A Fighting Hero of the Intelligence Corps

Major Samuel Newland

By Harry Fecitt MBE TD

. . . however many of the latest spies’ wonder-toys they had in their cupboards,  however many magic codes they broke, and hot signals chatter they listened to, and  brilliant deductions they pulled out of the aether regarding the enemy’s  organisational structures, or lack of them, and internecine fights they had, and  however many tame journalists were vying to trade their questionable gems of  knowledge for slanted tip-offs and something for the back pocket, in the end it was  the spurned imam, the love-crossed secret courier, the venal Pakistani defence  scientist, the middle-ranking Iranian military officer who’s been passed over for  promotion, the lonely sleeper who can sleep no longer, who between them provide  the hard base of knowledge without which all the rest is fodder for the truth-benders,  ideologues, and politopaths who run the earth.

John Le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man


I believe that these days most members of our Corps have a reasonably  comfortable operational life – clean, dry clothes, regular ablutions and hot  cooked meals, decent billets, indoor working conditions, immediate  medical attention for headaches, and often the knowledge that other  people are tasked with their physical security. That is the life of the  mainstream Intelligencers. 

But fortunately, since our Corps began there have been individuals, both  men and women, who have deliberately rejected the mainstream and  have embraced another life in the field. They sought out challenges that  most others avoided – rough terrain and inclement weather, a cave or a  bivouac for a billet, physical insecurity, the likelihood of torture before  certain death, the company of strange, rough people whom they could not  always understand or trust, night parachute insertions onto unknown  ground, the loneliness of the self-imposed exile, hunger, thirst and  exhaustion, the knowledge that taking a wound or suffering an illness in  the prevailing circumstances could prove fatal – and these individuals  thrived on those challenges until their mental resilience to do so had been  eroded. 

Many of these Intelligence Corps heroes chose to serve in the Special  Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II and we have some  insight into their operational lives by reading the citations that  accompanied their gallantry awards. I will introduce you to some of these  personalities, and I hope that you can share my admiration of their  ability, fortitude, determination, endurance and raw courage. 


‘Hardship shall be your mistress, danger your constant companion.’ Advice proffered  to trainees at Inverailort House 

The citation for the admittance of Major Peter Mant MacIntyre Kemp,  Intelligence Corps, to Companionship of the Distinguished Service Order  reads: 

Major KEMP was sent on a small clandestine operation to NORWAY in April  1940. The infiltration was to have taken place by submarine but on the  outward journey the vessel was damaged by torpedoes from a U Boat and  had to return to port and the operation was cancelled. In June, 1940 he was  sent on an Intelligence mission to SPAIN and PORTUGAL from which he  returned in September, 1940 having completed the work satisfactorily. 

In February 1941 he volunteered for infiltration into SPAIN from GIBRALTAR  for the purpose of harassing the expected German advance through SPAIN in  order to attack GIBRALTAR. He returned to this country in August 1941 and  stood by to be parachuted into Northern SPAIN until March, 1942. 

From March, 1942 until May, 1943 he was attached to the Small Scale  Raiding Force (No. 62 Commando). This Force had been formed to carry out  small raids on German installations in NORMANDY, BRITTANY and the  CHANNEL ISLANDS for the joint purpose of obtaining information and of  undermining the morale of the German troops. Major KEMP took part in the  raid on the CASQUETS when the entire garrison of the signal station was  carried as prisoners. He also commanded the detachment in an attack on a  strong point on the POINT de PLOUZEC (BRITTANY) when a number of  Germans were killed without loss to the raiding party.  

On 10th August, 1943 Major KEMP parachuted into ALBANIA as a member of  an Allied Mission to the Partisan Forces. During this period he acted as  Liaison Officer with the Partisan Provisional Government. He repeatedly  exposed himself to great risk, notably on 21st August, when in conjunction with  Albanian guerrillas, he attacked and shot up a large troop convoy in spite of  heavy machine gun fire from the enemy. On 26th August he showed great  gallantry throughout the day with the forward troops of the First Partisan  Brigade, encouraging them to offer stubborn resistance to the advance of  Italian troops which was supported by medium artillery, mortar fire and  aircraft.  

In September, 1943 at the time of the Italian collapse Major KEMP was  instructed to provide a clear account of the political situation in TIRANA. In  spite of the fact that this officer speaks no Albanian he entered TIRANA on  22nd September, 1943 in civilian clothes and spent four days in the town. On  25th September whilst making a reconnaissance of TIRANA airfield he was  stopped by a German patrol and showed great resourcefulness in evading arrest. He returned to his headquarters whence he transmitted most valuable  intelligence by W/T to his Commanding Officer. 

