Once a Fusilier always a Fusilier

The feature page

Sgt Ian Lynburn Galbraith Niven MBE
1st Bn Lancashire Fusiliers


Manchester City are deeply saddened to learn that Mr Ian Niven MBE has passed away aged 97.
Mr Niven, one of the Club's honorary presidents, was a lifelong Manchester City supporter and part of a proud six-generation City-supporting family.
He leaves behind his son Ian, grandchildren Karen and Ian and their partners Kieran and Gosia. Also, grandchildren Michael and Ian and their partners Georgette and Helen, son-in-law Peter and great grandchildren Mia, Lily, Jace, Ava, Eleanor and James. Sadly, his daughter Olivia passed away in 2013 and daughter-in-law Ann passed away earlier this year.
Sgt Niven was a member of the Long Range Penetration Group, otherwise known as the Chindits, who trained in India and fought in Burma during World War II.

The Chindits were a Special Force that embarked on treacherous missions over extremely difficult terrain, often short of rations and water and affected by disease such as malaria and dysentery
A member of the first battalion the Lancashire Fusiliers 77th brigade under 'Mad' Mike Calvert, Ian was a signaller attached to Major Monteith's company.
He flew into 'Broadway' by Dakota on 6th March 1944. He fought at both 'White City' and Mogaung.
Mr Niven said of his time in Mogaung "I looked around at the devastation. I was completely knackered. I asked myself all the obvious questions: 'What happens next? Will I live?' After the battle I became so ill I could hardly walk. We were then told to make for Shadazup. Somehow I made that march. I said to myself: 'If you can get there, you can live.' I was determined to see my mother again."
After the war, Ian spent almost 20 years working at the Richard Johnson and Nephew wire works in Bradford, east Manchester.
He joined the Manchester City board in 1971 and remained until 1995, working selflessly throughout and providing much-needed stability during the transition between the Chairmanship of Peter Swales and Francis Lee.

During that time, he oversaw the development of Maine Road and identified the need for City to own their training ground and thus created the first academy in the country.
He was also a key architect in founding the Junior Blues initiative.
Ian was awarded an MBE for his services to the community, particularly his work in Moss Side.
He regularly attended City matches until very recently and was there to his beloved team play in their first Champions League final earlier this year.
As a mark of respect and in recognition of Mr Niven's contribution to Manchester City, the flags at the Etihad Stadium and City Football Academy will be flying at half mast in his honour.
Everyone at Manchester City would like to send their condolences to Ian's family and friends

Two veterans of one of the most daring campaigns of the Second World War have been reunited almost 70 years on, thanks to us.
Tommy Hopper and Ian Niven last saw each other on March 5, 1944 just before they glided behind enemy lines as special forces 'Chindits' during the Burma Campaign.
After the war, however, the two lost touch.
But then Ian, 89, read a story about Tommy's birthday in the Manchester Evening News and the Tameside Advertiser.
The former Manchester City director and great grandfather, who lives in Didsbury, said: "My son-in-law was sat reading the paper and said 'there's a Chindit here, Tommy Hopper.'
"He couldn't believe it when I got my photo album out and was able to show him a picture.
"All the memories just came flooding back, all these things I'd forgotten."
Great grandfather Tommy, now 95, said: "We're probably the last two Chindits left in this area."
But their emotional reunion could have happened a lot sooner.
Tommy and Ian spent almost 20 years working at the Richard Johnson and Nephew wire works in Bradford, east Manchester.
Tommy, who is widowed and lives in Audenshaw,

