The President of the Gurkha Brigade Association wrote to the Prime Minister on 15th June about the provision of Covid-19 vaccines to Nepal:

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Following the 28th July FCDO announcement on bilateral vaccine provisions to various countries (but not Nepal) he has also recently written to both the Times and the Daily Telegraph, although his letters have not yet been published (as at 31st July 2021):

Download (DOCX, 13KB)

He has also written again to the Prime Minister (2nd August):

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2nd letter to the pm drb

The Sirmoor Croquet season opened on 1st July at Hurlingham- the Mecca of the Noble Game. Our happy band was made up of Jon Aslett and his daughter Sophie Graham, Mark Pettigrew, David and Jo Santa Ollala- all within walking distance of Hurlingham – Christopher Lavender from Woking – and Bruce Jackman who journeyed a wearisome 7 hours from Bristol that day to be with us. Shyabash Hazoor!

We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch accompanied by a bottle of Rose before collecting our mallets and balls and decamping to Lawn 1 – the premier lawn – but as no one seemed to be playing on any other lawn that afternoon our distinguished or undistinguished play went equally unnoticed and unjudged by the Hurlingham hierarchy.

With the benefit of Mark’s gentle guidance, we paired up for Golf Croquet – a fun format with everyone playing in turn. Mark was a bit of an expert in this code – but we were quick learners and we were able to adapt our play to the speed of the beautifully manicured lawn.

We then launched ourselves into the dubious subtleties of Association Croquet, rich as it is with roquets, croquets , and all the associated tactics and rules. With Christopher advising when needed (and perhaps when not needed) the three pairings of Bruce and David, Mark and Jon, and Sophie and Christopher ‘ran the hoops’ taking advantage of additional well-earned hits as they progressed. The highlights were an exquisitely aimed 22 yard roquet by Mark on his partner (Jon’s) ball , and a similarly precise 15 yard roquet some 19 minutes later by Bruce. Jo observed that perhaps the pairing of Christopher and Sophie was the result of poor seeding – and maybe this was so -however all three pairs were on the final hoop by the time Sophie and Christopher posted out – and the tea break was taken.

Tea, and scones with clotted cream and jam, restored our energy and we spent the last period enjoying the less complicated Golf Croquet again. Playing with three pairs proved problematic in that advancing through even one hoop with six players was almost impossible. We therefore split into two games of three players and this brought the afternoon to a close. We then dispersed to our various points of origin – with Bruce having to endure a four hour journey on the M4.
Click on this link for more photographs: http://2ndgoorkhas.com/gallery/sirmoor-club-croquet-july-2021/

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Please see the YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/embed/LDJ-4DRzbtE

As the temperature rises to the mid-thirties (36 degrees today – as I write), and the humidity makes daily life a sticky affair, I thought Sirmoorees might appreciate a further sitrep from what some may imagine – from UK media reports – to be this ‘bedevilled archipelago’ (the territory of Hong Kong comprises 263 islands). Some may also be pleasantly surprised to hear that we have been leading a very normal life compared to those in many other countries, and are enjoying the freedom that our relative success in containing Covid allows. Schools have been open for the last few months, bars and Restaurants are open (albeit limited to six at a table if fully vaccinated) and gyms, golf courses and all other recreational facilities have also been open for the last few months. Pleasure boats ply their way to Lamma Island, Po Toi and sandy beaches elsewhere, and the more energetic of us explore the hiking trails as never before (albeit with a plentiful supply of water – a hiker died from heat exhaustion on Cloudy Hill only last weekend!).

Hong Kong’s test and trace approach is an undoubted success, and with a mere 11,866 cases and 28 deaths per million of the population, it is only surprising that under the new rules for entry into the UK which came into force on 17th May – Whitehall still classifies Hong Kong as being on the ‘Amber List’. This requires us to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in the UK. Portugal, on the other hand with 845,470 cases and 1,673 deaths per million is on the ‘Green List’ requiring no self-isolation. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that ‘other factors’ might have played a part in this categorisation as far as Hong Kong is concerned.

