Lt Col Peter Walter, highly decorated soldier with the SAS, nicknamed ‘the Rat’ for his grit and resourcefulness – obituary
A group of SAS men in the Malayan jungle in 1952 or 1953. Peter Walter is second from the right with an M1 Carbine over his shoulder (on a homemade sling made from some paracord). He has his '44 Pattern aluminium mug in his right hand
12 AUGUST 2019
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Walter, who has died aged 91, was a tough, no-nonsense professional soldier who won MCs in the jungles of Malaya and in the mountains of South Arabia, and who inspired generations of young British soldiers with his dedication to practical hard training for war.
His attitude to rules and regulations was that they were there for guidance only. His maxim was “Any bloody fool can run and everybody can run like rabbits when under fire. It is whether a soldier can march long distances, carrying all his kit, across all terrains, in all weathers … and still be fit to fight. That is the mark of a good soldier.”
One of four siblings, Peter Frederick Walter was born on January 26 1928 to Frederick and Peggy Walter, a farming family from near Retford in Nottinghamshire.
In December 1944 the underage Walter enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters by bringing his birth date forward by two months. He listed his profession as “farm worker”. After service in Palestine he was posted to Malaya where, in 1950, the Emergency was under way. Walter volunteered for the Malayan Scouts who had recently been formed to fight the communist terrorists [CTs] in the jungle.
In 1952, aged only 25, he was a Squadron Sergeant Major when the Scouts were formally redesignated as 22 Special Air Service Regiment, the successors of the wartime SAS which had been disbanded at the end of the Second World War. It was with the SAS that he earned his nickname “The Rat” because, as one SAS veteran recalled later, he was “here, there and everywhere”.
The following year, in spite of his lack of educational qualifications, he was granted a short service commission, initially in his regiment and later with the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment, which was later to become a part of a new East Anglian Regiment.
Walter returned to Malaya and won his first MC in 1957 after an action against CTs in the State of Perak. The citation read: “For repeated courage and determination in leading his men in the assault against heavy fire from terrorists in prepared ambush positions. He inspired his men to achieve a moral ascendancy over a numerically superior enemy.”
During the action he personally killed at least one enemy and had a full magazine from a Sten gun fired at him from a few yards – which fortunately missed.
For his leadership and organisational skills in pursuit of the enemy in further operations he was subsequently appointed MBE and mentioned in despatches.
He returned to the SAS, commanding A Squadron and later serving as second in command under Lt Col [later 2nd Viscount] John Slim. “He was fanatical about realistic training,” one SAS veteran recalled, “and the exercises he organised were always full of interest, variety, surprise and chaos. He was a hard man and he trained hard men for war.”
He married his first wife Elizabeth Hall, the daughter of a senior Royal Navy and Royal Indian Navy officer, in April 1963. One week after the wedding, and before embarking upon his honeymoon, he managed to hitch lifts from the RAF to Singapore and then to Borneo where the newly emerging nation of Malaysia was under attack from its Indonesian neighbour in what became known as the “Confrontation”. Walter wanted to see if he could make himself useful even though his unit was in Britain and he was on leave.
Shortly after he arrived, reports came in of a major incursion by some 100 Indonesian regular troops. He asked to accompany a patrol from the 6th Gurkhas under the command of Lt Hugh Wallace and they were delighted to have such an experienced jungle fighter along. After making contact with the Indonesians, a prolonged fire fight took place during which Lt Wallace was killed. Walter spent much of the first day of the contact engaging the enemy with a light machine gun and later led a patrol to follow up on the enemy and recover the body of the Gurkha officer.
When the action was concluded Walter got the RAF to fly him back to Britain and his bride. She never did get her honeymoon and explained later that “really he was only ever married to the Army”. The marriage was subsequently dissolved.
Shortly after, Walter transferred to the Parachute Regiment where he commanded Recruit Company followed by a posting as a company commander to the 3rd Battalion. Operating from Bahrain, his B Company was sent to South Arabia and into an action in the mountainous Radfan area north of Aden, for which he would be awarded his second MC.
Dissident tribesmen had been attacking the Aden-Dhala road and had to be stopped. B Company were initially tasked with parachuting in close to their target, but the SAS patrol sent in advance to mark out the drop zone were attacked and had to retire, losing their commander and radio operator. It was reported that the men had been decapitated and their heads displayed upon spikes in Sanaa.
After a night approach over mountainous terrain, dawn saw Walter’s company come under sustained heavy fire from an enemy based in a number of watchtowers. Ordering his Paras to fix bayonets, Walter led the lead platoon in an assault to clear the enemy. Though desperately short of water and ammunition, they subsequently held the position all day under continuous fire, losing two dead and six wounded but killing many of the enemy.
Subsequently Walter rejoined the SAS as John Slim’s second in command at Hereford and then returned to the Paras in 1969 to command their Battle School in Brecon. Here his belief in hard training was allowed full expression. He was known on occasion to stand behind the hotplate at mealtimes and if he observed a young Para who appeared a few pounds overweight was given to bark: “Too fat, no chips, move on!”
Between 1972 and 1974 he commanded the depot of the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces in Aldershot responsible for training which he very much enjoyed. His officers’ mess is remembered as a lively place where he loved nothing better than hard drinking with good soldiers.
He then served on the staff in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, for which he was awarded a second mention in despatches. His last role in the Regular Army was to establish the Nato International Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol School in Germany.
Walter retired from the Regular Army in 1981 as a Lieutenant Colonel and immediately re-enlisted as a trooper in the Honourable Artillery Company, a Territorial unit, in the City of London. He was later commissioned as a Major and was appointed Chief Instructor.
Walter had not been considered to command either of the two SAS Territorial regiments because it was assumed that his style might be too demanding, but with the HAC he showed flexibility and enthusiasm. A former CO stated: “A generation of HAC soldiers benefited from his extraordinary operational experience.”
He served on until aged 63 and retired with great reluctance only because the Army refused to give him any more yearly extensions. He had served continuously for 47 years.
In 1980 Walter moved to Alderney where, returning to his roots, he ran a smallholding and was proud that in his 70s he could still shear a sheep. He was a member of the States of Alderney, the legislature, serving for a time as its Vice-President. He reformed the defunct Alderney Militia as an Army Cadet Force unit and on many occasions arranged for regular and territorial units to exercise on the island.
He was a frequent and popular visitor to the Special Forces Club in London and until the age of 85 took himself off each year to walk sections of the Great Wall of China.
In 2003 he married Annie Chase. She survives him with two sons of his first marriage and a stepdaughter.
Peter Walter, born January 26 1928, died June 28 2019