Maj Gen A. G. Patterson CB DSO OBE MC - My Grandfather

My Grandmother sent me this article a few years ago - it's a captivating summary of my Grandfather's life. He was a Major General in the British Army, and spent most of his military career with the Gurkhas. He was a tough, fearless man and the more I learn about him the more I wish I'd been able to spend more time around him. The article is a fellow soldier’s recollections of my Grandfather, and I'm proud to share it with you.

It seems strange to me that I remember noticing Pat at Sandhurst in 1937. He was walking down the main corridor of Number 1 Company, looking ahead with a stern and purposeful gaze, hands in front of as though washing, and weading a red and white striped blazer with the isignia of a "blue" on the breast pocket. Later I discovered that it was a pentathlon "blue". He was a senior and we never spoke until he met me at Durgai, the railhead for Malakand, in January 1940, with a very warm welcome to the 1st Battalion.

There the Batallion barracks were perched on a rocky eyrie on the lower slopes of the Himalayas. In the early, crisp, bright air, the British officers went out for the first parade in muzri shirts and shining morning boots, with regimental swagger-canes tapping against their wide cardboard-stiff shorts. They visited the various weapon training groups; usually Vickers Berthier Light Machine Gun instruction with a non-commissioned officer shouting "rokhta" to show a stoppage. Pat sized the situation up pretty quickly, and although the most junior of officer, is reputed to have said "But this is nonsense. Surely the first parade should be more imaginative, with officers involved", or words to that effect. This, true or not, exemplified his attitude towards practices of the past. At every chance he cut away out-dated attitudes and brought reality.

The years that followed involved operations in Waziristan, where he got heat-stroke rather badly; training for open warfare near Madras and training in combined operations off the coast near Bombay. Then we went south to the Nilambur jungles. There was a river by our camp, and a river-crossing exercise started to go horribly wrong when two riflemen, with rifles slung, attempted to swim across. As we watched, it became apparent that they were in trouble and sinking. Before anyone else could respond, Pat leapt down the bank and dived to the rescue.

Then the Battalion went into action against the Japanese. We crossed the Chindwin in November 1944. There are two occasions on which I remember Pat particularly during our 9-month advance to the end of the War.

The first was when we were across the Irrawaddy, returning from Minban Taung, a hill feature about 2 miles beyond the bridgehead which was being invested by the enemy. As we approached, Pat's company struck the Japanese position. He was forward, not in the relative safety of Company Headquarters, and without hesitation he charged with the leading platoon and overran the enemy. There was the rest of the spur to climb, so they went on, only to be met by heavy fire when they reached the summit. Twelve of the platoon were killed or wounded, including the platoon commander (Bishnabir). As reserve company I was sent forward, and to this day I remember so clearly the view of Pat standing on a large boulder, directing his reserves and telling me to get a move on. How he survived I do not know, because my leading scout (Punbir) was shot through the chest as soon as he looked over the lower part of the ridge above which Pat was standing; and there was much lethal stuff exploding and flying around. That was Pat in action as a company commander. He enabled us to return to the bridgehead the next morning, without further opposition.

The second occasion was Pat in action as a battalion commander. It was the last action of our war, and took place during the break-out battle. The Battalion's task was to destroy a considerable force of Japanese occupying the villages of Wegyi and Aukkon. There is a full account of the engagement in the Regimental History, but it does not tell of the amazing way Pat orchestrated the battle, with the field and mountain artillery support, a Sikh machine gun section, his own 3-inch mortars with high explosive and smoke, and his reserves. My main memory is of him in the final phase, stalking forward with the leading company commander (Nainasing) in the evening dimness, with attap roofs on fire around him and the chatterings of Bren and Sten ahead, and the unrhythmic clatter of the enemy machine gun. Once again there was no following behind at a safer distance in the Battalion Headquarters.

