TERENCE P. SHAW
Major | Infantry
From the beginning of his service, Major Shaw involved himself in all aspects of regimental life: sports, ceremonies, and history from before his time through the end. He became as much a character of the Lancashire Fusiliers as it came to define him and run in his blood. He was almost strictly a regimental officer for 27 years, a dedicated length of time not many others could claim at the time of his retirement. Even then he never truly left, instead remaining at Headquarters as the Regimental Secretary.
The Territorial 8th Battalion were sad to see young Lieutenant Shaw depart to the 1st Battalion, XX Lancashire Fusiliers in November 1935. After two years of service after he was commissioned, they remained hopeful that they ‘may get him back at a future date at some camp somewhere as a technical adviser when mere Territorials will have to tread warily in the shadow of superior military knowledge.’ They did not predict that some would view him as the archetypal ‘mad major’ and felt his understanding of technology, at least, did not progress much further than the 1930s.
The 1st Battalion began their eighteen-year overseas posting when they embarked for Shanghai on December 12, 1935. It took over a month to sail from England to China where they met terribly cold weather that gave in to frost and snow. From there on, the long tour was measured by seasons. Relief from the cold winter was only brief before a brutal summer heat stifled the battalion. Veterans of India and Palestine were accustomed to the rough posting, but for those like Shaw who were new to foreign service it was a difficult and enlightening experience.
CHINA & INDIA
As summer passed, the battalion looked forward to rotating to Tientsin even though it was possibly the coldest station for the British Army. ‘Fur hats, leather jerkins, sheepskin coats and Gilgit boots are some of the weapons issued to combat this dangerous foe, and early morning gargling (by numbers) the particular form of hoodoo regularly practised. We refrain from remarking on the temperature because old-stagers are full of gloomy assurance that there is worse to come!’ As Shanghai had been filled with recreation, Tientsin, too, was abundant with more rural activities. Though suffering from influenza, Shaw insisted on participating in both hunts held in Peking and Tientsin.
Their next summer in Tientsin was interrupted in July when fighting broke out in North China. Though no one knew it at the time, what the Fusiliers witnessed was the beginning of the world at war. The Japanese campaign quickly dominated the eastern hemisphere, but no one predicted just how much it would envelope the rest of the world. The bright city of Shanghai where they were once happy to explore was reduced to rubble and the Fusiliers never returned. Within three months, Tientsin suffered war, fire, earthquake, floods and pestilence, leading the battalion to become nervous that they would cease to exist before their next update in the Gallipoli Gazette was due. For the months that war raged across the country, the battalion managed to keep out of it. Their biggest battle was that of currency as they struggled to convert across at least three currencies, some of which were not accepted or had depreciated so severely during changes in government. As their time in China neared a conclusion, Shaw looked forward to moving to India.
Even in winter, Quetta was a much more welcoming station than their China posts. About eighty miles from Afghanistan, the British rented the land as a line of defense for their jewel. The local tribal chiefs are paid to keep peace, but even with a feeling of security through the day it was not recommended to wander at night. Except for the ground on which their camp was established, the surrounding land was mountainous, rugged, not suitable for motor transport, and teeming with bandits outside of their compound.
A snowless winter quickly gave way to spring that showed how lush India could be. Only light earth tremors and dust storms plagued the regiment and though war raged in Europe and across the Pacific, it was not yet encroaching on India. Their uniform changed to combat the Indian sun which was said to cause casualties as soon as early morning. Officers wore the pith helmet with the Lancs Fusiliers’ flash and bright yellow hackle; bush shirt and shorts, the cardigan soon dropped; puttees wrapped around the ankle below hose-tops; and a kit of Mills web equipment. Once a fair skinned, untested subaltern, Terence Percy Shaw was rapidly approaching the appearance of a weathered company commander, though he had yet to show any lines across his face even after several years against the elements in the Far East.
While the XXth remained in India and Burma, Shaw instead returned to the United Kingdom. His original 8th Battalion ceased to exist by the end of 1943, but in February the next year he joined the 2/8th Battalion and subsequently the 2nd/5th Battalion when the former was also broken up. As the words of the Gazette predicted nearly a decade early, he had indeed returned to the Territorial Army. The battalion quickly came to refer to him as a Wallah in honor of his Indian service which he no doubt made known to the men as he imparted his vast knowledge from his Regular Army service. A detailed course in jungle warfare was quickly pushed out of mind as the 2nd/5th trained constantly in preparation for an amphibious landing on the continent.
