Script taken from The Rifle Brigade Chronicles 1954-1957
The Operational Training Party Kenya, 1954, 55 and 56,
pictures from the album of Brigadier John Cornell CB
ON Friday, 8th October, there assembled in Goodge Street deep shelter (a disused tube station off the Tottenham Court Road) a party of eight officers and five other ranks, in preparation for their flight to Kenya. This body of men, officially designated the "Operational Training Party," had been charged with the task of gathering as much knowledge as possible of local conditions in Kenya, which would be passed on to the Battalion on its arrival.
At 1.30 p.m. on Saturday, 9th October, the aircraft (a pressurized fifty-four-seater Hermes, chartered from Britavia) took off from Blackbushe airport, cheered on its way by the Camberley Branch of the "1st Rifle Brigade Supporters' Club" (Messrs. Acton, Cowan, Worsley and Hudson). The comfort of the aeroplane approached the best civilian first-class standard, and every reasonable want was catered for; there was even a copy of Beano for Jim Wilson!
The first stop was Malta, which we reached soon after dark. Alas, all we saw of the island was a glimpse of the lights of Valetta and the grand harbour, tantalizing alike to those who knew Malta and those who did not. To crown it all, the dinner provided at the airport was as nasty as any eaten by the writer for years.
Khartoum was reached the next morning, and we stepped out of the plane into blazing heat to be confronted with a large and delicious breakfast. At 12.30 G.M.T. (3.30 local time) on Sunday we touched down at Nairobi, to find quite a crowd to meet us. The Chief of Staff, East Africa Command, Major General "Slim" Heyman, had come to the airport, and was backed up by a throng of the Nairobi Branch of our "Supporters' Club," Ied by Hugh Hope, 60th Rifles, who is G.S.O.1 at G.H.Q., and including John Harington, Edward de Las Casas, Frank Wakefield and numerous other members of the Kenya Regiment. The programme for the rest of the day included a visit to the Kenya Regiment's Sergeants' Mess and a cocktail party in the Officers' Mess, attended by the Commander-in-Chief, General "Bobbie" Erskine.
Early next morning we set off northwards feeling slightly dazed after twenty-four hours in an aeroplane and twelve hours of the Kenya Regiment's hospitality, which, by the way, knows no bounds. Our destination was the 1st Bn. The Buffs, who were spread over an area of the Native Reserve not far from Embu, on the south-east edge of the Mount Kenya forest.
As we motored up towards the forest, often enveloped in a cloud of choking red dust, the country became greener and the temperature fell. Battalion Headquarters of The Buffs was situated near a small community consisting of a native village, native hospital, police post and district officer's post. Our tents stood in the shade of tall, blue gum trees, and the camp was fringed by tall forest-flame trees. To the south-east the ground fell away, green and undulating, towards the plain. To the north-west the peak of Mount Kenya could be seen on clear mornings, rocky and streaked with snow, rising out of the dark mass of the forest. On arrival here, our party separated, each to join his opposite number. The two principal events on our programme were a "sweep" in the Native Reserve and a patrol in the forest.
The "sweep" involved the whole of the 1st Buffs, plus more than 500 Africans, members of the police or Kikuyu Guard. One company, plus one hundred-odd Africans, were beaters. The remainder acted as "stops." The operation was, unfortunately, not a success, largely because of the difficulties of controlling the large numbers of beaters, and the nature of the the country which was, in places very thick. It is reasonable and prudent to credit a Mau Mau terrorist with more intelligence than a cock pheasant, and few cock pheasants would have had much difficulty in eluding the beaters on this occasion. We did, however, see our first terrorist "hide," and some of us enjoyed for a short spell the new experience of commanding "troops" armed with spears or bows and arrows.
Shortly before leaving The Buffs we all went out on a twenty-four-hour patrol. Packing on to our backs what seemed to be an almost intolerable load, we plunged into the forest in a down-pour of rain. Our party was divided into pairs, each pair going out with a different patrol, each patrol consisting of about eight men. The most strenuous patrol included Jim Wilson and Sgt. Newman, who were led by an officer whose physical strength exceeded by a comfortable margin his ability to find his way around. In the course of their patrol, much of which was carried out across the grain of the country, they reached the moorland above the tree-line at nearly 12,000 feet.
The only patrol lucky enough to find the enemy was the one which was accompanied by John Hoskyns and the writer. We had not been going for more than half an hour when the African trackers started to show signs of being on to something. The rain, which was coming down in torrents, helped to deaden the sound of footsteps, and the game track we were following was broad and not too steep. Suddenly firing started at the head of the patrol and almost instantaneously we were all blazing away at the undergrowth. We had surprised two sentries, one of whom we killed; the other escaped, as did the rest of the gang, who, according to our tracker's estimate, numbered about thirty men and ten women. Their "hide," which was barely fifty yards from the sentry post, consisted of nine large lean-to shelters made of branches and leaves, and showed evidence of hurried evacuation. The ashes of the fires were red hot, and amongst the "booty" we recovered were three home-made rifles and one roll-book. Pursuit was judged to be hopeless, since the rain would make tracking by our African or by the dog impossible. It must now be confessed that this decision was greeted with some relief by the novices of the party, who knew just enough about these kind of operations to realize the implications of chasing Mau Mau, who move through the forest at about ten miles per hour when in a hurry.
Before we left The Buffs, they arranged for us to fly over the Northern Aberdare Range in "Pacer" aircraft. These small American planes, flown by pilots of the Kenya Police Reserve, are extensively used for helping to control operations, for reconnaissance and for the dropping of supplies and (occasionally} grenades. The "dropping" technique is delightfully elementary and, thanks to the skill of the pilots, completely effective; you open the door and chuck the kit out. The pilots include one with only one hand, who nevertheless manages unaided to drive the plane, read the map, operate the 88 set and drop supplies, and jot down map references if required.
The plane containing Jim Wilson and the writer had difficulty in making the necessary height, but the time taken in getting up was well spent in discussing the landmarks to be seen, though we were at first surprised that the pilot would frequently turn round to look at the map carried by the passenger behind him, taking both hands off the controls and leaving the aeroplane to find its own way through the clouds. Later we were to receive another shock for which we only had ourselves to blame. Having asked if we could have a closer look at one of the rivers, we found ourselves swooping down a gorge at tree-top height, while the pilot told us of the pitfalls of low flying in mountainous country—information which seemed utterly superfluous.
From The Buffs we moved on to stay with a company of the 7th The King's African Rifles on the north-east corner of the Aberdare Mountains. The Aberdare forest consists mostly of bamboo, twenty to thirty feet tall. At about 12,000 feet the forest ceases abruptly, and above the tree-line is an expanse of marshy moorland reaching up to the peaks at about 13,000 feet. The forest is intersected by a mass of streams running down steep ravines, which are in places precipitous and anything up to 500 feet deep. Movement is very slow, even along game tracks, which run mostly along the tops of the ridges which divide the streams. Here we all went out on forest patrols, accompanied by officers and askaris from The King's African Rifles' company. This time we went out for forty-eight hours and reached heights approaching 12,000 feet, which, with sixty-five pounds on our backs, we found a fairly testing experience. The only person to see the enemy was John Cornell, Intelligence Officer, who fired three shots at a solitary Mau; unluckily he missed.
We did, however, see a wide variety of game - elephant, buck and numerous buffalo - some of which caused us momentary anxiety when we came upon them in the bamboo at twenty-five-yards range. After our visit to the Aberdares, we moved off to do a fortnight's course at the G.H.Q. Battle School at Nanyuki on the south-west slopes of Mount Kenya, where our Brigade Headquarters is also situated. Towards the end of this period, the Colonel arrived in Nairobi with the advance party, and was promptly launched on a similar programme.
There followed a period of reduced activity, and it may be appropriate at this stage to discuss the opinions which we had formed thus far of the country. The officers are unanimous in liking the country, though no one so far shows any wish to settle here. The abundance of game, the variety of scenery and of birds (there are said to be over 900 different species of birds), to say nothing of the military problems to be faced, make boredom impossible. The enthusiasm of the soldiers is more qualified, as the kinds of recreation which they normally enjoy are generally lacking.
From the military point of view the situation is unlike anything the British Army has had to face in recent years. The nearest parallel is Malaya, but the parallel is far from exact. The Mau Mau are fortunately, very short of "precision weapons" and ammunition. The great majority are armed with homemade rifles, whose only value is to intimidate ignorant natives and, possibly, to boost the morale of their owners. It is hardly surprising therefore, that so far from being aggressive, they do everything in their power to avoid contact with troops or police. Their forest craft is, of course, superb, and they can move across country at anything up to ten miles per hour. This means that a tremendous effort has to be made by British troops for very small results. Dozens of ambushes have to be laid and dozens of patrols sent out before a contact is made, and even then much skill is required if the enemy is to be killed or captured in the ensuing "engagement," which is all over in about ten seconds.
It can be easily imagined that endless patrolling through thick country, carrying anything up to seventy pounds, can become monotonous if few results are obtained; and the same applies to ambushes, where members have to remain still but alert for long hours. It is hardly surprising that some of the troops who have been operating under these conditions for eighteen months without a break have become stale. Casualties so far have been understandably light. The great majority are caused by careless handling of arms by young and inexperienced soldiers. The soldier's greatest fear out here is attack by big game; these certainly can be frightening, particularly when they have been stirred up by bombing and patrolling; but instances of men being wounded by game are rare. Bottom on the list come the Mau Mau. One battalion which has just left the country suffered only one fatal casualty from the enemy in eighteen months.
Politically, the problem is confusing. Everyone is agreed that it is a political problem, but here agreement stops. The situation is certainly improving, but it is not easy to see how it will finally be solved.
P. A. D. B.
The latter part of July and the first half of August was spent in preparing to go to Korea, by which time the Battalion had been built up to 1,200 strong. The doctor pumped gallons of serum into willing Riflemen, cases were marked and sealed, and on 13th August embarkation leave began. On our return from embarkation leave the move to Korea had been cancelled, and it was widely rumoured that we would go to Kenya. After much bogus security, our destination was declared to be Kenya and our date of departure 9th November in the M.V. Georgic.
