The historically important and now legendary Special Forces Cyprus EOKA Emergency, Borneo Operation Claret Koemba Ambush 1966, Aden 1967, Dhofar ‘Secret War’ 1971 casualty, and Northern Ireland Covert Operations long service group awarded to ‘the Airborne Wart’ Warrant Officer 2nd Class and Squadron Sergeant Major J.K. ‘Kevin’ Walsh, 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, who saw service with both B and D Squadron’s, formerly 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment.
The historically important and now legendary Special Forces Cyprus EOKA Emergency, Borneo Operation Claret Koemba Ambush 1966, Aden 1967, Dhofar ‘Secret War’ 1971 casualty, and Northern Ireland Covert Operations long service group awarded to ‘the Airborne Wart’ Warrant Officer 2nd Class and Squadron Sergeant Major J.K. ‘Kevin’ Walsh, 22nd Special Air Service Regiment, who saw service with both B and D Squadron’s, formerly 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, who having completed a tour of Cyprus with the Support Company of 1 PARA in 1958, then went on to forge a career which saw him become a Special Forces legend, despite being only just over 5 ft tall and ‘advertising all those well known features that led him to being christened “the Airborne Wart”’. As part of 18 Troop with D Squadron in Borneo between July and September 1966, during the Claret operations, he would go down in SAS history for his part in what became known as the Koemba Ambush, when as part of a 4 man patrol under Lofty Large, and along with Pete Scholey and Paddy Millikin, he penetrated the furthest into enemy territory in order to attack shipping on the Koemba River that was supplying the Indonesian forces. This was a mission accomplished by crossing extreme terrain through jungle and swamp, in the most hostile of environments, when not even taking into account the armed enemy trying to thwart their every move. Later in Aden in 1967, as part of 18 Troop with Lofty Large, his sense of humour came to the fore in a troop ‘of which he was a character amongst a great bunch of characters’. Keith Farnes would later recount: ‘Shooting came from the distant jebel. Patrol grovels in dust except for Lofty who stands there (all 6’ 4” of him) saying that these nig-nogs couldn’t hit a barn door from the inside and Kevin screeching: “We know Lofty, but in missing you they might hit me. Get down you fool”. Too close for comfort it may have been, but on a tour of southern Oman during the ‘Secret War’ in Dhofar against the Adoo Rebels, with the imminent departure of his B Squadron, he was tasked with remaining on two weeks to help G Squadron settle in. As such he was tasked with re-occupying a very high risk position known as Tawe a Tair, a position for which the Adoo would put up a fierce resistance. Walsh had previously spent two weeks at Tawe a Tair, and was tasked with the reoccupying of the position as he knew the area. To accompany him were two local Firquas, who were surrendered enemy soldiers who were then retrained by the SAS to fight against units they had left. As Farnes recalls: Kevin had no problem with the two week extension of his tour; the problem arose when he was told that he’d have two Firquas with him. ‘Is that two platoons, Sir, or two companies?’ he asked. ‘Neither,’ replied the squadron commander, ‘You’ll have two leading scouts from the Firquas!’ ‘Two blokes?’ Kevin went berserk. ‘What do you mean, two blokes? No way! I wouldn’t want to lead on that position with two brigades.’ Nevertheless he successfully did it and then beat off an enemy attack through his superb skill with a mortar. Farnes recalled: ‘Kevin took command of the mortar and, yelling fire instructions and adjustments, he directed a rain of deadly accurate high explosives on his opposite number. The exchange continued until the Adoo were seen to be withdrawing, carrying with them a number of wounded. G Squadron retained possession of Tawe a Tair.’ However on his fourth tour of Oman in 1971, Walsh was wounded by machine-gun fire, in a painful yet also hilarious incident, in the defence of a position known as ‘Pork Chop Hill’. Farnes recalls: Kevin’s group was settling into a new position, going about the business of setting up its base camp, when suddenly the rocks and dust around their feet were spat into the air as their position was raked with machine-gun fire. The men dived for the cover of their sangars, getting their heads down and shouting to each other to establish from where the incoming rounds were being fired. Where were the Adoo? Kevin had a more immediate problem than finding out where the Adoo were. He needed to get himself under cover. He was nowhere near a sangar (although he later always maintained that he couldn’t get into one because they were all full of officers), so dived behind a stack of jerry cans. Cover from view, however, as any infantryman will tell you, is not cover from fire. A jerry can full of water might be enough to stop a bullet. Unfortunately, the jerry cans Kevin was hiding behind were all empty. He was hit in the arse. Kevin was carried to a casevac helicopter, complaining bitterly not about his wound, but about the idiot medic who had left a morphine syringe sticking into his bum. Word quickly got around that the airborne wart had been wounded and exactly where that wound was situated. Kevin was far from pleased about that. When one ranking officer paid a visit to the hospital he commiserated with Kevin about having been shot in the arse. Kevin could stand it no more. ‘Listen, Sir.’ he hissed. ‘I’ve told everyone else and now i’m telling you - it’s not my arse it’s my upper thigh!’ An SAS NCO who was on hand quickly stepped in to explain: ‘What you have to understand, Sir, is that Kevin’s arse starts at the back of his neck and goes all the way down to his ankles…’ A couple of tours in Northern Ireland followed during the early to mid 1970’s, as well as a number of ‘operations’ in Germany with the ‘Berlin Brigade’ during the Cold War, and he ultimately ended up serving for a period on the permanent staff of C Squadron 21 SAS (TA), where he rose to the rank of Squadron Sergeant Major, before joining the Sultan of Oman’s Special Forces as a Training Captain with the Jebali unit in Dhofar and taking part in the final operations against the Aboos during 1984, those very same rebels who had wounded him back in 1971. Known as much for his antics and humour as for his prowess as a solider, having taken part in ‘the Rolex-sponsored trans-Africa expedition to a Regimental Study Day and stepped on stage and into the spotlight to the dramatic music from “Lawrence of Arabia”, his presentation Rolex watch dangling from his wrist. “The Airborne Wart” had come home covered in glory. He rated it as one of his greatest moments of triumph. The Regiment took five minutes to stop laughing… After his death in 1986, his obituarist wrote: ‘I know only this, and I am sure that it is a thought shared by all those privileged to know him: he undoubtedly filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run and the world will be a smaller place without him. He was a soldier, a character, a man’s man (amazingly when liked him too!), and a great friend.’ An SAS legend, the Airborne Wart has a chapter devoted to him in Pete Scholey’s book ’SAS Heroes - Remarkable Soldiers, Extraordinary Men’ and is also well written up in Peter Dickens book ‘SAS in Borneo’. His medals are believed to be the only ones to a veteran of the Koemba Ambush available.
Group of 4: General Service Medal 1918-1962, EIIR Dei.Grat. bust, 1 Clasp: Cyprus; (23546153 PTE. J. WALSH. PARA.); Campaign Service Medal 1962, 4 Clasps: Borneo, South Arabia, Dhofar, Northern Ireland; (23546153 TPR. J.K. WALSH. SAS.); Regular Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, EIIR Dei.Grat. bust; (23546153 SSGT J K WALSH SAS); Sultanate of Oman: Omani Peace Medal. Mounted court style as worn.
Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine.
Together with the following:
Recipient’s Regular Army Certificate of Service Red Book, issued to John Kevin Walsh, dated October 1981.
Photograph of the recipient taken whilst on service in the jungles of Borneo.
Photograph of the recipient in later life, believed taken whilst on holiday in Egypt.
Together with a Great War Memorial Plaque, named to; (WALTER WALSH), housed in its protective card envelope. Believed to have been for the recipient’s grandfather, and whilst two men bore this name and died during the war, a process of deduction would indicate this was for Lance Sergeant (No.11995) Walter Walsh, 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment, who came from Barrow-in-Furness and died of wounds on 5th May 1915.
John Kevin Walsh was born on 13th November 1938, and enlisted into the British Army at Leeds on 6th March 1958, joining as a Private (No.23546153) the 1st Battalion. Parachute Regiment. Walsh was posted out to Cyprus on 21st September 1958 and then saw service towards the tail end of the EOKA Emergency as part of the Support Company. Posted home on 21st March 1959, he returned to the Middle East on 10th May 1962, and was then posted home on 3rd April 1963 to begin selection for the Special Air Service. In order to finish his Continuation Training on a jungle exercise, he was posted out to the Far East from 13th January 1965, but unfortunately injured himself whilst using a Panang knife to clear a landing zone for a helicopter - more on this late. Hospitalised, he had was posted home again on 30th May 1965, and after getting himself fit again, returned to his training.
Posted to El Adem in Egypt from 22nd September 1965, where he is believed to have undergone further parachute training, and then home again from 22nd October 1965, he passed through selection and was badged into the Special Air Service. From them on, Walsh saw service as a Trooper with the 22nd Special Air Service Regiment. With the ongoing operations in Borneo during the Indonesian Insurgency, he was posted there on 5th June 1966 to join 18 Troop of D Squadron, and so began the makings of an SAS Legend.
