Did My Uncle Work for Military Intelligence?

From Wikipedia

The Malayan Emergency, also known as the Anti–British National Liberation War (1948–1960), was a guerrilla war fought in British Malaya between communist pro-independence fighters of the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) and the military forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth. The communists fought to win independence for Malaya from the British Empire and to establish a socialist economy, while the Commonwealth forces fought to combat communism and protect British economic and colonial interests. The conflict was called the “Anti–British National Liberation War” by the MNLA, but an “Emergency” by the British, as London-based insurers would not have paid out in instances of civil wars.

On 17 June 1948, Britain declared a state of emergency in Malaya following attacks on plantations, which in turn were revenge attacks for the killing of left-wing activists. Leader of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) Chin Peng and his allies fled into the jungles and formed the MNLA to wage a war for national liberation against British colonial rule. Many MNLA fighters were former members of the Malayan Peoples’ Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA), a communist guerrilla army previously trained, armed and funded by the British to fight against Japan during World War II. The communists gained support from a high number of Malaysians, mainly those from the Chinese community.

After establishing a series of jungle bases the MNLA began raiding British colonial police and military installations. Tin mines and rubber plantations were attacked by the MNLA to gain independence for Malaya by bankrupting the British occupation. The British attempted to starve the MNLA using scorched earth policies through food rationing, the killing of livestock, and the aerial spraying of herbicides including Agent Orange. British attempts to defeat the communists included extrajudicial killings of unarmed villagers, in violation of the Geneva Conventions. The most infamous example is the Batang Kali massacre, which the British press have referred to as “Britain’s Mỹ Lai”. The Briggs Plan forcibly relocated 400,000 to one million civilians into concentration camps, which were referred to by the British as “New villages”. Many Orang Asli indigenous communities were also targeted for internment because the British believed that they were supporting the communists. The communists’ belief in class consciousness, and both ethnic and gender equality, inspired many women and indigenous people to join both the MNLA and its undercover supply network the Min Yuen.

Although the emergency was declared over in 1960, communist leader Chin Peng renewed the insurgency against the Malaysian government in 1967. This second phase of the insurgency lasted until 1989.

British response

Workers on a rubber plantation in Malaya travel to work under the protection of Special Constables, whose function was to guard them throughout the working day against attack by communist forces, 1950.

During the first couple of years of the war, the British forces responded with a terror campaign characterised by high levels of state coercion against the civilian population. Police corruption and the British military’s widespread destruction of farmland and burning of homes belonging to villagers rumoured to be helping communists, led to a sharp increase in civilians joining the communist forces.

On the military front, the security forces did not know how to fight an enemy moving freely in the jungle and enjoying support from the Chinese rural population. British planters and miners, who bore the brunt of the communist attacks, began to talk about government incompetence and being betrayed by Whitehall.

The initial government strategy was primarily to guard important economic targets, such as mines and plantation estates. Later, in April 1950, General Sir Harold Briggs, the British Army’s Director of Operations, was appointed to Malaya. The central tenet of the Briggs Plan was that the best way to defeat an insurgency, such as the government was facing, was to cut the insurgents off from their supporters among the population. The Briggs Plan also recognised the inhospitable nature of the Malayan jungle. A major part of the strategy involved targeting the MNLA food supply, which Briggs recognised came from three main sources: camps within the Malayan jungle where land was cleared to provide food, aboriginal jungle dwellers who could supply the MNLA with food gathered within the jungle, and the MNLA supporters within the ‘squatter’ communities on the edge of the jungle.

The Briggs Plan was multifaceted but one aspect has become particularly well known: the forced relocation of some 500,000 rural Malayans, including 400,000 Chinese civilians, into internment camps called “new villages”. These villages were surrounded by barbed wire, police posts, and floodlit areas, designed to stop the inmates from being able to contact communist MNLA guerrillas in the jungles.

At the start of the Emergency, the British had 13 infantry battalions in Malaya, including seven partly formed Gurkha battalions, three British battalions, two battalions of the Royal Malay Regiment and a British Royal Artillery Regiment being used as infantry. This force was too small to fight the insurgents effectively, and more infantry battalions were needed in Malaya. The British brought in soldiers from units such as the Royal Marines and King’s African Rifles. Another element in the strategy was the re-formation of the Special Air Service in 1950 as a specialised reconnaissance, raiding, and counter-insurgency unit.

The Permanent Secretary of Defence for Malaya, Sir Robert Grainger Ker Thompson, had served in the Chindits in Burma during World War II. Thompson’s in-depth experience of jungle warfare proved invaluable during this period as he was able to build effective civil-military relations and was one of the chief architects of the counter-insurgency plan in Malaya.

On 6 October 1951, the British High Commissioner in Malaya, Sir Henry Gurney, was assassinated during an MNLA ambush. General Gerald Templer was chosen to become the new High Commissioner in January 1952. During Templer’s two-year command, “two-thirds of the guerrillas were wiped out and lost over half their strength, the incident rate fell from 500 to less than 100 per month and the civilian and security force casualties from 200 to less than 40.” Orthodox historiography suggests that Templer changed the situation in the Emergency and his actions and policies were a major part of British success during his period in command. Revisionist historians have challenged this view and frequently support the ideas of Victor Purcell, a Sinologist who as early as 1954 claimed that Templer merely continued policies begun by his predecessors.