Locally we have become a victim of our own success in containing the virus, with many of the local population seeing little merit in being ‘jabbed’. So far only 18 % of the population have been vaccinated – despite Hong Kong having more than enough of Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZenaca and Sinopharm ordered to more than cover the entire population of 7.5 million twice over. These vaccines are freely available to everyone over 18 and you can choose which brand you prefer. It is a hugely efficient system as you would expect from Hong Kong, and Griselda and I had our vaccinations in March/April. As a result of the slow take up, instead of building up herd immunity by vaccination (as England is doing so well) we adhere to a test and trace system that sends all those likely to have been in contact with an infected person into 3 weeks mandatory quarantine. We therefore spend a lot of time thinking very carefully where we go and whom we associate with – our greatest fear is being dragged off to Penny Bay – which is the grim custom built camp on Lantao, where anyone who has been in contact with an infected person is taken! A 90 square foot room – not allowed to open the windows or door – and food provided by the government!

So far from fearing a knock on the door from those responsible for enforcing the National Security Law (NSL), it is the fear of Penny Bay that excites us the most!

While the application of the NSL causes understandable apprehension amongst the pan-democrats, it has certainly resulted in a more stable and confident Hong Kong – with a growth in IPOs and the Hang Seng holding up remarkably well. The economy showed a 7.8% increase over Q1 over last year.

I must confess that most of us were not overly surprised at Beijing imposing their own security legislation on Hong Kong. Hong Kong was just about the only jurisdiction not to have any national security legislation prior to 2020 – although it was provided for in the Joint Declaration. Given the horrendous level of violence on the streets for 9 long months, it was only a matter of time before such legislation was introduced.

While it is true that the NSL requires ‘patriots’ to serve in the civil service and those that stand for election or public office to ‘swear to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the city’, this is not a dissimilar requirement to many ‘democracies’. Sirmoorees may have read about the convictions of nine prominent ‘activists’ for organising and taking part in an unlawful assembly in 2019, but what might not be quite so well known is that these prosecutions were made under the colonial era ‘Public Order Ordinance’ – not the NSL.

The Western media maintain there is no evidence of American funding for supporting the activists in Hong Kong – but it is all a matter of public record – if one chooses to look. There is clear evidence that much of the considerable funding support for the 2019 riots came from the National Endowment for Democracy, one of many sources of funding that the CIA has at its disposal. As to the future – the ‘Strategic Competition Act of 2021’ recently passed by the US Senate, provides US$ 10 million under ‘Authorisation of Appropriations for Promotion of Democracy in Hong Kong’ in 2022. In the view of many who are familiar with China – containment would be better achieved by engagement – albeit while holding true to one’s core values.

It is educational viewing the ‘mis-reporting’ in the Western media. We are used to the propaganda that emanates from Beijing, but it has been very disheartening to see events that residents in Hong Kong have lived through in 2019 and afterwards, reported so selectively and with significant ‘spin’ in the West.

‘Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, while thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field’. Edmund Burke

We will be back in the UK this Summer and look forward to catching up with our many Sirmooree friends. We hope and pray that by the time we return to Hong Kong at the end of September that England’s outstanding success at vaccinating the population leads to an easing of the (draconian) three weeks quarantine in selected hotels that the HK government demand (other factors at play again?).

                     The changing sea/landscape of Victoria Harbour (1)

   The changing sea/landscape of Victoria Harbour (2)

Less container ships and mainly from the Mainland or SE Asia

The sun goes down over Lantao

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Some time ago, out of curiosity, I ordered a copy of ‘Ayo Gorkhali, A History of the Gurkhas’ from the publishers in Chennai. It arrived too late to be reviewed in this year’s Sirmooree but I offer my views here in case you are thinking of buying or reading it. A quick summary of what I’ve written below is ‘don’t’.