Pete Scholey’s book ’SAS Heroes - Remarkable Soldiers, Extraordinary Men’ takes up the story in Chapter 6, a chapter dedicated solely to the service of Walsh, the Airborne Wart.
‘The sun struggled to penetrate the dense jungle canopy, creating a gloomy half-light, eerie and unsettling for those unused to such conditions but familiar surroundings to the men of the D Squadron patrol, who lay under the cover of fallen timbers or crouched at the foot of the massive Shore hardwood trees. In the few places where the sun’s rays burst through the foliage, beaming down towards the forest floor, the ever-present jungle dampness was transformed into a steamy mist, drifting lazily up through the shafts of light.
Kevin Walsh stated intently through the drooping leaves and creepers, looking past the great tree trunks, slowly scanning the sector of forest in front of him, alert for an sign of movement, any hit of a form, shape or shadow flitting through his limited field of foliage, the sounds of the insects and distant animal calls. He had no interest in the background noise, but any unusual sounds - a twig breaking underfoot or the distinctly unnatural click of a weapon being cocked - would reach his ears like a bugle call. Like the rest of the patrol, he was now a veteran of the campaign in Borneo. He knew the enemy Indos were up ahead and exchanged the occasional glance with the others, although they all remained totally silent.
Suddenly a thunderous crash split the air, flooding the surrounding hills with the boom of a mighty explosion. Then the unmistakeable howl of a second incoming artillery round heralded another massive blast, then another and another. The high-explosive shells smashed through the upper canopy, sending great eruptions of composted earth, wood fragments and other debris from the forest floor shooting skywards. Where they detonated on contact with the trunks or thicker limbs of the hardwood trees, the shells sent wood splinters as lethal as shrapnel hurtling through the air, slicing through lesser foliage and embedding themselves in tree trunks, roots or anything solid enough to stop them. Kevin scrambled to bury himself deeper in cover as shrapnel and shards of wood buzzed past him like deadly insects. Huge branches came crashing down and among the explosions he could hear the screech of trees being torn apart.
But this wasn’t meant to be happening - not to them. It was the Indos who were now meant to be engulfed in this hell. The barrage was meant for them. Kevin didn’t look up, didn’t dare to risk a glance at the patrol’s radio man, but he knew he would now be frantically tapping out a message in Morse to have the barrage lifted. If the gunners didn’t let up quickly, the patrol was going to be town to pieces.
Then just as it started, the barrage stopped. The echoes from the explosions rolled around the hills, then faded away. Falling debris from damage trees was still tumbling down as Kevin popped his head out to take a look. The others were doing the same, checking that everyone was okay. By some miracle, no one was hurt. They rose as one and moved out as fast as they could. Someone had cocked up big time, but at that moment no one cared about apportioning blame. They were all just glad to be alive and heading for their helicopter rendezvous. They would all be back at base before nightfall.
‘Poor old Kevin didn’t have much luck in the jungle. Beginning with his very first experience with the Regiment in the tropics, it seemed like the rainforests had it in for him. Kevin was a fine soldier, one of the best, and went through Selection on the course before mine, but then suffered a slight delay before joining his squadron. He had been sent out to the Far East to finish his Continuation Training on a jungle exercise before going to Borneo. Towards the end of the exercise, he and his squad were clearing vegetation from the jungle floor to create a helicopter LZ. They were using the parang, a kind of machete knife with a blade that is over a foot long. The blade is curved to deliver the maximum cutting force from its extremely sharp edge when used for chopping away anything from light undergrowth and bamboo to small trees. It is heavy enough even to be used like an axe for cutting down really big trees. Different parts of the blade, in the hands of an expert, can be use for skinning game or even carving. Unfortunately, Kevin was not yet an expert. While taking a huge swing at a large branch, he got the angle of attack wrong and quickly found that he had his stance all wrong, too. The parang glanced off the branch and buried itself in his leg, I was not, of course, there at the time but I don’t have to try very hard to hear exactly what he said in that instant after the blade sliced through his flesh and just before the real pain hit home. It would be unprintable.