Our advance party to Korea, led by John Hoskyns, had meanwhile been stopped at Singapore and returned by air to England. During their stay in Malaya a number of them had been on a jungle patrol with 1st/2nd Gurkhas. Those of us, however, who had survived the rigours of T.A. training in Bulford, proved a poor audience for their hair-raising tales of the mangrove swamps.
The following two months were devoted to jungle shooting and minor tactical training. In addition, a great deal of repacking, handing in and sorting out had to be done. Finally, however, all was ready, and at midnight on 8th November the first companies moved off to Bulford sidings. Our journey to Liverpool was not remarkable except for the Rifleman v. Docker slanging match on the subject of the dock strike. Those who heard it rate the Riflemen easy winners.
The M.V. Georgic in which we embarked, some 900 strong, proved much better than we had been led to expect, and troops' accommodation was especially good, being all cabins, and none holding more than eight. The R.S.M. had a six berth cabin to himself. Dark glasses, cameras and jungle hats were popular items of kit, and the popularity of duty-free cigars among the Riflemen contributed to a genuine "American tourist" atmosphere.
The Georgic docked at Kilindini, the port of Mombasa, on 26th November. On the morning of the 27th the 1st Bn. The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who had been our companions on board, disembarked and moved up-country by train, while we spent a most enjoyable three days in Mombasa. The local residents were most hospitable and had laid on coach tours, swimming and a dance for the Battalion; there were also many instances where local Europeans stopped Riflemen in the streets and invited them to their homes. It was most satisfactory that a party of Riflemen were able to repay Mombasa's hospitality by helping to put out afire on the railway; an account of this incident appears elsewhere in this issue.
1RB marches past Sir Frederick Crawford who acknowledges the Battalion’s salute.
The Battalion also did a two-and-a-half-mile "flag march" through Mombasa, the salute being taken by the Deputy Governor of Kenya, Sir Frederick Crawford. In spite of the extreme heat and the fact that we were unused to marching after our sea voyage, we are assured that we put up a creditable performance and we are at any rate certain that we marched past at what might be described as super-Regimental pace.
Our stay in Mombasa was most pleasant, and the train journey up-country in African-type carriages provided a marked contrast. After a twenty-four hour journey, during which we passed from the steamy heat of the coast to a pleasant climate at about 6,000 feet, we arrived at Thika, where we were met by our advance party.
We only stayed here for a few days, during which George White and his staff performed miracles of unpacking and issuing stores; companies then moved to their new camps on the Aberdare foothills, H.Q. Company moving to Naro Moru, which we expect will be our permanent Battalion base. On arrival at their camps, companies found themselves fully occupied with training and reconnaissance of their areas, apart from normal housekeeping tasks.
Company camps are spread along the north-east fringe of the Aberdare Forest. The Battalion sector extends over some 10,000 yards, companies being linked by a track, extremely rough and steep in places and virtually impassable in wet weather. The height of the camps is in all cases between 7,000 and 8,000 feet. Battalion Headquarters camp at Naro Moru is on the western fringe of the Mount Kenya Forest. The journey from Battalion Headquarters to all the companies and back is some seventy miles, and it is not surprising that one of our three tonners covered over 900 miles in one week and one "Champ" over 6,000 miles in a month. Nor is it surprising that the M.T. staff are hard put to it to keep their vehicles on the road.
Christmas was celebrated with high spirits, each company competing to arrange the best meals and entertainment. Derek Laughton, our Padre, toured each company with the Band and held carol services, which were much appreciated by all.
B Company Letter
BY MAJOR A. J. WILSON, M.B.E., M .C.
FORMING A FOREST OPERATING COMPANY
THE BATTALION had been in Kenya for about two months, when GHQ decided to form special forest operating companies in each Battalion. These were to provide highly trained patrols, capable of engaging Mau Mau on their own ground in the forests of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. They were to fight the guerilla tactics of the terrorists by becoming counter guerillas themselves.
Within the Battalion there was naturally much to decide. Green Jacket allergy to other people's ideas caused us quickly to discard the official establishment; convenience and disinclination to break up existing loyalties caused us instead to take the ordinary rifle company organisation as a basis. The Colonel had next to decide whether to form a `first eleven' based on star turns picked from all companies or simply to take an existing company and rely on special training to produce the standard required. After much discussion the latter solution won the day, and `B' Company was selected to become a tracker company on 28th February.
Before that date Charles Baker-Cresswell, Ned Ram, Sergeant Arnold, and I spent three weeks with Venn Fey, whose exploits during Operation Hammer and previously had marked him as probably the best patrol commander in Kenya. It was an exhausting time, for Venn proved to be no respecter of `pear shaped' silhouettes, but was invaluable and provided the back-ground to our later tactics. It soon became clear that there were two main requirements for a forest company:
(a) To be sufficiently skilful at tracking and patrolling to get a reasonable number of contacts.
(b) To be certain of killing once contact had been obtained.
We moved to Squairs Farm in the Northern Aberdares on 1st March, and set to work with these two aims in view.
A digression into tactics and organisation is here unavoidable. Each platoon was divided into a patrol and a tracker combat team, each of approximately 8 to 10 men, and commanded by either an officer or sergeant. A tracker combat team was distinguished from a patrol by the possession of a tracker dog, but was in other respects identical. Those men in each platoon not absorbed in patrols or tracker teams were employed to protect forest bases or as porters. The company thus consisted of six tracker teams and patrols, supported by a `passive wing' under C.S.M. Fosker, whose job it was to deliver rations to the patrols in the forest wherever they might find themselves.
Tactics were based on a close study of our opponents. By this stage of the Emergency, Mau Mau had completely lost the initiative, and gangs concentrated all their efforts on avoiding contact with the security forces. In order to contact them at all it was essential for our patrols to be able to live in the forest for long periods at a time without Mau Mau being aware of their presence. Gangs had to be hunted down by methodical patrolling across the grain of the country to find trails used by terrorists.
The trails were then ambushed or more usually followed up, the African trackers attached to each patrol searching each exit from the track for signs of a terrorist hide. To be successful rigorous routines and patrol discipline were necessary. Rouse was at 0600 hours daily, and patrols had to be on the move by 0630 hours to take advantage of early morning moisture which reflects tracks more clearly. A half hour halt for lunch with biscuits and chocolate only to eat.
No tea in the evening till 1845 hours, when it was sufficiently dark to be able to make a fire in the bamboo, whose smoke would not be visible to a terrorist O.P. Such a regime at heights of between 88,000—11,000 feet made considerable demands on the riflemen, and required a really high standard of physical fitness. All this would have been fruitless without an equally high standard of marksmanship at fleeting targets at ranges between 50—200 yards.
Squair's Farm, on the foothills of the Aberdare Forest, from where we began to operate on 7th March, proved an excellent base to put these tactics into practice. Apart from a comfortable house for the officers to live in, there was an airfield within two miles and a lateral track (the Erskine Highway) running North and South along the forest fringe. Our first success came on 9th March as a result of some accurate shooting by Sergeant Arnold's tracker team while following up a good bit of tracking by Charles Baker-Cresswell the previous day.
A feature of this engagement was that it took 14 rounds at a range of 200 yards to kill this terrorist — evidence of good shooting by the patrol and also an indication of how many rounds are required to dispose of an individual Kikuyu. There are various theories about the apparent immunity of terrorists to rifle bullets; the most scientific is that Africans, unlike Europeans, do not suffer from shock. A more cynical view is that terrorists and the M.P.I. of a patrol's fire all too seldom coincide.
The early part of our stay at Squair's was enlivened by the incident of the `sliding choo'. (A `choo' for those who do not know Kenya is Swahili for a latrine.) Squair's Farm had been occupied by the security forces since the beginning of the Emergency, and so had more than its quota of `choos' and `foul ground' notices. It was not, however, until the arrival of the rifleman that the soldiers discovered that filling in latrines was much less trouble if you used bamboo and then put a little earth over the top.
This passed muster admirably until it rained, when the `choo' fell in with all the abandon of an earthquake leaving a minor grand canyon on the surface. Not surprisingly `choos which went down like lift shafts' produced poor relations between farmers and military occupiers, and were promptly forbidden. One local farmer, who on wet days wore a bonnet so Scots it would have made Harry Lauder look like a barrow boy, was quick to cash in on the situation. Selecting two of his scraggier cows, he drove them towards the abyss. As they crossed the start line, they changed chameleon like into prize Ayrshires and were claimed for accordingly. `Sliding choos' in fact had all the elements of a first class drama, and it required much tact and the discovery of a tartan biscuit box (McVitie and Price) before their invention could be fathered on to the Black Watch, then safely on the high seas.
There were two schools of thought about relations with settlers, as clearly divided from each other as schools of foreign policy in the Kremlin. One, led by David Sinclair and John Hoskyns, entailed a complete `Iron Curtain'; the other of which John Hargreaves was the leading exponent involved the consumption of endless cups of coffee and `sundowners' usually in Her Majesty's time. As I write, the issue is still undecided — as Joad would say, it all depends on the settlers.
Our time at Squair's came to an end at the beginning of April. We were sorry to go, but the area had its limitations from the point of view of Mau Mau, and our contacts there were few and far between.Just before we left a R.A.F. Harvard crashed on the moorland. The pilot, fortunately undamaged, was rescued in the dark by Rogan Maclean and 6 Platoon, a good performance, which enabled us to say smugly to the helicopter, arriving to the rescue next morning that the casualty had already been in Nyeri Hospital for eight hours.
Even in the middle of Kenya Rifleman Terry Russell of ‘B’ Company takes time off from patrolling to get his haircut at the company base
"I" Company Letter
"I" COY ON DETACHMENT: ISLAND FARMS, 18TH JULY TO 1ST NOVEMBER, 1955
At this stage of the emergency gangs had become smaller, and were showing great cunning, concealing their tracks and hides most skillfully. "I" Company was sent on detachment in order to patrol this new area and to catch up with terrorists operating from it. The area was interesting topographically. We were fifteen miles from the main road and about ten from the summit of Mount Kenya. It contained moorland, bamboo forest, grass-land with patches of scrub, deep thickly overgrown river valleys. It also contained Royal Lodge, a shooting lodge presented to the Queen by the peoples of Kenya, which was well in the area of Mau Mau activity.
