August 10, 2000

From the Indian Army to MI6 - via the colonial police



Richard Craig, OBE, MC, CPM, soldier, colonial policeman and intelligence officer, died on July 25 aged 78. He was born on October 20, 1921


SOLDIER, policeman and member of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Dick Craig led a vigorous life which took him from sporting success at Trinity College Dublin to Crown service at the corners of Empire. Loquacious and outgoing, he concealed beneath his bluff exterior a shrewd, sensitive mind.

Richard Joseph Wauchope Craig was born and brought up in Ireland. His family were Protestants from the North. His father, a Church of Ireland clergyman, had taught at Trinity and then taken a curacy in Co Cork, and it was to his house that Roger Casement was brought when he was found on the seashore. He subsequently took the living of the small parish of Clorina in Co Limerick, where Dick, his sisters and his twin brother H. A. L. (Harry) Craig were brought up.

They were identical twins and, after schooling at Kilkenny College, went together to Trinity, after which their paths diverged. Harry's led to distinction as a drama critic and writer (particularly of film scripts). Dick shone at athletics and rugby: he had every chance of an Irish cap when in 1941 he abandoned his medical studies and went to England to join up.

The following year, he was commissioned into the Indian Army, training in North Africa to take part in the invasion of Sicily. He soon found himself commanding a company of Baluchis supporting a battalion of the Welch Regiment for the landing just south of Syracuse. His role was to hold the beach landing area and get the heavy weapons ashore.

Craig soon gained a reputation as a skilful patrol commander. Cautious with the lives of his men, he was as thorough in his preparation as he was determined to secure the information about the enemy that his mission required. Daring patrol leaders seldom last long, but Craig survived to take part in the 4th Indian Division's assault on Monte Cassino in February 1944.

Monastery Hill dominated the western end of the German Gustav Line. The frontal approach was strongly defended with barbed wire and pillbox machinegun positions, and the commander of division advised against a frontal assault. But after a massive air bombardment on February 15, they attacked that night and the following one, without reaching the summit. Craig led his Baluchis forward on each occasion and personally stalked his way to an enemy pillbox and killed the occupants. He was awarded a Military Cross for his gallantry and leadership.

In early 1945 he was diverted to Greece as part of the 60,000-strong British force sent to support the Greek Government in the war against communist guerrillas which broke out when the German army abruptly withdrew from the country in the autumn of 1944. Craig was for a short time responsible for protecting and running Véroia in Macedonia, as the town's major.

Demobilised in 1946, he volunteered for a post as a gazetted officer with the Palestine Police. Like the majority of others serving there in the final years of the British Mandate, he found trying to keep a semblance of peace between the Arabs and Jews a thankless and increasingly dangerous task.

After the British withdrawal in 1948 he joined the Federation Police in Malaya, where the communist insurrection was just beginning. This was a very different situation from that in Palestine. The great majority of the people, Chinese as well as Malay, wished to live quietly and prosperously at peace. The communist terrorists inflicted barbarous cruelties on their own people and posed a threat to the recovery of what had been a thriving prewar economy.

Craig soon became involved in the intelligence work of the Police Special Branch, which ran agents and informers within the jungle fringe communities on which the terrorists depended for food and supplies.

The resettlement of the majority of these Chinese squatters in new villages, away from the jungle edge, further focused the intelligence- gathering system through the handful who remained. This was work on which Craig thrived and which was largely responsible, in parallel with political moves towards Malaya's independence, for bringing the emergency to a successful con- clusion in 1960.

Craig served on until 1964, retiring as Head of Special Branch with the rank of Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police. He was appointed OBE and awarded the Colonial Police Medal.

He made a natural transition into the Secret Intelligence Service,joining in 1964 with the hope of more foreign service. He was by then 43, rather old for a direct entrant, but well qualified by his previous experience. He served with distinction in the Gulf States, 1966-69, and in Delhi, 1973-75.

He also saw service in London, and he was latterly concerned with personnel and security. He became a well-known, widely liked and respected member of the service.

His public face was that of a large, talkative and boisterous Irishman &emdash; an impression of which he was well aware and which he was not above exploiting. Underneath was a conscientious, hardworking professional with a sensitive feeling for situations and people. There was also a sensitivity to the beauty of words: he never travelled without his copy of Yeats's poems, and a former colleague has an abiding memory of him standing, deeply moved, by Yeats's tomb in Co Sligo.

He was devoted to his family: his two daughters, and nephews, nieces and cousins in Ireland. He had married a Catholic and one of the guiding principles of his life was a horror of religious bigotry. His wife Pamela had been a charming companion throughout his long service overseas. Her long drawn out death from Alzheimer's disease put him under immense strain for the many years during which he looked after her devotedly. In more recent years his own health suffered from blows which only his tremendous physique could have withstood.

He was much loved: the servants of his London club called him "Mr Dick", an unusual compliment. His daughters survive him.

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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov