Operations in Waziristan and elsewhere on the North-West Frontier of India, earned for Royal Signals some of its very first awards for gallantry—the earliest in the 1920s are dealt with in the chapter of the book that deals with the Meritorious Service Medal for gallantry.
By 1924 conflict in the region had largely abated but a British and Indian Army garrison remained to piquet the roads that had been built between small population centres as a means of increasing control of the tribal area. Such duties were not without danger. On 18 August 1924, during a road opening operation north of Razmak Narai, near Duncan’s Piquet, a vehicle carrying a small Royal Signals party from Razani was ambushed below the picquet. In the action that followed, Lance Sergeant Percy Cook, aged 23, was killed. This incident was the subject of the Corps painting ‘Frontier Ambush’ by Peter Archer.
Less well known, certainly in Royal Signals, is a much larger ambush in 1937 that claimed the lives of two soldiers of the Corps and over 70 others killed and wounded. This period of operations on the North-West Frontier features in the chapter dealing with the Distinguished Service Order and the first two awards to Lieutenant Colonel W R C Penney OBE, MC and Lieutenant Colonel C H H Vulliamy.
In 1936 anti-colonial rebellion in the North-West Frontier was fuelled largely by the rhetoric of a Tori Khel Wazir, Mirza Ali Khan, known as the Faqir of Ipi. Initial operations in 1936 were successful in deterring rebellion but in response to increasing unrest, operations in the Khaisora valley against the Tori Khel at the end of the year—aimed at restoring peace and demonstrating the government’s determination to maintain peace—were strongly opposed. Withdrawal of the two columns greatly increased the Faqir’s influence.
In early 1937 raids were becoming larger and more numerous, and on 6 and 7 February two British officers were ambushed and murdered. As the situation deteriorated, reinforcements were brought into the region until, by September, Wazirforce comprised two divisions (Waziristan Division and 1st Indian Division) totalling seven brigades—the three Waziristan brigades reinforced by 1st (Abbottabad), 2nd (Rawalpindi), 3rd (Jhelum), and 9th (Jhansi) Infantry Brigades—with a commensurate number of artillery, sapper, and logistic units. At its height there were over 60,000 British, Indian and irregular troops in the region.
The scale and complexity of the communications required to support the force and its mobile operations resulted in major deployment: ‘A’ Corps Signals, Waziristan District Signals, and 1st Indian Divisional Signals were supported by detachments from ‘B’ Corps Signals, 2nd Indian Cavalry Brigade Signal Troop, 3rd Indian Divisional Signals, and Kohat District Signals. In general, cable was used in the rear areas and along lines of communication (although these areas were not immune to the destruction and theft of the cable runs), wireless was most important in the forward areas (considerable expertise was developed in dealing with the climatic and geographical challenges of the region), and dispatch riders proved invaluable. The Waziristan operations of late 1936 and to the end of 1938 earned the Corps a considerable number of awards, including three Military Medals. Unfortunately, the circumstances behind the award of two of the Military Medals earned in 1937 are unknown. One of these was to Signalman Marcel Hooper, who was later commissioned and earned an MBE in India as the Assistant Commandant of the Special Armed Constabulary in Central Province and Berar; his medals are shown in the gallery below.
Throughout the operations of 1937 the rebellious tribes mounted large and successful attacks on road protection troops and convoys. On the early morning of 9 April 1937, a convoy set out from Manzai fort destined for the garrison at Wana carrying supplies and some officers and men returning to their units at Wana. The convoy was a large one, comprising forty-nine lorries, an ambulance, and three private cars, all escorted by four armoured cars, with infantry and a detachment of Sappers and Miners in lorries. One of the armoured cars was at the front, another at the rear, and two more were amongst the transport. Similarly, the infantry in their lorries were distributed along the length of the convoy. The long snake of lorries wove its way uneventfully past Jandola and then westward onto the Jandola-Wana road. At about 7.40 am it was ambushed in the Shahur Tangi, a narrow, steep-sided, three-mile long gorge, eight miles west of Jandola. There, having been slowed by camels let loose on the road, the convoy was attacked by a large party of Mahsuds and Bhitannis, who had occupied positions on the precipitous hillsides.