Kevin was hospitalised and spent some time recovering from the wound, but fought his way back to fitness in time to join D Squadron in Borneo. His luck in the jungle, however, was not to change. Kevin was part of the Geordie Lillicoe patrol that was ambushed by the Indonesians. Unlike Geordie Lillicoe and Jock Thompson, Kevin was not in the line of fire and was not wounded - but he suffered the agony of guilt at having to follow Standard Operating Procedures and withdraw from the ambush to the predesignated RV, not knowing where the two lead members of the patrol were alive or dead. No one ever wants to be in the position of having to leave friends behind, but it wasn’t until Jock and Geordie failed to make the rendezvous that Kevin and the rest of the patrol knew for certain that something had happened to them. When they went out later with a search party, Kevin was the one who found Jock, badly wounded, lying in a stream bed. They couldn’t get Jock out by helicopter that night, but Kevin was the one who held him all night, keeping him warm, helping the medic Ginge Tyler to keep him alive until the casevac chopper could reach them at first light.
By the time I first met Kevin in 1965, when he was posted to 18 Troop and joined the patrol that consisted of me, Paddy Millikin and patrol commander Lofty Large, Kevin was regarded as something of a Jungle Jonah. Would you want to set off into an extremely hostile environment with someone who was known to have almost chopped off his own leg, was ambushed on his first patrol, and was subsequently nearly blown to bits by our own artillery? You can understand that we were slightly wary that he might be some kind of jinx. Little did I know then what a good friend he would become.
It turned out that we had quite a lot in common. Like me, Kevin had come to the regiment from the Paras, having served with the Support Company, 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment. Like me, he had also seen active service against the EOKA Terrorists in Cyprus and like me, he had sense of humour that was not always appreciated by our esteemed officers. During one classroom theory session, an officer had put it to him that while being pursued by a superior enemy force, Kevin had fallen and broken his leg. The officer proposed the hypothetical situation that the patrol was in a bad way, short of food and ammo, and would not be able to make their escape while carrying the burden of a lame trooper. He suggested that he would leave Kevin with enough food and water for 48 hours and two rounds of his rifle and asked him what he would do. Without hesitation, Kevin replied, ‘As you walk away, Sir, I’d put both rounds right between your f***ing shoulder blades!’
Having Kevin as part of our patrol turned out to be a real boon, but he was not the most impressive of soldier’s at first sight. He was just over 5ft (1.5 m) of bull-strong Yorkshireman with a face like a crumpled dishcloth, he was nicknamed ‘the Airborne Wart’, and a voice that sounded like a frog in a biscuit tin gargling with pebbles. Once, while back home in Hereford between ops, my wife Lyn and I went to the cinema to see Snow White - not really the kind of guts-an-glory action film you might expect an SAS soldier to want to see, but sometimes you need a complete break from all of that. When one of Snow White’s dwarves, ‘Grumpy’, appeared on the screen, I nudged Lyn and said in a voice that was a little too loud, ‘He’s just like Kevin!’ The frog voice rumbled out of the darkness from somewhere behind me, ‘Shut it, Scholey…’ Kevin was there, too, and, from the sniggering that then erupted all over the cinema, it was obvious that most of the audience was composed of members of Her Majesty’s elite fighting force, all out for the evening to watch a Disney movie.
In Borneo, Kevin soon proved his metal on countless operational patrols, but he never got over the fact that the jungle seemed to be out to get him. He was with us when we penetrated deep into Indonesian territory to find the Indos’ Koemba River supply route. The enemy believed the jungle would be impenetrable due to the flooding of the swamps causing the monsoon rains. They though they were safe to use the river to transport men and supplies to their positions without fear of being detected or ambushed. They were almost right. Wading through swamps and crossing swollen rivers is dangerous, exhausting work. Even when we took to the higher ground to try to avoid the swamps, we had to cross hill streams that had turned into ranging torrents.
Crossing one such stream, a parade ground punishment may well have saved Kevin’s bacon. How many times have you seen an archetypal sergeant major on TV bellowing at a raw recruit, ‘You ‘orrible little man. Down! Twenty press-ups! Now!’? We hadn’t ventured very far into Indonesian territory when we had to cross a fast-flowing stream that was about 18 inches deep and about 6 foot wide. Lofty (Lofty Large) leapt it easily. Paddy and I followed suit but Kevin, bringing up the rear, made a complete hash of it. Lofty and I had moved well forward from the stream by the time we realised that the others were no longer following on. When we returned to the stream, we found Paddy weak with laughter. Beyond him was Kevin, his boots tangled in a tree root just below the surface and the rest of him stretched flat out across the stream. He hadn’t made it. Not only that, his feet were so entangled that he couldn’t move and was doing press ups in the slimy mud to push his face out of the water so that he could breathe.