The first half of the book, a potted history of Gurkhas, has been compiled from other popular histories. The rest consists of 14 chapters on Gurkha-related topics such as ‘The Gurkha Justice Campaigns’, ‘Gorkhas in the Indian Army’, ‘The Effects of Gurkha Recruitment Policy in Nepal’, ‘The Gurkha Women – Heroes or Victims?’ and ‘My Time in the Brigade as a Gurkha Soldier’. These contain some interesting snippets of information in much the same way as Reader’s Digest does, but the lack of both a unifying narrative theme and meaningful analysis makes them no more than a random collection of factoids and opinions drawn from a small, idiosyncractic range of sources and the author’s prejudices. This makes it difficult to know what information to trust. For example, it is probably correct that men in the pre-1815 Gorkhali Army was rewarded with land grants (‘jagirs’) and the tax revenues that went with them rather than being paid a wage or salary. On the other hand, it is hard to believe that Gurkha wives ‘…..in saris guarded the beaches in Malaysia with Bren guns while their husbands were fighting in the jungle in the 1960s’ – although, who knows, that may be true. Poor proof-reading detracts from the credibility of the contents too: ‘Tucker’ instead of ‘Tuker’ and ‘AG Peterson’ instead of ‘AG Patterson’ are just two egregious examples among many. A better editor would also have chosen the pictures more wisely: amateur snapshots of the author at various locations with a Gurkha connection do little to promote or enhance the Gurkha story.

I have no wish to be elitist, snobbish or patronising, but I am sure I shall come across as all three if I say that the book has the hallmarks of an author who has never been taught how to write (as opposed to assemble) such a document. Tim Gurung was a Corporal in 6GR. He left in the 1993 drawdown after 13 years’ service, with a pension. I took command of 6GR that year in Brunei but do not remember him, probably because he was by then employed as an Education Instructor at TDBG in Hong Kong and so we never met. He explains quite candidly that he did not feel at home in the military, being more interested in reading and the wider world than developing the traditional martial and sporting qualities of a Gurkha soldier, but I imagine being made redundant was nevertheless a blow. The blurb for ‘Ayo Gorkhali’ says that in civilian life he was first a businessman and latterly has been a writer, producing 15 novels. Some are available in English. After reading one or two summaries on his website (http://www.timigurung.com) I won’t be rushing out to buy any, but I am pleased for him if they are selling well.

In his introduction the author airs the dilemma he faced of either trying to write a book encompassing the huge amount of material about Gurkhas he collected or simply giving up on the project. It does not seem to have occurred to him that there was a third option of choosing a narrower theme that would support whatever points he wanted to make (and it is far from clear in this book whether he had any). He has therefore tried to cram several books’-worth of diverse information into one relatively small volume, with the predictable consequence that none of it has depth or breadth. The constant rumble of bitterness and resentment in how he writes, which can in some circumstances provide an ‘edge’ to someone’s writing, is no substitute for this lack of purposeful structure, for three reasons. Firstly, it is undifferentiated: he criticises almost everything, with the exception of the anonymous paragon ‘The Gurkha soldier’. Secondly, his criticism lacks teeth because it is ambivalent and non-specific: he finds fault with organisations (‘The Nepalese Government’, ‘The British Army’) and generic groups (‘Gurkha/British Officers’ or ‘NCOs’), but then praises them and individuals belonging to them. Thirdly, there is little purpose or substance to his criticism: it is many years since he was made redundant and by now he should have come to terms with it, particularly after pursuing successful second and third careers; perceived historical injustices were almost all decisions taken in very different contexts to today’s, and many, such as dismissing soldiers without a pension after only a few years’ service during World War II, have been addressed – in that particular case proportionately if not wholly satisfactorily from the point of view of the recipients, by welfare pensions; more recent grievances about pay and conditions have been very generously remedied; and the partnership between Britain and Nepal in relation to Gurkhas is no more and no less expedient and flawed than all such bilateral arrangements.

In conclusion, I find it hard to recommend ‘Ayo Gorkhali’ to other readers. The last chapter of the book begins with the words ‘One thing that I have learned during the course of researching this book is this: the only thing that the Gurkhas want to hear is the story of Gurkha bravery and nothing else’. If the author had followed this insight to its logical conclusion – namely writing a book for Gurkhas about Gurkha bravery – then it would probably have been a lot more interesting and inspiring than the one he eventually produced, which lacks both aim and focus. I understand from his website that a Nepali edition may be in the offing. If it is, I hope it finds favour with a Gurkha and wider Nepalese readership, although I imagine many will identify the same flaws as I have in the English version.

It is not an expensive book, but with the benefit of hindsight I wish I had spent the £8.50 on a half-decent bottle of wine instead. Such is the cost of curiosity….

Photos related to first comment below from Major Sudan Dewan:

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Tamandu flying the (Sirmoor) flag!

