Major William Neill
Unit : "C" Company, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment
Army No. : 200852
Awards : Distinguished Service Order.
"Jock" Neill was born in 1913. He joined the 1st Border as a Lieutenant on the 15th August 1941. Promoted to Captain, he was Second-in-Command of "B" Company during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and later took over "C" Company with the temporary rank of Major. The following is his account of the Battle of Arnhem, as printed in Honour for All, by Allan A. Machie, 1946.
I had begun to think I'd never get into the finals against the Germans. For the Normandy invasion we were the reserve troops and from D-Day on we stood fully loaded, waiting a call. But the other airborne troops managed without us, and as the war moved rapidly after the Normandy breakthrough, airborne operations were planned, then scrapped, almost every week because the war was moving too fast for us.
Then came the briefing for Arnhem and as the commanding officer unfolded the simple yet daring plan we could see this was one operation that wouldn't be called off at the last minute. "If we succeed," he said, "the British 2nd Army will drive straight through to Berlin," and if we didn't succeed...? But we didn't dwell on that. It was obvious that our job was not going to be easy for the first couple of days, but, judging by the speed with which the British and Americans had pushed back the Jerries through France and Belgium, we were confident that before things got sticky for us we would be relieved by the British 2nd Army.
When we drove to the airfield that Sunday morning long rows of Horsa gliders were lined up in echelon with their towplanes, Stirling bombers and Dakotas, marshalled behind them ready to move up and attach the towropes. The medical officer passed out air sickness pills and my men, loaded down with equipment, clambered aboard the glider. As senior passenger I inspected all the equipment then settled back for the take off. We could hear the Stirling taxi up around us, heard commands as the towrope was attached, and then, in a matter of seconds, felt a slight jerk as the glider began to run along behind.
Almost before we knew it we were airborne, riding high behind the towplane. The day was clear, with patches of local fog, but we circled and climbed to 2,000 feet and headed for the rendezvous point. Behind, ahead and around us were aircraft in formation as far as the eye could see, and it was impossible to avoid the slipstream so we bumped about crossing the North Sea. Looking down I could see one glider already ditched in the water with men hanging on to rubber rafts and a destroyer tearing up fast to rescue them.
I sat with the glider pilot and the men sat behind in the wooden fuselage behaving just as if they were going on a train ride. They wisecracked and sang all the way over.
Once across the Dutch coast I could see large areas which the Huns had flooded, with red-roofed houses standing window-deep in dirty water, and I breathed a prayer we weren't going down there. The Germans threw up a little light flak as we crossed the coast-line. We could see little puffs around us but because of the swish of the wind rushing past the glider you can't hear the explosions, which was just as well.
Up front I was helping the glider pilot to map-read our way to the LZ, our landing zone. We flew along almost parallel with the Escaut Canal, which was the jumping-off spot for the British 2nd Army's driver to join us, then turned and crossed the broad Waal at Nijmegen. In a few minutes we spotted the Neder Rhine ahead. It was just about one o'clock, which was supposed to be H-Hour.
I went back to the boys and gave the order "Charge the magazines." We always "put one up the spout" just in case we meet trouble on landing. Then I made a final check of the equipment and gave the lads last minute details on getting out of the glider when we hit. All this time the pilot of the towplane was calling out over the intercom to our glider pilot, "Ten minutes to LZ, seven minutes to LZ," and so forth.
The paratroop boys had already dropped on our landing zone, which was just a couple of cleared fields, and as we swung around I could see them sending up coloured flares telling us it was O.K. to come in. Looking down I could see several broken gliders already on the ground. Just over the LZ, the towplane pilot told our pilot "Here we are, chaps. Good luck to you!" and the glider pilot repeated the message to us and released the towrope. The glider lost speed abruptly as we cut off and swung around for the landing. At 1,000 feet I decided to open the doors of the glider so we could get the guns out quickly on landing, but on the way down the pilot had to take evasive action to get away from flak, and I was almost pitched out. One of my boys grabbed me just in time.
