Author
JP Cross
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
This is the second book in a Trilogy by former Gurkha Regiment Colonel JP Cross. The first book, Operation JANUS which was reviewed by Nemesis44UK (Review here). His review was critical of the style of writing and some annoying and hard to believe bits such as two opposing people coming up with the same name for their Operation in the belief that the other side would not use that. Well this is used yet again in this book, but more of that later.

This book takes Major Jason Rance, Gurkha Rifles a few years beyond the first book. Still set mostly in Malaya this one has Rance crossing the Border with Thailand to seek out the Communist Terrorists (CTs) in that area who may be hoping to profit by the war in Vietnam which was in the process of heating up. The book though is split into two parts with Part Two set in Borneo at the start of the Confrontation there in the early 1960s. Some of the characters are from the original book and the struggle between them and Rance continues. The start of the book gives a list of characters involved in the conflicts in Malaya and Borneo. Not all are part of the story but they are there to show the scale and extent of the operations undertaken. There are three pages of these characters which is quite a lot. Some of the historical ones could have been left out as their inclusion just leads to a bit of confusion as the story goes on i.e. where do they fit in. They don’t they just happen to be senior Politicians or Military Officers at the time the story is set! There is also a useful glossary of linguistic terms in Chinese, Malay, Nepali and Temiar (Malayan tribe). Major Rance is a very gifted linguist.

Before I get in to the book I have to deal with the tenor and feel of the writing and the personality being portrayed. Nemesis44UK’s review is spot on and there are parts of the book where the dialogue is “clunky and unwieldy” but I look on that differently than Nemesis in that I take this as setting the scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The language, although in English, is written like a translation of a foreign language as the author is using Rance and his multi lingual skills and putting that down in English. It looks like he is translating as he goes along and to me that adds to the book. I totally agree with Nemesis in that this can detract from the book but if you approach it with that knowledge you may just take away a bit more. As I said the title talks about the Operations to track down CTs and is used by both sides. Also, the workload that this supposedly ordinary regimental Major had seems to be somewhat excessive; chasing CTs in Malaya and Thailand, commanding the newly formed Border Scouts in Borneo then commanding the Gurkha Parachute Company in Borneo, all the time tracking down the characters from the start of the book to the end. There is a lot that has been written about the Malayan situation as they approached Independence and the formation of Malaysia plus the Borneo Confrontation (it was not classed as a war) so it seems that the author has not just been relying on his experiences as a young major but has written novels which are basically autobiographical with some elements tacked on that did happen but kept to Major Rance as the obvious person to have dealt with them.. There was an operation at this time when the CTs and Allied forces used the same name for the operation in the belief that the other side would not think they would use it, JP Cross did form and lead the Borneo Border Scouts and then move on to command the Gurkha Parachute Company. When reading wiki articles on these times the name Major JP Cross drops in regularly. This really opened my eyes and gave a greater understanding of the book and what its contents were about. It is almost as though the author has decided to do his memoirs as a novel as nobody who was not involved would believe some of the actions. Bear this in mind and this novel makes an even more enthralling story. JP Cross was there and I believe much of what is written happened by his hand.

The book as I noted earlier covers actions in Malaya and Borneo where the skills, knowledge and understanding of the situation held by Major Rance are used to the full by the British army and police Special Branch. Having read up on Colonel Cross I have no problem believing that much of what was written has happened at that time and was either done by JP Cross of someone close to him. Major Rance is a regular army officer but has never been to Staff College so he is sent on a secondment to a major SEATO (South East Asia Treaty Organisation) exercise to gain experience of staff work and gain the staff qualified grading “sq”. Events and intelligence mean that he asks to be detached from his detachment to go hunting the CTs in the Thai/Malaya Border area. Having discovered the abilities of the CTs in this area and on reporting back Major Rance raises the issue of some Gurkhas who had been left behind by the Second World War. Many were prisoners of the Japanese and when released were just left where they were. Again there is a fair bit in wiki about this and Cross is bringing in this as a good bit of information about how these ‘stray’ Gurkhas were treated and how they were returned to Nepal, if they wanted. Some had married and settled and did not want to go back. It makes a good bit of social history from the aftermath of the War. One of the CTs being chased down by Major Rance is a psychotic killer who has promised to kill Rance. Some pretty gruesome stuff at this point, but again believable.

Having carried out his Operation in Malaya Rance is sent to UK on leave where he undertakes a refresher course on parachuting, where one of his course mates is a Lieutenant from the Indonesian Army – they are to meet again later.

Returning from leave and after some normal regimental soldiering, Rance is sent for again and given the task of raising, training and arranging Gurkha NCOs to lead the Border Scouts who had been recruited from the Iban, local native tribe. Again Rance shows his language skills by learning the local language. On arrival in Borneo he, having been seconded from the army, is given a police rank of Superintendent, equivalent of Lt Colonel. Rance goes round his area, talking to locals, Border Scouts and soldiers and comes back with a plan which is put into operation. On his travels round the area his appearance in several areas has coincided with an attempt on his life. It transpires that there is a spy in the camp. Rance uses this and passes disinformation which leads to a major intelligence coup in which details of an Indonesian operation against the Malayan mainland and an operation to run a major incursion into Borneo to destroy the oil facilities are discovered and acted on.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and once I realised that so much is based on fact, and by the author himself made it even better. There is a short Historical Note at the end of the book putting into context the contents of this story, the author is very retrospect here explaining events that happened but not saying, for instance, that he was the Commandant of Border Scots mentioned. Worth a read but leave it until you have read the book. This is the second book and I will be looking to get a hold of the third of the Trilogy to review – Operation Four Rings.

In no way am I disagreeing with the review by @Nememsis44UK just looking at this book with a different eye and maybe a different generation. This is a very short review of a book with a huge amount of detail to the story, so you will have to read it to find out for yourselves! I am going to give this novel/biog a Mr MRH rating of 3.5 as it won't be to the taste of many. I, on the other hand, liked it and hope that I have been able to shed a little light on a book about a hugely complicated time.

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Auld-Yin
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