Pat was not a person who really needed the company of others. He liked being with two or three, and with a drink in one hand, and a cigarette in the other (with his little finger tipping off the ash), he enjoyed pulling legs, joking gently, at the same time finding out what were the problems of others. He had a charity of mind towards those whom he recognised as straightforward people trying to do their best; but showed very firm intolerance towards those he considered untrustworthy, indolent or time-serving.

I think that the stern and purposeful look that I saw at Sandhurst was of one who felt he had a mission in life as a soldier. And I had a feeling in later days, after he had retired, that he felt some disappointment in the fact that he had set out to defend the borders of the Empire, and then was eventually involved in their demolishing. But those he served and those he commanded, and the many that he helped, know that his was an extremely successful life.

He was educated at Tonbridge School and Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the the Gurkha Rifles in 1938. Before the war he served with the 1st Battalion on the North-West Frontier, including command of the fort at Chagdarrah covering the approaches to Peshwar from Afghanistan, and taking part in several affrays in Waziristan.

The 1st 6th Gurkhas did not enter the war in Burma until August 1944 when the tide was turning against the Japanese. Patterson was by then a major commanding the Battalion's D Company, with which he won his MC in 1945. He had taken part in the assount crossing of the Irrawaddy, in January of that year. In the advance on Rangoon he was promoted to second in command and on three separate occasions took over the actual command of the Battalion, being mentioned in dispatches in that capacity at the Sittang battle. He had proved himself a tough, inspirational leader, and later showed that his strength lay in his training ability, based on his experience in Burma.

On Indian Independence in August 1947, 6th Gurkhas was transferred to the British Army and took part in the long anti-terrorist campaign in Malaya. Patterson attended the Staff College, Camberley in 1949 and from there was appointed Brigade Major of the Brigade of Gurkhas, being appointed MBE for his services in establishing the Headquarters of the British Gurkhas in Malaya in 1951.He returned to England in 1954 to attend the Joint Services Staff College, whence in 1955 he was appointed as a GSO2 on Montgomery's staff at SHAPE.

Patterson was given commander of 2nd Battalion 6th Gurkha Rifles, 1959-61, operating in the jungle of the Malay-Thai border. He was advanced to OBE in 191 after eliminating some of the last communist terrorist gangs in Northern Kedah. At the end of his tenure, he was given a brief spell back in England as GSO1 Western Command at Chester before taking command of 99th Gurkha Brigade in Singapore in 1962.

In December 1962 the Indonesian inspired revolt broke out in Brunei. The 1st 2nd Gurkhas, the Queen's Own Highlanders and 42nd Commando, Royal Marines, were scrambled by air and sea from Singapore to crush it. Brigadier Patterson protested forcibly to the Commander Far East Land Forces about the deployment of troops from his Brigade, under an ad hoc headquarters, when his own was readily available.

The untidy command arrangements were sorted out, Patterson's 99th Gurkha Brigade Headquarters took command of Brunei and the 4th and 5th divisions of Sarawak in time to handle the freeing of the Shell Oil Company's employees held by the rebels at Seria. Later, as reinforcements arrived and "Confrontation" was stepped up by the Indonesians, 99th Gurkha Brigade took over the most active front of all: the Western Brigade sector around Kuching. Patterson was awarded his DSO in 194 and twice mentioned in dispatches for his highly successful defence of the sector. He was also decorated by the Sultan of Brunei and the Malaysian Government.

His tenure of command ended in late 1964 and he returned to England to join the Imperial Defence College course of 1965. The following year he went back to Malaysia to take over command of the 17th Gurkha Infantry Division, combined with the post of Major-General Brigade of Gurkhas. "Confrontation" ended in August 1964 and, instead of having to conduct further jungle operations, he had to contend with the jungles of Whitehall to help preserve the Brigade of Gurkhas.

His last appointment with the Army was well chosen. He became Director of Army Training 1969-72, an activity at which he excelled (and for which he was appointed CB.) Yet characteristically, as soon as he retired he took over the Gurkha resettlement scheme in Nepal, into which he put his heart and soul. He returned home in 1976 and thereafter kept himself busy with the local affairs of Benenden in Kent.