At the end of June, the 2nd/5th landed at Juno without getting their feet wet. The narrow beachhead led up to seaside homes that had all suffered damage during the pre-invasion bombardment as well as thick concrete bunkers that formed part of the German defenses – these had been scorched black from flamethrowers used to clear defenders. The Lancs traveled inland amid the ‘smell of death in the air’ that made the warm weather a bit unpleasant. It took several days to meander between hedgerows marked intermittently with bright signs depicting a skull and crossbones between the words ‘Aktung Minen!’ Beyond the steep hedgerows, the fields were littered with slain cattle.
The battalion worked to de-waterproof vehicles and stores in preparation for their first attack against Caen with the 59th Division. Each company set up billets in the area the advance party established and time passed with ease while the battalion waited for their rear party with their heavy equipment. They heard little of progress to their front, but what they did learn indicated that the line was hardly moving around Caen as allied units suffered heavy casualties from well-prepared Germans. On the evening of July 7th, five-hundred Lancaster bombers rumbled overhead and pummeled the German positions. It was the first use of carpet bombing in France and the show by moonlight inspired all ranks into feeling that taking Caen should be easy.
The 2nd/5th Lancs had no idea that the bombing had little effect on the Germans defending their battalion’s objective at Mâlon. After reveille at 3:30 and a hot breakfast, the troops began shaking hands and wishing each other luck before preparing to clamber onto three-ton trucks for the front. For many it was the last they would see of each other.
East of the Cambes Wood on the morning of July 8th, the battalion assembled near a small village still burning from some previous attack. In the pre-dawn darkness, the flames cast an eerie warm glow over their assembly area. Phase I of the attack had been going on for two hours when the orders to begin Phase II, scheduled for 7:30, reached the Fusiliers. For the next hour they waited anxiously as they faced their start line at the crest of a low hill before an open corn field of waist-high stalks. At the edge of the field to their left, the remains of La Bijude stood quietly in the thin haze of early morning.
As soon as A and B Companies stepped into the open field to their front, machineguns ripped across the ranks. The Germans had expertly cut lanes of fire from the ridge in front of them and from the ruins of La Bijude. The accurate and oppressive gunfire strafed across their line of departure snapping through cornstalks. The leading companies dropped into the dirt to escape the thick gunfire and were soon immobilized and frantically digging shallow trenches in the soft earth. As the day peaked to a warm 80 degrees, men in battledress and steel helmets pressed into the earth as bullets tore through their packs and ricocheted off shovels tucked into their kit.
Close behind in support of the forward two companies, C and D Companies were also struck by the machineguns. A single bullet struck Major Shaw in the back of his neck. A medic quickly made his way over to the wounded officer who ravenously shouted orders and continued to do so as the medic tended to him. He became even more furious when the soldiers who faced an onslaught of snipers smartly told the mad Captain to ‘piss off.’ He stood boldly amidst the cracking swarm of bullets shouting commands while clutching the crimson dressings around his neck. As the ferocious machine guns subsided, mortar barrages filled their absence and for hours the battalion continued taking heavy casualties.
Lancashire Fusiliers crawl cautiously through a cornfield near St Contest, 9 July 1944 ©IWM
The attacking units in the 59th Division suffered a terribly due to the well-entrenched Germans who survived the night of bombing nearly unscathed. Of the six British battalions involved, all but one fared worse than the 2nd/5th Lancashire Fusiliers who lost nine officers killed or evacuated, including two of the company commanders killed, and 32 other ranks killed and 79 wounded. It seemed to be a huge sacrifice over little ground given up within hours, but the Division had distracted the Germans enough that the British and Canadian forces managed to take the main objective of Caen. Still, it was regarded by the Fusiliers as the worst day of the war. Like many who suffered with the battalion, Terry’s first day under fire concluded his combat service for the war and he returned home for a variety of obscure postings through holding units and training centers. Toward the end of the Normandy campaign, the 2nd/5th Battalion disbanded and its companies parted out to more senior regiments who had also suffered casualties.
