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On Target Britain

Food for Thought: Every special calling for life, if it is to be followed with success, requires peculiar qualifications of understanding and soul. Where these are of a high order, and manifest themselves, by extraordinary achievements, the mind to which they belong is termed genius.
Carl von Clausewitz, On War


24th January, 2004
In January this year, 2004, I lost a true friend, mentor, tutor and taskmaster. My own story in the context of our association had begun much earlier, in 1952, when I entered Sandhurst, which had now evolved from the pre-war Royal Military College to become the Royal Military Academy. Astonishingly, on reflection today, this was no more than seven years after the end of Second World War. Many of the much-decorated officers and senior ranks went on to greater things. Those who had sur-vived a major war in which they had seen action, and friends killed, maimed and wounded, were somehow different, generally quietly endowed with a mature reflective detachment and depth of character. Sadly, only later campaigns such as Korea, Malaya, Borneo or the Falklands have seemed able to recreate their kind. It was an environment quite different to that created today by the simplistic, superficial, sixth-form schoolboy idealism characterised by the aptly nick-named British Prime Minister "Bambi" Blair. These were real men. John Lash was one such.

My first meeting with John Lash came much later, in the Autumn of 1988. I had already made the acquaintance of the late Dr Kitty Little, a retired scientist, a few months before. Once every two or three months she invited a few like-minded individuals, who were deeply concerned for Queen and Country, to spend the day in discussion at her flat in Oxford. So it was that one day I found myself sitting on a sofa next to a quiet, keen-eyed man in his late 60s; greying hair, compactly built, slightly under medium height. Kitty had come across his name at a meeting of the Military Commentators' Circle, in London, and persuaded him to travel to Oxford from his home near Cheltenham. One suspects he had gone there, a professional amongst amateurs, rather against his better judgement, and I recall that it was the only occasion that he attended. As the conversation veered round to the Middle East and the influence of Political Zionism, he leaned across and said quietly "I think we had better get together some time". Soon afterwards he met me, in his little blue Ford Escort, on a traffic island above the M5 Motorway. From there he guided me to a sec-luded cottage on a hillside on the outskirts of Cheltenham. Walled gardens sprawled organically and pleasantly beneath the trees. In the garage stood the red E-type Jaguar that he no longer drove; symbolic of an earlier exis-tence. Thus began a long friendship and an even longer learning curve, during which John Lash would often refer to me with a twinkle in his eye as "Bluebell", the radio code for the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers from which I was now retired.

John Noel de Warenne Lash was born in Sydenham, Kent, on the 28th December, 1917. After the 1914 1918 War his father became an official in the Palestine Administration, which functioned under a Mandate from the League of Nations of 1923. The young Lash was brought up in the biblical lands amongst both Arab and Jewish contemporaries. Even at such an tender age he acquired an early interest in the history and conflicts around him, of the subtle machinations of individuals like the Attorney-General, Norman Bentwich, O.B.E., M.C., towards the ultimate objective of an Israeli "State"; something, like the treatment of his father, he always remembered, because changes in the Administration, which John Lash later saw as all part of this process, curtailed his father's employment in Pales-tine and cut short John's public school education. He often reflected hum-orously that he and his headmaster had both concluded that he had been born to "kill", so the problem was resolved when he was accepted for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst! Commissioned into the South Staff-ordshire Regiment in October, 1939, he found himself on a rather seden-tary tour in Northern Ireland with the prospect of a regimental move from Ireland sometime in the future to an even quieter location in the far North. His personal drive and "get-up-and-go" personality did not take easily to life in a regiment still geared to an earlier war, to the leisurely formalities; to "brown boots and battledress" as he called this old style regimental soldiering. After the military shambles in France, in 1940, and the evacuation from Dunkirk, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had decided that the British Army must be placed on a harder, more professional footing, which was the beginning of a new phase in the career of John Lash. He soon seized the opportunity to volunteer for the newly formed Independent Companies that pre-dated the Commandos, and was trained at the original S.T.C. Lochailort, before the main Commando training depot opened at Achnacarry. It was also to sever close ties with his regiment, which was to prove costly in later years. So it was that John Lash became one of the first new Army Commandos - as opposed to the Royal Marine Commandos with their well-established operational links with the Royal Navy.

