling selection process that recruits have to go through before they are sworn in that sets them apart from all others.

Brutal treks in Wales’ Brecon Beacons get soldiers into shape but it is the “jungle” phase that sorts the men from the boys.

Candidates are dropped into the heart of deep jungles, often in Belize, where they are left on their own to survive on rations and patrol the harsh conditions.

Legends like Andy McNab have previously told this site it was by far the toughest stage of the training.

And now, SAS: Who Dares Wins star Mark ‘Billy’ Billingham has spoken out about how he vowed to never put his body through such exertions ever again.

Mark spent 27 years in the SAS, during which time he received an MBE for rescuing a British hostage from Iraq and won the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery for capturing an IRA sniper.

Before he joined the SAS, he was in the parachute regiment but nothing prepared him for the energy-sapping and mentally draining selection process.

Appearing on the Life on the Line podcast, which has emerged as Armed Forces Day is celebrated this weekend, he said: “SAS selection is not the hills [in Brecon Beacons]. Everybody thinks it’s about going over the mountains.

“The jungle is SAS selection.”

He admitted he had a “false sense of security” having already gone to the jungle four times before the selection process, with the parachute regiment.

“My God, did I go with the wrong impression,” Mark said.

“You were watched 24 hours a day. It was a smaller number and everybody is watched. The jungle is really where they get to know you.”

The “difficult bit”, Billy said, was to keep performing every hour of every day knowing that you were constantly being watched.

“You can’t keep that going for a month – by week two the real you comes out,” he continued.

“If you’re one of these that can’t be bothered, you’re on your way out.

“They let you suffer all the way to the end then get rid of you.”

Mark lost a stone and a half during the jungle training and it was when he was flying out in a helicopter that he truly realised just how horrific it was.

“I’m flying out and I’m on the skid of an old helicopter – there were two of us strapped on,” he said.

“And the wind hit me. I was so used to stinking of piss because of the ammonia in your skin. We had one set of clothes to work in and one to sleep in.

“The ammonia and acid in me, I could literally crumple it up [the clothes] and it just snapped off – it just dropped off me.

“I remember sitting in the helicopter with a scraggly beard looking like a war victim and thinking: ‘F*** that, I’m never doing that again.”

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