The method of operating was for each platoon to produce two tracker teams which could live in the forest for periods of about seven days. Patrols were contacted daily by wireless, "ground to ground" or through an aircraft, or by physical contact. The different types of terrain called for very different methods of patrolling.
We were just getting to know the area, when on the 28th July, 1955, a patrol from 13 platoon, commanded by Simon Horn, found new tracks of one man leading from the river where he had obviously been getting water. The banks of the river were very steep and covered with thick bush which reduced the field of vision to about ten yards. Simon followed these tracks very quietly and carefully, taking about three quartersof an hour to cover a hundred yards. Suddenly he saw two men running from an almost invisible hide-out back into the valley side.
The patrol fired instantly and came forward into the hide where they found signs that five men had been there; there was also some blood, a fur coat and sundry pangas, wooden spoons and bits of food. The patrol followed tracks for some time but failed to contact any terrorists. Simon was bitterly disappointed at the time, but in a patrol about ten days later he found two bodies near the hide, dressed in similar clothing to the men he had seen running from the hide. There had been no other contact in this area and they were, without doubt, his victims. This had been a very good patrol and morale rose considerably when the result was finally known. There followed a series of contacts with varying success.
Our real excitement came when for the first time, we were able to act on information and were "lent" two prisoners who had up-to-date knowledge of our area. One knew a "letter box" used by Tanganyika. This was merely a hole in the bottom of a tree, quite indistinguishable from the thousands nearby. We sent off a patrol to put in a letter written by one of the prisoners to suggest a meeting, and our delight can be imagined when the following morning, we found an answer from Tanganyika and another from a "General" Chudigani. Under questioning the prisoners volunteered the information that they knew the hides Tanganyika and Chudigani would be using and so we made the following plan.
Simon Horn would locate and stalk Tanganyika; Sgt. Hickmott would go after Chudigani; the letter box would be ambushed by Sgt. Broadbent, a Kenya Regiment Sergeant. The purpose of this ambush was to catch any terrorist trying to arrange an R.V. with the rest of his gang, after being split up by the two patrols going for the hides. At about 7 a.m. Simon's patrol was very near to their hide, but the country was so thick and vision so limited that he was unable to pin point it. It is of interest to note that the prisoner, at this juncture, asked for a rope to be tied round his waist so that in effect he would be on a lead. This he explained was because he had been in the forest so long that it was now instinctive for him to run when he heard shooting and even though he knew he was safe he knew he would run when the patrol opened fire! Suddenly there was a scuffling in the bushes and two sets of head and shoulders were seen running. The patrol blazed off two FN magazines as if firing a rapid practice on the range and rushing forward found a hide for nine or ten men, Tanganyika's bed and spear were found.. Two more bodies were within a hundred yards and although two blood trails were followed with dogs the total bag remained three killed, two wounded escaped. Sgt. Hickmott was searching hard for the other hide, but although he found two a fortnight old he failed to contact any terrorists.
Meanwhile at the letter box. At about 8-30 a.m. Sgt. Broadbent decided to lift the ambush and about three minutes later in walked three terrorists. Only one man was able to fire before the Mau Mau saw the ambush position, and he put three aimed shots through the back of one of them and we learned later that he subsequently died. In the evening, when the ambush was again in position three more men appeared and although they were shot at and two were seen to stumble and fall, none was killed.
So ended a day which began full of promise and with a brilliant patrol by 13 platoon and which although successful left us feeling a bit disappointed.
Two days later we were given information about another letter box and David Lyon was given the task of dealing with this one. He took three N.C.O.'s from his platoon, 15 platoon; they all blackened their faces and went to investigate. They arrived at seven minutes past six in the morning and David posted two N.C.O.'s as lookouts while he found the letter box. Two minutes later three terrorists appeared walking in single file with about five yards between them. The silent signal for "enemy seen" was given and the patrol crouched behind cover. The patrol opened fire when the terrorists were about twenty yards away; two were killed outright and one died an hour later without giving any information. A good patrol, well led and well conducted.
Our last fortnight on detachment was spent in Operation "Hercules" in which two battalions of K.A.R. and six mortar platoons also took part. We had the first kill, by a patrol led by Cpl. Brightman but the total bag, after much mortaring and manoeuvring was nine killed and one captured. Our final fling was to put out a string of ambushes in forty-eight hours, with "C" Company and the local police, in the hopes of catching the Mau Mau returning to their old haunts after "Hercules". But they were more apprehensive than we anticipated and not a single contact was recorded. We enjoyed our stay at Island Farms. The local settlers were extremely kind, we had our excitements and many laughs. Our record was thirteen contacts, twelve killed and seven wounded, and we returned to Naro Moru feeling well pleased with our achievements.
Kenya is a land of contradictions even to those who know it. For those who do not, it might be as well to start with a few general comments on what has been our background for 1955 because it is not quite what one would expect.
Most of us have driven back and forth across the Equator several times a week and yet we are seldom particularly hot and often extremely cold. So far from sweltering under a tropical sun, we spend much of our time paddling about in a thick mud which would do justice to a Devonshire farm-yard. The mountains and forest inevitably feature largely in present day descriptions of Kenya and yet the major part of the countryis surprisingly well developed. Admittedly Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Range, each with its skirt of forest, provide retreats big enough to conceal comfortably an army of terrorists but the general run of the part of the Colony with which we are concerned is of a rolling, open grassland type. As for big game, it is easy to go for months without seeing anything more spectacular than a Thompson gazelle or a crested crane.
So far it is the unspectacular which has been emphasized. It would be wrong to suggest, however, that there is nothing unusual to be experienced. When one has to run or carry a heavy load, it is surprising how much one feels the altitude. It is certainly dramatic when one occasionally encounters a herd of elephants ambling through the forest or sees a large grey stone convert itself in a second into a sprinting rhino. And when one is confronted with the genuinely primitive outlook of the average native, it is certainly borne in upon one that, even if our Africa does not come up to the Ryder Haggard descriptions, it is unmistakably Africa, when you come to think about it, nevertheless.
The weather is positively English in its unreliability. There are supposed to be the Long Rains in the period May to August and the Short Rains in October and December. In fact we have found that it is liable to rain heavily at almost any time of year and the total amounts to about 30 inches.
The African population must be considered under two headings. First there are those permanently living in the various tribal native reserves. Secondly there are those—mostly Kikuyu—who are living as labourers on the European farms in the White Settled Areas.
The system of control and administration is difficult to grasp and the situation is such that the Security Forces have to combat, not only the active terrorists, but also the nebulous passive support provided for Mau Mau by a large proportion of the normally-working population. Distinction between friend and foe is often most difficult and the soldier finds his work inextricably bound up with political and administrative matters of the greatest complexity.
The start of 1955 found the Battalion poised for Operation Hammer One. This was the beginning of a phase in Emergency tactics which involved putting almost the whole of the available forces into the forest together in co-ordinated operations. Employment of this technique was to last until the end of April.
Our task in Hammer One was to search and clear a fifteen mile stretch of the Aberdare forest falling Eastward from the moorland about Mount Satima to the Settled Area between Ngobit and Mweiga. "B", "C" and "I" Companies were allotted the task of getting themselves to bases 12,000 feet high on the moorland and then patrolling down-hill through the whole of the 10 mile forest belt while "A" and "S" Companies did their best to bar the exits from the lower forest edge.
A period of thorough training and acclimatization had been completed; two tracks had been cut in the Battalion forest area, (a veritable highway constructed by the Sappers and known as the Wander Track lay in "C" company's area while "B" Company had, with great enterprise and resource, cut a track up through their sector to the feature known as the Tortoise; the ponies on which we were to rely a great deal for our maintenance had been at least partly trained and exhaustive plans were well laid when D Day arrived.
Some days of heavy rain made us anxious about the fitness of our tracks but in fact all went well and the three forest companies hauled themselves and their equipment, part of the way in vehicles and partly on foot, up to their moorland camps. Pushing a lorry up the numerous slippery patches of murram on the track and then, when the lorry can be got no further, struggling up through the thin atmosphere with a heavy "Bergen" ruck-sack which contains the only necessaries to be available to you for 21/2 weeks, is a labour which shortens one's life, but enforced familiarity with it was to make us take it almost as a matter of course.
By the end of the afternoon of 4th January all three companies reported having reached their destinations successfully but the weather then turned and for 48 hours we lived in almost perpetual rain. It was thoroughly unpleasant, particularly as it froze each night. The human members of the force came through alright but not so our ponies. There was a time when in spite of doubled rations, a morning issue of rum and two blankets each at night, it looked as though the majority of them would be useless. Two ponies died of exposure but then the weather cleared up and they got used to it. We all cheered up with them.
After two days of patrolling on the moorland, the Battalion achieved its first success. In dramatic weather conditions, with the cloud-swirls momentarily altering visibility from 10 feet to two miles, a terrorist food-carrying party was encountered by a small party of "C" Company. Fire was opened and one of the terrorists was killed. This was an encouraging beginning to the operation but the promise of the start was not really fulfilled.
In the course of the next two weeks, the three forest companies maintained an intensive patrol effort as they searched through the forest belt. Large numbers of buffalo and rhino were encountered and Mike Tippett undoubtedly saved the life of one of our Kenya Regiment sergeants who received a severe thrust through the thigh from a particularly irritable rhino. Tippett stopped its second charge with two rifle shots but it took five or six more rounds to finish it off.
"I" Company picked up a delightfully phrased letter from a Mau Mau leader impertinently addressed to "George Erskine" and "C" Company hit two more terrorists near the forest edge who subsequently surrendered. Otherwise there was little incident of note but this prolonged period in the forest served thoroughly to acclimatize our patrols. From then on they were able to work with the confidence of knowing that they had experience of nearly all that the mountains had to offer.