In 1942 John Lash joined Durnford Slater's 53 Commando after they returned from their successful part in the Dieppe Raid. Brigadier Peter Young, the military historian, also in 3 Commando became a friend and influence that John Lash never forgot. During the Allied assault on Sicily in July, 1943, John Lash proved himself at an early stage to be a determined Commando officer, but then became a prisoner of war during the attempt to capture what would become known as "3 Commando Bridge". Taken to Northern Italy, he soon escaped and after numerous esc-apades found himself with a large party of other escapees by the southern coast of the Adriatic, about to be handed back to the Germans by the local Carabinieri. The Italian Armistice was imminent but the Captain of Cara-binieri remained fearful of German punishment or worse it he failed in his duty. John Lash informed him that the British would certainly shoot him if he did not fail. A boat was found for the party finally to escape to safety behind Allied lines, for which initiative John Lash was awarded the M.B.E. for gallantry. In fact John Lash was captured and escaped three time over this period. He told an amusing story about how he drank the Gestapo off-icers, who had arrived to interrogate him, under the table. On another occa-sion, shortly after being captured, he was sitting with three German Army officers, talking, when he learned of another of their number whom he knew well since they had been at school together in Palestine. They also told him that they could not understand why Great Britain had gone to war in the way it had, which was an interesting reflection on the subsequent fate of Europe, after 1945.

Seething with frustration back in the operational holding Comman-do at Wrexham, he was found by the Commanding Officer of 41 Royal Marine Commando, who was looking for replacement officers after the many casualties of D Day, and so became the Adjutant of 41 Royal Marine Commando for the assault on Walcheren in December 1944. For some reason the Royal Marines called John Lash, an Army Commando amongst their number, "Nero". In later years, they always greatly welcomed this Army officer to many post-war Royal Marine reunions He was also given one of the few places allocated to the Royal Marines at the British Army Staff College, in Camberley, Surrey. This was a rare distinction, but there his fortunes appeared to change. He told the story of a Directing Staff whose philosophy was embedded in the pre-1939 era. John Lash had lately returned from the battlefront. There, ground-air cooperation had been honed to a fine art in the later stages of the war. Air support had been avail-able over the radio in minutes, if not seconds, from the flying circus overhead. He recalled that the teaching at Camberley was more redolent of dropping a message in a bottle over the side of a bi-plane. This clash of philosophies was said to have played a part in John's demise at the Staff College. The more colourful version was that this had followed a marked disagreement with one of the Directing Staff, apparently exacerbated by the use of an empty bottle. There was probably truth in both versions, or per-haps one led to the other. Who knows!

Life back with the South Staffordshire Regiment in the early post-war era seemed even less attractive than before. Besides, since John had quit the Regiment for the Army Commandos, he was regarded as having "defected", which meant that he had forfeited any serious chance of future command. Such is the tribal system. Consequently, as John put it, they couldn't make up their minds what to do with him. Then the opportunity arose to study Russian at St John's College, Cambridge, where his tutor was the eminent Elizabeth Hill. This laid the foundations for what were eventually to become many years of a unique career as a serving army officer in the intelligence community. First, there were one or two obsta-cles. An early tour for this expensively trained Russian-speaking officer was in the Gold Coast. Even so, this enabled him to widen his horizons. The African colonies were fast approaching premature independence under the "winds of change" doctrine brought about by pressure from across the Atlantic. The consequences of this we know only too well, but then it was possible to discuss the implications of coming events rationally with tribal leaders. Then came a tour with a Staffordshire Territorial Army Battalion to become, as I recall, the Regular Army Second-in-Command. These were the halcyon days that preceded the later nuclear doctrine of the Cold War. It was still "1945"; many Territorials had served through the War, and decorations for gallantry abounded much as they had done amongst the staff at Sandhurst. The serious training for the new era had yet to evolve and it was much a matter of old comrades simply keeping their hands in. John Lash soon discovered that certain hands had also been in the till when he spotted the impossible mathematics of training day accounts. Discreet consultation with a Special Investigation Branch contact in Chester resulted in John Lash assuming command of the Battalion, whilst the noble Lord whom he temporarily replaced simply signed a large cheque. Honour was thus restored without any scandal but, whereas John's predecessor who had condoned the situation had been seen off with a armful of silver from a grateful Battalion, John left in his turn with no more than a small silver salver to mark the occasion.