Throughout the winter of 1943/44 until his evacuation in March, 1944 Major  KEMP continued to show great initiative and personal courage, and he took  an active part in the fighting in the DEBRA area. 

Civil War Spain 

But the citation only illustrates part of what was an amazing life in the  field. Peter was born in Bombay in 1915 where his father was a judge, and after education at Wellington and Trinity College, Cambridge, he, like  many young Britons, went to fight in the Spanish Civil War. But unlike  nearly every other young Briton in Spain he followed his right-wing beliefs  and fought for Generalissimo Franco’s Carlist Forces. He explained to a  friend that he could not stand by whilst leftist mobs murdered people  simply because they were priests or nuns or because they had a little  money or property. He initially served in the ranks and then become a  platoon commander in the Spanish Foreign Legion, until he was wounded  by a grenade in the Battle of Caspe whilst fighting against the British  Battalion of the Republican-sponsored International Brigade. This was  followed on the first day of the Battle of the Ebro by a serious mortar  wound that tore open his jaw; after hospitalisation he was allowed by the  Generalissimo to recuperate on leave in England, and when he returned  to Spain the Civil War was over, and the Carlists were governing the  entire country.  

After an interview with Franco, Peter obtained his discharge and later  wrote: 

For me those years in Spain (1936-39) were a rewarding experience, despite  the horror and the heartbreak, and the wounds that trouble me still. I count it a  privilege to have fought beside some of the best and bravest friends anyone  could meet – and against some of the bravest enemies. . . . On my last visit to  Spain in 1986, it was a joy to see, engraved on the new War Memorial at  Caspe, scene of fierce fighting in 1938, the simple inscription: ‘A Todos’ – To  you all. 

The early war years – Spain, 62 Commando and Albania 

Because of his wounds and his linguistic ability in Spanish, Peter started  the war as a postal censor. When fit, he was posted to a Horsed (Cavalry)  Officer Cadet Training Unit where he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, and also learned equitation skills that were to be very useful  in some of his future deployments. He joined the Intelligence Corps and was employed in Military Intelligence (Research). After meeting one of the founders and later the Director of SOE, Lieutenant Colonel Colin  Gubbins, a posting followed to the SOE’s Inverailort House near Fort  William where he trained and exchanged experiences with some of the  future Special Forces leaders of World War II – Lord Lovat (Commandos), Mike Calvert (Chindits), and Bill and David Stirling (SAS). Peter’s citation  now offers the bare bones of his experiences until mid-1944. 

Poland and imprisonment by the NKVD 

The next deployment was a parachute insertion into Poland onto a  dropping zone (DZ) near Czestochowa. When the Warsaw uprising against  the occupying Germans began, SOE wished to drop a five-man team into  Poland to discover what was happening. Joseph Stalin refused to agree,  and for several months the British politician concerned (who later lost his  nerve at Suez) forbade the drop. Then Gubbins got that decision  reversed and the team went in. 

Despite an awkward DZ knee injury (Peter had been concussed on his  previous Albanian jump) and some disorientation, the team quickly met  up with Poles from the Home Army and discovered that two other partisan  armies were operating – a Russian-sponsored one and a far-right  colonels’ organisation, and both of those killed each other whenever they  could. The Home Army was the largest and best organised. German  Wehrmacht troops tended to spare the lives of Home Army prisoners that  they took but the SS did not; both those sentiments were reciprocated.  

The most dangerous enemy troops were renegade Russian General  Vlasov’s Army of Cossacks, Ukrainians, Turkomans, Mongols and other  Asiatics who were recruited from German prisoner of war camps. Vlasov’s  men were feared because of the atrocities they committed throughout  occupied Europe, and any captured were immediately shot along with the  SS (Wehrmacht captives were deprived of their arms, equipment and  uniforms and released). 

After being attacked by tanks and infantry, the SOE team had to run for it, abandoning their heavy radio and battery charger, which cut them off  from London. The Germans tracked the team until advancing Russians  arrived. The team’s relations with the Russian fighting troops were  friendly and lubricated with much vodka, but then the NKVD (Russian  state security apparatus) arrived and accused the Britons of being  German agents. After two months of incarceration the team was released  to the British Military Mission in Moscow and flown out via Baku, Tehran and Cairo. The men did not know it but they had been lucky, as SOE counterparts dropped into Hungary were immediately liquidated by the  Russians. 

Thailand and Laos 

After Poland, Peter could have sat the rest of the war out but in Cairo he  had met an old SOE chum, David Smiley (a future commander of the  Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces), who was heading out to Thailand where  SOE was engaging the resident Japanese force, Thailand having been a  Japanese ally since 1941. As might have been expected, Peter Kemp,  whose marriage was just ending, followed in 1945.  