We hit the ground with a sharp jolt, then slithered to a halt dead on the spot we had assigned to us. I had 23 men in my glider, including my clerks, wireless operators for company headquarters, and we carried two motor bikes, folding cycles and several handcarts, but so perfect was our drill that the whole lot was out on the ground in less than a minute. All around us gliders were coming in, some of them wrenching off their wings as they plunged through hedges, spilling men and jeeps out of their tails as they stopped, and it was hard to see where the oncoming gliders could manage to find even a postage stamp plot of land to land on, but they did. Between the gliders, paratroopers were dropping by hundreds, and after them came the supply chutes coloured bright red, green, blue and checked until the fields around us looked like a mammoth tulip garden in full bloom. Afterwards I heard that Major General R. E. Urquhart, the commanding officer of the division, said that the landing was more perfect than any exercise he'd ever seen.
Once I had gathered my men, we moved off to our assembly area which we had marked for us on our maps. At this time there was little opposition, except for light flak guns which continued crackling as the gliders came in, and we seemed to have achieved one hundred per cent surprise. But the quiet didn't last long.
Our first rendezvous was at the corner of a wood and there the rest of my men gradually joined us. I had five gliders to carry my company, but only four turned up that first day. The other came down in England when the towrope broke but the boys didn't want to stay out of the fight so on D-plus-one they came in with the second "lift" and landed dead on their D-Day LZ.
Once all the gliders had landed behind us I was ordered to move my company some two miles back toward Arnhem, and we dug in at another position just outside a mental asylum. One of the Dutch sisters came out and talked to my men, but all she could say in English was "How do you do" over and over again. Then some other sisters led out about 50 blind old folk and lined them up against the wall, and they solemnly began singing "God save the King" in mixed English and Dutch. It was a pathetic effort, but most of us had tears in our eyes when they finished.
My company's job, along with two companies on our flanks, was to dominate the new LZ for gliders coming on D-plus-one, and for the moment there was little Jerry opposition. I sent out patrols but they reported no contact with the Huns that afternoon, although the company on my left had a few brushes. Late in the day a few Messerschmitt 109's zipped over our positions, loosing off cannon shells, but the boys remained concealed and no one was hurt. Still later the Germans dropped a few mortar shells in our area from their multiple mortars, probably their most effective weapons, which the boys call "moaning minnies," but we were well dug in and suffered no casualties.
The night was quiet except for a few distant bursts of machine-gun fire. After dark R.A.F. bombers, en route for the Ruhr, began droning far above us and around us Jerry searchlights lit up the sky probing for them. We stood expectantly on guard all night with two men to each slit trench, one snatching sleep while the other watched and sent out small patrols, but the Jerry forward elements hadn't caught up with us yet.
Next morning, D-plus-one, there was still a bit of mortaring but the shots were scattered. The Germans were feeling us out. We were expecting the second "lift" from ten onwards and when about noon we heard planes approaching the boys sang out, "They're ours." Almost as they spoke the planes, which were coming in low down in a long line, began firing. They were Me.109's again, about 80 in all, and they came over the woods in groups of eight in line astern, firing cannon as they passed. When they had gone I sent out a man to check on casualties, but again we had none. As long as we kept well down in the deep slit trenches, strafing didn't bother us. The same Jerry formation returned about three and again just before dusk, and repeated the performance, but they didn't even scratch us. Some of the other companies weren't so lucky.
Between two and three o'clock the second "lift" came in, more gliders and towplanes. It was a magnificent sight. The Jerry ack-ack guns all around us began crackling louder than the London barrage, but the pilots pushed straight through it to reach the LZ. We stood up and cheered as the paratroopers came hurtling out of their planes and dropped within sight of us. The remainder of the division, about a third of the total, came in gliders which landed behind us. There was no supply drop for us that day - most of the machines were used to supply the Americans lower down the corridor, and we had to take lower priority to them. We were still all right for food, however, for each man carried with him two 24-hour ration packs when he landed.
Late in the day the battalion commander told me one company was cut off by the Germans and asked me to move my company to help extricate them. We moved down one road with patrols roving along the flanks. At one spot we found that a few German S.S. troops were holding a road barricade. It was just about dusk and we could have skirted them, I suppose, but the boys were itching for a real crack at Jerry so I sent the platoon forward and they rushed the position with bayonets. Several Jerries were killed and the others beat it.
By the time we reached them, the isolated company had extricated themselves so my company was ordered to withdraw three miles to take up a position in the main battalion line just outside Arnhem. We marched slowly, cautiously feeling our way forward in the dark and the first thing we saw in the morning light was a German staff car sitting at the crossroads. We circled it and saw it contained a German general. He was dead.