The final notes of Hammer One were played in the forest ravines which run deep into the Settled Area and almost before they had faded we were on our way across Cole's Plain to the Western slopes of Mount Kenya. "A", "B" and "C" Companies moved into a pleasant camp at a forest station known as Bartletts while "I" Company joined Battalion H.Q. at Naro Moru.
Whereas the Aberdares rise steadily to down-like heights, the enormous mass of Mount Kenya is topped by a spectacular almost sinister, rocky peak which is covered in perpetual snows and crevassed with enormous glaciers. The Aberdares are not unfriendly but Mount Kenya possesses a cold dignity which promotes a somewhat sombre mood. However there was little time to reflect on the difficulties ahead of us.
An essential preliminary to Operation First Flute for which we now prepared was the creation of some means of getting large numbers up on to the moorland. One track existed on the Southern boundary known as the Met Station track but it could only serve one company because the side of the mountain is serrated with such steep gorges that lateral movement is difficult and lateral maintenance impossible. "A", "C" and "I" Companies were nominated, this time, for the forest tasks and accordingly "A" and "C" Companies each undertook the cutting of a jeep-track up through their own forest sectors. It was a major task but the work was not unrewarding. Each of these two Companies was assisted by about 60 Meru "panga-men" and progress was much better than we ever dared to expect.
In fact, these tracks were finished in time for the Operation, to an extent which allowed jeeps to travel right up to the Moorland and 3 tonners about two thirds of the way up. Tortuous and bumpy, many stretches made impassible to vehicles during the frequent heavy rains, nevertheless these tracks were to alter completely our ability to operate deep in the forest and they served us well, not only for First Flute, but for the whole time we remained operating in this area.
First Flute started on 20th February and in the heavy rain which we were learning to expect for every major move.
The advance parties of the forest companies went up to the moorland camps and, as their main task, took in the supplies which were needed for the first ten days of the operation and which were dropped from the air. In two days, Valettas and Cessnas (a light 4-seater American aircraft) dropped to each Company approximately 1,000 rations, hundreds of wireless batteries, self-heating soups, rum and the other miscellaneous items which made up our requirement. It was an extremely good effort on the part of the R.A.F. and K.P.R. (Kenya Police Reserve. A form of Police/"T.A." airforce) Air Wing; they dropped very accurately on to difficult D.Z.'s and in spite of heavy cloud.
The main parties now moved up on to the moorland and the first phase, which lasted three days, started at once. This involved searching the immense moorland area from the upper forest edge to the snow line at about 15,000 feet. It was extremely hard work for the patrols concerned. The atmosphere at this height is getting very appreciably thin; the grass tufts of the moorland sprouting out of sodden, boggy soil creating ankle-breaking walking conditions; and it freezes hard at nights. There were in fact no Mau Mau to be found but the patrols got some fun out of throwing snow-balls at one another at the foot of the peakitself. It was high enough to give a real sense of achievement.
"I" Company enlivened proceedings by causing a moorland fire, (in spite of the wet ground). It was started by a falling Verey light and spread over a considerable area before it could be brought under control. A certain, platoon camp had to be shifted extremely quickly and there were several who had to watch the wind most carefully.
Then, as in Hammer One, the forest companies began the planned patrolling down-hill through the twelve mile forest belt. During this time "B" and "S" companies blocked the exits from the lower forest edge. It was generally admitted that we had rented a "bad moor" for the operation and, though many successes were met with elsewhere, 39 Brigade made few contacts. A Police operation known as Scaramouche had done much to disrupt the Mau Mau organization in and around Nanyuki and, in any case, we never found that the forest above Naro Moru contained much in the way of permanent gangs, though they certainly moved North and South through it.
Nevertheless the patrols worked extremely well. A new patrol routine was introduced, the need for absolute silence was brought further home and such terrorist traces as there were, were faithfully picked up and followed. The sector was at least thoroughly neutralized.
At the close of First Flute, "B" Company moved across to camp at Squaires farm on the Aberdares and to begin their training as a tracker company. They assumed on their vehicles a sign which portrayed a large foot. There were some who questioned whether this sign symbolised the footprints that "B" Company were looking for or illustrated the Companies enthusiasm for soccer.
Almost before we had got our first bath after First Flute, the Battalion was launched into a new operation. As has been mentioned, that in other sectors of the Mountain, there had been no shortage of opponents and the Colonel was not slow to jump at the chance of showing what we could do in more favourable conditions.
St. Leger, as this new operation was called, was the first operation which the Battalion planned independently. It was complicated and difficult but the state of training of all concerned was now reaching a high level. Information was given that there was a large concentration of terrorists on the East side of Mount Kenya above a village in the Meru Reserve called lied Chuka. It was planned to launch a surprise and un-reconnoitred operation so as to occupy simultaneously the whole of the forest strip between the Nithi and Raguti rivers with as little warning as possible. For maintenance we were to he entirely dependent on air supply.
Dick Flower with "I" Company had by far the hardest role to play and they moved first. They entered the forest along a track above Nyeri and in the course of 3 days marched right along the 12,000 feet contour from the S.W. to the Eastern side of the Mountain so as to enter the forest at its upper limit on D Day. The march was a tremendous physical effort and it reflected very well upon the Company that they were able to carry out the move at all. In the meantime "A" and "C" companies moved by road round the base of the mountain to Itugururu where Tac Battalion H.Q. was also deployed. This move appeared to portend a sweep through the Reserve and everything possible was done to encourage this impression. the two Companies in fact entered the forest on foot at 5 o'clock in the morning and, with a very heavy load of six days rations in their ruck-sacks made their way by game tracks to their allotted areas—"C" Company in the lower four or five miles and "A" Company in the bamboo.
There is little doubt that surprise was complete. By the luck of the draw "C" Company found themselves in the best area. Pontifex had decided to place the maximum number of ambushes in the likely places for the first 48 hours. Terrorist parties were still on the move and in this period four kills and several well substantiated woundings resulted. Ten days of intensive patrolling by all three Companies then followed. We were greatly assisted by 24 local honey-hunters provided by the District Officer at Chuka. Picturesque characters, armed with bows and arrows, they knew the local forest backwards and made excellent trackers. Incidentally Hill Rayner, who had been in 7 R.B. in the war, was the District Commissioner at Moru and he saw that the Administration gave us the maximum assistance.
There were several more contacts before the terrorists realized fully what was up and made good their escape from the area. A patrol led by Corporal Hastie was somewhat startled when, on one contact in the Nithi Valley, their fire was answered by a poisoned arrow which thudded into a tree beside their heads but a precision weapon was recovered and further casualties inflicted. "I" Company moved down to ambush the forest edge and, guided by a female ex-terrorist, captured two more of the gang. Altogether it was a most successful time. Throughout the operation, Pacer aircraft (an American light aircraft, slightly smaller than the Cessnas) delivered the supplies and equipment we required to the small D.Z.'s that the platoons cut for themselves. Free dropping, (no parachutes,) was the technique employed. Bundles of rations and batteries rained down every third day. Mail, newspapers, rum, rifle oil and even replacements for torn jungle boots were delivered with great reliability but at no little risk to the watchers on the ground.
Since, on St. Leger, we saw quite a number of them, a description of a Mau Mau terrorist might be appropriate at this stage. A typical example can be described as follows: he is an African youth of about 22, rather shorter than the average Englishman, his hair screwed into short rat-tails, wearing a ragged beard. His clothes comprise a tattered Khaki shirt and shorts over which he normally wears a torn black overcoat. He smells a good deal. He generally carries by a leather thong a woven-reed bag which contains his few belongings:—some matches, a tin of snuff, a strip of billtong, a few maize cobs, some battered cooking tins and some odd rags. He may also have a blanket and a home-made gun. This latter is carried more for morale than for lethal effect. It generally consists of a rough-carved wooden stock to which a length of gas-piping is secured with strips of tin. The bolt action is simple: — a door bolt drawn forward by a bed-spring. It has the advantage that any calibre ammunition may be detonated but whether the bullet or the bolt is likely to cause the greater damage is so open to doubt that the terrorist, if he fires at all, generally takes care to hold the weapon well above his head.
Altogether he is a pathetic, rather than an impressive, figure. Nevertheless one's sympathy for the average Mau should not be too pronounced. He has been given every opportunity to surrender. He has certainly committed many crimes of theft and may well be a murderer many times over into the bargain.
The Emergency has clearly demonstrated the amazing power of the African to survive all but an instantly mortal wound. In the forest, it is not enough merely to hit your man.
Terrorists continually make good their escape with half a dozen bullets in them. We know of one Mau Mau, drilled clean through the body by a .303 bullet, who put gum from a tree over both the entry and exit wounds, lay up in a bush for several days without any food whatsoever and then made his way 30 miles on foot to join another gang on the other side of the Settled Area. We have abandoned the use of sten guns simply because we are not confident of their killing power.
Though he is not a particularly brave or aggressive opponent, the Mau Mau terrorist possesses an almost animal resilience and cunning which makes him a difficult man to finish off.
St. Leger which ended on 9th April closed the first chapter of our operations in Kenya. It represented the last of the big operations planned by General Erskine; operations which, though they have been criticized by ill informed observers, did in fact alter completely the state of the Emergency and usher in a period of much reduced tension. Mau Mau was to be utterly on the defensive from this time on.
From the point of view of the Battalion we had been in Kenya for just over four months during which time "C" and "I" Companies had been actually in the forest for a total of rather more than 2 months while "A" and "B" Companies could claim a period only slightly less. The standard of tracking and shooting still needed improvement but this was largely a matter of time and organisation. The main thing was that all aspects of forest work were now well known and the mechanics of the Battalion could be relied on to function smoothly and well.
The evening before we left Chuka, we were entertained by the Villagers who gave a vigorous performance touching in its unselfconsciousness. The 150 odd mile drive back to Naro Moru and Bartletts was carried out through all enveloping clouds of murram dust and the week's short rest which followed was much needed.