After a long, arduous journey we finally reached the Koemba River, the first patrol to have done so, and were able to send back information detailing all the enemy’s river traffic. Before withdrawing, we also managed to destroy one off the enemy’s supply launches. We watched the traffic for some time before deciding which boat to attack. Eventually one was chosen but, before we could fire on it, Lofty stopped us. He’d spotted a woman with a high-ranking officer on the deck of this particular launch and thought there might also be children aboard. We allowed it to pass unharmed. We later learned that the first launch had been carrying Colonel Mordano, one of the enemy’s top brass. Twelve years after the ambush, the then Brigadier of the Regiment, General John Watts, was walking the corridors of power in Whitehall when he met Colonel Mordano, by then a politician in the Indonesian government. During their conversation, they talked about the Regiment’s operations in Borneo and the incident on the Koemba cropped up. Colonel Mordano mentioned the ambush that had sunk the launch behind his. When told that two members of the patrol involved were still serving with the Regiment, he asked if he could meet them.
Kevin and I were summoned to the office of the then commanding officer, Colonel Wilkes. We were instructed to dress smartly in blazers as we would be going to London to meet Colonel Mordano. On the appointed day, we were flown in the CO’s helicopter, accompanied by him, to SAS Group HQ in London where we were introduced to Colonel Mordano. He greeted us warmly and congratulated us on a brilliant tactical operation. He was about the same height as Kevin and seemed quite a cheerful sort. His last words to us, having chatted for some time, were ‘Thank you for letting me live.’ As we walked out of the office, Kevin wrung his hands in a strangling motion and said to the brigadier in a loud voice, ‘Can we finish him off now, Sir?’ He took one look at us and snapped, ‘Get out of here now!’ But he did have a smile on his face.’
The Koemba Ambush at the beginning of September 1965 would go down in SAS history as a classic of the Regiment’s abilities in jungle warfare, it was also up to that time, the deepest incursion into Indonesian held territory. At the time of the ambush, D Squadron had only three weeks left of the tour. This was an Operation Claret mission, and was conducted by four men, namely Kevin Walsh, Colin ‘Paddy’ Millikin, Pete Scholey and Donald ‘Lofty’ Large as the patrol leader. Having crossed the horrendous terrain mentioned above, the patrol reached the Koemba River, and then lay in wait for four says observing the river traffic of enemy boats ploughing up and down the waterway laden with men and equipment, which were then dutifully reported in by radio. Having observed, they were then tasked with the job of hitting one vessel, cause as much damage as possible and then pull out fast. To do so they needed at least one hour of daylight to make good their escape from any follow up Indonesian forces, as it was not possible to make headway in the jungle at night. By the time they were tasked with hitting a boat, the rain which had been up to then torrential, had dried up, but so had the river traffic. The rain resumed, and almost drowned out the sound of the engines as a gleaming white 40ft motor launch flying the enemy flag and so many military pennants, Scholey later recalled, ‘it almost made you want to stand to attention and salute it. On Lofty’s signal, we would break cover, take up out fire positions and let loose. He held out his arm and we gripped our Self-Loading rifles, waiting for his thumbs up. But the signal never came. What are we waiting for? I heard a voice behind me mutter. ‘The f***ing Ark Royal?’ (This was almost certainly Walsh). As the motor launch disappeared round the bend in the river, Lofty squatted down beside us. ‘Sorry lads,’ he said, making no pretence at a jungle whisper but speaking up above the sound of the downpour. ‘There was a woman on that boat. Could have been kids as well.’ There was no arguing with his position. None of us would have wanted to shoot up a boat that had women and kids on board. So it was back to waiting.’
The rain grew heavier, time was running out, but then the unmistakable chugging of a diesel engine was heard. Scholey continues: ’When the boat nosed into view, it was a long, wooden, barge-like boat with a canvas roof that was rolled down at the sides. Lofty gave the ‘thumbs up’ and had placed three shots on target before I hit my firing position. His first shot took out a soldier who was facing in our direction, his second was for the man next to him and his third felled the soldier next nearest to us, this eliminating the most immediate threats. We were each to expend 20 rounds on the target. The 7.62 mm rounds from our SLRs, the standard British Army issue rifle of the day, were immensely powerful. They could pass through 2ft of timber, so even those soldiers on board the boat who tried to take cover would not have been safe from our shops penetrating the hull. We concentrated out fire on the rear of the boat, trying to disable the rudder, propellor or engine and by the time Lofty called for us to stop, smoke was billowing out from under the canvas awning and flames flickering deep in the heart of the vessel. It was listing to one side and the engine had stopped, leaving the boat to drift back downstream slowly sinking.’ After a night and a day enduring heavy rain and thunder they were evacuated by helicopter and the next night were back in the old mansion in Kuching in Sarawak which was used as the D Squadron Headquarters.