On the morning of D-plus-two we dug in and I was able to get a general picture of the battle from the battalion and brigade commanders. Although our objectives - the road and rail bridges - were right in Arnhem, there was so much flak concentrated around the city, which was the center of one of the main German defensive belts against Allied bombers attacking Germany, that our glider landings had to be made eight miles away from the town. We couldn't drop a whole division on D-Day because of the needs of the American airborne divisions, so one brigade of paratroops was dropped in Arnhem to seize the bridges, and our Air Landing Brigade was dropped some miles outside the town to hold the LZ for the third brigade which came on D-plus-one. By D-plus-two my brigade had joined up successfully with the second "lift", but the Germans, who were much stronger in this area than we had expected, succeeding in driving a wedge between us and the third brigade in Arnhem. As things turned out we never succeeded in eliminating the wedge and joining up with the paratroopers, who were gradually wiped out.
My company was assigned to hold part of the battalion line across the main road coming in to Arnhem from the west. There, as it turned out, we were to remain until ordered to evacuate. During that time the Germans threw in 22 attacks against my company, but each one was beaten off and in the end we didn't retreat a single inch from our positions until ordered out. By that time more than 50 per cent of my company had been killed or wounded by mortar fire.
Late that afternoon the Germans put in their first attack. We saw them assembling on both sides of the road, and as they crept closer we could hear them yelling to us in English "Come on, Tommy, surrender!" My boys shouted back at them, "Come on out, you lousy German bastards, and give us a fight!"
I ordered the boys the hold their fire until the Germans had advanced to within 50 yards of our slit trenches. Then we let go with everything we had. The Germans faltered, then halted. I jumped out of my trench and called to my men to counter-attack, and we raced forward, firing from the hip and using the bayonet when we came close enough. The Jerries broke and ran, but we killed about 40 in all. That night the Germans sneaked out and dragged their wounded away, all the while keeping a stream of bullets pouring over the heads of their own men.
From then on I hardly remembered what happened each day. Each was much like the other. The Germans by this time had brought their multiple mortars in close and every few minutes they lobbed shells into our positions. In between they attacked with infantrymen, coming forward in small groups, trying to rush our positions. For as long as we could, we mortar-fired back at them, but early in the siege I heard the bad news that first the regimental ammunition dump had been blown up by direct shell hits, then the divisional dump went the same way. Ammunition runners were sent out to scrounge what they could from our own guns that had been knocked out. Sometimes they found mortar bombs and grenades underneath the bodies of our dead who had fallen at their guns. At night we crept out and took ammunition and grenades and rifles from the dead Jerries lying all around in front of our positions.
One night, D-plus-three I think, we distinctly heard the distant rumble of guns and we hopefully told each other that they were the 2nd Army's. Little did we know that they were having as tough a time as we were in trying to get through to us.
On D-plus-three the Germans brought up an 88 mm self-propelled gun with a score of infantrymen creeping behind it. We had no artillery, not even light guns, and only a few Piats anti-tank rifles, so I grabbed a Bren gun and got behind a tree, hoping to pick off the crew as the self-propelled gun advanced on us. Suddenly the gun trained round toward me and fired. The shell hit the tree behind which I was standing and the blast knocked me five feet into the air. When I hit the ground I found I had four shrapnel wounds, two in my left leg and one in each arm. But while I had distracted the attention of the gun crew one of my men had slipped around it with his Piat gun and slammed his bombs into it. The gun stopped and the men behind it retreated. I wrapped dressings around my wounds, which were not deep, and crawled back to my slit trench.
The Germans facing us were extremely persistent. They must have been ordered to wipe us out at all costs, otherwise they wouldn't have kept coming in the face of their losses. They were a mixed bag, including some S.S. men, mixed with Rumanians and Germans from the Rumanian police division, and even some German marines. On D-plus-four they tried a new trick. With incendiary bullets they fired the thatched roofs of houses behind us, hoping to burn us out, but we let the houses blaze away and held on. Several times each day they sent small parties forward to attack us, but each time they were beaten back with losses. When we left the area there was really nothing but German dead lying around us and the smell didn't improve our living conditions, which were far from sanitary anyway.