I have been asked to record the exploits of the Far East Flotilla of the Sirmoor Yacht Squadron (SYS), following the sad parting with our yacht ‘Tamandu’ in early July. The ‘Flotilla’ referred to in this article is by definition of a very singular nature! ‘Tamandu’ is a 38 foot Westerly Ocean Ranger constructed in Southampton in 1994. Her first owners had christened her ‘Baringo’ after a lake in Kenya that they often visited, but we decided to re-christen her ‘Tamandu’, in memory of Bhanbhagta’s gallantry during B Company 3/2GR’s seizure of Snowdon East in the Arakan in 1945.

Along with other other nautically minded Sirmoorees, we had much enjoyed sailing the Nuffield Trust funded Services boat ‘White Dragon’ (run aground by a ‘matelot’ on Hainan Island) and the Sail Training Yacht ‘East Wind’ (lost in a typhoon returning from the Philippines under command of an HQBF Staff Officer) in Hong Kong in earlier years. As a result we were keen to sail on our return to Hong Kong in 1997. We therefore acquired ‘Tamandu’ twenty years ago, with a view to using her, as Griselda puts it, as our ‘country cottage’. And she has been a marvellous escape from the urban confinement of Hong Kong with many blissful days and weeks spent sailing the waters of the Sai Kung Peninsula, Long Harbour and Double Haven. Given the pollution resulting from the development of the Pearl River Estuary – what is now called the ‘Greater Bay Area’ – we decided to moor her at Hebe Haven rather than the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (the Club still retains the ‘Royal’ in its English rendition). Therefore we joined the Hebe Haven Yacht Club on Hiram’s Highway – well located for sailing out into Mirs Bay, and among other destinations re-visiting the favourite anchorages frequented by ‘Jaldevi’ in years gone by. We have anchored in Governor’s Bay, Crescent Island and spent many a happy night sipping a dry martini and waking with the dawn chorus to see the rolling hills of the Tolo Peninsula. Not a sign of urban Hong Kong and the bustle and lights of the new container port of Yan Tiang (to the east of Sha Tau Kok) hidden by the hills of Kat O Chau (a section base on Border Operations). The Lavender girls and some of our granddaughters have all had enormous fun on her over the years, and we have also had ‘guest Sirmoorees’ on the helm – when Bruce and Carol Jackman, and Peter and Annie Duffell visited Hong Kong. Rachel Duffell and Mekail have also livened up our nautical escapades from time to time – as has Chris Bance (an Honorary Sirmooree by virtue of Cynthia Tuker being his Godmother).

We have periodically sailed into and anchored in Long Harbour, and landed at Ward Haven and Gurkha Haven to cast an eye over current developments and relive happy times. Ward Haven is very well looked after by Swires and available for use by their Main Board – although they seem to use it sparingly – which is a shame. Gurkha Haven had previously fallen into a state of disrepair, but on our most recent visit was undergoing substantial, if unsophisticated, redevelopment, including a modest extension to the building and establishing terraces for growing vegetables.

Tamandu Underway

We have enjoyed some very encouraging encounters with nature over the years from seeing two pink dolphins in Hebe Haven during ‘Tamandu’s sea trials, to having a Nurse shark and a Black Tip shark, make us think twice about an evening swim when anchored in Camp Cove, off Kat O Chau (although both are very timid and seldom attack humans)! The Black Tip shark appeared in October 2018 – very late in the year for sharks – but encouragingly there has not been an actual shark attack in Hong Kong since the mid 1990s.

While we have not been regular racers ‘ around the cans’ – ‘Tamandu’ has raced under SYS colours from time to time – notably in the Around the Island Race, the Macao Race (2nd place in 2005) , and the Four Peaks Race. We also competed in a very hairy ‘Cruiser Owner’s Association’ regatta racing from Sai Kung to Middle Island near Aberdeen. The race started with a reef in the Main and the storm jib hoisted in driving rain, straight into wind and with about 10 metres visibility – with a crew of two (Griselda and me) these were not ideal conditions! Incredibly, by the time we reached Cape D’Aigular at the south east corner of Hong Kong Island we found ourselves in a windless ‘hole’ . After two hour’s wallowing, and with the sun approaching the yardarm, we decided to retire, take in the genoa and motor in to Middle Island – for an early Martini. No sooner had we furled in the genoa than a ferocious squall struck – so ferocious that they closed Hong Kong Airport for 3 hours and abandoned a game of rugby in Aberdeen! The effects on the remainder of the fleet, none of whom had furled in their foresails, was chaotic – but they all had crews of 6-7 on board and could just about cope. Griselda and I found ‘Tamandu’ heeling over at 45 degrees with just the Main hoisted! Anyway we survived – but it was a most prescient decision to retire from the race when we did!

