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. The story behind the image it seems is somewhat more complex: CAB 129/51/42: "DAILY WORKER" PHOTOGRAPHS OF A ROYAL MARINE HOLDING THE SEVERED HEAD OF A BANDIT 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 After the bandits had withdrawn an Ibam tracker, who had run away during the engagement, returned and decapitated the dead bandit.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. 7. RECOMMENDATIONS (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. J.P.L.T. Admiralty, S.W.I. 2nd MAY, 1952.