The leading armoured car and first three trucks, having passed out of the gorge, were not attacked directly and sped to the next manned outpost, carrying news of the attack. Meanwhile, the lorries at the front of the convoy in the gorge were disabled when their drivers were killed, trapping the others behind. Raiders hidden in the rocks close to the road attacked the convoy along its length causing very heavy casualties but, although some trucks were looted, the armoured cars, the infantry escort and the other troops with the convoy fought most gallantly and prevented the convoy from being overrun. An aircraft providing support overhead was badly damaged and forced to land. Reinforcements arrived later in the day and fighting continued sporadically until nightfall. In the evening as the firing lessened the lorries that could be moved were either sent on to Sarwakai or back to Manzai and the wounded were evacuated. By the following morning the raiders had gone.
Amongst the vehicles of the convoy was a lorry of Waziristan District Signals, commanded by Corporal Edward Turner, driven by an Indian soldier and carrying four Royal Signals soldiers and another Indian signalman. In the morning’s battle, Turner and Signalman Norman Davies were killed, the Indian driver (Signalman Joseph) and Signalman Thomas Bowkett were wounded (the latter severely) but three other men, Signalmen Bartlett and McKenna and an Indian soldier, escaped unscathed. The bodies of Turner and Davies were recovered and buried at Manzai fort cemetery. In total, the attack claimed six British officers and two other ranks (Turner and Davies) killed, five British officers and one other rank (Bowkett) wounded, one Indian medical officer and 20 Indian other ranks killed, and 39 Indian all ranks wounded.
The gallantry of the British officers and soldiers who defended the convoy, and some of those who came to its rescue, was rewarded by one Distinguished Service Order, three Military Crosses, one Distinguished Conduct Medal and one Military Medal. Indian officers and soldiers in the convoy were rewarded with the Indian Order of Merit and the Indian Distinguished Service Medal.
1. (Back) 1856992 Lance Corporal (Acting Lance Sergeant) Percy Everitt Cook, ‘C’ Divisional Signals, serving with ‘Signals Tochi and Khaisora Area’. He was buried in Razmak cemetery and a memorial may be seen on his mother’s grave at Broadway Cemetery, Peterborough.
2. (Back) The painting hangs in the officers’ mess at Blandford.
3. (Back) Captain John Anthony Keogh, 1st Battalion, 12th Frontier Force Regiment, attached South Waziristan Scouts; and Lieutenant Ronald Nicholson Beatty, 10th Duke of Cambridge’s Own Lancers (Hodson’s Horse), attached Tochi Scouts (Officiating Assistant Political Agent, North Waziristan), respectively. Keogh’s orderly was also killed, as were two Indian levies travelling with Beatty.
4. (Back) The relationship between Royal Signals and the Indian Signal Corps is explained in one of a series of historical notes at the beginning of the book; other such notes include the officers’ secondment system and the role of the Auxiliary Territorial service and Women’s Royal Army Corps.
5. (Back) 2316052 Corporal Edward Cooper Turner and 2324234 Signalman Norman Davies. The latter is recorded on the Royal Signals Roll of Honour as ‘Signalman C Davis’. 2324319 Signalman Thomas Bowkett recovered from his wounds in England before returning to India to join ‘A’ Corps Signals. During the Second World War Bowkett served with 6th Airborne Divisional Signals; he was wounded in action in the breakout from Normandy on 25 June 1944. On 25 March 1945 Sergeant Thomas Bowkett died of wounds received during Operation Varsity, the crossing of the River Rhine. Originally buried in a cemetery at Gildern-Kappellen, his remains were reinterred in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery on 19 November 1946.
6. (Back) The fort remains in use as a base for Pakistan’s Frontier Constabulary.