Catching up with Smiley was not difficult because he had been in India  recuperating from a bad accident in Siam, as Thailand was then called.  Smiley had jumped into north-eastern Siam in May, but had then been  badly burned by one of SOE’s wonderful collection of gadgets: an  

exploding briefcase designed to quickly destroy sensitive documents. But  Smiley’s exploded without warning as he filled it with papers and five  pounds of blazing thermite covered him. He suffered first, second and  third degree burns and lay for a week in agony with a hole in his arm full  of maggots; eventually the Siamese air force moved him to a strip where  a Dakota from India could pick him up. SOE teams in the field did not  have the luxury of doctors in attendance. 

As part of a Force 136 (SOE’s cover name in the Far East) operation, Peter Kemp was tasked to jump into north-eastern Siam at Sakon  Nakorn, about 50 miles west of the Mekong River. His companion on the  jump is worth a mention, as he, too, had suffered from the problem of the  lack of swift medical attention that bedevilled many SOE operations.  Rowland Winn had broken a leg on a jump into Albania, spending the next  month in great pain in a shepherd’s hut until a doctor could get to him;  that experience had left him with a limp but a desire to continue his  operational service with SOE. (Rowland later won a Military Cross in  Korea at the Battle of the Imjin River.) 

On the ground in Siam, the SOE team liaised with local officials,  reconnoitred Japanese prisoner of war camps and fended off truculent US  OSS officers, who were determined that Siam should not fall under British  domination in the post-war world. After the war in the Far East officially  ended, SOE teams arranged for the formal surrender of Japanese  garrisons and for the release of Allied prisoners of war. 

Peter and his team them moved across the Mekong into Laos, a French  colony, where an amount of chaos prevailed as Viet Minh communist  troops attempted to seize power. The US OSS again were obstructive as they were determined that the French should not regain control of their  former Indochinese colonies. Eventually Chinese Nationalist troops  entered the country to maintain order until the French could reassert  authority. Peter’s tasks included rescuing French hostages from Viet Minh  hands and preventing massacres of French civilians. Often, French  paratroopers were dropped into the SOE base at Sakon Nakorn in Siam,  along with whatever weapons that the British could find for them, the  men then covertly crossed the Mekong to fight off Viet Minh attacks. In  the end, the French regained possession of Indochina but only for a few  years, and then ironically the USA took up the burden until it finally  recognised failure. 


In the new year of 1946, a peace treaty was signed between Thailand and  Britain. New employment was found for Peter as the commander of a  small mission to the Dutch East Indian islands of Bali and Lombok. There  the Japanese garrisons had not yet surrendered, and Peter’s team was  tasked with discovering Japanese intentions. As the General despatching  Peter said: ‘In other words, if they cut your throats we’ll know we’ll have  to launch a full-scale invasion.’ 

In the event, the Japanese surrendered immediately and the team spent  four months on the islands conducting civil and military government  affairs until Dutch troops arrived. 

The post-war years 

Peter was medically demobilised in June 1946 and remarried in November  that year; this time it lasted twelve years. He suffered badly from  tuberculosis until the British Army finally admitted responsibility and  cured him in its Midhurst sanatorium. Then from 1951 to retirement in 1980 he worked for a Canadian life insurance company. The company was  very liberal in allowing him time off to visit troubled parts of the world as  a journalist. He was on the ground during the Hungarian uprising, the  Congo troubles, Vietnam, and whenever there was excitement in Central  and South America. It is hard to believe that Peter was not of use to  other people in London during his overseas journalistic visits.  

Peter Mant MacIntyre Kemp DSO, ex-Intelligence Corps, 62 Commando  and SOE, died in London on 30 October 1993. 


Peter Kemp wrote four excellent books; in all of them his prose is succinct  and clear and his narrative style is excellent and extremely readable. 

Mine were of Trouble describes his Spanish Civil War years. 

No Colours or Crest details the MI(R) and SOE years covered by his  citation. 

The Thorns of Memory is his autobiography in which he tells things as  they were, freely admitting his own imperfections. This is the best book  for reading a general overview of his life. 

But I especially like Alms for Oblivion which details his time in Thailand,  Siam, Bali and Lombok. Here, especially in Bali, we get a glimpse of the  private Peter Kemp, who always had an eye for the ladies whilst the ladies  always had both eyes for him. When he loved he did not love in a mean  or a shallow way, but in the fulsome way in which he fought his military  battles.  

Peter Kemp was an idealist but a realist – he always believed deeply in  what he did, whatever that was, and his prose is a wonderful antidote to  the jaded, too-clever-by-half, cynical and sometimes plain unbelievable  political and military utterings that fill our television screens today. 


“Hardship shall be your mistress, danger your constant companion.” 

Harry is former 22 Intelligence Company and various armies.