Peter Little

Penny Little has kindly shared this summary of Peter Little’s time in the Army, notes which she wrote as input to a farewell speech given when he was dined out of the Inner Temple in 2005:

Peter was bom in Knebworth, Herts in 1943.  His father was at that time serving in the RAF.  The family moved around a bit before settling just outside Tunbridge Wells.  After prep school he was sent to Tonbridge where he excelled in sport, gaining his colours in rugby, hockey and rowing. Academically he achieved good results at ‘A’ levels in Latin, Greek and Ancient History (!).

Leaving school he took a gap year and through the British Council took a teaching job at a boys public school in Chittagong, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and it was during the holidays when he travelled extensively through the Indian sub-continent that he first came in contact with Gurkhas.

His entrance into Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, was greatly eased by the fact that they badly needed a hockey goal keeper and Peter fitted the bill.  On admission he promptly took up rowing.  For the first two years he studied law (Part I of the Tripos) with a view to becoming a barrister.  However he soon realised that his studies were getting in the way of serious rowing and being Captain of Boats for two years running for his college, adversely affected his chances of achieving a decent law degree, he therefore switched to Archaeology and Anthropology and gained a creditable ‘rowing’ third. In the final year they got to the finals of the visitor’s cup at Henley and he was a Trial Cap and for a short time rowed in Goldie.  During the vacations he worked variously as a taxi driver and in a wine merchants from where his enthusiasm and interest in good wines stemmed.

Afler University he was commissioned into the 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Goorkhas (The Sirmoor Rifles) the oldest of the Gurkha regiments, raised in 1815 by Colonel Frederick Young.  Whereupon he was despatched, complete with a suitcase full of ‘Jungle Drawers, Cellular; Officers for the use of’ – truly hideous khaki coloured aertex which reached to the knees.  No doubt they served the dual purpose of acting as a complete turn-off to all the mosquitoes, leeches and poisonous snakes that lurked in the undergrowth.  In those far-off days graduates were not required to attend Sandhurst and so it was that he arrived in the jungles of Borneo completely untrained.  To quote from a friend and fellow officer who wrote an excellent book called ‘Journeys Hazardous’ (by Christopher Bullock) – ‘I felt very much for Lieutenant Peter Little who was accompanying us on this operation.  Only a few weeks before he had been at university as a carefree undergraduate.  Now he was plunged into filthy swamp jungle in wildest Indonesia; never dry, beset by mosquitoes and leeches (which even the underpants had failed to deter) and served by quite the worst Gurkha orderly I had ever clapped eyes on’.

Leave between tours of duty were spent back in the fleshpots of Singapore and it was during this time in 1968 that he was to meet his bride-to-be. They were duly married in 1969.  At the age of 27 he was promoted to major.  In 1971 the withdrawal of British troops from Singapore began and his battalion was relocated to Hong Kong and this move was achieved by sea on an LSL (Landing Ship Logistics).  On her previous voyage the ship was caught up in a typhoon and the first officer, in a somewhat inebriated state, found himself trapped when his bunk snapped shut on him, and broke his leg.  He was only found two days later.  However nothing of that nature occurred on this voyage.

In Hong Kong the main role of the Gurkhas was in holding back the hordes of Chinese from the mainland who would have engulfed tiny Hong Kong.  After capture they would be given a good breakfast and bussed back over the border. Overseas exercises took up a good part of the battalion’s time and these took place in the jungles of Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands (where Peter was able to help disentangle the High Commissioners rather complicated lovelife) to name but a few. He was also sent on duty treks to Nepal to hand out pensions and to award scholarships and finally together with his Gurkha Major he spent five weeks on his commanding oficer’s trek visiting the Western areas from where the soldiers in his regiment were recruited.

To fast forward somewhat, in 1980 at the age of 37 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and took command of his battalion (20 British officers, 40 Gurkha ofiicers and over 900 riflemen together with families, a hospital and two schools).  And in 1983 the lotus eating days of lolling around in the sun, junk parties, water-skiing, racing at Happy Valley, amahs, orderlys and drivers came to an end and he was recalled back to England to become a Whitehall warrior.  For 8 years he endured the daily battle of Waterloo with the commute from West Byflcet to London.  However in between two jobs at MOD he was lucky enough to be selected for the Royal College of Defence Studies in Belgrave Square. A sort of glorified, laid back club where the day consisted of some rather interesting lectures, good lunches and dinners (good training for the Inner Temple) and trips abroad culminating in several weeks in the Middle East.

Afler that came his penultimate appointment, that of Director of Military Assistance Overseas which entailed responsibility for British Military training teams and liaising with foreign defence ministers, heads of state sometimes and High Commissioners, Ambassadors and Defence Attaches all over the world ‘Some of his visits were quite surreal such as the one he made to Sierra Leone where he spent an entire evening sitting in the pitch dark (no electricity in Freetown) with the High Commissioner while he (the H.C.) consumed large quantities of whisky brought to him in constant succession by his house-boy until completely comatose he was carried off to bed All rather “Heart of Darkness” stufi‘. He also had to get used to being greeted in some of the minor African states by honour guards and bands drawn up on the airport tarmac on his arrival.  His wife, who was not entitled to accompany him on any of these trips became somewhat peeved when he complained of yet another visit to the Cairibbean.

He was awarded the CBE in 1992 for his efforts during the Kuwait invasion by Iraq, in extracting the military training team and their families from where they were having an horrific time, the men having been rounded up and used as human shields at installations, and the families in their compound harassed by Iraqi soldiers.   Many of them were emotionally scarred by their experiences and Peter managed to arrange for Bagshot Park, then the HQ for army padres, to be used as a counselling centre for the families.

His final posting in 1992 was to the HQ British Forces of the Rhine where amongst other duties he was required to instigate budget cuts, some of which were less popular than others (re staff cars, including his own).  This was also an opportunity for travel, mainly in Europe.

Then in 1994 he decided he should look for a ‘proper job’ and was delighted and amazed when he was picked for the position of Sub-Treasurer to the Inner Temple.  This was the beginning of a very happy and fulfilling eleven years.  (The rest is history!)


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