After the war, he was selected for service in India with the 1st Battalion again. It was there that John Mason fell under his command, who at the time described the Major as a ‘bachelor, a dandy, and a professional eccentric. His tipple was gin and warm water.’ In writing his memoirs years later, he remembered Shaw with affection, though his sentiment as a sub-altern at the time was a bit different. Shaw carried a reputation within the regiment as a demanding officer and when he took over C Company in 1947, their ‘free and easy life’ came to an end. When Lieutenant Mason departed for a course, he was relieved to be rid of Shaw, who he viewed ‘as so clueless that he makes our work twice as hard. His mind is 1936 vintage, e.g. the other day he pointed to an aeroplane and said, perfectly seriously in his affected drawl, “Is that a flying machine, Mason?”’ He was, as Mason reflected with hope, simply ‘taking the piss’ out of his rowdy subalterns and much of his frustrating performances were just that. Still, he had some archaic tendencies. Sometime later when Mason announced he was engaged, Shaw inquired whether or not here was a notice in the Times. On hearing there was no such announcement, he ‘sensibly dismissed the matter.’
A most notable duty that Major Shaw took on in the early post-war years was that of editor of the regimental journal, the Gallipoli Gazette. Along with several pre-war activities that ceased during the war years, the Gazette had fallen out of publication after 1940. Shaw energetically resurrected the journal in 1946 and as a result had a hand in documenting and preserving his own story, whether he had any intention to or not.
Despite the gravity of the Normandy invasion, it was during the post war years that the Major distinguished himself. The regiment moved to Aqaba, the port of Jordan, in early 1951. Each company was detached over a large area and A Company had the pleasure of being close to the beach where they could fish or swim in their spare time. Living was most uncomfortable - either far too hot in the summer months, cold in the winter, and always dry and dusty, leaving the Fusiliers parched and coated with a fine film of sand.
A ship with deep ties to the regiment, the HMS Euryalus passed through in April in time for Gallipoli Day, the historical event which fated the vessel and the XX Lancashire Fusiliers together in 1915. It was not the last time they would meet in the Middle East as the ship’s Captain and the regimental commander discussed a detachment serving onboard during her tour through the Persian Gulf. They planned for a detachment of Fusiliers to serve onboard as reinforcements for the Royal Marines in the event of an emergency, which seemed imminent due to the deteriorating situation in Iran and the Persian Gulf. After another reunion in July, a detachment under command of Major Shaw formed from Lieutenant Leadsom’s 3 Platoon plus other members of A Company joined the ship’s company.
After HMS Mauritius departed for Ceylon, the Euralyus was solely in charge at Abadan a few hundred yards away from the refinery. They spent time rehearsing plans for either an amphibious assault to hold the beachhead or a less aggressive operation to evacuate and protect all British nationals ashore.
During the long wait, the ship celebrated Minden Day which became a well-documented affair when the roses nearly failed to arrive and instead 84 bottles of Roses Lime Cordial went aboard. Despite the blunder, the day proceeded and Shaw attended a special Minden dinner with Lieutenant Leadsom. It was likely the first Minden Dinner held on one of Her Majesty’s Ships, at least during operations.
When negotiations finally broke on August 19th, the event of evacuation became a very real possibility, but another month passed with no need for action and Shaw’s detachment stood down when the HMS Mauritius returned in September. Despite the oppressive heat in cramped quarters and the many changes in plans, the Major’s leadership kept morale stable and high. Shaw viewed the time on board as something of historical importance and it certainly rekindled the special relationship between the Lancashire Fusiliers and the Euryalus.
His detachment rejoined the battalion in the Canal Zone at Moascar which had the benefit of ‘sumptuous’ accommodations that included plumbing. It was set on a featureless sandy expanse outside of Ismailia on the west bank of the Canal. Within a month, the Egyptians abrogated their treaty with Great Britain and unfortunately the Egyptian authorities had done little to quell the people's increasing displeasure with the British presence in the region and escalating tempers were becoming violent. The 1936 treaty between the two countries had allowed the British to maintain troops along the Suez Canal area, permitting they train and supply the Egyptian Army. The Suez was one of their three ‘cardinal pillars’ of British strategic policy and the canal was a direct route to the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. At the close of the Second World War, the Egyptians began to seek total independence, and six years later took action to try to permanently dispel British control.
At the Lancashire Fusilier's 1st Battalion camp in Moascar, Major Shaw’s A Company received an alert on October 15th to be on one hour’s notice to mobilize for security duty in the nearby British residential area of Ismailia. The monotony of garrison duty suddenly cut into a frenzied rush to draw ammunition and board lorries to speed off into the city the next day, leaving a cloud behind them that settled as a new layer of dust over their living quarters. They arrived in the city that was lushly adorned with palms and other vegetation along main streets, public squares and residential areas. Had it not been for the riot at hand, it would have been a welcome change from their barren camp.