Keith Farnes - a fellow member of 22 SAS, who wrote Walsh’s obituary in the Regimental Journal in 1986 stated: ‘Kevin in Borneo with Lofty, Pete Scholey and Paddy Millikin is delightful recorded by Peter Dickens in his book about the SAS in Borneo, to the extent that you would be convinced the whole campaign was one great hoot from beginning to end. They were one of our most intrepid patrols and dubbed by some as “our secret weapon”. To this day nobody is sure how Lofty kept his sanity.’
Walsh was posted to Singapore on 30th September 1966, before being posted home on 9th October 1966, his tour of Borneo over.
The Communist backed insurgency in Aden had been ongoing since 1st August 1964 and would continue till 30th November 1967, and as a member of D Squadron, Walsh just caught the end of it when he was flown out there on 8th March 1967, remaining in country till posted home again on 2nd May 1967.
Peter Scholey continues in his chapter on Walsh: ‘On our return to the UK from Borneo, the squadron was put on alert for a quick move to Aden. The codeword was ‘Free Beer’. Wherever we were when we received the message, we all had to return to base immediately and prepare for departure. Within a couple of hours of the codeword being sent, we would be on an RAF aircraft en route for Aden, where we were to be deployed against the ‘Red Wolves of Radfan’, as the communist-backed hill fighters had been dubbed by the press. It was supposed to be a highly secret move. We were all in operational gear, with no obvious signs or badges that would identify us as SAS, ready to move immediately into enemy-held territory in the mountains. On landing in Aden, the squadron was led to the arrivals lounge in Khormaksar. Having been told time and time again that our deployment was a sensitive issue to be kept totally secret, you can imagine our surprise at being met by an HQ captain and his aides in ‘full Monty’ SAS uniforms - beige berets, winged daggers, the lot. To cap it all a loud greeting bombed out over the tannoy - ‘Welcome to the SAS!’ Kevin’s response was, ‘So much for top secret. I bet we’ve even got a welcome card from the Red Wolves.’
Kevin had an eventful tour in Aden. He was sent up-country with the troop officer to a village where they were to act as liaison reps. He thought this was quite a cushy job, but it was a strange one for Kevin. Being nice to the locals while in the company of an officer could never be described as something at which he would excel. He was no diplomat, after all. He had, however, been on a language course and could speak Arabic, the main reason why he was sent. Everything seemed to be going well. The mountain village was hot and dusty, but still cooler than being down in Aden town, and strolling along the street in the sunshine certainly beat humping a full load of kit up a mountain track. Then it all went wrong. The crack of a rifle discharge was followed by the sound of a round smacking into the mud wall of the building they were passing. Kev and the officer dived for cover as more rounds bit into the dusty path where they were standing. Not all of the villagers, it seemed, were pleased to see them. They were pinned down under heavy fire for 15 long minutes until the volleys of rifle fire from the distant hillside and not-so-distant rooftops eventually subsided. Kevin was glad to abandon his ‘cushy’ job and spent the rest of his tour in the bosom of 18 Troop.’
Keith Farnes - further wrote Walsh’s obituary in the Regimental Journal in 1986: ‘Kevin up-country in Aden with Lofty Large and 18 Troop (of which he was a character amongst a great bunch of characters). Shooting came from the distant jebel. Patrol grovels in dust except for Lofty who stands there (all 6’ 4” of him) saying that these nig-nogs couldn’t hit a barn door from the inside and Kevin screeching: “We know Lofty, but in missing you they might hit me. Get down you fool”.
Pete Scholey further records: ‘I got to know Kevin quite well during our time together in D Squadron, and when we were back in the UK between jobs, before either of us was married, he used to come home with me to Brighton on our weekends off. Sadly, those days when we could let our hair down without a care never lasted as long as we would have liked. As if growing up and starting families didn’t being enough pressures of its own, the Regiment was fast becoming busier than ever. When we were not on operations, there were constant rounds of courses and refresher training. One of these courses was the annual escape and evasion exercise. This involved being parachuted into ‘enemy’ territory, evading the hunter forces, resisting interrogation if captured and making every effort to escape. It was a very important part of our training and was run very professionally and realistically. On one occasion, we were dropped in the Pyrenees mountains on the French / Spanish border, and had to evade capture by the French Paras.
