Thailand Dec.1941 - British Special Forces

Discussion in 'War Grave Photographs' started by bucklt, Jan 25, 2018.

  1. bucklt

    bucklt Bucklt

    In relation to modern-day military history, much discussion can be found on the internet regarding the origin of the term 'Special Forces'.
    Which country was first to use it?
    Which branch of the military first used it or, perhaps it was a civilian group?
    Who were those initial men who served and died with those words in their service records/on their grave markers?
    The arguement goes on.....

    This particular post does not set out to solve this on-going discussion but, in sharing it with you, I hope to cast some light on an incident which occurred in Thailand in December 1941 (BEFORE the fall of Malaysia, Singapore and the emergence of the Thai- Burma Death Railway).

    General Background/Timeline - Asian Region - December 1941:
    Dec.7th - Japan attacks Pearl Harbour
    Dec.8th - Japan invades Malaya
    Dec.8th - the UK and USA declare war on Japan
    Dec.8th - Japan invades Thailand. The Thai government surrenders (on 25th Jan.1942, it declares war on UK and USA)
    Dec.8-11th - British Forces invade Southern Thailand (Operation Krohcol; Kroh=name of town - col = battle group)
    Dec.10th - Japan invades the Philippines
    Dec.11th - Japan invades Burma

    Tuesday Dec.16th - Three British Army Captains; GORDON Roderick.,REGAN E. and WRIGHT Herbert Charles, all die in Thailand. At present, the cause of their deaths is unknown but, from their grave markers, they all died on December 16th and, one assumes, died together.
    Refer to figures 01, 02, 03 and 04 (figure 04 via CWGC database)

    This raises a number of questions:
    1. What were they doing, effectively, behind enemy lines, in December 1941?
    2. Were they dressed in military or civilian clothing?
    3. How, 8 days after Japan invaded Thailand, did they die - combat? execution? betrayal? accident? as POWs?
    4. Were they military personnel or civilians who, for mission purposes, were accorded military rank?
    5. To whom did they report to: BKK Embassy, KL, Singers, SOE?
    6. Why 3 men of Officer rank?
    7. Two of these men had associations with Northern Malaysia (Perak) - chosen for their linguistic/local area knowledge?
    8. Did they have connections with Operations Matador and/or Krohcol?
    9. Were they involved in monitoring enemy troop movements and/or liaison with local Thai supporters?

    Concerning the use of the words 'BRITISH SPECIAL FORCES' on their grave markers:
    1. Where/how did these 3 words originate from? These are quiet unique graves because - from a database of c1.7 million casualties - these are the only 3 men who show-up against search-words 'British Special Forces' and/or 'Special Forces' (see figure 04). Normally, a specific regiment is mentioned on a grave marker, but I cannot find any trace of a British Special Forces/Special Forces unit/regiment for that period i.e.1941?
    2. As Kanchanaburi War Cemetery was established (in current form) in 1956, where were these men originally buried?
    3. In February 1957 - refer to figure 05 (via CWGC database - note: original notes (in pencil) to left of 3 names, deleted) CWGC Inspectors appear to want to add to (or replace) 'British Special Forces' with the words 'General List' and/or 'Service Corps'. The original wording remains to-this-day!

    If these 3 men were operating behind enemy lines (as early as December 1941) and involved in operations normally associated with Special Forces, would their actions - and subsequent sacrifices - entitle them to be mentioned in future discussions relating to such elite groups?

    Feedback from WW2Talk members regarding the military records of these 3 men would be most appreciated - Thank You.

    Tony Buckley :poppy:
    01. GORDON R..jpg 02. REGAN E..jpg 03. WRIGHT H.C..jpg 04. Search results via CWGC database.jpg 05. CWGC graves registration form 11-02-1951or 1957.JPG
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  2. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    A while ago, I was asked if I knew of the three officers from my research into the Chindits and Burma more generally. I did not know anything, but subsequently found out that at least Roderick Gordon had been executed by the Japanese upon capture:

    Roderick Gordon | New Zealand War Graves Project
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  3. bucklt

    bucklt Bucklt

    Thanks for that link Steve - very much appreciated. Given the dearth of information regarding these 3 men, it seems to confirm both their roles and subsequent deaths in December 1941.

    query: would they have had a 'trial' before execution? I'm thinking here about a 'paper-trail' relating to that 'trial'?

