An Oamaru-based war hero who led a team of British SAS snipers on a daring rescue of hostages in the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege in London has passed away.

Tom MacDonald, QGM, died aged 71 in Dunedin Hospital on December 30.

MacDonald served as both a part-time and full-time soldier in the British Army's parachute regiment and the SAS from the mid-1960s until 1995, then, when based in Oman, in the Sultan's Special Forces as a training officer for the 2nd Regiment, until his retirement and subsequent move to Oamaru in 2003.

He revealed some of his heroics when speaking at last year's Oamaru's Anzac Day service at the North Otago Returned and Services Association Garden of Memories.

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Much of his military involvement would stay tightly under wraps, but he spoke about his involvement in the Iranian Embassy siege, that unfolded when a group of six armed men stormed the embassy in South Kensington, London, on April 30, 1980, taking 26 hostages.

At the time, Mr MacDonald was a sniper commander in an SAS anti-terrorist team.

"The whole thing lasted minutes", he said of the raid on May 5 that year that ended the hostage drama.

"When we went into the embassy it was on five floors. My snipers were meant to contain the first floor, where I was, and the fifth floor, and the assault team were to take the middle three floors. It turned out that a couple of the terrorists had come down to the floor that I went in on. It was me that jumped the balcony and went in through the front window, myself and another three. We found the terrorists in there and dealt with them, so within 30 seconds I had gone through a window and killed two people, which wasn't really expected."

The six-day Iranian embassy siege in London's South Kensington was ended by a daring SAS raid on May 5, 1980. Photo / Getty Images
The six-day Iranian embassy siege in London's South Kensington was ended by a daring SAS raid on May 5, 1980. Photo / Getty Images

Afterwards, MacDonald and his men "had a beer with [then Prime Minister] Maggie Thatcher" and her husband, Denis, who quipped: "You let one of the bastards live".

MacDonald was later awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal.

He still travelled regularly to the UK and while there, always visited the graves of 23 of his fallen comrades at St Martin's Church in Hereford.

"I tried to take my now wife and describe what happened, where it happened and how it happened ... I broke down. I couldn't handle it. So now I go alone, shed a few tears and spend time with them. It's the hardest thing I do."

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A death notice in the Otago Daily Times this weekend said he was survived by his wife and soulmate Margret, two children and four grandchildren. The Sun is reporting he died of cancer.