Eventually, Kevin and I were both run to ground, captured and escorted to the interrogation centre, where we were immediately stripped down to our underpants and made to stand facing a wall in an old, disused barn. We stood at arms’ length from the wall, with our arms outstretched, leading forwards so that we balanced with our hands against the brickwork. Hoods covered our heads so that we could see nothing. We were left standing there, shivering, for hours on end with nothing to eat or drink. Occasionally we were taken and interrogated by a British unit called the Joint Services Interrogation Unit (JSIU), highly skilled soldiers of the Intelligence Corps. There were very experienced interrogators whose methods ranged from the soft, persuasive, almost friendly approach to outright aggression.
Having got nothing out of Kevin using the aggressive treatment, they took him into the cold, bare room containing only a small table and one chair. The interrogator was a sergeant-major of the Intelligence Corps. He sat behind the table while Kevin was left standing about a foot in front of it. The guards waited just outside the locked door.
The interrogation started with about ten minutes of soft talking; no information given. Kevin stood there looking knackered and ill, just as we had been taught as a delaying ploy on our SAS ‘resistance to interrogation’ training (not too much acting required). Knowing that Kevin had had nothing to eat or drink for hours, the interrogator thought he could break him. He took a large bar of chocolate out of the table drawer, snapped a piece off and asked Kevin if he would like it. Kev just gave the reply we’d been instructed to give, ‘I’m sorry, Sir, I cannot answer that question.’ The officer put the piece of chocolate in his own mouth and made a show of savouring the taste. With his mouth full, he said to Kevin, ‘Just tell me your regiment, and you can have some.’ Still no response from Kevin.
The interrogator continued to break off one piece of chocolate after another, slowly chewing as he chatted away. To Kevin it seemed like the entire room was now filled with the scent of chocolate. Parched though he was, he could feel himself salivating; the smell of the chocolate was so strong that he could almost taste the stuff. The interrogator continued to chat casually, slowly trying to persuade Kevin that talking to him really was his best option. Leaving the rest of the chocolate on the table, he rose to still around the room, teasing Kevin as he burbled on through a mouthful of chocolate. Then, just for a moment, he turned his back on Kevin and the table. Big mistake! Kevin lunged at the table and snatched up the chocolate. By the time the interrogator realised what was happening, Kevin had the remains of the chocolate in both hands and was stuffing it into his mouth as fast as he could, drooling down his chin with a big smirk on his face.
The interrogator stood stock still, spluttering with shock. Then he completely lost all control and shouted, ‘Guards! Take this man away!’ Kevin had actually broken the interrogator. It was easy to underestimate Kevin. He gave the impression of being a really grumpy old sod, but it was difficult not to laugh when he was around. His appearance, combined with a deep Yorkshire drawl, sardonic sense of humour and straight-from-the-shoulder attitude made his a great morale booster. Yet, Kevin’s appearance and demeanour belied a highly intelligent and competent soldier. He was particularly skilled at running a mortar line; a young officer once commented that he was like ‘fire control without a map’. Because of this he really came to his own in the desert and mountains of southern Oman.’
As mentioned, Walsh had been posted home from Aden on 2nd May 1967, and was then posted to Germany on 5th October 1967, home again on 16th October 1967, and then out to Guyana on 2nd November 1967. Posted home after a period of jungle training on 7th December 1967, and then back to Germany on 22nd February 1968, he was back home from 14th March 1968 and then posted to Norway from 13th July 1968. After some mountain training, he was posted home from 18th August 1968, and then sent out to Malaysia from 17th September 1968, before being posted home from 17th December 1968, and then out to Sharjah in the Arabian Gulf in what is now the United Arab Emirates from 22nd April 1969.
Peter Scholey continues: ‘During the regiment’s ‘secret war’ in the Dhofar region of southern Oman in the early 1970’s, Kevin was with B Squadron and was heavily involved in many fierce actions against the Adoo who had infiltrated from South Yemen. On one occasion, when a patrol was in real trouble on open ground and under heavy fire, the patrol commander badly needed mortar support. The patrol was unable to pinpoint the enemy’s exact position, so was unable to bring fire to bear. Kevin, being a qualified mortar instructor so skilled that he could fire the weapon accurately using only a hemet as a base plate if need be, was able to put down a bomb safely in a position that was quite close to the friendly patrol. From the enemy’s return fire, the patrol commander managed to locate them and direct accurate mortar fire on to them.