Operation Hungerstrike was designed primarily to halt the very considerable cattle-losses which had been experienced for nearly two years by the Settlers in the Nanyuki Ngobit area and which had been running at a level of approximately one hundred beasts stolen or slashed per month. It was also thought that it should be the final effort required from the Army to put the police and Kikuyu Guards fully on their feet. In any case it was welcome change from operations deep in the forest and a suitable employment during the long rains. In Fact the rains last summer did not amount to very much.
The plan necessitated a very wide dispersion of troops on the farms and largely involved ambushing cattle bomas and known Mau Mau routes. "A" Company took over the area immediately south of Nanyuki, "C" Company that of the lower Burguret and "I" Company, with platoons of "S" Company under command, became responsible for a large area from Naro Morn Southwards. The companies themselves deployed platoons so as to cover the very considerable acreage allotted to them.
There was not a great deal of time to spare and the Companies moved out on 20th April. The Operations started on the 25th of April. It was designed to last for six weeks but in fact did not officially finish until the middle of August.
The riflemen took to life on the farm with their customary aptitude and good humour and completely won the hearts of the settlers, many of whom have shown us great hospitality and warm-hearted loyalty in the difficulties that we have encountered. Life became an apparently endless succession of night guards on the herds and day patrols in the many rivers that cut across the plain, (the Nanyuki, the Rongai, Burguret, Uaso Nyiro, Naro Moru and Nairobi to mention the major ones.) In addition, we kept watch on the herd-boys, trained the Kikuyu Guards in shooting, searched labour-lines, reorganised cattle boma arrangements, searched trains passing through the area and pacified settlers whose milk yield suffered a good deal from the enforced, close night herding.
The Company Commanders found themselves commanding a variety of unusual subsidiary troops. "C" Company for instance, had under command:— a platoon of the African General Service Unit, two police posts, a tracker team, a police mounted section, a section of 12 pack ponies and ten African Home Guard detachments. The Company was responsible for an area approximately 20 miles by 12 miles which carried well over 6,000 cattle and innumerable sheep and goats.
The platoons stood up extremely well to the infinitely wearisome task of night ambushing. It was a question of being on duty at least one night in two but they found compensation in the life of a detached platoon. The results in terms of Mau Mau casualties inflicted were very small but cattle losses were divided by ten and the Battalion was largely responsible for leaving a system of stock-guarding which has continued to keep losses at negligible proportions. Time will show that Hungerstrike was by no means the least of contributions to combatting the Emergency.
At the start of this Operation, "B" Company, which had now completed its training in tracker duties, was responsible for the whole of the forest area above Naro Moru. In the second half of May, however, they were dispatched to take part in Gimlet, a 70 Brigade Operation in the Aberdare Forest above Nyeri. There they achieved a major success which justifies the separate description which appears elsewhere in this issue.
During the summer we began to lose, once more, men departing on release. We came out to Kenya with no one who was due for release in less than six months. It was a pleasant, but lamentably short period in which we could count on few changes. Now we started once more on the business of saying good-bye to well-tried Officers and N.C.O.'s and Riflemen trained to a fine pitch in their various duties. During the last six months of the year, eighty N.C.O.'s have left the Battalion, mostly "on release" from the Army. Only seventeen replacements were received in the same period, so N.C.O.'S cadre courses have been running at top pressure.
A feature of this period was the troop-trials we carried out with the Belgian FN self-loading rifle. We got about 400 of these rifles in March, used them continuously and realistically during the next four months and finally at the end of July completed the most exhaustive series of questionaires on our reactions to them. The Commanding Officer, the Company Commanders, the platoon commanders and every rifleman issued with a FN had to fill in a detailed report on every aspect of the weapon. We all agreed on certain important modifications which must be made before the rifle is finally accepted but in general terms we have found them excellent weapons and feel that they have greatly improved our hitting power.
One rifleman summed up his written report on the rifle "A very good rifle but I would rather have a bren gun" and another wrote "The FN is a good rifle for showing off in front of other people who haven't got one." The rifleman is seldom overcome by the big occasion!
As Operation Hungerstrike drew to a belated close, the policy for the future began to emerge. The C.-in-C. decided on a plan simple enough but one we ourselves had long advocated. It was that three companies of each Battalion should be permanently deployed around the forest edges so that every part of the forest should be under pressure at the same time. The disadvantage of saturation patrols in limited areas had been proved by earlier operations and experience had shown that well organised patrols could be effective in much larger sectors of the forest than had earlier been the practice. The advantages of this conception were that there would be greater stability for our own troops and the system allowed regular periods of much needed rest and retraining. From this time onward, therefore, our tactics comprised the use of independent patrols, normally out in the forest for a period of five days. Each patrol enters the forest in darkness, establishes a small base and then patrols from it, emphasizing the early morning and late evening for maximum effort. Occasionally the patrol will be working on information and may have the use of a captured terrorist as a guide. More often it is a question of searching a suspected area for tracks and following up wherever these may lead. It is arduous work over steep country, frequently big-game is encountered and all activity has to be conducted in absolute silence which is hard to maintain for such a long spell. The contact, when it occurs, offers only a momentary opportunity for opening fire on a fleeting target and as the opportunity is generally when you might least expect it, a high degree of alertness is necessary.
Two members of the Meru tribe, one with spear the other bow and arrow.
It is inevitable that this account should dwell longer on the bigger operations of the first part of the year. In fact the effort has been consistent and continues still but it is impossible to detail the work of hundreds of individual patrols.
In accordance with this plan, "B" Company took over responsibility for the forest above Nanyuki, "A" Company for that above Naro Moru and "I" Company for the area north east of Nyeri. Altogether the Battalion assumed control of an area which amounted to nearly the whole of the North Western half of Mount Kenya. An account of "I" Company's activities in the area of the Island Farms appears separately. Meantime "C" Company returned to Naro Moru for a month's training and "S" Company, now much reduced in strength, bears the shortage of men increasingly. The mortars and machine guns were much reduced and only the Assault Pioneers remained at approximately full strength. This last platoon did invaluable work both as a rifle platoon, (often under command of other Companies), also in their proper role building forest tracks, airstrips and affecting vital repairs to bridges. In the second half of November the Battalion carried out a major move across to the Rift Valley and assumed responsibility for the area around Naivasha and the Western slopes of the Aberdares below the Kinangop. As a result of this move we left 39 Brigade, (commanded by Brigadier Lord Thurlowe, and passed to Command of 49 Brigade and Brigadier Charles Harington H.Q. 39Brigade left Kenya as part of the run-down of British troops in Kenya.
1st Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. who came abroad with us in the Georgic also left in the process of this reduction of troops. Their course had all along been exactly parallel to ours and we were sorry to see them go. To the Riflemen, their Yorkshire comrades-in-arms were the "super swedes" for all time and therefore the subject of many jokes; but we missed them nonetheless.
At Naivasha we took over from the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Battalion H.Q., "H.Q." Company and "S" Company moved into their camp. "C" Company moved to a pleasant camp site on Mara Ngishu farm and became responsible for supporting the police in the Settled Area. "B" Company took charge of the North Kinangop forest, (where they killed three and captured one Mau Mau on their first day of operations), and "A" Company moved into the forest station at Njabini from where they could cover the South Kinangop forest. "I" Company in the meantime closed the year by moving to Nairobi and taking over guards and duties there for the month of December.
These Settler-Farmers form a more or less one class society. Their first interests centre on their farms naturally enough their towns are not designed to provide entertainment and their own recreations are not those of the average rifleman. The riflemen have had therefore to make their own amusements and our camp facilities have had to be extended to cover practically every requirement.
Having presented the darker side of this particular aspect of our life here, it should at once be said that the majority of farmers have been immensely hospitable to all ranks. They have had riflemen to stay for ten days at a time under a most popular farm-leave scheme, they have had large numbers in for meals and they have done everything they could to make us welcome. In addition the Army itself provides a seaside leave camp at Nyali, near Mombasa. A steady flow of riflemen have passed through this centre and have thoroughly enjoyed their stay. And finally weekend leave to Nairobi has given all of us a periodic break even if Nairobi is still sufficient of a new colonial town to provide strictly limited facilities. Let us not criticise Nairobi too harshly, though. The city is a fine achievement bearing in mind that 50 years ago it was a mere, haphazardly sited, railway construction camp.
For by far the greater part of the time in Kenya, the Rifle Companies have been detached from Battalion HQ often at a distance of 20 miles or so. This has been very good for the companies, a healthy rivalry has been developed in all aspects of life and good practical administrative experience has been spread much more widely than is normally the case. Company Seconds in Command have had to run their own, often most elaborate, canteens, Colour Sergeants have had greatly increased responsibility, company signals detachments and MT Sections have really come into their own and in short each Company has had to develop into a completely independent community which has been hard work but good fun. This conception is not new. In Motor Battalions, companies operated independently to a large extent but in Kenya detachments have lasted for as long as eight months at a time.
There have been features of the communications world which we shall not easily forget. To begin with the number of all ranks who have had to use the various types of wireless set has, by the nature of the operations, been far greater than in more conventional circumstances. Every Corporal is continually having to use a complicated sky-wave Set in order to keep his patrol in ground to ground contact each day and to conduct sometimes harassing conversations with the Pacer pilots in air contacts. The screening effect of the forest necessitates the use of the most elaborate aerials. Sky-wave, Nanyuki Aerials, conversion-kits, coaxial leads and other mysteries have become part of every-day life. We have become possessors of VHF Sets on the Kenya Police network. The procedure used on this net would make a died-in the wool Army signaller spin like a top. There are many examples of RT procedure atrocities in every day use but the one we shall best remember is the phrase "Is that Roger?" The meaning is clear but the use of the phrase makes for facetiousness.
I have mentioned the Pacers. They are the light aircraft manned by the Kenya Police Reserve who do a great deal to make operations in the forest a practical proposition. In support of the Security Forces, their daily sorties include reconnaisances, communication contacts, air supply and straight-forward movements from place to place. As often as not they carry our own officers. They are absolutely invaluable but the agonies of air-sickness involved when being flown around in a tight circle over a patrol have left their mark on the Sunray element of the Battalion.