The greatest challenge – and our notable successes have been in the Four Peaks Race , which takes place in January / February each year – when the wind is usually strong and the weather chilly to say the least. The combination of running four peaks and sailing through the night make for a demanding 24 hours. In 2008 ‘Tamandu’ won her Division with Chris Gunns coming aboard as a sailor and a very strong runner. Ten years later we assembled a Gurkha-centric crew , which included Rachel Duffell, David Bulbeck (6GR), Colonel Andrew Mills and Peter Smyth (both QGE). This crew largely stayed together for three seasons – we came second in 2018, missed a mark and made poor tactical decisions leading to our retirement in 2019 (!), and came storming back in 2020 with a resounding victory over seven other boats in our Division! ‘Tamandu’s’ name will live on – engraved in the silverware on display in the Aberdeen Boat Club- under whose auspices the race is organised.

It is always better to end any venture on a high note, and with ‘Tamandu’ being 26 years old – there was an ever increasing bill for maintenance. Selling a yacht in Hong Kong is complicated by the shortage of moorings, and so when a fellow member of Hebe Haven Yacht Club expressed an interest it seemed too good an opportunity to miss, as moorings can be passed between club members. And so we handed ‘Tamandu’ over to her new owner at the beginning of July. It was inevitably a rather poignant occasion, but she is passing into good hands. Andy Brown is the Director of Kadoorie Farm and his father was a Royal Engineer who served with Gurkhas in Burma in WWII. He loves the Gurkha connection and will retain the name .

While the Far East Flotilla of the SYS is therefore no more, ‘Tamandu’ will continue to be sighted in Far Eastern waters and many a lantern will swing below decks as runners and sailors recall ‘hills run and passages made’ in the Four Peaks Race. Meantime it is back to the Med for a little chartering!

Jai SYS!

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The following short article appears in the 2021 edition of The Sirmooree. Please scroll down to read ‘The Dying Note of the Swan’s Song’ that is referenced in it (and the accompanying notes).

My father [Colonel R C Jackman OBE, 2GR 1934-48] lost his leg at the beginning of the War when he was Brigade Major of Mhow Brigade in India. He was visiting a newly arrived unit, 26/19th Hyderabad Regiment, for the first time. During his inspection of the changing of the guard a soldier had an accidental discharge from his rifle, a new weapon that the unit had only been issued with two weeks before. The round hit my father in the right knee virtually destroying it. Had it not been for some very quickly applied first aid with a tourniquet my father would have died on the spot through loss of blood. He was taken to hospital and had his leg amputated above the knee. He was of course downgraded medically and posted to GHQ Delhi where he set up E Group of which he became the Head [and work for which he was subsequently awarded the OBE – Ed]. This was an organisation tasked to infiltrate Japanese POW camps throughout the Far East to ascertain who was in them, their state of wellbeing, and to arrange escapes where possible.

When I was looking through a box of my father’s correspondence recently I came across a poem, ‘The Dying Note of the Swan’s Song’. It is about the closing down of E Group at the end of the War. It is a dirge to ‘JDC’ who was ‘Duggie’ Clague or, as we remember him, Sir Douglas Clague, a prominent figure in the hierarchy of Hong Kong. After he escaped from the Japanese POW camp in Sham Shui Po he set himself up in China and became an outpost of E Group. He was awarded the CBE for his work during the War. He and my father were very good friends as a result of their E Group experiences and both having served in India and Douglas became my brother’s Godfather in 1945 when Robin was born.

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The dying note of the swan's song & notes

Outside of the museum gates at Ghoom pahar when the author visited in 2019.  Unfortunately, it was closed for the winter.

