GENERAL SIR WALTER WALKER, who has died aged 88, was an outstandingly successful commander during the Malayan Emergency in the 1950s and as Director of Operations in Borneo between 1962 and 1965; later, he courted controversy by setting up Civil Assistance, a voluntary organisation which attracted 100,000 members.
Walker was one of the first to identify the importance of helicopters in modern military operations. "In Borneo," he reckoned, "one SAS squadron with helicopters was worth ten infantry battalions to me." Denis Healey, who became Secretary of State for Defence in 1964, considered that the Borneo campaign would be recorded as "one of the most efficient uses of military force in the history of the world".
Yet the qualities that made Walker so effective in the field - clarity of vision, single-mindedness of purpose, fierce insistence on discipline, fearlessness in the face of both the enemy and his superiors - also ensured that he was a highly controversial figure.
In the early 1960s his efforts to defend the Gurkhas against plans to reduce their numbers were so forceful that he was threatened with a court martial and - under threat of losing his command in Borneo - forced to apologise to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
In 1974 he was accused of attempting to form a private army to combat the dangers to Britain which he discerned both from without and within. The charge was absurdly exaggerated; it is undeniable, though, that he was rarely capable of trimming his views, compromising his principles, or entertaining the notion that he might be mistaken.
Walter Colyear Walker was born in India on November 11 1912, the second of four sons (there were also two daughters) of Arthur Colyear Walker, an Assam tea-planter and soldier. Family connections with the Army and India went back several generations on both sides of the family.
Walker's character was well defined even in his schooldays, at Blundell's, near Tiverton. "When I became head of the school's day boys," he recorded in his autobiography Fighting On (1997), "I found them to be a motley bunch of idle, unpatriotic, unkempt, and 'couldn't care less' type of youths. I decided to straighten them out . . . "
Walker went on to describe how he became "a tiger of a boxer" and decided "to sort out the school bullies, who received a straight left to the nose or an uppercut to the jaw if they insulted me, tripped me up or ruffled my hair etc". The headmaster, however, felt obliged to point out to him the difference between driving and leading.
Walker went on to Sandhurst with the aim of obtaining a commission in the 1/8 Gurkhas, which his grandfather had once commanded.. He settled quickly into the discipline and austere atmosphere of the Royal Military College, though he privately doubted the wisdom of allowing so much time to be spent cleaning weapons and so little on firing them. He would have preferred to spend less time on drill, and more on weapon training, tactics, military history and map-reading.
After a short attachment to the Sherwood Foresters, Walker joined the 1/8 Gurkhas. He had the first of his many narrow escapes from death in the Quetta Earthquake of 1935, before his battalion moved up to Razmak for operations against the Fakir of Ipi. In 1939 he was recommended for a Military Cross but did not receive it as the District Commander had just approved an MC.
One day on the frontier Walker had to retrieve some dead Sepoys from an ambushed piquet, whose commander had disobeyed strict instructions. The corpses had all been horribly mutilated; and for Walker this was a lesson, which he never forgot, on the importance of meticulous discipline. He was mentioned in dispatches twice during this campaign.
In 1942 Walker attended the Staff College at Quetta, which had then decided to pay attention to the Far East rather than to the Middle East as before. In 1944 he took over command of the 4/8 Gurkhas, who had been involved in heavy fighting in the Arakan.
The story of how he revived the morale of this battle-weary battalion and in two months of exhaustive re-training transformed it into the most effective fighting unit in the division has been told in A Child At Arms (1970) by Patrick Davis, who served as a subaltern in the battalion. Walker applied the lessons that he had learned in Waziristan, particularly in relation to ambush techniques, of which he became the supreme exponent. His abrasive manner and his painstaking attention to detail won him enemies, but in the ensuing battle with the Japanese the 4/8 acquitted itself brilliantly. During the Burma campaign Walker was again mentioned in dispatches and was also awarded the DSO.
After a short period on the Staff at GHQ Delhi (where he worked closely with Wavell and Auchinleck) Walker became GSO1 in Kuala Lumpur. He was given the task of training "Ferret Force", which consisted of British, Gurkhas, Chinese, Dyaks, and ex-Force 136 soldiers.
In 1948-49, as outbreaks of Communist terrorism increased in Malaya, Walker commanded the Far East Land Forces Training Centre, establishing what later became the Jungle Warfare School at Kota Tinggi. For this work he was appointed OBE.
Next, in 1950, he took over command of the 1/6 Gurkhas. Walker went into the jungle with each company to determine where the mistakes were being made. He then withdrew the battalion from operations and again put them through the ruthless re-training that he had developed in Burma. After that he once more achieved startling results in jungle operations.
The high standards that Walker demanded from his officers and riflemen became the yardstick in all the Gurkha regiments, greatly enhancing their reputation as the British Army's best jungle fighters. Nowhere was this better displayed than in the execution of Walker's Operation Tiger in 1958, when his 99 Gurkha Brigade eliminated the last 100 communist terrorists operating in Johore State.