Chief amongst the many pilots who have supported us is Derek Helens. His gruff wireless manner conceals a heart of gold and a genuine affection for the Battalion. He is almost talking with a cockney accent these days.
The Rifleman's cockney talk retains its usual high entertainment value. One dog-handler described his alsatian with a cut ear as having "a dodgy ear-hole". An acting Corporal who led his patrol in an excellent contact which resulted in two kills reported in writing "The African approached the patrol I ordered him to halt which he never so I shot him". The phraseology is catching, of course. Baron Gustav Blixen-Fenniker, a Danish settler who owns the farm on which "I" Company was camped for several months and who speaks impeccable English has been heard saying quite seriously that he "didn't reckon it".
In the football world, the Battalion team has succeeded in making itself felt in the face of strong opposition. The `Ikes' have had many stirring games and have reached a standard probably higher than we have seen at any time since the war.
Inter-Company football has enlivened proceedings on and off through the year. "B" and "C" Companies were the principle contenders for the highest honours and have had a series of the most hard-fought matches which have aroused interest and the heat of competition to a high pitch. The contest often extended to exchanges between Pontifex and Wilson as to whose fields the matches were to be played on and which exposed both strong feelings and high powered diplomacy. When making a ruling on one occasion, the Commanding Officer said he felt rather like the head of the United Nation Armistice Commission exercising his powers in the Gaza Strip.
Boxing has continued to be a strong point. Four of our boxers won championships in the Command Tournament held in March. In June no fewer than six of our men represented the Colony of Kenya against Uganda. In October a successful Novices Boxing Competition was held in which "A" and "C" Companies shared first place. Three of our boxers entered for the Kenya Amateur Championships in November and all did well.
Cricket has not featured so strongly largely because of the lack of grounds. However John Cornell and Dennis Hulbert have played for the Army out here and a successful inter-company competition was held successful from the point of view of the enthusiasm shown rather than the size of the scores. Riflemen's howling is so much better than their batting that a score of 60 is a handsome total. Indeed it is on record that in one match between platoons, one side having amassed 11 runs, their opponents, amidst scenes of wild excitement, were dismissed for 4.
During the late summer five polo ponies and some saddlery were brought from 156 Battery who were disbanding. There is polo nearly every week-end near Naivasha and the Battalion Polo Club is well supported by officers who make up in enthu¬siasm what they lack in skill. An other ranks saddle club is also being started with six of the pack ponies.
The Band have spent most of their time at Muthaiga Camp, on the outskirts of Nairobi. It is a great pity that they have had to be away from the Battalion but they have to pay their way. During their several trips to the Battalion, it has become the form for the Band to make a two or three day visit to each Company. During this time they give a band concert, play football against the Company, (with no mean skill) and, last but not least, give a swing session on their final evening. Their visits have been very much welcomed. The standard of musical performance is extremely high and the dance band, with Mr. Snowden on the trumpet, is good enough to recall the late-lamented Glenn Millar.
In October a photograph competition was held. Some of the entries under the heading of "Wild Life" gave ample proof of some frightening enterprises undertaken by riflemen with box-Brownies. The photographic technique demonstrated in these cases was not always high but the expression of animosity on the faces of the variety of elephants, rhinos, and buffalo demonstrated, is unmistakeable. Indeed it is excellent to be able to record that the riflemen have not by any means been panicked by big game in the way that has undoubtedly been the case with many other units.
Christmas came and went with its usual seasonable activities staged with normal enthusiasm against an unseasonable back-ground. Companies naturally differed slightly in their arrange¬ments but included were:—a Carol singing tour of the local farms, Church Services, enormous dinners, football matches, canteen sing-songs, officers mess cocktail parties to which local settlers were invited, parties for African Children and sports in which teams of riflemen, african trackers, dhobis and farm workers all competed.
At last permission has been given for families to come out and, within the very strict limitations of the accommodation available, this most unsatisfactory enforced separation will be ended. We expect the first families to arrive in February. It is in these circumstances that this account of the Battalion's affairs must draw to its close.
As the year 1955 ends, it is not unreasonable to write that Mau Mau as an active rebellious movement is coming to an end. The time when it will be possible to reduce the British field force still further is clearly in sight and it is thought that in the middle of 1956 the Battalion is likely to move elsewhere in order to complete its overseas tour.
We can look back with satisfaction on 1955 as a year of very hard work in which all parts of the Battalion have thoroughly proved themselves, a year in which, too, the Battalion achievement need not only be reckoned in terms of casualties inflicted on the enemy but also in the way in which all ranks have made a thoroughly good impression on those who have known them in Kenya, for their enthusiasm, good behaviour and thoroughness.
The year has not been without its tragedies. Acting Corporal Daniels and Rifleman Atkins were most unfortunately killed in a Headquarter Company ambush right at the beginning of the year when they became separated from the rest of their party. Corporal Madden of "B" Company fell on a piece of bamboo which pierced the main artery in his thigh and finally resulted in the loss of his leg. Acting Corporal Baker of "I" Company was killed in an accident with a Bren gun on 23 October and Corporal Conley was seriously wounded through the body in a similar accident on the same day. Acting Corporal Jackson of "C" Company contracted the fatal disease of acute leukemia and died in Nairobi in September. Rfn Keen, attached to Brigade Headquarters from the Regiment was drowned whilst bathing in June.
Since our last letter we have seen a tremendous turn-over of officers. First of all Hew Butler went down with a disease of the blood so serious that he had to be sent home and which kept him very ill for several months. He is now at the Depot. Next Colonel Dick Fyffe was called away to higher things. Our sense of loss at his departure was balanced by our pleasure that he was getting Command of 61 Brigade. Then Dick Flower, after an all too short stay in command of "I" Company was summoned to GHQ East Africa as Deputy Assistant Military Secretary. He had been joined in Nairobi by his wife and they have been wonderful hosts to an endless stream of officers visiting from the Battalion.
In May Tony Mellor left "S" Company to H.Q. Staff in Cyprus where he is no doubt having his fair quota of problems to deal with. Robin Somerset, Frank Pratt and John Hoskyns left, the first two to go to the Depot and John to be Adjutant of the London Rifle Brigade. In October Jim Wilson left "B" Company to go as an instructor at the Staff College.
Breon Rawlings, Colin Forsyth, Dennis Hulbert, Rogan MacClean, Charles Baker-Cresswell and Ned Ram are all National Service Officers who have done the Battalion extremely well and who have now, regrettably, left it to return to civilian life.
The Colonel is in a special category. He must be treated as both one of the year's departures and arrivals. He left us as Second-in-Command in April to take command of the L.R.B. Rumour has it that it was while watching the shooting at Bisley that he received the news that he was to turn in his tracks and return to Kenya to Command the Battalion. He had the consolation that his olive green uniform was already bleached.
Chris Sinclair came out in April. John Hanscombe arrived rather earlier to command "A" Company and then, when it was apparent that Hew Butler was not able to come back, as 2ic of "C" Company. David Stileman, after a spell as a learner with "C" Company took over "A" Company in August. Peter Hudson relieved Dick Flower in "I" Company.
Younger arrivals include Mark Roper, David Lyon, Mick Whitaker, John Summers, John Montgomery-Cuninghame, John Vassar-Smith, Patrick Doyne and Tony Pearce. John Mould has replaced Alan Lowther as MO. In short it would almost be easier to name those who have been here throughout.
With every good wish to all Riflemen,
Yours ever, 1RB.
P.S. The year is not running out without a final operational fling. On 30 December a gang of forty Mau Mau were tracked into the papyrus swamp on the North shore of Lake Naivasha. As this letter is despatched, riflemen of "A" "C" "I" "S" & "HQ" Companies together with men of the Glosters, KSLI and Police are cordoning the area. The impenetrable and water-logged nature of this particular piece of country make conventional patrolling methods practically useless and special measures are being resorted to. The Mortar Platoon are daily firing several hundred bombs into the area. Combined Army and police patrols struggle through the reeds as best they can. Tear gas is being dropped by the Pacers and a sky-shouting aircraft, assisted by loud-speaker vans are urging the terrorists to surrender. The writer of this letter and Sergeant Major Chipping spent an hour firing a bren gun into the papyrus covered mud-banks on the lake shore from a helicopter.
The operation continues and it seems that the results of all this activity will have to wait for next year's Chronicle to attain Regimental publicity.
At about 10-30 a.m. on Friday, December 30th 1955 a message was received from the Naivasha Police to the effect that Police Tracker Team No. 9 had contacted a gang of between 30 and 40 Mau Mau terrorists in the papyrus swamp North of Lake Naivasha. So began Operation "Bullrush" which was to last until Sunday, 22nd Jan. 1956. It was immediately decided as a first step, to cordon off the area with such troops as were available. `A' and 'B' Companies were in the forest and `I' Company was doing duties in Nairobi. However, a cordon was hastily thrown round, consisting of `C' Company 1st Battalion The Rifle Brigade who were training at Mara N'Gishu and all available men from `S' and 'H.Q.' Companies, two companies 1 Glosters, four Police G.S.U.s and some African Home Guards. The siting of the cordon presented considerable difficulty. It had to be long enough to ensure containing all the terrorists and had to be sited so that everybody had a reasonable field of fire. Thus the two considerations forced upon us a cordon 12 miles long. The area enclosed by the cordon was more than 35 square miles, over half of which was dense papyrus swamp. In most of the papyrus water was knee deep and intersected with streams and "hippo runs" more than six foot deep. The papyrus is about 8 ft. high and visibility not more than five yards. It is almost impossible to walk through it without cutting one's way with a panga which makes movement very slow and very noisy.
The problem of killing or capturing the terrorists was, therefore, considerable. In the first place they had to be effectively contained — no easy problem in view of the length of the cordon as compared with the troops available. Obviously this would be particularly difficult at night. Again it would not be enough merely to contain them as they could hold out for a considerable length of time. From a consideration of the problem a plan was evolved which was, broadly speaking, adhered to throughout the Operation. The aim was to cut rides and by gradually sweeping inwards to drive the terrorists into a small area where they could be dealt with. The cordon was to be maintained and indeed became progressively stronger.