 
The first of its kind Gorkha War Museum is being built outside of Darjeeling town, in close proximity to the Gorkha War Memorial at Ghoom Batase Loop. The museum is expected to be inaugurated soon. The project is the brainchild of Mr Hemant Kumar Pradhan, a local resident who happens to be the collector, founder and president of the Gorkha War Museum Trust. His late father was Subedar Ram Chandra Pradhan who served in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. The years since have seen a lot of work and effort put in by Pradhan and the Museum’s Trust members building this unique attraction which is also supported by the *Gorkhaland Territorial Administration of Darjeeling and the Government of West Bengal, India. Mr Pradhan, over the past forty years, has accumulated a significant collection of military artefacts such as accoutrements, uniforms, medals, insignia, badges, flags, equipment, photographs and souvenir items associated with both the Indian and British army Gurkhas. Within collections are some 200 medals from the First and Second World Wars, including IGSM Samana Clasp (1891); Tibet Medal (1903-04); Abor (Assam) Expedition Medal (1911-12) and Japanese WW2 Army Officers swords. Although India had new battle heroes to celebrate after independence, some of the old uniforms, battlefield objects, dusty photographs and war documents exhibited serves as a poignant reminder about the military contributions of the old Indian Army Gurkha soldiers during the two world wars.
The foundation stone for the museum was laid by Mr Jaswant Singh, then a Member of Parliament representing the Darjeeling constituency after winning election there in 2009. Since then the project had been steadily progressing albeit at a snail’s pace. In 2016, during his visit to ex-servicemen in Darjeeling, the then Col BG had also taken some time in observing the building development of the site for the museum where he met up with Mr Pradhan and planted a tree outside. The two storey building houses a display of artefacts in chronological order depicting the history of both the Indian Gorkhas and the British Gurkha Regiments. A viewing deck is built on the terrace from where visitors can view Darjeeling town and its beautiful surrounding areas with Mount Kanchenjunga range against the backdrop.
The museum’s idea is to make people and visitors coming to the Hills aware of the rich history and heritage of the region as well as to provide information about the Indian Gorkha community and their contributions to the country living there. Definitely well worth stop and visit if one happens to be in the area. [Afternote: If anyone would like to donate their military items of any kind to the museum, he would be delighted to receive them].

*There is still present the Gorkhaland movement, a campaign to create a separate state of Gorkhaland for the Nepalese speaking population in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district. The Gorkhas living in the Darjeeling Hills have been demanding for separation from West Bengal (which is now a century old) on the grounds that they are culturally, ethnically different from West Bengal. The demand for separate statehood has since taken wider shape and now includes all Nepali speaking Gorkha citizens of India across the country (also known as Indian Gorkhas) making Darjeeling as the Centre of the movement. The term “Indian Gorkha” is used to differentiate the ethnic Gorkha citizens of India from the citizens of Nepal. If so, here’s where all Gorkhas are Nepali but not every Nepali are Gorkhas, you’re sort of betwixt and between!

Visit by the then Colonel BG, Colonel James Robinson, in 2016.

The main display room.

Hand-painted picture of Maj (Hon Capt) Santabir Gurung OBI

 

2GR No 1 Dress jacket and hats – not sure whose they were!

 

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‘On This Day’ reported that on the 24th March 1981, a 1st Battalion clerk based at Sha Tau Kok went to buy some pencils in Ching Ying Street (see photo) and accidentally strayed over the border and was detained by the Chinese Police. It reminded Brigadier Bruce Jackman of a similar incident in the 2nd Battalion, again at Sha Tau Kok, in August 1979. At the time clerks, cooks, and other HQ Company personnel were being sent to the border nightly to relieve men in the rifle companies so the latter could go home and see their families or simply have a night off from the gruelling routine of ambushes to capture illegal immigrants. A recently-joined young clerk had just completed his first ambush patrol during which it had rained all night and he was soaked through. While awaiting transport back to the Battalion Lines he wandered off to buy himself a fresh, dry pair of underpants but accidentally crossed the poorly-defined Sino-Hong Kong border in Ching Ying Street and found himself apprehended by the local militia (as opposed to the People’s Liberation Army, which would have made the situation more serious and difficult to resolve). Bruce Jackman takes up the tale:

