MARK PEREGRINE ELLIOT LEGG
Lieutenant Colonel | Royal Artillery
I don't do business that don't make me smile
I love my aeroplane 'cause she's got style
I'm a treetop flyer
- Stephen Stills
A tour in Kenya beginning in 1944 initiated a long career of diverse postings and duties for the eighteen-year-old Elliott Legg. A sturdy, well-built fellow at least half a head taller than his contemporaries, Legg had a solid jaw and thick neck that was frequently pinched by a firmly knotted tie that hid a collar button under strain of popping from its threads. His commission into the King’s Own Scottish Borderers was a brief stay as he was quickly seconded to the King’s African Rifles, a colonial regiment composed of native other ranks and white officers like Legg. The dawn of his service led into a career suitable for his second given name Peregrine, a rare English name with roots meaning ‘one from abroad’ and also used synonymously with ‘crusader.’
From Kenya, he was posted to Palestine with the 3d Parachute Battalion in 1947 during the prelude to the Palestine War. Occupying an area of rugged, dry terrain and thickly settled in areas with Roman-Byzantine architecture, there was little to do outside of military duties and visiting sights in the Holy Land if time permitted.
Within five years, Lieutenant Legg was posted to the next hot area in the tumultuous post-war period. His unit assignment, the 61 Light Regiment, was formed experimentally to suit the needs of the Korean theater where modern tactics of the mechanized and mobile warfare of the Second World War was difficult to implement in the sharp hills and ridges of the country’s mountainous features. It was the only artillery regiment ever equipped with 4.2” mortars as the main armament – a reliable weapon for the dramatic terrain and climate of Korea. Regardless of the extremity of temperature, the tubes shot within a 100% zone.
The batteries of 61 Light Regiment directly supported forward brigades and worked more closely with infantry than the typical artillery unit. This made for a scattered command for a battery commander. Legg joined in mid June 1952 when the regiment was barely six months old and posted as troop leader to D Troop, 120 Light Battery. He quickly transferred within the regiment on promotion to a temporary Captain on June 23 to position as Troop Commander, G Troop, 248 Battery, affiliated with 28 Brigade at the time. Unlike the infantry brigades which were rotating two on the line and one in reserve, the artillery remained forward with whichever brigades were up front, thereby never truly offering the regiment full reserve status. The gunners were pushed to their limits during periods of exhaustion, extreme heat, bitter winter, and relentless shelling.
For nearly two years from August 1956, Captain Legg flew dawn sorties over Malaysia in counter terrorism operations. Typically spending about 45 hours per month flying low over the jungle, he flew predominantly at night and frequently in monsoon conditions. Despite the adversity of the environment, he remained professional and above all, quite cool.
From Sembawang at about 4 am in the morning, Captain Legg took off for a dawn flight with Peter Biggadike. Slowly the pair climbed to six thousand feet above the South Johore jungle and the cabin cooled gradually. Legg nearly cut the throttle completely and the Auster’s engine noise reduced near idling. The pair flew over the entire plot of land suspected to hold terrorists in the morning twilight – for a young man, Biggadike found it rather boring, but kept a keen lookout for campfires with Legg. Some time into the flight, the Captain stirred and Biggadike turned from his window to see Legg rustling through his flight bag. The junior officer was amazed to watch him pull a novel from the bag and casually begin reading it by the dim light of the instrument panel.
His literature did not distract and Legg kept a good look out and listened intently to the radio. As dawn broke, the pair spotted thin wisps of smoke trailing out of the jungle canopy. Legg tucked his book away, closed the engine throttle and proceeded to glide for some distance slowly losing altitude toward the fire. From far above, there was typically no way of knowing whether the smoke was coming from a terrorist fire or from a logging camp, though on closer inspection a logging camp was more obvious. Regardless, map coordinates were always relayed back to base to compare to their charts and decide whether ground troops needed to be deployed. Spotting consumed most of his flight time, but Elliot also evacuated wounded, dropped leaflets, and broadcasted propaganda.
After retiring in 1961 he worked briefly for the Wildfowlers’ Association, but a civilian lifestyle did not suit him, especially after so many years serving abroad. Elliot Legg was not a man to settle into complacency and in December 1962 he accepted a contract commission with the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman. The British military – in effect, officers acting as advisors to bolster credibility of the Omani armed forces – was present in the region in an effort to quell the Dhofar Liberation Front who were determined to overthrow the Omani sultan. The British connection to the country was rooted in years of history when seafaring trade motivated imperialism and in contemporary years, the oil trade.
Legg was posted to C Company, Northern Frontier Regiment and quickly promoted to major; by April 1963 he commanded the company. He felt the situation was very similar to the Malayan Emergency, though for this period he was fighting on the ground than observing from above. The terrain was quite unlike Malaya for most of the year, though just as formidable in its character. Most of the Dhofar region was an endless sea of dunes fringing on the Empty Quarter to the north, though the coastline areas offered some plant life with a few mountainous areas of lush waterfalls. During the monsoon season from June to September, the rains brought forth enough life to compare the Dhofar region to the jungles of Malaya. Quelling the terrorist threat in the region was, in its scale, a similar challenge, though rather than the jungle canopy offering cover it was the vast expanse of the desert that small pockets of rebels disappeared to.
After another exotic tour, Elliot tried once again to return to a simple life at home and took up farming briefly before the itch of adventure ate away at his peace. He moved again to the Arabian Peninsula where he took on a contract with the South Arabian Air Force which dissolved within the year to become part of the Abu Dhabi Defence Force. It was a humble military and Legg commanded the Islander Flight which consisted of only three aircraft. He stayed for ten years training and helping to grow the air forces out of their infancy. He was rather old for soldiering by 1978 and finally retired from the service to work as Deputy Director at the Royal Stables in Abu Dhabi. It was another ten years before he returned home to Norfolk, and for once finally settled into a quiet life of gardening and furniture restoration.
“Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Elliot Legg Obituary.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 1 Sept. 2015, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11837118/Lieutenant-Colonel-Mark-Elliot-Legg-obituary.html.
Mackowiak, Robert C, and Peter Biggadike. “656 Squadron.” 30 Aug. 2019.
Mackowiak, Robert C, and Mark Meaton / 656 Squadron Association. “656 Squadron - Capt. M P E Legg” 30 Aug - 1 Oct. 2019.
Colonel H. S. Calvert, O.B.E., M.C. “With the 61 Light Regiment, R.A., in Korea.” Journal of the Royal Artillery, LXXXI, no. 3, July 1954, pp. 191–200.
United Kingdom, War Diaries - 61 Lt Regt RA, War Department, 1952-1953.
United Arab Emirates, “Sultan's Armed Forces 1964.” Sultan's Armed Forces 1964, British Consulate General - Muscat, 1964. www.agda.ae/en/catalogue/tna/fo/371/174568/n/11.