Thereafter John Lash became more and more immersed in the field of Intelligence, and for the latter part of what was to become a unique career worked alongside the Government Communications Headquarters (G.C. H.Q.), in Cheltenham. By the time he retired, in 1983, he had provi-ded considerable input to papers considered by the Joint Intelligence Com-mittee and earned great respect both in London and in Washington. His thirty six years in the intelligence community had given him a deep under-standing of his subject and unerring skill for seeing into the cause of events. He was a skilful if unorthodox intelligence officer who was impa-tient with incompetence and lack of intellectual penetration and analytical thought. His boisterous jollity and fund of anecdotes never detracted from a serious determination to pass on his knowledge and experience to those prepared to listen and debate. Nor did it detract from a meticulous, syst-ematic and highly disciplined approach to his work. Had he still been serving today he would probably have been able to prevent the recent con-fusion between the Intelligence Committee and the Prime Minister's Office about so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction, and I shudder to think what his comments would have been on the "45" minute statement in the doss-ier. It was interesting during John's retirement years that, when Chapman Pincher, the prolific author on espionage with books such as Their Trade Is Treachery, met John, it was Pincher who had made the request and called on John at his Cheltenham home; not the other way round!

John Lash's particular skill was in the examination and interpreta-tion of Marxist Leninist philosophy, and the organisation and operation of the Soviet Politico-Military System. At the outset he recognised that it was essential to understand intelligence that came to hand in the course of his work, the thinking behind it, and to undertake the essential analysis, rather than just pass on translations cold for others to interpret. As he confirmed in later years in conversation with university academics, it was clear to him that purely linguistic skills in the Russian language were wholly inadequate for the task. The spoken and written word of Soviet Politico-Military Doctrine was quite different. The terminology and expression were so convoluted that it had to be interpreted in a quite different way from the literal Russian. His life long interest in history greatly helped him as he applied detailed research into how and why the Soviet Politico-Military System thought and operated with marked differences to Governments and Armed Forces in the West. To enable him to penetrate the mind of his adversary he set about learning and analysing the history of Marxist philosophy, its roots in the 18th Century Revolution in France, through the Dekabrist uprising in Russia in the 1820s, the Europan Revolutions of 1848, the insurrection in Paris in 1870, through to the Bolshevik Revolu-tion of 1917 and the Stalinist developments in its aftermath. At the same time he demanded absolute professionalism from his small military contin-gent, including knowledge of the detailed organisation, deployment and operation of the Soviet Armed forces upon which much of their work had to be based. He also took pains to help Intelligence Officers without mili-tary experience to understand the peculiarities of the Soviet Politico-Military System, so it was not surprising that others were sent down to Cheltenham to learn these intricacies.