Ten-day ambushes, laid on the basis of Special Branch information, became the norm, and Walker once ordered an ambush group to stay in position for 28 days. "My Special Branch man," Walker later declared, "had guaranteed the CTs [Communist terrorists] would come and after 28 days they came - and were killed in the swamp." For his work in Malaya Walker was twice mentioned in dispatches, awarded a Bar to his DSO and created CBE.
On his return to Britain he faced a different battle in Whitehall, where the government was reducing the size of the Army, a policy which would involve cutting Gurkha numbers by half. Walker, now a Major-General, did not hesitate to call this "a betrayal".
His campaign to retain Gurkha fighting strength was interrupted when he was made Director of Operations in Borneo from 1962 to 1965. Here, his versatility in fighting a defensive war with Indonesia along a 1,200-mile frontier with limited resources showed him to be a field commander of genius.
Many of the tactics he employed - using four-man SAS patrols as his "eyes and ears" to give warning of border incursions, flying in howitzers by helicopter to provide support fire for forward company bases and, above all, his "Claret" operations - broke rules but were devastatingly effective.
His Claret raids into Indonesian territory, planned and executed to inflict decisive but limited damage to the enemy's forward bases, only became public knowledge a decade after the event.
Walker's great slogan was "Jointmanship". He succeeded in making all the services work together, and with the local population. Though a martinet, he became known as a "soldier's general", and the best there was. To the Gurkhas, in particular, whose talents he used to the full, he was nothing less than the hero of the age.
With Whitehall it was a different story. He felt, with some cause, that his championship of the Gurkha cause was held against him - but then he made no effort to tread lightly on toes, however high in authority.
Although both the C-in-C Far East and Earl Mountbatten had recommended Walker for a knighthood, the Army Board did not approve and he did not get it. A proposal for the CMG was also rejected, though he was appointed CB in 1964.
In 1965 Walker became Deputy Chief of Staff, Army Land Forces Central Europe, in which post he supervised the removal of AFCENT to Brunssum, in Holland, after General de Gaulle had withdrawn France from Nato. Next, from 1967 to 1969, he was GOC Northern Command, at last being appointed KBE in 1968.
His final post was Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe from 1969 to 1972. Once more he found his subordinates, and his allies, less dedicated to their tasks than he would have wished. His command was marked by some stormy occasions.
After Walker retired from the Army in 1972, he continued to express extreme concern (often in letters to The Daily Telegraph) about the dangers to Britain. At home he discerned, not least in trade unions, "the Communist Trojan horse in our midst, with its fellow travellers wriggling their maggoty way inside its belly". For wanton lawbreakers, Walker favoured the re-introduction of corporal punishment.
Abroad, Walker warned, the Soviet empire was waiting for its moment to strike. In addition he deplored the hostility shown to Ian Smith's rebel government in Rhodesia, and attacked what he considered the feeble policy adopted towards the IRA, which he saw as a Marxist organisation inspired by Russia. "Northern Ireland should now be declared a proper operational area, or even war zone," he reckoned, "in which would-be murderers caught carrying or using arms would be subject to summary trial and execution."
In an interview in the Evening News in 1974 he raised the possibility that the Army might have to take over in Britain. Soon afterwards, claiming the encouragement of (among others) Admiral of the Fleet Sir Varyl Begg, Marshal of the RAF Sir John Slessor, and Michael Bentine, the former Goon, Walker set up an "anti-chaos" organisation, known at first as Unison, and later as "Civil Assistance".
The proclaimed aim was to create a force of "trustworthy, loyal, level-headed men", who would be ready to ensure the continuance of essential services should public order break down - as Walker considered all too likely. Though he named Enoch Powell as the right man to lead the nation, he insisted that his movement existed only to support the properly constituted authorities. There was no question of anyone being armed.
By the end of August 1974 100,000 people supported his movement, and Walker spoke of the numbers rising to three million within another month. But Civil Assistance was fatally easy to mock. Journalists wrote of Lambrook-les-Deux-Eglises in reference to Walker's home in Somerset, and in the Telegraph Maurice Weaver fashioned a masterpiece of mockery from the leader's own remarks. Britain survived; Civil Assistance petered out.
Walker persisted in his jeremiads, proclaiming in 1977 that the West's only hope of salvation lay in the neutron bomb. He undertook extensive travels to lecture on the perilous world situation - above all to South Africa, which he visited six times, and to Pakistan, where the President, General Zia, was particularly friendly. Walker published two books, The Bear at the Back Door (1978) and The Next Domino (1980).
But in 1985 Walker's active career was virtually ended when two botched hip replacement operations by Army and RAF surgeons left him in terrible pain. He faced this disaster with courage. The only consolation was that he received £130,000 in damages from the Ministry of Defence.
Even in extremis his views remained as forthright as ever. The claim of homosexuals to equal treatment caused him especial distress. There could be no place for such people - "who use the main sewer of the human body as a playground" - in the armed forces. His own recreations were listed in Who's Who as "normal". Walker married, in 1939, Beryl Johnston. She died in 1990. They had two sons and a daughter.
By the way, both sons were my contemporaries and were commissioned into the infantry, one in the Gurkhas and the other in the Royal Greenjackets.