    Tony Buckley :poppy:
  4. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    UK, Foreign and Overseas Registers of British Subjects, 1628-1969
    Name: Herbert Charles Wright
    Death Date: 10 Dec 1941
    Death Place: Thailand
    Event Type: Death
    Piece Description: RG 33: Foreign Registers and Returns, 1627-1960

    Great Britain, Select Deaths and Burials, 1778-1988
    Name: Herbert Charles Wright
    Death Date: 10 Dec 1941
    Death Place: Thailand
    FHL Film Number: 1937698
    Reference ID: Reg M1, L 244, #1175
    There is no image available
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  5. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    RE Regan

    There is a family tree but I'm not sure if its the right man

    Thomas Regan
    BIRTH 12 AUGUST 1910 • The Bungalow, Oakdale Lane, Crockham Hill Road, Sevenoaks, Kent
    DEATH 1941 • Kantang, Thailand

    c1939 • Petaling Tin Co, Perak, Malaysia
    At the beginning of the war he was working at the Petaling Tin Company

    1941 • Thailand
    WW2 Malayan Volunteer Forces

    1941 • Kantang, Thailand

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  6. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    No problem Tony. It seems to me and this is obviously conjecture on my part, that they were possibly in place even before Pearl Harbor had happened. There were several covert missions by British Forces in places like China and so it does not require a great leap to see why there wouldn't be others into Thailand and surrounding areas. Difficult to know where to look really, in regards documentation.
  7. bucklt

    bucklt Bucklt

    Many Thanks for both of those posts TD. Seems, given what little background information we have, that you have found extra data on both REGAN and WRIGHT.

    Tony Buckley :poppy:
  8. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    I dont know if I have or not, I tend to post what I find, but if it doesn't add anything I then dont post it

    Well done with all your great work
  9. idler

    idler GeneralList

    A chap called Bill Bangs was over the border before the balloon went up:
    Forgotten Armies"bill+bangs"&source=bl&ots=0Jk2E6OOZB&sig=4UWt7oVIeWaT4Z8mfdg3Ohkx4do&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjw-s2PyfjYAhXJJ1AKHeUQBfYQ6AEwD3oECAQQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22bill%20bangs%22&f=false
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  10. David Doak

    David Doak New Member

    Re: Regan. - Tricky Dicky. I don’t believe Thomas Regan is the E.Regan on the grave stone in Kanchanaburi. The initial on the Grave is ‘E’ not ‘T’. Thomas Regan was a Private, not a Captain. The place of death listed for Thomas was Kantang some distance from Songkhla (Singorra) where the Japanese landed on the 8th December and where the men were noted as being killed. It appears that the three Special Forces Captains were all executed by the Japanese together. I contacted a very helpful relative of Thomas Regan and she sent a letter he had written home in 1941. He had been in ‘a spot of bother’ I have not seen it, but I believe there is a record of Courts Martial for Thomas Regans’ on one of the Forces websites. Thomas appears to have been an interesting character and had served at sea, amongst a varied career. I too had initially believed it could have been a typo on the initial, but am now convinced they are not the same man.
    The dates on the Captains Graves were given as 16 December 1941, I see on records on this forum they are given as 10 December 1941. The 10 December date makes a lot more sense as by the 16 Dec 1941 the Japanese had moved further inland and I don’t believe in the initial confusion there would have been much time for due process.
    The next grave over lists Three unknown Airmen dated 16 Nov 1941. I do believe this is a typo, as in November the Japanese had not landed and at that time I am sure the RAF would have known the identities of anyone killed.. I think that the airmen died in December. I have a strong suspicion these deaths were all linked. I could find no aircraft accidents that matched these dates or any other details regarding the three airmen. The museum at the cemetery believes they were all interred at the same time.
    I have visited these graves several times and would be fascinated to learn more about this interesting story.
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  11. smdarby

    smdarby Well-Known Member

    Excellent thread. I first visited Kanchanaburi back in 1995 and remember seeing these graves and wondering about them. I returned with my children early last year and found them again. Good to see others have an interest in this and have done some research. Interesting stuff.