By this time we had eaten our own rations and were beginning to feel desperately hungry. Every day some supply planes made an effort to reach us, but inasmuch as we were not more than 100 yards from the German lines at any time from D-plus-two, many canisters fell into Jerry's hands. However, we did manage to get a few ourselves. One day we got four boxes of rations from the sky which tidied us along for a bit. Another day we found two tame rabbits in a garden and with black beans, cabbage and bits of grass, managed to cook a stew. It was just enough to give each man left in the company half a cupful.
The pilots of the supply planes realized that every pannier meant life or death to us, and it was agonizing for us to lie on our backs in the slit trenches watching the planes pushing through absolutely hellish flak to reach us. I saw one Dakota hit by flak and start burning, but as it fell the crew kept pushing out canisters for us until it hit the ground. No one man tried to jump.
By this time we were dangerously short of ammunition and I gave orders to shoot only when absolutely necessary. My company ammo dump had been blown up as well as the regimental and division, so we had nothing coming up from the rear and for the last four days of our battle we fought back with nothing but captured Jerry stuff.
Every few hours somebody would crawl up through mortar spatterings with a new report that our tanks were coming up from Nijmegen; that they would reach us that afternoon; that they would cross to us during the night. We knew nothing about the situation the rest of the division was in, and it was not until I was evacuated that I learned just how critical the position had been all through the last seven days of the battle.
As early as D-plus-three we had managed to pick up the 2nd Army's wireless signals at Nijmegen, although too faint to know what they were saying, but as the days passed General Urquhart and his staff at divisional headquarters realized it was unlikely that the 2nd Army units would break through to us in time. By D-plus-four our paratroopers who had managed to get to the Arnhem road bridge and remove the German demolition charges, had been wiped out by German tanks after a suicide last stand in houses, a school and a music hall at the bridge's end. The Germans had got between us and the paratroopers, and we couldn't even send food and ammo through to them.
German resistance got stiffer and stiffer each day. Determined to deny us the Arnhem gateway to the Reich, they even called out the precious Luftwaffe and we had more planes attacking us than the Germans had used altogether from the Normandy landings to that time. By D-plus-four we had lost our landing zones and the remainder of the division was pressed back on to us in a patch of wood 1,500 yards square, being shelled and mortared from all sides. In the end, the area was so small that German bullets fired at one end went straight across and out the other side.
Later I learned that Polish paratroopers had been dropped on D-plus-four to aid us, but they were landed on the south bank of the Lek because we had lost the landing zones and only a few score managed to make their way across the river to us. A few hundred infantrymen of a Dorsetshire regiment slashed their way up from Nijmegen and crossed the Lek at the last moment, but they were unable to bring much equipment or make contact with us.
Somewhere in the middle of the battle, D-plus-five I think, I received orders from the battalion headquarters to wipe out the German headquarters in a house opposite us, where we believed the Germans had installed wireless and telephone equipment to keep in touch with their attacking forces. It was a risky job in broad daylight, but I collected a patrol of 11 of my men and we worked our way quietly around the German flanks to a spot some 350 yards from my company's position. Then, when we were within sight of the house, we rushed forward. Strangely enough we met no fire from the house, so we concluded the Germans were in the cellar, where the equipment was. We crawled up to the open cellar door and heard German voices. Then, on a signal from me, each man jerked the pin of a grenade, chucked it down the cellar and ran. There was a shattering series of explosions as the place was blown apart. From then on we heard nothing from the house. Before returning to our slit trenches some of the boys went inside the ground floor and came out with a big portrait of Hitler.
After D-plus-six the German attacks became even more persistent. They thought they had us and expected us to crack. They brought up loudspeaker propaganda vans and after playing a few nice jazz records, an English voice would shout, "Come on, Tommies, surrender! Only 3,000 men of your division are left. Think of your wives and families." The only answer they got from the boys was loud curses. We didn't have any ammo to spare, otherwise we would have sent over a few squirts to shut them up.
By this time those of us who were left were punch drunk from incessant noise and lack of sleep. I never could catch more than an hour's sleep at any time from D-Day onwards. We must have looked pretty frightening too, covered with matted blood and mud, with a week's beard covering our dirty faces. Despite constant mortaring some of the lads persisted in shaving every morning for the first few days but then we exhausted our water and the Germans kept the only well in the neighbourhood under constant sniper fire. They had so riddled the bucket with bullet holes that even when someone managed to draw it up it was like fetching water in a sieve.
On D-plus-six a runner crawled up to my trench with a personal message of congratulations to my company from the divisional commander. But by that time little more than half the company was left to appreciate it. Most of them had been killed or wounded by mortar fire - in fact, only one man in the whole company was wounded by a German rifle bullet.