The system for implementing this aim was as follows:
The cordon was all the time made stronger, both because the area was being reduced and the cordon shortened, and by means of trip flares and wire.
Daily reconnaissances were made from light aircraft and, when available, the helicopter to decide on the siting of the rides to be cut.
Rides were cut by some 300 prisoners obtained by the Administration from the Nairobi jail.
As new rides were cut sweeps were organised to clear the ground in towards the new rides on which stops were placed. After the sweep was over, the stop line became the new cordon line and the old cordon line, which was used as a start line for the sweep, was abandoned.
Particularly at night, harassing fire from small arms, 2 in. mortars and 3 in. mortars was directed by troops in the cordon into the swamp with a view to reducing the terrorists' morale and making them think that the cordon was in fact stronger than was actually the case. 2 in. mortar flares were extensively used to illuminate the cordon line.
Every morning at first light the cordon was checked throughout its length to see if any terrorists had tried, with or without success, to break out.
The sweep was adopted as a means of operating because of the impossibility of getting a contact with terrorists in the papyrus by normal patrolling methods. (It will be appreciated that it was quite impossible for a patrol to get anywhere near the terrorists in the papyrus without being heard). The first sweep took place on 4th January. By this time the cut line marked "snow goose" on the map had been cut and manned and `B' Company 1st Battalion The Rifle Brigade, who had by this time been withdrawn from the forest, were put in charge of the sweep. They were helped by some 2,000 Africans of both sexes from Kiambu. Unfortunately, the area to be swept proved much too large and the proportion of Africans to British much too great with a result that the Operation miscarried.
However, it was decided that we should keep the new stop line manned, hope that we had not over-run many terrorists and learn by our mistakes.
On 6th January a plot was hatched to persuade the terrorists to surrender. Early one morning the "sky shouting" aircraft and the broadcasting van broadcast a message giving the terrorists until 3 p.m. to surrender and threatening a heavy mortar concentration. The threats had no effect and punctually from 3 to 4 p.m. the mortar platoons of 1st Battalion The Rifle Brigade, 1 Gloucestershires, 1 King's Shropshire Light Infantry and three King's African Rifle Battalions pumped H.E. into the swamp. Subsequent searches revealed only two killed terrorists whose bodies were never recovered and this aspect of the operation wascriticized as a waste of money in the local press. What was not, perhaps, realized was that mortar platoons have got to practise anyway and in any case it was worth trying for surrender.
Future sweeps were planned to deal with much smaller areas and it was possible to keep a reasonable degree of control over them with the help of the light aircraft, in which the Commanding Officer or Intelligence Officer flew over the area throughout the day. The map shows how the cordoned area became pro¬gressively smaller. The number of troops taking part was gradually increased until by about 10th Januarythe following were all operating under 1st Battalion The Rifle Brigade:
1st Battalion The Rifle Brigade—less `B' Echelon and elements of `S' Company.
Three companies 1 Gloucestershire Regiment.
Three companies 1 King's Shropshire Light Infantry. East African Recce. Squadron.
Nine Police G.S.U.s (a G.S.U. is the equivalent of a rifle platoon).
Four Police Tracker Teams.
One tribal Police Unit.
300 African prisoners; to these were added on some days anything up to 2,000 African civilians for sweeping. The problem of commanding and controlling this body of men and women from a small tactical Headquarters was considerable and on 13th January the Brigade Headquarters established a command post and took over command for the rest of the Operation.
The Operation finished on 22nd January by which time seven or eight miles of rides had been cut. Nine Mau Mau were killed, nine captured and six surrendered. The killed included one noted leader called Mekanika and amongst the captured was "Field Marshal" Mbaria Kaniu. Interrogation of the prisoners revealed that at the beginning of the Operation there had been more than 70 Mau Mau in the area, over half of whom had been living there undisturbed since September 1955. They had been able, without difficulty, to obtain maize undetected from the huge maize shambas North of the swamp and had supplemented this with wild honey and game.
The effort put into the Operation was considerable. For a month the equivalent of a Brigade had been engaged against, at most, 100 Mau Mau. The soldiers had spent night after night awake at least half the night guarding the cordon. By day they had hacked their way through dense papyrus for hours on end, often up to their necks in water. Several men suffered very severe bee stings through inadvertently disturbing swarms of wild bees. In all it must be accounted, from the point of view of the companies taking part, the toughest post war operation which the Regiment has undertaken, and, as is always the case on these occasions, the morale of the Battalion thrived on hardship, so long as the riflemen felt that there was still something there to chase.
The reader may be tempted to enquire what became of the remainder of the terrorists who were in the swamp when "Bullrush" began. Some probably evaded the initial sweep on 4th January. Others are known to have broken through the cordon at night, taking advantage of dark nights and heavy rain and of the fact that in the early stages, posts were far apart and wiring incomplete. Several are known to have waded out into the Lake, which is very shallow, thus making their escape. As far as is known, none broke through the Battalion cordon. At the time of writing (May), no less than 72 "ex swamp" terrorists have since been accounted for and there is no doubt that one major effect of the Operation was to drive terrorists into country with which they were unfamiliar and where they could be more easily found and eliminated.
One not unimportant by-product of the operation was to cement further the already excellent relations between the Battalion and members of the local administration and police. For the first fortnight of the Operation all the police forces and members of the administration involved were virtually under command of the Battalion. They could be relied on to support the Commanding Officer with the same promptness and willingness as if they had been members of the Battalion.
Part of the ‘Q’ Advance Party to Kota Tinggi
L-R- O.R.Q.M.S. Dennis Williams, C/Sgt Bob Wass, C/Sgt Ron Cassidy, Sigs C/Sgt Dick Hayes and C/Sgt George Smythe.
R.D.C. writes: The Training Advance Party arrived Singapore 11 April 1956, the Administrative Advance Party on 29 April, the battalion disembarked from the troopship Dilwara in Singapore on 11 June.
From the RB Chronicles 1956-1957
OPERATIONS IN MALAYA
Patrolling the jungle is an odd experience until you are used to it: it is nearly always a tedious one. As you move slowly forward at the rate of three or four hundred yards an hour your horizon is bounded by a circle of fifteen to twenty yards radius with you in the centre. As you move onwards the circle opens in front of you and immediately closes behind. What is going on outside that circle only your ears, nose, and instinct can tell you. Sometimes the floor of your circle lifts up wards and sometimes drops away in front of you and occasionally a stream or track appears within it, but such is the scale and inaccuracy of the map that only your compass can lead you to your destination.
You are soon hot, tired and very wet. The undergrowth, much of which is prickly, catches at your clothes and weapon and often pulls off your hat. Suddenly a nagging voice starts speaking from a loudspeaker above you. You cannot see the aircraft as the sky is not visible, "Sim Chiew Lim" says the voice in Chinese " the jungle air is bad for your health. Come out and surrender and you will be given good treatment and medical attention." The short message is repeated several times directed at this quite important "C.T."(communist terrorist). The police have told you that he is lying sick with malnutrition in the general area that you are searching. He has been in the jungle for seven or eight years and you and many other Security Forces have hunted him "ad nauseam."
As you work your way forward you reflect that Sim Chiew Lim must often laugh at this voice from the skies but in the end you hope that it must drive him to desperation. You begin to feel that the rather suave voice from the aircraft is taunting you too.
Ambushing in rubber is also a job demanding much skill and patience. The information usually comes from an informer via devious routes. The informer is paid well for a success, but for this he risks his life and he is wary about giving information to troops he does not trust. The first dilemma confronting the man who plans the ambush is how many troops to use. If he uses too many they may be spotted, but he must have enough men to observe and fire. Often the reconnaissance has to be done at night, and sometimes there is no time for reconnaissance. No single trace must be left when reconnoitring or occupying the position. A crushed nettle, a single footprint or a wilting leaf can give a whole ambush position away.
From dawn until about 2 p.m. everyone must keep absolutely still and silent, often with tappers working only a few yards away. After that the troops may move off to their base nearby, but even here there must be no cooking, no smoking, no noise, for fear of detection. All of this may go on for three days, which is about as long as the average man can stand. By this time everyone is wet, cramped, tired, covered in insect bites and, if there has been no contact, disappointed.
These big operations need a word of explanation. It has been found that uncoordinated operations against the remaining hard core terrorists stand little chance of success and that only combined operations by the army, police, Homeguard and civilian organisations such as food rationing authorities can pay off. Food and supplies are the crux of the matter—the control of these is a tedious business but soldiers have to be used to do it. The rubber tappers by the nature and location of their work are the natural suppliers of the C.T.s.These tappers, mainly Chinese, take out food and clothing from their wired-in and guarded villages. If you can stop this flow, or restrict it to a trickle, the security forces will win in the end. The policy is justifying itself after twelve long months.
When we took over the operation had been going on for eight months. In the previous three months they had only killed one courier, in spite of some brilliant successes earlier on. The operation area lay immediately to the south of the Federal Capital, Kuala Lumpur, and astride the main trunk road to Singapore. Obviously this is a key area for the bandits, where they would like to keep a foothold until the Federation attains independence in Aug. 1957.
When we arrived there were about 25 known C.T.s in the area. Their main living areas were on the jungle fringes to the North East of the main road. Their main sources of supply were the Chinese tapper population in 9th and 11th mile villages, Kajang, Semenyih and Broga. These tappers, nearly all Chinese in the area, fan out daily at dawn into the rubber unless it is raining. in 9th and 11th mile villages, Kajang, Semenyih and out daily at dawn into the rubber unless it is raining.
There, working singly or in pairs over a vast area, they are at the beck and call of the bandits through the Communist Masses Executive who live among the tappers. Any tapper who does not help the C.T.s is suitably dealt with and the Security Forces can do little to prevent this. Not only do the tappers provide food and supplies but they form a natural screen to warn the C.T.s of Security Forces in the area. In planning all operations it is always a vital problem as to how to evade or outwit this screen.