The MNLA was vastly outnumbered by the British forces and their Commonwealth and colonial allies in terms of regular full-time soldiers. Siding with the British occupation were a maximum of 40,000 British and other Commonwealth troops, 250,000 Home Guard members, and 66,000 police agents. Supporting the communists were 7,000+ communist guerrillas (1951 peak), an estimated 1,000,000 sympathisers, and an unknown number of civilian Min Yuen supporters and Orang Asli sympathisers.


Second World War

The Special Air Service was a unit of the British Army during the Second World War that was formed in July 1941 by David Stirling and originally called “L” Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade—the “L” designation and Air Service name being a tie-in to a British disinformation campaign, trying to deceive the Axis into thinking there was a paratrooper regiment with numerous units operating in the area (the real SAS would “prove” to the Axis that the fake one existed). It was conceived as a commando force to operate behind enemy lines in the North African Campaign and initially consisted of five officers and 60 other ranks. Its first mission, in November 1941, was a parachute drop in support of the Operation Crusader offensive.  Due to German resistance and adverse weather conditions, the mission was a disaster; 22 men, a third of the unit, were killed or captured. Its second mission was a major success. Transported by the Long Range Desert Group, it attacked three airfields in Libya, destroying 60 aircraft with the loss of 2 men and 3 jeeps. In September 1942, it was renamed 1st SAS, consisting at that time of four British squadrons, one Free French, one Greek, and the Folboat Section.

In January 1943, Colonel Stirling was captured in Tunisia and Paddy Mayne replaced him as commander. In April 1943, the 1st SAS was reorganised into the Special Raiding Squadron under Mayne’s command and the Special Boat Squadron was placed under the command of George Jellicoe. The Special Raiding Squadron fought in Sicily and Italy along with the 2nd SAS, which had been formed in North Africa in 1943 in part by the renaming of the Small Scale Raiding Force. The Special Boat Squadron fought in the Aegean Islands and Dodecanese until the end of the war. In 1944 the SAS Brigade was formed.

Malayan Scouts

In 1950, a 21 SAS squadron was raised to fight in the Korean War. After three months of training in Britain, it was informed that the squadron would no longer be required in Korea and so it instead volunteered to fight in the Malayan Emergency. Upon arrival in Malaya, it came under the command of “Mad Mike” Mike Calvert who was forming a new unit called the Malayan Scouts (SAS). Calvert had already formed one squadron from 100 volunteers in the Far East, which became A Squadron; the 21 SAS squadron then became B Squadron; and after a recruitment visit to Rhodesia by Calvert, C Squadron was formed from 100 Rhodesian volunteers. The Rhodesians returned home after three years’ service and were replaced by a New Zealand squadron. By this time the need for a regular army SAS regiment had been recognised; the 22 SAS Regiment was formally added to the army list in 1952 and has been based at Hereford since 1960. In 1959 the third regiment, the 23 SAS Regiment, was formed by renaming the Reserve Reconnaissance Unit, which had succeeded MI9 and whose members were experts in escape and evasion.


Legend has it that my uncle rose through the ranks from private to colonel during the second world war and was attached to Montgomery in the desert. He was a member of Royal Signals. So, he would have had knowledge of the SAS in North Africa. After the war in order to stay in the army he accepted demotion to captain.

Perhaps he had a hand in the redeploying of the SAS in Malaya?

In his MBE citation from Jan-Jun 1950 he is down as Captain acting Major. His citation is signed by Major General, Chief of Staff Far East Land Forces, Singapore, J.M.Kirkman. It is approved by Commander in Chief, Far East Land Forces, John Harding on 21/7/50.

“Field Marshal Allan Francis Harding, 1st Baron Harding of Petherton, GCB, CBE, DSO & Two Bars, MC (10 February 1896 – 20 January 1989), known as John Harding, was a senior British Army officer who fought in both the First World War and the Second World War, served in the Malayan Emergency, and later advised the British government on the response to the Mau Mau Uprising. He also served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), the professional head of the British Army, and was Governor of Cyprus from 1955 to 1957 during the Cyprus Emergency.”

This from the London Gazette dated 8th December 1950.

So his sponsor was head of military intelligence in Berlin 1950!!

This is Kirkman in 1942.

In this sketchy obituary he was Director of Military Intelligence at the War office!! Spook central.

According to legend my uncle was subsequently Head of Signals, London Station and worked out of Horse Guards Parade. He would have been involved in royal events. My dad {who was REME lieutenant acting captain in Malaya a few years later than 1950} reported lunching with him once and commented that my uncle was treated as top brass.

When my uncle and his wife took me out once for lunch at boarding school my house master, an ex-paratroop medic, was well impressed. He told me that Colonel Rees M.B.E. was coming. I did not know who he meant, it turned out to be uncle Ken…

On balance and because I cannot find much more information, yup my uncle was at least part a spook! He also knew some serious army dudes…

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