For several days we had heard the distant rumble of the 2nd Army's guns and, without knowing the difficulties they were facing, we cursed their slowness in getting to us. But on D-plus-six we began to take hope again for a battery of 2nd Army guns south of the Lek began throwing shells with amazing accuracy from a range of five to eight miles into the German positions in front of us, trying to neutralize the Jerry mortar fire didn't slacken much - all day shells kept exploding in the shattered trees overhead, scattering deadly shrapnel down on us, and at night they exploded all around us in a shower of sparks - but the 2nd Army's fire definitely prevented the Jerries from moving their mortars closer to our lines and causing us even more casualties.
So we simply dug deeper in our slit trenches and held on, but by the morning of D-plus-eight it didn't look as if we could last much longer. We had exhausted all our food, even the vegetables in the gardens around us, and all our ammunition except what we could capture from the Jerries. Our little area looked like a bit of hell itself with its churned up ground, trees broken off by shellfire and dead men lying where they'd fallen, and behind us the still-smoldering shells of burned houses. We still hadn't moved back one inch from the line we took on D-plus-two, but it was obvious to me that if Jerry once massed even a battalion of infantry against us, we would be overrun. Fortunately for us, Jerry didn't.
Late that afternoon I received a message to report to battalion headquarters and there was told we would probably evacuate what was left of the division across the Lek that night. As I crawled back to my area I decided not to tell my men until the last minute for, despite the terrific punishment they had taken, they were still determined to hang on.
Just after dark I crawled on my stomach from trench to trench and told the men we were leaving and gave them simple instructions for the evacuation, which we called "Operation Berlin." They hated to go because they knew we weren't beaten.
Medical orderlies passed out packets of morphia and sulphanilamide and then the men went round destroying all the equipment we couldn't carry with us. We had to do it quietly for we were to carry on until the last minute as if nothing was happening to keep the Jerries from getting suspicious.
We were due to pull out at ten o'clock, but just about ten minutes to ten Jerry chose to put in an attack. It was a large scale one with everything he had in front of us. I waited until I could hear the Germans moving forward just dead ahead of us and then I shouted "Target in front. Rapid fire." We let fly with every bullet and grenade we had left. We must have pretty well wiped out the entire German force for not a single Hun came through as far as our trenches.
By this time the other companies on our flanks had begun to withdraw so I lined up the men in single file groups of 10 and 20, each man clutching the jacket of the man ahead, and started off. Behind us the 2nd Army guns from the south side of the Lek began to lay down a heavy barrage on the German positions to make them think we were preparing for a large counter-attack.
It was a fearful night, pitch dark, with a howling wind and pouring rain hardly noticeable amid the din of the bombardment. But our way to the river led through the German positions so we wrapped our boots in bits of blankets or old parachutes to muffle the sound as we trod forward like a file of ghosts. Patrols had gone out earlier and tied bits of parachutes to trees to mark our routes, and I had a map and luminous compass to guide us. The remainder of the division, we knew, was moving in the same direction and every now and then we would come suddenly on other small bands feeling their way towards the river and cautiously stage-whisper "John Bull," which was the evacuation password. Machine-gun bullets with frequent tracers were constantly passing overhead and mortar shells every few minutes exploded uncomfortably close, but we couldn't halt for cover. Our orders were to keep going and anybody wounded was picked up and carried by the men following.
We skirted wide around one wood where we knew a large number of Germans were entrenched, all the time hoping no one would sneeze or break a twig to give us away. By this time the 2nd Army's bombardment had lessened to an occasional shell, but the wailing wind helped to cover our noises and finally we entered the long flat field by the river, climbed a dyke like a river bank and slithered down to the mudflats at the river's edge. There were no boats there as yet, so I instructed the men to lie down facing away from the river in case the Germans attacked. There we lay, shivering in the rain for almost an hour before I heard the first put-put of assault boats coming across for us. Fortunately we had little German attention except for an occasional hit-or-miss mortar shell. The Germans apparently had just begun to suspect we were pulling out and chaps who had reached the river bank after we did had to come through a hail of mortar fire. Many of them didn't make it.