In his dry, cultured military tones John would occasionally express his profound dislike of civilians, invariably chortling as he said so, but he had a great understanding of ordinary people, and he was well-liked by those civilians with whom he worked, who were fascinated by his person-ality. He voiced profound disapproval of the lack of military control over Intelligence, just as he was contemptuous of the organisation and control of Intelligence within the structure of the Armed Forces. This reflected his advanced thinking and impatience with the lack of professionalism in the military establishment as a whole. It also revealed his general dislike of the Civil Service. Not without reason. When he and other escaped prison-ers of war were greeted in London, they were also informed that those who had held only acting rank whilst in captivity would only receive pay of their substantive rank for the period. Little has changed! In retirement, from the first floor study overlooking the gardens of his cottage, John discreetly maintained his Intelligence contacts at home and abroad. But, although I learned much in conversation with him, he was always acutely conscious of the absolute confidentiality of his earlier work as a profes-sional. Retirement enabled him to continue his research into the history of revolution and conflict, and the continuity of the conspiracy and subversive forces behind it to the present day. So it was, after our meeting in late 1988, that my own education at the feet of the Master began - I did sit on the floor once or twice. I listened and made notes during regular visits to Cheltenham. My draft papers were returned in the post, or handed over, liberally endorsed with comments and corrections in the familiar blue ink, underlined in red. The elusive convolutions of Soviet Doctrine could be endlessly frustrating: "Yes, but it's not quite like this" . . . "Before that, you must study this". And so it went. All the while John's loyally humor-ous wife, Pamela, would ply us with coffee and occasional throwaway comments to me such as "If you don't like it, you shouldn't have joined!" Then would come a welcome drink, followed by a leisurely lunch, and then more study. As the day passed, cats would roam in and out of the room; the regal ginger Tom, Sigfried, would pose before the electric fire; the haughty Persian, Prudence, would jump up on to John's desk and scatter the papers. Later there would be the faithful Thomas, and Cholmondeley. With the collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989 and the illusion that Communism was "dead and gone", such studies tended to be seen as irrele-vant. With unerring perception, John turned his attention to the Middle East. He also saw that the Intelligence effort, inspired from the United States, was being diverted profitably to financial and commercial ends. He foresaw clearly the serious deficiencies that would inevitably arise with the run-down of the formal intelligence structure, as we have since seen in the case of Afghanistan and the Middle East.

In Summer, John and I might sit out under the trees for a lunch of fresh bread and cheese with a glass of wine. As we looked out over the adjoining fields he would discourse on the ravages of chemicals on the environment. Another of his interests was the nature of society generally and the shaping of attitudes reflected by television soaps. Shamelessly exploiting Pamela's hospitality, I brought a succession of like-minded individuals to meet John. Without exception they listened transfixed. Dis-cussion flowed. Questions on any issue were answered with John's almost mechanical logic and insight. The benefits of these encounters were never wasted, or forgotten. At about the time I met him, John had been called on by those inveterate door-knockers, the Jehovah's Witnesses. Having pol-itely seen off his visitors, John asked them to send their "first eleven". They duly arrived but after John had shown them the fallaciousness of their arguments, the visits ceased. On one occasion I took David Icke to meet John in the days before Icke's lecture tours became something of a circus. In spite of the publicity David is a surprisingly normal, rational and courteous individual. After listening as David expounded his spiritual and theological theories, John excused himself. When he returned he placed some eight large volumes on the table and said quietly "When you've studied those you'll understand what it is all about".

John was experiencing increasing deafness as a consequence of his war service. In his late seventies he began to suffer from progressive spinal arthritis. As he and Pamela grew increasingly concerned by animal welfare questions, John also concentrated his efforts into research on the religions. As well as being one of the very few genuine authorities on Soviet Politico-Military Doctrine, he now acquired an astonishing know-ledge of the history of religion going back to the beginning of recorded time. When I had checked the military records I discovered that John Lash had not been promoted Lieutenant Colonel until his late forties. The normal age is about 38 - 42. But for regimental taboos and his later specialisation I have no doubt that he would have been promoted much earlier and risen much higher in rank. It had been a short-sighted and scandalous waste. As he passed the age of eighty the deafness worsened and the arthritis tightened its grip. For the last two years of his life communication became extremely difficult. Towards the end of 2003 his condition worsened and he was taken to hospital. On the 15th January, 2004, this truly remarkable and seriously underrated and under-recognised man simply faded away.
Barry Turner

Magnos homines virtute metimur, non fortuna - We estimate great men by their virtues, not by their fortunes.

Cornelius Nepos

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