In general terms our C.T.s were organised into the 6th Armed Work Force under a senior terrorist. The force had an H.Q. and a "press" section and was further subdivided into small cells or gangs, each of four or five men, each under a tried and reliable communist. In the area, where up to 500 C.T.s had roamed at the height of the emergency, now only these 25 remained. Most were hard core communists and nearly all had operated in the area for seven or eight years. Only the toughest and most cunning had survived.
During the whole time that the Battalion was on the operation the C.T.s never created an incident or opened fire; they concentrated on survival. To make the necessary contacts with the C.T.'s in such circumstances is very hard. One point of interest when we took over was that Yong Kuo was believed to be living with 6th Armed Work Force. He might have gone elsewhere but nothing definite was known. He was the most attractive target in Malaya because as Vice Secretary General of the Malayan Communist Party he was the highest ranking terrorist in the country. Chin Peng the Secretary General most likely lives over the Thailand border.
The police guarded villages and also deployed their special squads and field forces on operations. Soon after the Battalion took over, the rifle companies started to rotate at monthly intervals. There was only room for two companies at Kajang where the Colonel established a tactical headquarters. These two companies were nearly always on operations although a small local reserve had to be maintained. Their company commanders took it in turn over periods to brief all patrols and ambushes in the area. Only in this way could continuity be maintained.
The remainder of the Battalion was at Wardieburn Camp, 20 miles away on the Northern outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Here the third rifle company retrained but were always available as a reserve to the Commanding Officer and indeed more often than not this company was operating.
The fourth rifle company did food control as did the 'H.Q.' company and company H.Q. men at Kajang. This was an unremitting task and was the background to all our operations. Platoons lived in or near the village they were controlling and maintained men on the gates during the hours of daylight. The presence of the British soldier is necessary to back up the Malay police, Home Guard and woman searchers who operate on the gates.
The job by day is tedious and in the early morning between 5-30 and 6-30 a.m. when the tappers all go to work it is both hectic and rather unpleasant. Because of the nature of their work the tappers wear always the same filthy latex covered clothes. Not many people have their breakfast before doing this work. The early morning scene at the Katchou gate of Semenyth had to be seen to be believed; up to 2,000 tappers had to be searched daily. Having passed through the gates, not without the odd case of female hysterics or male dumb insolence the tappers squatted on the road in a solid mass until 6-0 a.m. The officer or sergeant in charge would then force his way forward and withdraw the wire. He had to look pretty lively if he were not to be run down by a cavalry charge of cyclists, pedestrians and lorries carrying tappers. The Riflemen generally carried out the irksome duties in a cheerful and good natured manner. This is in character, but nevertheless greatly to their credit.
To return to the operations: the number of man hours spent on them are incalculable and a chronicle of them would be tedious. There was only one great success, but luckily we have just heard that their cumulative effect has almost been decisive.
To start with `B' and `C' companies operated at Kajang supported by `A' and `S' companies from Wardieburn. We were all out for a kill at this early stage and really harried the C.T.s. In these first three weeks we were nearer to contacting the bandits than we ever were subsequently in the area. 10 Platoon of `C' Coy under Christopher Dunphie ambushed Foo Seong on information. Once Foo Seong came into the ambush and on a second occasion he was seen behind it. Unluckily the ambush never opened fire as the outlying parties were waiting for the "killing group" to open fire as taught in the book. Unfortunately the killing group never saw the C.T.s and fire was never opened.
All groups are "killing groups" now! Siew Wong was chased out of a camp near Broga by 5 Platoon `B' Coy. under Tony Pearce. From there he was harried further north together with the H.Q. of 6th Armed Work Force. One incident during this period is interesting. To keep up the pressure a patrol from 'H.Q.' Coy drivers and employed men went into the rubber to check tappers' passes. Two hundred yards from the road the leading scout, a 3-ton driver, saw two men dressed as tappers squatting on the ground. In an instant they were gone and the Rifleman hesitated to shoot thinking they were tappers. Subsequent information sho wed that this was Siew Wong and another C.T. carrying supplies from a dump and halting to cook a meal. We found that all C.T.s wore civilian clothes in the area and often hid their weapons. This makes the task of newly arrived troops very difficult. In most other areas the C.T.s still wear uniform.
This first phase culminated on the 25th of August, the Regimental Birthday when the Battalion got its first kill in Malaya. The luck of the draw gave 7 Platoon of I Coy. the chance, and they were immediately sent out to ambush the contact guided by a Police Inspector. After walking for about two hours along tappers' tracks through the rubber the ambush party arrived in a small holding near the jungle edge. This, said the guide, was the area for the contact to be made just after first light.
Robin Alers-Hankey, Sergeant Burrell and the inspector walked forward to try and site the ambush positions; it was still pitch dark. Suddenly they were aware that there was something on the ground in front of them, they were not sure if it was animal or man. Somehow it became evident that it was a small encampment. The group opened fire without seeing anything. It was obvious that at least two men had been badly wounded.
When light came it was seen that seven C.T.s had camped under mosquito nets in the open rubber meaning to clear their camp before it got light. One C.T. was dead and there were blood trails where another had dragged himself away. Subsequent search by `S' Coy with dogs failed to find traces beyond 400 yards from the camp. At first it was thought that the dead man was Chan Chai Chee but later it was decided that the body was that of Yong Kuo. Although the patrol did very well it was wonderful luck that the only man killed in the pitch darkness should be this high ranking terrorist. Chan Chai Chee, we heard later, was the wounded man.
The news made up for a Regimental Birthday which never really took place as everyone was on operations. It made head-lines in the Federation and Singapore press and we received kind messages from many people. After this event, the Colonel, in consultation with the District War Executive Committee, decided to harry the C.T.s, by doing everything possible to deny them their contacts with the tappers. It was known that many of the C.T.s were without food and clothing and surrenders might result. When adopting this policy we realised that it decreased our chances of information as the informers among the tappers did not meet the C.T.s.
For the next ten weeks operations continued based on some general, but little precise information. As the weeks went by one felt a bit discouraged. It was mainly a platoon commander's affair. Platoons operated again and again patrolling and ambushing, sometimes a company would operate complete to search a special area and two or three times the complete Battalion surrounded suspect areas, but always without result. Always the platoons returned to the task.
Their only relief was occasionally to spend a day sixty miles away at Port Dickson bathing in the Malacca Straits. It is impossible to single out individual platoons or companies. The load was evenly shared. The gunners, mortars and medium machine guns fire a great deal in support of jungle operations. When they were not firing they found themselves on their feet carrying out infantry tasks.
One amusing incident happened during this period. We had all been looking for Siew Wong. It was known that he was in a particularly thickly covered valley called Ti Kon with probably only two men. Eventually `C' Coy. had a try. One day as they searched a shot was heard between two platoons. This was investigated but no explanation could be found. Each platoon was just a little bit suspicious of the other! It was only two months later when a captured C.T. was interrogated that the explanation was found. Siew Wong one day said, " I am fed up with these soldiers who make life such a bore for us I am going to shoot one." Out he went by himself. Later a shot was heard and he returned and said, "I have shot and killed a British soldier." It is encouraging to hear that the C.T’s have taken steps to raise morale.
So the operation went on and it was not until early November that more exciting news came in. Information for some time had indicated that there were few C.T.s in the normal area. It was then found that they had all moved over to the Ayer Hitam forest reserve where there was little security force pressure and food more easily obtainable. Only Sim Chiew Lin a sick man was left as a caretaker. This was really encouraging as the C.T.s do not move from their contact areas unless things are getting pretty desperate. Directives from their higher command forbid such evacuation. A Battalion operation was mounted in Ayer Hitam but al-though recent traces were found no C.T.s were contacted. We now know that when we moved to the Ayer Hitam forest the C.T.s fled back to the Kajang-Semenyth area only to find us on the ground as strong as ever. This, together with the fact that D.W.E.C. had imposed communal cooking of rice in Semenyth and Broga, was the final straw. Five of them it subsequently transpired took a bus to near Port Dickson, a White Area where there are few restrictions. Here they were informed on, and Derek Sowerby went into a squatter's house and in a very gallant action with few helpers killed one, captured three and wounded Siew Wong who escaped. These were all, except one, from Siew Wong's gang. It was sad that troops could not be used to help him but it was impossible for various reasons. This was just before Christmas. Just after, three of Sim Chiew Lin's gang were captured on Seremban railway station buying first class tickets to Segamat in Johore.
By New Years Day the Director of Operations was able to announce publicly that he considered 6th Armed Work Force was virtually finished. This was encouraging to us for although we had not killed many C.T.s (we only opened fire once!) the policy adopted after the killing of Yong Kuo was the right one. The captured C.T.s testified that life had become so intolerable that they had to go. We hope to hear soon that the Kajang District is declared `white.'
Readers may be interested in the following extract from a paper on tactics written by a senior member of the Administration in Johore:"of all the Security Forces who, at different times, have operated in the area (and here he lists nine units)—the Rifle Brigade was far and away the best. Their operations were more carefully planned; they were better led; they shot straight; they patrolled more quietly and they hung on more tenaciously than anyone else."
Lastly it is satisfactory to know that a large part of the Battalion's three operational areas are now "White." Our only regret must be that those who did the work—the subalterns, N.C.O.'s and riflemen—did not themselves reap their full reward of kills and surrenders, since in both "Bonanza" and "Cobble" the break came just after we moved.
R.D.C. writes that "Bonanza" and "Cobble" were operational code-words.
This picture taken in 1957 of twenty-eight members of the battalion who apart from one or two others on the advance party to the UK, were the only ones who did the full thee year tour in the Far East. This out of a battalion over 800 in strength who docked at Kilindi Port, Kenya in November 1954.
Discussing operations, Sgt Cassidy, Lt A. Foley and the ‘B’ Company Commander, Maj R.S. Stewart-Wilson.
A rifleman checking the contents of what a rubber tapper is taking from her village, at an early morning start to go into the rubber plantation.