Canadian engineers ran their small assault boats close inshore and I directed our walking wounded to load up first. Then I called the rest of my men and we waded out waist deep into the water and clambered aboard, about 14 to a boat. Behind us the German mortar fire was getting thicker, but discipline was excellent right up to the last. The men lined up as if on pay day and if anyone got out of line the man behind simply said, "Come on, chum, wait your turn."
I thought the crossing took hours as I sat there, head down between my knees to avoid stray bullets, waiting for the bump on the other side. Actually it was only a few minutes before I felt the boat bottom ground and heard a Canadian voice tell us to grab the dirty white tape running up the river and follow it. We did and it led us straight to a building where orderlies were handing out mugs of steaming hot tea slugged with rum and blankets to throw around us. As soon as we could we moved off to make room for others still coming across and in the darkness, in knots of half-a-dozen, staggered and walked most of the ten miles down the road towards Nijmegen, where trucks were waiting to take us down the corridor.
Looking back on Arnhem there is no doubt it was the toughest battle I've ever seen or want to see. I wasn't in the Crete show, but some of my boys who were at both Dunkirk and Crete said they were quiet week-ends compared with the battle of Arnhem. But we felt we had done a worthwhile job when the deputy commander of the Allied Airborne Army, Lieutenant General F.A.M. "Boy" Browning, told us when we got out that our nine-day stand had probably shortened the length of the war by several months.
And Mr. Churchill expressed what we really felt in better words when he said: " 'Not in vain' may be the pride of those who have survived and the epitaph of those who fell."
For his actions at Arnhem, Major Neill was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His citation reads:
At 1730 hrs on the 23rd September 1944 at ARNHEM, after a heavy artillery and mortar concentration, the enemy carried out a strong counter attack supported by self-propelled guns on the Battalion position, and succeeded in making a considerable penetration. Major Neill who had, that morning, been wounded in four places but had refused to leave his post, immediately organised a counter attack with the few men he could muster. Leading his small force with great determination and complete disregard for his own person, he drove the greatly superior enemy force out of the Battalion position and quickly rectified what otherwise would have become a very dangerous situation. Not content with merely rectifying the line, he commenced to organise a patrol and personally led it, after dark, into the enemy lines, destroying an enemy headquarters, and causing such confusion amongst the enemy that they were effectively prevented from mounting another attack until late the next day. Throughout the nine days of ARNHEM, Major Neill's devotion to duty and utter contempt of danger were an inspiration to all ranks, and the confidence he instilled into his men was largely responsible for the fanatical spirit with which he and his few men defeated every enemy attempt to overcome the positions.
After the War, Neill worked in Nigeria from 1947-48, surveying and mapping routes through the jungle, as is related in this article, "Dined in Style on Jungle Trek", which was published in The Age on the 7th August 1948:
Major Jock Neill, the man who blew up the German H.Q. at Arnhem and received the D.S.O. for "fanatical bravery," has confirmed that the English Empire-builder still dresses for dinner in darkest Africa.
Just returned to London after 18 months' surveying and mapping work in the Nigerian jungle, during which he saw other white men only once each three months or longer. Major Neill said he did not believe in "pigging it", even in the jungle, and for that reason equipment carried by his 60 carriers included a beer cooler and a big brass gong to summon him to dinner each evening.
"At dinner time I dressed," he said. "I put on a clean shirt with long sleeves, consulted the cook, and inspected carefully the laid dinner table every night before I ordered the dinner gong to be sounded.
"Quite seriously, it would be so easy to become loose out there alone, and if you do not look after yourself it shows you are bone idle. After dinner I listened the B.B.C. news - all I could afford because the battery only lasted 14 hours."
Major Neill's lonely job, taking him over old slave trails through 2000 miles of jungle country was to survey a route which would be free of the tsetse fly from north to south Nigeria.
The old slave trails are to be developed again as part of the commercial expansion plans for Nigeria.
Neill studied law in London and entered the Colonial Police Service in Malaya, rising to the rank of Chief Superintendent of Police, and for his efforts in combating Communist terrorists he was awarded the Colonial Police Medal in the Queen's Birthday honours list for 1955. The following articles describe some of his experiences there, first "Bandits Fear The 'Mad Major'", which was published in the Singapore Free Press on the 28th March 1950:
Seven miles down the river from Bukit Kepong is the little village of Lenga. Perched on the end of a bad road from Muar, a road which has often echoed to the ambusher's fusillade, Lenga has never been a spot suitable for convalescence or that get-away-from-it-all urge. A month ago, police reinforcements raced into the village and crowded into a launch. It was then that Lenga first heard that their neighbours at Bukit Kepong had suffered the full fury of the Communist attack on Malaya. And a few days later, bandits went to a house only a mile from Lenga and gravely wounded Iman Abdul bin Mohammed.
