Brigadier Christopher Pike, DSO, OBE, Gurkha Rifleman has died on July 15, 2019, aged 85. He was born on November 10, 1933. A Good-humoured yet ruthless and single-minded Gurkha Rifleman who saw action in Borneo, Hong Kong and Cyprus.
Outwardly good-humoured and smiling, Chris Pike had an underlying ruthlessness, but also a single-minded calm in crisis. When faced by a howling mob of Chinese workers at the Man Kam To checkpoint, linking the New Territories of Hong Kong with China, during the 1967 Cultural Revolution, he leant against the bridge, casually smoking a cigarette and discussing The Thoughts of Chairman Mao.
Earlier that year he had commanded one of the two leading companies of the Gurkha Rifles who drove invading Chinese militants out of the border village of Sha Tau Kok, where they had killed several policemen and besieged the government office. The sight of the Gurkhas drawing their kukris had been enough to send the Red Guards scrambling over each other in their haste to get back across the border.
Pike had already won the DSO for a clinically executed operation in north Borneo. Scarcely had the new Federation of Malaysia found its feet after its formation in 1957 than President Sukarno of Indonesia began military incursions along the 800-mile border. A divisional-size force of British, Gurkha, Australian and New Zealand troops was assembled to protect the frontier. During his third operational tour of duty in the region Pike found an empty, but well maintained Indonesian base camp, clearly intended for future use, on the bank of the Koemba river, and made a comprehensive plan to ambush the approaches. After several hours’ wait in silence, a landing craft loaded with troops was seen approaching the campsite, accompanied by two small river boats. Pike gave the order to fire as the landing craft neared the shore, causing it to beach with heavy casualties. The two river boats were sunk with their crews. This provoked a barrage of retaliatory mortar fire from beyond the opposite bank, forcing Pike to pull one of his platoons back and hold ready for further action. Thirty-seven Indonesian troops were killed in this engagement.
Anticipating an Indonesian follow-up, Pike set another ambush down his withdrawal track. After a tense wait of two hours the follow-up force entered the ambush and a further nine Indonesian soldiers were killed.
Pike was decorated for his leadership and professionalism, and by 1974 he was commanding 10th Gurkha Rifles in England as part of the UK Strategic Reserve. The Turkish armed intervention in Cyprus, after a Greek-Cypriot coup against the elected government that threatened the safety of the Turkish-Cypriot population, led to a call for reinforcement of the single British garrison battalion on the island. Pike’s unit was selected. The Turkish advance was rapid, but was halted when it reached the Gurkha outposts. Pike was appointed OBE for command of his battalion during the seven months after the Turkish intervention.
Christopher James Pike was born in Cape Province, South Africa, the son of William Pike, a sheep farmer and veteran of the North African campaign of 1941-42. He was educated at Hilton College, Natal, and RMA Sandhurst, from where he was commissioned in 1954. He married Prue McDermid, who he had met playing tennis in Hong Kong, in 1967. They had two sons — James, a charities fund manager, and Tom, who followed his father into the Gurkha Rifles and now works for KPMG — and a daughter, Tamzin, a graphic artist. All survive him.
On his advancement to Brigadier, Pike commanded the British Gurkha recruiting and pensioner support structure in Nepal and later became Brigadier of the Brigade of Gurkhas in Hong Kong. He left the army in 1988 and for nine years was the director of administration for a group of solicitors in Norwich, retiring in 1997 to devote his time to his family, gardening, golf, fishing, ornithology and sailing.
An incident showing Pike’s unusual character occurred as the situation in Cyprus settled down in late 1974. He invited the regimental signals officer to join him for a game of squash in the barracks. During a spirited match, the signals officer accidentally struck Pike in the face with his racket, knocking out a front tooth. After being patched up at the medical centre, Pike turned to his subordinate to remark: “I asked you to play as I have you in mind to be the next Adjutant. I haven’t changed my mind.”