Yet Kevin managed all of this while sharing a common affliction with me - he was hopeless in the classroom. Put Kevin behind a desk and he went to pieces. Having been wasters at school, we both needed help when it came to sitting the written exam we had to do as part of our army education. You had to be able to pass the exams to get any kind of real promotion. Kevin’s commend on this was, ‘Don’t know why you need some sums to kill people’. Fortunately, we both had help from the best teacher I know, my wife Lyn. She took us through the basics of percentages, fractions and general mathematics, setting exercises and tests for us at home in our front room. Lyn got us to a standard where we both passed our exams, but I was always more worried about myself than Kevin. All Kevin really needed was a change of attitude to get him through the abstract paperwork. He could never really see why such tests were at all relevant to his work, but I already knew that he could handle all sorts of calculations if he thought they had a practical purpose; he had proved that when we were training in the Libyan Desert.
In the featureless desert, where shifting sand dunes can create hills where there were none before or completely disguise features that may be marked on a map, the most accurate form of navigation before the high-tech days of the Global Positioning System was to do things the way that David Stirling’s desert raiders had done during World War II. You had to navigate using the sun and stars. Astral navigation involves using almanacs and calculation tables that are thoroughly bamboozling until you have a sound understanding of the subject and have mastered the use of these ‘tools of the trade’. Just as he had a flair for range and bearing as a mortarman, Kevin quickly grasped the fundamentals of astral navigation…. long before Lyn began coaching us in maths. Not only that, but he then devoted a great deal of time and uncharacteristic patience to leading me through the subject one step at a time. I will be forever grateful to him for that.
The grumpy sod in Kevin, however, was never far from the surface, always there to bolster the bolshy attitude that so exasperated his superiors. When Kevin was with B Squadron, approaching the end of a gruelling five month tour of Oman, he was looking forward to a well-deserved break back home in Hereford, with G Squadron already on the ground as B Squadron’s replacements. However, as he prepared to leave, Kevin was summoned by the squadron commander and told that his tour was to be extended by two weeks. During the early deployment of the Regiment in the ‘secret war’, a squadron would set up temporary defensive positions in certain areas of the jebel. According to tactics decided upon and manpower available, some of these positions would become permanent while others were abandoned, to be re-occupied if it became necessary at a later date. One such position was in an area called Tawe a Tair. This was a very high risk position to re-occupy, as the Adoo were known to have drifted back into the area and would put up a very fierce resistance.
Because Kevin had previously spent several weeks at Tawe a Tair, his familiarity with the position made him the ideal choice to lead a troop of G Squadron to re-take it, reinforced with elements of the sultan’s Baluchi troops and local Firquas (surrendered enemy soldiers retrained by the SAS to fight against the units they’d left). Kevin had no problem with the two week extension of his tour; the problem arose when he was told that he’d have two Firquas with him. ‘Is that two platoons, Sir, or two companies?’ he asked. ‘Neither,’ replied the squadron commander, ‘You’ll have two leading scouts from the Firquas!’ ‘Two blokes?’ Kevin went berserk. ‘What do you mean, two blokes? No way! I wouldn’t want to lead on that position with two brigades.’
Yet just as I suspect the squadron commander knew he would, Kevin did lead on the position. Along with his two Firquas, Kevin made his way up onto the jebel under cover of darkness. They climbed in silence towards the eastern sector of the jebel where Tawe a Tair lay, with loose kit, water bottles, their radio and spare magazines well strapped down to avoid any embarrassing clanking. Any noise would carry through the still night air in the mountains like a foghorn, announcing their presence to any sentries who might be lurking ion the hillside. Every footstep was placed with care to avoid sending a scattering of pebbles or crumbling rock clattering down the slope.
They were within striking distance of Tawe a Pair before dawn and settled into cover among the rocks. As the sky grew lighter, Kevin surveyed the rough collection of singers (a sangar is a small fortified position with breastwork of stone or sandbags). There was no sign of movement, no lights, no tell-tale wisps of smoke or glowing camp fires. The place looked deserted. Moving cautiously, making use of every boulder and rocky outcrop for cover, they approached the position, straining to hear the dreaded sound of a weapon being cocked or, worse still, the bark of a rifle. The three lonely figures sneaking forward in the spreading dawn would stand little chance against any enemy hidden in the protection of the stone dangers. It was with immense relief that they eventually confirmed that the position was unoccupied - for now.
Kevin’s next task was to explore the various singers. As a demolitions expert, he was expected to check for any parting gifts that might have been left the Adoo. Booby traps could lurk beneath any seemingly discarded piece of equipment (although it was unlike the Adoo to leave anything like that behind), among a pile of rocks or in a fire position, waiting only for an unwary trooper to trip a wire or kick a stone to set off a grenade. Kevin and the two Firquas carefully swept the area, then set up the radio signal that it was safe for G Squadron to join them.