The Withdrawal from Empire 1948-1959 (Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus)


After the end of the Second World War, there was a great deal of agitation amongst many of Britain’s colonies as local populations strove for independence, though the majority carried out the transition peacefully. It was also the period, when all of the Regiments’ ranks were filled with a high proportion of National Servicemen. All maintained the traditions and high standards of their regiments and this was to remain a key feature of life in the infantry up until 1963.

In Malaya the indigenous minority Chinese communists, who supported Communist Terrorists (CTs) wanted independence on their terms and a State of Emergency existed in the country from 1948 until 1960. By 1954, there were 45,000 troops in the country, including British, Australians and New Zealanders. The Queen’s Own Royal West Kents fought the CTs from 1951–54, killing a total of 106 guerrillas, and were relieved by The Royal Hampshires, who served in Malaya until 1956; The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel P H Man, OBE, MC was to be awarded the DSO and The Sultan of Selangor’s Meritorious Service Medal and Major Jim Symes of The Royal Hampshires was awarded a bar to his MC. The Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment served there between 1954 and 1957, killing forty-six terrorists, though losing seven of their own ranks killed in action. The soldier’s life was dominated by jungle patrols and ambushes, which lasted from a few days to two or three weeks and on average it took fifty days of patrolling to achieve a kill. Malaya gained independence in 1957 and the campaign became the model example of the success of British counter-insurgency techniques.

The campaign in Kenya lasted from 1952–1960. The local Mau Mau, who based their support on the Kikuyu tribe, began killing white landowners and the indigenous population who were loyal to the colonial regime. The Buffs and the Devons formed the reinforcing 39 Brigade in 1953 and deployed to the Aberdare Mountains and forests. They rounded up suspects in Nairobi in 1954 and spent some time on the slopes of Mount Kenya. By the end of the tour, The Buffs had killed 290 gangsters for the loss of one man.

In July 1954, the British government announced that, because of its strategic importance, Cyprus would not be granted independence. The National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) was born to achieve Enosis (independence) by controlling the Greek Cypriot community and wearing the British down. This was to be achieved by a combination of guerrilla warfare, terrorism and propaganda. The Middlesex Regiment arrived in Cyprus, with their families, for a three year tour in 1955. On arrival, the Battalion had to clear the streets of rioters before being able to occupy their quarters! Their operations during the tour were dominated by cordon and searches and in 1957 they succeeded in capturing a leading rebel leader. The Middlesex Regiment’s tour overlapped with The Queen’s Own Royal West Kents, who were deployed immediately after their Suez experience in 1957. They served in Cyprus until 1959, carrying out similar duties to the Middlesex. At the height of the troubles, in 1958, The East Surreys deployed to Cyprus with 19 Infantry Brigade in order to carry out security duties in Nicosia. A Greek Turkish plan to make Cyprus an independent state was endorsed in 1959 and the British retained their sovereign bases. However, all was not to remain peaceful between the two main communities and at varying times battalions of The Queen's Regiment and now The Tigers have been posted to Cyprus to maintain the Peace Line.