Carol and I were hosting a rather ‘duty’ curry lunch at home entertaining the Commander Gurkha Field Force, Brigadier Ian Christie, and some of his staff when my orderly came in and announced ’Telephone ayo saheb!’. When I asked who it was he said ‘OC B Coy, saheb’! Whereupon I knew it must be bad because you [John Harrop] wouldn’t have otherwise troubled me on a Sunday. After you had briefed me I told Christie who went white. We had an impromptu O Group there and then and his COS rushed off in his car to ‘Stand To’ the HQ for a major Border incident. Rapid phone calls were made to the CBF, HK Governor, and MOD. I did indeed receive instructions down the same chain via Ian Christie to play things down and keep the incident ‘low key’. The meeting between both sides astride the border in the middle of the Cha Ta Kok main street was arranged for the next day. It took a bit of negotiating by the RHKP to agree the composition of each side eventually, if my memory serves, they had representation from the PLA, the local militia, and the area politburo which we matched as best we could. As you say I had difficulty controlling myself when I was introduced to their head honcho, the area Politburo chief, at the end of their line whose name was Mr Lo Ki, an impressive tall Chinese in his high-collar Mao style jacket. I was very careful to stress that the incident had been ‘due to a misunderstanding’ – not suggesting whose misunderstanding so as to save face all round. However, when this was accepted I took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and explained, through the police interpreter, the English meaning of the term ‘low key’ to Mr Lo Ki. Fortunately he also saw the funny side of it and the otherwise rather tense incident was over with diplomatic smiles on both sides! Not a shot fired – unlike 10GR!

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‘Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Bundeskanzler Helmut Kohl visit British Forces Germany’

 

The Corps Commander briefed me: “We’ll send the Prime Minister and the Chancellor down the range in main battle tanks – lay that on Peter – and make sure she hits the target!”

I headed for Bergen-Hohne Ranges on historic Luneburg Heath to set things up. The Royal Hussars would man the British Challenger; 24th Panzers the German Leopard.

“His and Hers, for a duel in the sun, Sir?” suggested a sharp Cavalryman.

“Make sure she hits the target,” I responded crisply, as practice began.

At rehearsal, a Cavalry officer’s wife playing the part of the Prime Minister slid decorously through the turret hatch into the body of the Challenger tank. In so doing, her skirt caught the lip of the hatch and remained there; much to the appreciation of the tank crew below. We agreed it would be best if we could avoid that particular hazard with the Prime Minister.

On the day, RAF helicopters flew in the VIPs – PM and Chancellor, Ministers and Chiefs, assorted Generals, aides and functionaries. Eighty reporters were clustered near the PM’s spin master, Bernard Ingham:

“Are you in charge, Brigadier?”

“I am if this goes wrong!” I responded.

“Make sure she hits the target,” he barked.

Tank Commanders Hauptmann Spier and Sergeant Steve Penkethman with Leopard and Challenger crews stood ready. From the assembled Press Corps came an expectant hum as the PM stole the fashion show. While Helmut Kohl was amply filling some ill-fitting khaki overalls, Margaret Thatcher, with dashing biscuit-beige coat, white silk scarf capriciously tossed over head and shoulders and that essential accessory – matching goggles – was dressed to kill.

Prime Minister Thatcher, guarded by Sergeant Penkethman’s shoulder, and Chancellor Kohl prepare for the Battle run.

‘A cross between Lawrence of Arabia and Isadora Duncan’, reported the Telegraph.

Ready on the firing point and safely mounted, without hazard, in their command turrets the national leaders locked tank guns onto their targets, the main armaments exploded with a flash of smoke and laser beams sent 120mm shells unerringly to their objective 1500 yards distant. Then they were off, surging down the battle run with a rumble of iron-clad horse-power and billowing dust, returning from the end of the skirmish to nervous applause from anxious Generals.

I loved it” exclaimed Mrs Thatcher, I was so relieved we hit the target”.

“First time hit!” Sergeant Penkethman told a breathless Press Corps, “I’ll give her a job when she finishes!”

Chancellor Kohl smiled. Bernard Ingham chuckled.

‘Bullseye Maggie,’ headlined the Express.

‘Maggie shells Russia,’ shouted the Mirror.

Four years after the Falklands war, iconic tank photographs appeared on the front pages, restoring Mrs Thatcher’s fading ‘Iron Lady’ image and helping her re-election. The PM continued in office; the Corps Commander was promoted; Steve Penkethman was duly commissioned. I still have my signed programme.

The author’s signed programme

 

(Peter Duffell was Chief of Staff to Commander 1(BR) Corps in Germany in 1986)