Discussion in 'Postwar' started by Charley Fortnum, May 28, 2017.

  1. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    You may well have seen this rather gory image before while hunting for old photographs. I've also seen it played like an ace in political disputes in an attempt to portray the British soldier as no better than any of his enemies. The account is hardly exculpatory, but it does give proper context and make clear that the Marine in question wasn't actually responsible for the decapitation. EDIT: Correction -- this is not the photograph in question but a second one that appeared in the media shortly afterward. The one in question showed a single head being held.

    Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 02.43.31.png

    The story behind the image it seems is somewhat more complex:

    CAB 129/51/42:

    Memorandum by the First Lord of the Admiralty

    The incident that gave rise to these photographs occurred in April, 1951, when a jungle patrol was ambushed at short range while returning from a four day operation. In the first burst of fire the Lieutenant in charge was fatally wounded and the Corporal second in command killed outright. The Patrol returned the fire and beat off the attack. In the engagement two members of the Patrol were wounded and one bandit was killed. After the bandits had withdrawn an Ibam tracker, who had run away during the engagement, returned and decapitated the dead bandit. The Patrol had no camera. Great importance is attached to identification of bandits. Normally this would have been done by photographing the bandit on the spot before burial or by bringing in the body. The members of the Patrol had difficulty in bringing back their own wounded and brought back the head of the corpse as the only method of identification open to them in accordance with Police requirements in the area,
    2. When those members of the Patrol concerned in the incident returned to their camp some of them posed for the photographs that have been published. This was a reprehensible act but the Patrol had lost an officer for whom the whole Troop had the greatest regard and respect and a Corporal who was probably the most popular man in the Unit. It was without a leader. The photographs were taken before an Officer arrived and sent the head off in a sack to Police Headquarters. An immediate follow-up Patrol was taken out which killed another bandit. This body and the remains of the first bandit were decently buried. This account is based on questions put to the Brigadier of the Commando Brigade, the Colonel of No. 40 Commando, the photographer and the Marine in the photograph (both of whom have been identified).

    3. CONCLUSION Considerable interest has been aroused. There are to be two Parliamentary Questions on Wednesday, one from Harold Davies (Socialist) asking about the restraints placed on head hunters employed in Malaya and one from Crosthwaite-Eyre (Conservative) asking for a statement on the recent engagement in which the Royal Marines have been concerned in Malaya: this is a friendly Question from an ex-Royal Marine officer in order that he may ask a Supplementary Question about this episode.

    4. I suggest that a statement should be made to the Press dating the photographs (1951), explaining the circumstances and condemning such photography as a reprehensible act.

    5. The Commandos are leaving Malaya and while there they have been under Army operational control. It is not, therefore, for me to decide whether decapitation of corpses for identification purposes is necessary. My opinion is that it should not be allowed even though identification may be lost as a result. Nor, in my opinion, should photographing of corpses of bandits be allowed except officially for identification purposes.

    6. Criticism in the Press or in the House may be reduced if we are prepared to deal with these points.


    (1) That a statement should be issued by the Admiralty (see Annex).

    (2) That decapitation of corpses in Malaya should be explicitly forbidden.

    (3) That photographing of corpses of bandits should be allowed only for official purposes.


    Admiralty, S.W.I. 2nd MAY, 1952.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
  2. jimbop

    jimbop Active Member

    a pair of nuts in a sack?? cmon now.........
  3. Guy Hudson

    Guy Hudson Member

    Both men killed in the ambush at Kuala Kangsar on the 2nd April 1951 were serving with 40 RM Commando.

    Lieutenant James Barry Coop (from Hoylake) 40 RM Commando age 25

    Grave of James Barry Coop

    CH/X4147 Corporal Raymond T Ryder (Born Warrington 1930) 40 RM Commando Age 21

    Grave of Raymond T. Ryder
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  4. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I wonder what coverage the Daily Worker gave to the dead-but-not-red victims of these two and their comrades?
  5. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    This is interesting, thank you.

    I think that my grandfather's unit (54-battery, D-Troop) was firing in support of this operation (200 rounds), but I didn't have a location. 40 Cdo was part of 3 Cdo Brigade at the time-right?

    How did you deduce/know that it was at Kuala Kangsar? It doesn't quite seem to match the information I have, which could well make my information wrong!
    Last edited: May 28, 2017
  6. Guy Hudson

    Guy Hudson Member

  7. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Appreciated, Guy.
  8. Guy Hudson

    Guy Hudson Member

    A Reuters report also confirming the location.

    Kuala Kangsar.png
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  9. idler

    idler GeneralList

    The 'scandal' isn't mentioned in 40 RM Cdo's history The Light Blue Lanyard.
  10. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Perhaps not very surprising.

    Does it have anything about the patrol/operation in which they died (2/4/51) or (by chance) anything about 42 CDO's operation 2nd-6th April '51?
  11. KevinT

    KevinT Senior Member

    Hi Charley,
    I recall my late father saying that when on missions into the jungle local tribesmen were used for tracking / guides and that they were paid for any terrorists that were caught. These would be identified by heads and hands.


  12. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Grim humour on the topic.

    Extracted from: CO 717-198-2: The Security Forces Weekly intelligence Summary 1950 [Part 2]:


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