It was the kind of event that Terry Shaw kept his company well prepared for. He remained a man of the old army and whether working with professional soldiers or national servicemen he enforced the values of a well-trained unit. The battle plan – or riot plan – left the Major focused on rescuing the families of servicemembers surrounded by rioters in the local Navy, Army and Air Force Institute building. Egyptian demonstrators had whipped up a full riot and were overturning cars, setting fire to fences and looting. Among the mob, the Fusiliers spotted a number of members of the local police force – not just complacent, but in some instances even participating.
As soon as the British troops arrived, the hostile crowds began to flee and Shaw made quick work of dispelling stragglers. They scattered between the dull-looking flats that lined the dry streets. He ordered two 3-ton lorries to the NAAFI which was still under attack from rioters who continued their wanton destruction and were throwing stones and bottles at any Europeans in sight. Though most of them scattered in the presence of the platoon, the NAAFI grocery store remained ablaze and families were trapped inside the barricaded main building. As Lieutenant Inchbald led families to safety, the rioters closed in again fueled by looted whiskey. A few shots discouraged them significantly and Major Shaw calmly oversaw the evacuation in nothing more than his forage cap, khakis with rolled sleeves and a a Sten gun slung over his shoulder.
The Fusiliers spent the day cordoning streets in small detachments and dispersing any rioters brave enough to face the armed troops. Only extremists suffered casualties by the Fusiliers who, despite many of them being fresh young men just out of training, showed complete control and calmness. After a brief break after noon, enough to allow for tea, some rioters returned. Some were polite and engaged in conversation with both the Fusiliers and the extremists who continued to attempt their way into the cordoned area. Major Shaw made trips to his platoons throughout the day, particularly Inchbald’s 2 Platoon which seemed to be facing the bulk of the action.
In the afternoon, they finally received barbed wire and barrels to form a physical barrier across cordoned streets. Though they would do little to physically stop a determined assailant, the message was clear that any attempt to pass over them would result in well placed Bren gun fire. The Major’s A Company was spread thin throughout the network of streets and D Company came to reinforce. ‘Stand-to’ occurred each morning and night and either Major Shaw or Colonel Bamford inspected the troops. There was little movement for the next few days and the British families that remained in town did their best to provide tea and sandwiches to aid in the troops’ comfort as they lay waiting on the hard roads and street corners.
The next day remained calm except for one small demonstration and on October 18th, A Company returned to Moascar to resume their regular duties for a few relatively quiet months. Patrols, ambushes, escorts and searches, but they resulted in no action. The atmosphere remained uncertain as the local paramilitary police force continued to attack the British garrison. After 33 killed and 69 wounded, codeword ‘Eagle’ dropped and the XXth moved in to start the secret operation to disarm the police force on January 25th.
With the 4th Royal Tanks, the Fusiliers entered the town against courageous policemen who sniped from windows and rooftops and garrisoned in prepared positions camouflaged by heavy foliage and trees. The fighting that ensued was as bad as any street fighting some veterans witnessed during the War. While Brigadier Exham worked through negotiations, Major Shaw was in charge of the troops. In the face of far superior weaponry, the police fought valiantly and became a national symbol of resistance against the British Empire, but ultimately they were forced to surrender. By afternoon the action had settled and the Fusiliers relinquished control of the city to the Royal Sussex on the next day.
The ‘Battle of Ismailia’ as it circulated in local papers sparked a revolution that ultimately led to the Suez Crisis five years later. At the time the Lancashire Fusiliers were involved, there was little acknowledgement of the events outside of the immediate participants and after 1956, it was certainly overshadowed by the much grander operation in the Canal Zone, but for the Fusiliers involved it was not to be forgotten. They spent the rest of the year in Moascar, though no action as significant as what occurred in Ismailia, and in October moved to mark another operation that the regiment was first to participate in.