7. (Back) Those known to be killed in the attack were: Major Henry William Dayrell Palmer and Captain Myles Bertram Courtney, both 3rd Battalion, 16th Punjab Regiment; Lieutenant Eric Charles Langford Hinde, Corps of Royal Engineers, 19th Field Company, Sappers and Miners; Lieutenant Michael Earle, Royal Regiment of Artillery, 2nd (Derajat) Mountain Battery (Frontier Force); Lieutenant Edwin Stuart Rainier France, 3rd Battalion (Duke of Connaught’s Own), 7th Rajput Regiment; and Second Lieutenant George Laurence Scott, 3rd Royal Battalion (Sikhs), 12th Frontier Force Regiment. All were buried at Manzai fort. Also killed was Captain Nisar Muhamad Durrani, Indian Medical Services, Combined Indian Military Hospital, Wana.
8. (Back) Shahur Tangi Gallantry Awards
(Published in the London Gazette dated 13 August 1937. 34426. The awards to the Indian officers and soldiers with the convoy were only published in the Gazette of India. With the exception of the award to Williams (see THA. PRO. WO 373/146/280), the citations below have been taken from the various official communiqué and may not precisely reflect the original citation.)
Distinguished Service Order
Major Alexander Paton MC*, 2nd (Derajat) Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery.
Major Paton was in command of a convoy in the Shahur Tangi. He was wounded early in the action and, although suffering from loss of blood, continued actively directing operations and set a magnificent example of devotion to duty. To his efforts was due primarily the fact that all wounded in the leading half of the convoy were safely evacuated. He refused to hand over till he had brought his lorries to safety and written his report.
Lieutenant Frank Douglas Robertson, 1st Kumaon Rifles, 19th Hyderabad Regiment, attached South Waziristan Scouts.
Lieutenant Robertson displayed marked powers of leadership during an attack from Splitoi post in the Shahur Tangi on April 9th. Surrounded by the enemy, he repelled frequent onslaughts at the point of the bayonet, and though wounded organised defences for the night. By seizing the hill at nightfall and holding it, he compelled the tribesmen to with draw under cover of the darkness.
Captain Stanley Davison Wilcock, 1st Battalion, 16th Punjab Regiment, attached South Waziristan Scouts.
During the withdrawal from the hills to the north of the Shahur Tangi to Changmalai, the troops were closely followed by tribesmen who made repeated attempts to work round their flanks. This officer, regardless of personal danger and although wounded, remained in the front of the battle and it was largely due to his coolness under fire and his exertions that a withdrawal was carried out successfully.
Lieutenant Roy Edward Percy Wyndham, 3rd Battalion, 6th Rajputana Rifles.
Lieutenant Wyndham was travelling as a passenger in the convoy in the Shahur Tangi. He displayed gallantry in removing to safety wounded men who were unconscious and exposed to heavy fire in the front seats of lorries; in doing so two bullets pierced his clothing. He volunteered to return to the scene of action at night when the enemy were still active and assist in removing more men and vehicles.
Distinguished Conduct Medal
1069998 Lance Corporal Albert Williams, 8th Light Tank Company, Royal Tank Corps.
On 9th April during the action in the Shahur Tangi, Lieutenant Parsons of Probyn’s Horse ran to an armoured car and standing beside it was giving information as to where some enemy who were firing on the convoy were concealed when he was shot though the shoulder and fell into a ditch by the side of the road.
Lance Corporal Williams at once opened the near side of the armoured car, got out, seized Lieutenant Parsons and dragged him under the car. At the time this occurred a very heavy fire was directed continually onto the car and its vicinity. By his bravery and devotion to duty, he probably saved Lieutenant Parsons’ life and then dressed his wound whilst lying under the armoured car.
7879515 Corporal Thomas Morton, 8th Light Tank Company, Royal Tank Corps.
Corporal Morton was in command of the armoured car ‘Crecy’ in the centre of the convoy. He spent the whole day manoeuvring his car along a section of the convoy, avoiding vehicles and dead bodies at the risk of plunging over a precipice. He was thus able to fire his machine gun from successive points of vantage, with great effect. To his cool initiative many owe their lives and in a large measure is due the fact that the enemy were frustrated in their main object—the utter destruction of the convoy.