Death on the Pale Horse

Rupert Mayne

Rupert Mayne as a Captain in the Intelligence Corps. He was in India when the British left in 1947, almost two centuries since the first member of a long line of his family arrived there to serve the Empire, and many of them to die for it.

The following is the Obituary for Rupert Mayne:

LIEUTENANT COLONEL RUPERT MAYNE, who has died aged 91, enjoyed a colourful career during the Second World War with British Intelligence in India, a land which had attracted generations of his family before him.

Maynes had been serving in India since the mid-18th century, and many had died there, as 16 military graves on the subcontinent bear witness. Among those to make an impression was Lt William Mayne, a 19th century cavalry officer who rode a handsome grey charger and was considered so lethal on the battlefield that he was known to the Pathans as "Death on the Pale Horse".

In 1857, at the outset of the Indian Mutiny, Henry Otway Mayne had founded Mayne's Horse, the irregular cavalry regiment later to become the Central India Horse, now one of India's principal tank regiments.

Rupert Mayne's grandfather fought with distinction in the British defeat in 1880 at the Battle of Maiwand in the Second Afghan War, covering the subsequent retreat with the Bombay Light Cavalry. Both Mayne's father and uncle were born, and later served, in India; his uncle, General Sir Mosley Mayne, commanded the Fifth Indian Division in the Abyssinian campaign during the Second World War.

Rupert Eric Mosley Mayne was born on March 15 1910 at Quetta, then still in India, and educated at Wellington College in Berkshire. His ambition to join the Army had been frustrated, first by his father's decision that he should instead go into commerce, and secondly by a late-night crash on a motor-cycle when he was 20, an accident which left him permanently deaf in one ear.

It was against this background that Mayne sailed for India for the first time in 1932. He was to work for the Dundee-based firm of jute manufacturers, George Henderson & Co in Calcutta.

Arriving in Calcutta, Mayne threw himself into his new life with characteristic enthusiasm. He learned fluent Hindi and Bengali. His job was to buy raw jute for the mills on the Hugli river, and in this role he spent many months alone aboard a country boat, a sort of houseboat which plied the waters of the Ganges delta.

Life in pre-war Calcutta was idyllic, and Mayne could also indulge to the full his growing love for the country and its peoples. In his free time he climbed in the Himalayas and explored several remote areas, particularly the Naga Hills of Assam, where, in some parts, he was the first European ever to venture.

But as war approached Mayne found himself gradually drawn into the world of counter-espionage, and in 1940 he volunteered to join Force 136, the British Intelligence Corps in India.

Over the next five years, he was involved in many aspects of Intelligence work. On two occasions he and a small group were dropped behind enemy lines in Burma to contact agents and gather information, before being quietly evacuated by submarine.

For this, and for other secret activities on the Tibetan border, he was mentioned in despatches in 1943.

In 1944 he arranged to meet an enemy agent - an Indian in the employ of the Japanese - in a back street of Calcutta. Mayne believed that the purpose of the meeting was to recruit him as a double-agent; in fact, the Indian was intending to assassinate him with a home-made 12-bore pistol. As a precaution, however, Mayne had instructed his burly Indian bodyguard to approach the rendezvous from another direction; and, as the would-be assassin produced his weapon, the bodyguard crept up behind him and knocked him unconscious with a heavy torch.

However, Mayne always maintained that his most alarming mission was when he was sent into one of the most sleazy and dangerous areas of Calcutta to pick up some pornographic pictures.

These were intended as a means of inducing Japanese soldiers in the jungles of Burma to read British propaganda dropped from the air; it was thought that, by printing messages on the reverse of such prints, the Japanese would be more likely to absorb the information. Furthermore, the images were produced in sets - featuring a different lady on each print - to encourage the Japanese to swap them among themselves to form collections.

Mayne picked up the suitcase containing the material but, as his driver failed to turn up at the rendezvous, he had to trudge with it through some decidedly unfriendly areas. His wife knew nothing of his war work, and at the time he was terrified that he would be set upon and murdered, and that his wife would be told that he had been found with his throat cut while carrying a suitcase full of pornography.

Later in the war, and by now a lieutenant colonel, he reported on a number of intelligence issues directly to the then General "Bill" Slim and HQ 14th Army; he was also involved in liaising with the HQ and the forces of General Chiang Kai-shek, who was fighting the Japanese army of occupation in China.

In 1947 Mayne was commissioned by the Indian Government to report on the famine in Bengal which had resulted in considerable loss of life.

Returning to civilian life, Mayne rejoined Caltex, the American oil company with whom he had started work in 1937, and moved with his family to Bombay where he was Manager (Western India). He was a founder member of the United Kingdom Citizens' Association, and as its president in 1959 he escorted the Duke of Edinburgh during his visit to Bombay.

In 1960 he was transferred to Kenya as Senior Vice-President in East Africa for Caltex. In this role he was responsible for an area which spanned from Aden to Zambia through the difficult years of independence for so many of the countries in the region.

Mayne treated retirement to Wiltshire in 1970 as merely a change of gear. He continued as an oil consultant and was still active well into his eighties.

As he travelled around Britain, all his friends noted his frequent dashes to public telephone boxes as he sought to tie up important contracts for the purchase of fuel-oil for the vessels of Mediterranean Shipping, the Geneva-based shipping company.

Mayne retained a lifelong passion for his old school, Wellington, and was a member of the Old Wellingtonian Society committee for 28 years; he was vice-president from 1997. He was also vice-president of the Special Forces Club in London, and maintained close links with the SAS as a member of the SAS Regimental Association.

In 1969 Mayne was appointed a Member of the Order of St John.

The family connection with the Central India Horse and the Deccan Horse led to frequent returns to India for regimental celebrations and anniversaries.

Mayne also excelled at many sports, winning the Squash Open championship of western India for three successive years after the war. He trekked and climbed extensively in Austria, Afghanistan, Kashmir and the Himalayas; he scaled his highest peak - the 23,400 ft Trisul on the border of India and Nepal - in 1935. He hit a golf ball with great vigour, if only occasional accuracy, and was a keen shot up to his death. He drew the line, however, at learning to drive a car.

He married, in 1940, Cicely Bland, who predeceased him in 1996. He is survived by a daughter and son.

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