For the first six months of the Mau Mau rebellion, the XXth was the only British battalion in Kenya. They understood that the Mau Mau were causing great concern and expected to remain in Kenya for a few weeks or months, however it was not clear upon their arrival exactly what their responsibility was. It seemed wise to have a British battalion available as the King’s African Rifles were tested with the responsibility of quelling the rebellion. The advanced guard of the battalion consisting of Major Shaw’s A Company began their East African posting the morning after their arrival with a parade around the Kikuyu reserves as a show of strength. Their journey by air had been most uncomfortable and the Major was thrilled to be on solid ground again. Had he been aware that his plane lost the lead on one engine, ‘his blood pressure would have risen alarmingly in adverse proportion to the gin.’
After a few days hopping between stops and many long months in the desert, they were overwhelmed by their first interactions with the country of Kenya. A variety of trees dispersed along intermittent hills and plains offered a refreshing feeling in comparison to the unfaltering, flat, and dusty expanse the regiment had just recently departed. Beyond this beauty, however, lurked the impending threat of the Mau Mau. The change in duty was a welcome one and with the turmoil of the Middle East behind them, the Lancs settled into their lush new Kenyan dwellings. Their meals were wonderful and without shortage of fresh pineapple, coffee, tea, and other offerings from the fertile land. Perhaps the most well prepared due to their actions in the past year, A Company was willing and eager to take on a new adversary in a strange land.
In a month, they moved to the Rift Valley beside a large lake for a period of sweeping operations, usually at night. The Company was responsible for North and South Kinangop, ‘a nice little circular run of seventy miles for Terry Shaw.’ The plateau area was predominantly grassy with low-growing vegetation and dwarf-like trees. It was drastically different than Kenya’s other areas of operations of dark prehistoric jungles and bamboo forests. Regardless of the terrain, the Mau Mau were not the only threat in the wilderness of Africa. ‘Major Terry Shaw had an exciting experience while visiting a section situated on a hillside. He noticed that some of his men who were on top of the hill were waving their rifles to him to attract his attention, but he couldn't understand why. However, on arrival at the top, he was told that a rhinoceros had been watching him from behind a bush not ten yards away.’
By early 1953, Shaw was second-in-command of the battalion, though still closely tied to his old company as he had both A and C Companies directly under his control for operations. Though it was unusually quiet, at the end of March the Mau Mau completed a very successful raid against the Naivasha Police Station. They killed three police officers, released all the prisoners held, and stole a large portion of arms and ammunition. Following this was the Lari massacre which proved how savage the Mau Mau could be. Both incidents revived activities for the Fusiliers and heightened patrolling from Shaw’s two companies.
When the Battalion left Kenya after their year-long operational tour, Terry relinquished his role as second-in-command and returned briefly to leading A Company. In early May he left for Senior Officers’ School and only returned for a sendoff to Territorial 5th Battalion. The party raged with ‘the roof being in great danger of lifting when three cheers were called for by the Company Sergeant Major. Major Shaw still wonders who the WOII was who “slipped him a mickey” later in the evening when the officers and sergeants had retired to the Sergeants’ Mess.’ The event was full of enthusiasm in celebration of the company commander who had led with care and professionalism.
After twenty years of active service, Terry could reasonably claim that he did have some ‘superior knowledge’ as foreshadowed in 1935. He was a well-known character (sometimes notoriously) who experienced some of the most notable campaigns and postings in modern British history: China, India, Normandy, the Canal Zone and Kenya. Those under his command were aware of his high standards as well as his quirks, but thankful for the kindness he revealed and personal time he was willing to devote for their benefit.
The close of the Major’s career took him to Nigeria for a three-year tour as second-in-command of the 5th Queen's Own Nigeria Regiment. The posting that started in April 1958 reflected his early days in China and India when the British maintained garrisons across their Empire. As those colonies moved toward independence rapidly during the last half of the 20th Century, such tours became less frequent as the need for overseas battalions dwindled and colonial regiments transitioned out of the British Army. Shaw left the West African Frontier Force just a year before it was dissolved, returning to the United Kingdom to join the Depot as Regimental Secretary. Though he retired from the Army, he never left the Lancashire Fusiliers.
Gallipoli Gazette, 1935-1960.
Shaw, T P. H.M.S. Euryalus and the Fusiliers. Edited by I R Cartwright, T. P. Shaw, MBE, 1985.
Till, Robert. Shaw, 27 Feb. 2022.
United Kingdom, British Army “War Diaries.” 2nd/5th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers War Diary, 1944.
“XX the Lancashire Fusiliers.” XX The Lancashire Fusiliers, https://www.lancs-fusiliers.co.uk/.
Many thanks to the Fusilier Museum.