The good folk of Lenga might have been excused if their hearts had been gripped by fear. But they were not frightened. They set to work to ensure that, if the challenge was flung, they would make the bandits pay dearly. Leading the village's driver to defend itself is a remarkable youngish penghulu, Haji Abdul Hamid. If one dared apply the term "live wire" to penghulus, the Lenga's leading citizen would certainly qualify. His energy, determination and skill have inspired the auxiliary police and kampong guards as much as it impressed me. "Let them come," said the penghulu, "we are ready for them. Our people are longing to avenge Bukit Kepong."
Haji Abdul Hamid as sitting in the police station. Also with us another Asian who is hammering nails into the coffin of Red hopes in Malaya. He is a young Indian, Probationary Inspector J.J. Raj, O.C.P.D. at Pagoh. Raj is tall, good looking and a first-class policeman. His station, near the notorious 21st mile Muar-Lenga Road, runs with clockwork efficiency. His men are in fine fighting fettle, always keen to have a crack at the bandits.
The knowledge that Raj and his men are at hand is one reason why Lenga looks to the future with buoyant confidence. Another is the stationing nearby of some Seaforths. I met one patrol coming out of the jungle, sweaty, tired and dispirited at what they termed an unsuccessful outing. But if they could have heard the villagers telling me how glad they were to have them, the Scots would not have thought their day a failure. These Malays, Chinese and Indians think quite a lot of your Wullie, Mrs. MacGregor.
I went to Bukit Kepong, incidentally, with a son of Scotland who must be one of the most interesting people in Malaya today. William Neill is the name, famous as the "Mad Major of Arnhem," where he parachuted, captured and escaped a few weeks later. 'Jock' Neill says he only does things which interest him. Right now he is State Operations Officers, Johore, and the bandits dislike him as much as the Germans and Italians once did.
To try to tell of his full war record is an impossible task. Space does not allow, except for one amusing extract. He was parachuted into Norway, captured, escaped but later picked up in civilian clothes. The Germans suspected him, and subjected Jock to a barrage of questions. He answered them all in Gaelic, which baffled the Nazis. Linguists recognised it as some sort of language, but were unable to place it. At last, the Germans brought along a map and indicated that Jock should point out which part of the world he came from. He pointed to Lapland - and Esquimo Jock went free.
After the war, Neill (doing what interested him) went to Nigeria and spent two years in the wilds finding old trade routes in the north. Then he was asked to come to Malaya to have a go at the bandits. It was a bad day for the Reds when Jock said "aye." Neill flew me part of the way to Bukit Kepong (he is a very good pilot). When I met him at Kallang, he was wearing a pistol and kukri. He once waded up to his neck across a river with this kukri in his band. On the other bank was a bandit sentry with a rifle. Jock gave the Red one whack with the kukri and the total of bandits killed went up by one. "He was a very bad sentry," Neill told me almost apologetically. Neill is a master of improvisation. When we got to Bukit Kepong, he wanted to scout around the jungle. Rather than waste time in walking, he borrowed two or three bicycles, and he and Raj pedalled merrily along through the palm trees.
The lesson I learned from my visit to the ravaged little village was that, though we may lose some battles, we shall win the war. When you read about heavy losses in ambushes or attacks on isolated posts, looking beyond the immediate setback. Think of its bearing on the campaign as a whole. The cowardly slaughter at Kampong Bukit Kepong, for instance, resulted in the people of the area rallying to the forces of democracy in a manner which all the propaganda in Malaya could not have achieved. Every Malay, Indian and -yes- Chinese saw the finger of fate pointing at him or her and heard a voice which said "This is YOUR concern."
It meant a new impetus in recruiting for anti-bandit month (I saw many Chinese on duty in dangerous spots in the area.) It meant an increase in the flow of information. It meant an upsurge in the will to win. Like that of Iman Abdul bin Mohammed, whom I saw in Muar hospital minus a leg after his lone battle against the bandits. He was very weak after his ordeal, but there was all the spirit in the world in the way he spat out two words... "Orang jahat."