    One thing I noticed between 1995 and 2017 - there's a heck of a lot more people visiting the bridge these days!
  12. Dsvid Doak

    Dsvid Doak Member

    I note an entry on 20 May 2020 on the Asia war graves site, that the grave stone for Captain E.Regan is to be amended to Private Daniel Regan (He was a member of the Special Forces and the Federated Malay Volunteer Force) His mother is listed as a Mrs.K. Regan. If anyone knows more I would be most interested to hear. I lasted visited their graves in January 2020.
  13. Dsvid Doak

    Dsvid Doak Member

    I finally found detail about what happened to these gentlemen. There are eyewitness accounts and details on the website. no.34 edition from 2013.
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  14. bamboo43

    bamboo43 Very Senior Member

    Well done on searching out that information.
    JimHerriot likes this.
  15. Don Gordon

    Don Gordon New Member

    I'm a nephew of Roderick Gordon. I've only just started to look into what happened to him in the war. I knew from the family that he had been executed by the Japanese but not much else. I have only recently seen the information posted to this site.
    I have a copy of a letter he sent to an aunt in Australia. The letter is on Anglo-Siamese Tin Syndicate letterhead and gives the mine office address as Ban Din Lan, South Siam and dated 25/9/1938
    and it sounds as if he had been there for some time. Ban Din Lan is not far from where he was captured.
  16. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    Welcome to the forum.

    There is a file at Australian Archives which may be relevant.

    Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 10.09.32.png

    Search for item barcode 68330 in Advanced Search. Download is about 5 MB.

    Item details for: A431, 1946/2562
    PDF (4.2 MB)View digital copy
    Massacre of Australian Civilians in Siam, December 1941
    Contents date range
    1946 - 1946
    Series number
    Click to see which government agency or person created this item.
    Control symbol
    NAA: A431, 1946/2562
    Item ID
    Access status
    Date of decision
    26 Jun 1979
    Physical format
    PAPER FILES AND DOCUMENTS (allocated at series level)
    Date registered
    12 Sep 1992
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2022
  17. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

  18. Dsvid Doak

    Dsvid Doak Member

    Hello again, I continued my research and the Malayan Volunteer Group were outstanding, I would suggest that Don, you might consider joining, as they are so helpful.

    I was in communication with Mary Baxter, a relative of Thomas REGAN. I obtained his letters home -from that time. I now believe that I was wrong in my initial beliefs and am reasonably sure Thomas is the Regan buried in Kananchanburi. I have Toms’ Royal naval record and his discharge to the Dockside Police in Singapore. He wrote letters saying he left that job for good reason and would have a tale to tell, one letter is addressed from Petaling Tin Mine. He did join the Malayan Volunteer Force as well. I now believe that this letter refers to him joining SOE. ( I have his photograph and that of HC Wright, but sadly not one of Roderick Gordon -from the files at Kew) Unfortunately Toms’ family don’t have a photo that I can compare. I always wondered why they had the rank of Captain, but no serial numbers. The FMVG explained that for me. The SOE gave them honoury ranks. In fact they discussed making them Lieutenants, so they got upgraded. The reason for this was, they might not be murdered as spies by the Japanese and if killed their families might get a pension. The material I got from the FMVG also had eyewitness accounts from the time of these brave mens fate. The Grave next to theirs is of six unknown airmen. It appears they were two Blenheim crews who were executed at the same time as our men. The FMVG has their details as well.

    Nearly all the details for Tom fit for Daniel Regan. In fact in one report I found it had Daniel (Tom) Regan as the name. The family contacted the war office after the war to find what happened to Tom. The reply gave some details but was headed D. Regan. In later reports the mothers initial was given as K. Regan. This matches to Toms sister who was Kathleen. Kathleen was close to Tom and tried to find what had happened to him. The SOE files said that Daniel Regans next of kin was a Brother from Ireland. Tom did have two brothers and his father was originally from Ireland, but this does not quite fit. The family resided in Sevenoaks at this time. The main difficulty I have is why the SOE records refer to him as Daniel. He says himself he was a Black sheep, When he joined SOE had he some reason to hide his true identity, or was Dan a nickname?. I guess we will never know for sure.

    The FMVG were fantastic help. I am so disappointed I couldn’t be 100% for Toms’ family. The family, like you Don would love to know the story behind these men. I am hoping to get back up to visit the graves at the end of this year.
    Finally, sorry for any errors in my posts. Anyone that can correct me I would love to hear from.
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  19. Wayne Holah

    Wayne Holah New Member

    Hi Don. I have also just started researching Roderick Gordon. Keen to know more about him. Do you have any photos.
  20. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    Welcome aboard. Don has not logged on here since 14/1/2022. If he has "flagged" the thread he should get an email alert. In a moment I will Private Message (PM, not an option for you till you've posted x5) to have a look.

    This is rather niche area, but this site can work wonders. It might take time though!
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