Honorary Colonel Dominic (Nick) Neill OBE MC

Nick Neill shortly after his return from Operation Longcloth in 1943 (Gurkha Museum)

Dominic Neill was known throughout his service in the Regiment as ‘Nick ’.  Born in 1921 he joined the 2nd Goorkhas in 1941 as a wartime emergency commissioned officer and granted a regular commission in 1948.

He had been trained in the Bangalore Officers’ School before joining the 3rd Battalion and serving with them on Operation Longcloth, in Burma and in Malaya until early 1946.

He earned his Military Cross in an action to take the ‘Snowdon’ feature in Burma.  This group of hills dominated the main road and had to be taken.  There was a heavy ground mist which delayed the operation until mid-afternoon, but after a six-minute artillery bombardment Major Nick Neill led B Company forward.  The left-hand platoon was swept by machine-gun fire and hit by many grenades.  The platoon commander, Havildar Kherakabahadur, was struck down and his platoon sergeant, Havildar Amarbahadur Pun, won their objective with only ten men left standing.  The right-hand platoon inched forward, protected to some extent by smoke and covering fire until halted by small arms fire and grenades.  By now dusk was beginning to fall.  The Commandant, Colonel Panton, told his Second-in-Command on the radio to inform Brigade Headquarters that the attack would have to be paused for the night, but in a dramatic intervention Major Neill interrupted to say “Jemadar Chandrabir says he has five men on our objective.  I can exploit if given two more platoons”.  “They are coming up at once” replied Panton.  This extraordinary change of fortune had come about as a result of the actions of one man, Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung.  Single-handedly he had killed a Japanese sniper holding up his platoon’s advance, cleared two trenches before attacking a machine-gun bunker, killing all those inside, and then helping to hold off an enemy counter-attack.  It was directly due to his efforts that Snowdon East was recaptured enabling the campaign in the Arakan to be quickly brought to a close.  Bhanbhagta was awarded the Victoria Cross and Neill received the Military Cross.

Returning to India, Neill stayed with the Regiment when the 3rd Battalion merged with men of the 2nd Battalion who had returned from prisoner of war camp, the new organisation retaining the title of ‘2nd Battalion’.

In 1948 he moved with the 2nd Battalion back to Malaya.  He was the Battalion’s most successful company commander in the post-war Malayan Emergency, personally killing 21 Communist Terrorists in close-quarter jungle actions, earning a mention in despatches and being appointed MBE.

Neill, then a Major, and his wife Margaret on their wedding day, 11 April 1956.  Margaret’s father was in the 6th Gurkha Rifles, and the wedding took place at the Regimental Depot at Lehra in India.

He was Chief Instructor at the Far East Land Forces Jungle Warfare School from 1959 to 1961, and a College Chief Instructor at Sandhurst from April 1961.  In 1963 he took command of the 2nd Battalion.  His time in command included an operational tour in Sarawak during the Indonesian Confrontation, for which he was appointed OBE.  On one occasion he put the live of a seriously wounded NCO above political expediency.  Ignoring an order that no helicopters were to cross into Indonesian territory, he ordered one to pick the man up, travelling in it himself to ensure the success of the operation.  This earned the censure of the Brigade Commander and was thought to have blighted his later career.

After command he had a succession of jobs including command of the Brigade of Gurkhas Training Centre at Sungei Patani and Defence Attaché in Kathmandu.  He retired in 1972 with the Honorary rank of Colonel.

He was a strong supporter of the Regiment and the Regimental Association throughout his life.  He greatly contributed to the history of the 3rd Battalion’s exploits in the Second World War and the post-war operations of the 2nd Battalion by writing numerous memoirs and articles as well as recording verbal testimonies, all of which are kept at the Gurkha Museum.

He married in 1956 but had no children.  He died on 24 December 1999.  Obituaries were published in the Daily Telegraph, the Times and the Regimental Journal.  Brigadier Christopher Bullock, late 2nd Goorkhas, gave this appraisal of him in a eulogy:

‘Nick Neill was a man whom one could not but be impressed by.  There was a directness accompanied by inherent honesty that was totally obvious immediately one met him.  If you asked him his opinion you would get it straight and unvarnished – and some wished they had never asked!  Throughout his life he stood by his principles and convictions without fear or favour.  Those who had the privilege of serving with him knew that whatever the pressure he would support them right through to the bitter end.  On cross-border operations into Indonesia his voice, calm, confident and steady over the radio to where we crouched in the rain, steeled our resolve despite our fears and drove us on to success.

Yet this paints too austere a picture.  Not only was he a man sensitive to the feelings of others, but also a possessor of a sense of humour that cut through cant and posturing to reveal a devastating sense of the ridiculous delivered always with a lively twinkle to his eye.  He was also a gifted raconteur whose tales were always made more pungent by his attractively guileless way of telling them.’

Neill when in command of the 2nd Battalion (Gurkha Museum)


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