The following article, "Dawn Patrol", was published in the Brisbane Telegraph on the 24th July 1950:
It is near dawn. A revolving amber lamp in the control tower of Kallang airfield is winking. Then the green signal "Go" we are awaiting - and that is all the illumination. Only when the tiny Tiger Moth soars up off the field can we see that half Singapore is not yet asleep yesterday, or already is awake today.
Up in the sky night has fled, and the morning light begins to stretch its pale fingers across the jungle canopy which begins at the very gate of Singapore City and reaches the length of Malaya. I sit in front, and the pilot is Jock Neill, once the Mad Major of Arnhem and now chief of police anti-bandit operations in the State of Johore. This is his dawn patrol of inspection, and he is looking for trouble.
Soon we are riding high over the causeway which links Singapore Island with the mainland, when he spots a launch hugging the jungle shore of the strait. Down drops the plane like a moth with burned wings, swoops low at masthead height, banks, climbs, rolls, dives, climbs: Four times, thanks, this performance. Then on our course. "Police launch," roars Jock, through the intercom. "Then why do it?" - me, faintly. "Thought someone had pinched it." says Jock.
Now we are headed for Gunong Pulai mountain, also covered with dense jungle and reputed bandit haunt; at any rate, they used lately to terrorise the area with murders, bomb attacks on lonely planters' houses, sniping road convoys and trains. Today a great storm cloud cloaks the crest and scowls a threat to tear apart the frail plane. Jock somehow inserts us between the cloak and the crest. It seems to me that shortly one of those 150 ft trees will insert itself in our floorboards. But never a bandit do we see.
Tucked deep in the valley is a plantation and bungalow, so down swoops the plane, rolls, banks, climbs, and dives. There are a woman and child at the door waving as we roar over the chimney and avoid the oncoming mountain. "Gives confidence to them," roars Jock. "Not if they saw me," I answer.
We are now flying under a deep blanket of mist, but the sun striking laterally the top of the jungle shows a gleaming double arrow of railway northward, which Jock examines for 10 minutes, and a winding red earth highway, and the upcurling smoke which we see. These are police or military signals reporting patrol progress in an area where a curfew has been rigidly enforced for many weeks past. So down we go again while Jock exchanges information in his own alarming manner.
Next we give the once-over to a Chinese squatter settlement, and the squatters and their children, pigs and buffaloes give us the same - and will likely inform the bandit courier when next he calls with a threat to shoot the mother or nail the father to the door.
These are the problems of cleaning up the bandits: 1. Get reliable information: 2. Deny it to the enemy. A hundred thousand regular and auxiliary police and 24 battalions of troops and Marine Commandos and Air Force cannot do it except with the cordial, and courageous, aid of the entire civilian population.
For example, the Air Force, though invaluable in dropping supplies to troops on patrol - they dropped the millionth ration last week - only given to four-day or more patrols deep in the jungle, cannot spot bandit movements, or even their camps hidden in dense foliage, however low they fly. And the bandits have never yet fired at a single aircraft because of disclosing their position - my only comforting notion this morning. Nor can the R.A.F. be sure of accurately bombing an unsighted target. At best it is area drenching, which may even hit the wrong people, that is those whose good will you are seeking.
Well I got back in one piece, thanks, with the Mad Major on Malaya patrol after a further look-see at the ferry and exchange of courtesies. As the sun sank I went to the railway station to take the night train to Kuala Lumpur, the busiest bandit area in Malaya now. Did I say to bandit land? No. Through it.
Neill left Malaya in 1957, and moved to Australia where he ran a farm in Tasmania from 1958 until he sold it in 1967. He returned to the UK for a few years and worked at Scotland Yard, before going back to Australia during the 1970's, where he worked as a security consultant in Sydney. As an experienced criminal investigator, he furthered his expertise by attending an 'in depth' full-time study of modern risk management and loss prevention techniques in Europe and America to keep abreast of international thinking. As an instructor, writer and lecturer in risk management and related fields he occasionally appeared on television and radio programmes, and contributed professional articles to leading journals and newspapers, as well as giving lectures to corporate bodies and universities. As a risk management and practitioner he conducted total surveys for leading commercial and industrial organisations. In 1982 he published a textbook, Modern Retail Risk Management.
William "Jock" Neill returned to Tasmania during the early 1980's, and passed away in Hobart on the 4th September 1985.
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