The Eulogy
read by
Major Paul Corden

Princess of Wales's, Royal Regiment (P.W.R.R.)
77th Brigade

I serve in today's 77th Brigade, named after the original 77th Chindit Brigade, in which Ian served in the Second World War. As the Brigade lead for our Chindit heritage, and as a friend of Ian's, it is my privilege to tell you about the Chindit chapter of Ian's amazing life.
I first met Ian in January 2017 at our camp in Berkshire, when he was one of a group of Chindit veterans present for a royal visit by Prince Charles.
When I heard that Ian came from Manchester, I told him that I had studied at Manchester University, and that I supported a Manchester football team, whereupon he immediately asked: "Which one?"
Fortunately, having supported them since I was 7, I was able to say "City", to which he replied, "Right answer!" If I had replied with the "U" word, I wouldn't have been invited to watch a few matches as his guest, and I wouldn't be here today…!
Anyway, Ian joined the Army in 1940 as a Junior Soldier, aged 16, initially joining his father's infantry regiment, the Royal Scots.
In 1943 Ian sailed out to India on a troopship, and during the voyage he somehow ended up being transferred to the 1st Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers.
On arriving in India, this Battalion joined 77th Brigade, part of a formation called Special Force, under the overall command of Major General Orde Wingate. They trained hard for a special operation behind Japanese lines in Northern Burma.
On the screen behind me, you will see the badge selected by Wingate for Special Force, showing a mythical half lion/half griffon creature, known as a Chinthe, pairs of which guard Buddhist temples in Burma. This name got mispronounced, ending up as Chindit, and the name stuck.
Operation Thursday was launched on the night of the 5th/6th of March 1944. The first wave landed by glider in a jungle clearing 150 miles behind Japanese lines.
Some Engineers worked all the following day to prepare a dirt landing strip for the second wave to come in by Dakota aircraft the following night.
Ian, aged just twenty, and the youngest soldier in his Battalion, was on one of those Dakotas - a pretty exciting first ever flight in a plane! He and his fellow passengers were accompanied by three mules, which were to be used to carry ammunition, radios and other heavy stores and equipment, as the Chindits operated completely without vehicles, totally relying on air resupply to drop rations and other necessities every few days.
77th Brigade's mission was to block the main road and railway supply route leading to the Japanese front line in Northern Burma. They set up a blocking position which became known as White City, and the Japanese soon attacked it with wave after wave of suicidal infantry attacks.
As a signaller in his Battalion, Ian helped to pass messages all across the position by a field telephone network.
During one Japanese attack, Ian received a message from a front-line trench requesting mortar fire against an impending Japanese attack.
Unfortunately, a Japanese mortar bomb had cut the telephone cable to the Battalion's own mortars, so Ian left his foxhole and, under heavy fire, ran over to the mortar position to tell them to fire at the gathering Japanese, thereby helping to defeat that attack. When he scrambled back into his foxhole, his Commanding Officer praised him for his bravery but, in Ian's own words, also severely bollocked him for risking his life!
Ian and his comrades held off constant Japanese attacks against White City for six weeks. They were then ordered to close it down and march over 100 miles north to capture the town of Mogaung.
With each man carrying around 70 lbs or 30 kg on his back, it was a nightmare march of almost a month in ankle-deep mud over jungle-covered hills.
Early monsoon rains caused many air resupply drops to be aborted, and they often went hungry. They also suffered dreadfully from the many tropical diseases rife in that area, such as malaria, dysentery, dengue fever and scrub typhus, not to mention sores, blisters and trench foot.
Finally reaching Mogaung at the beginning of June, 77th Brigade started their attack, with the Lancashire Fusiliers trying to storm a bridge across the river on the eastern side of the town, but they were driven off by heavy fire. Ian's Company Commander, Major David Monteith, who he worshiped, was shot in the head and killed right beside him.
Fortunately, some Gurkhas found a ford away from the bridge, circled round behind the Japanese defenders and killed them, clearing the way for 77th Brigade to cross the bridge and continue their advance. Ian always said that he felt he owed his life to the Gurkhas.
It took savage fighting for the whole month of June, but 77th Brigade eventually captured the town, with two Victoria Crosses being won. The cost had been huge. Out of over 3,000 men who had flown into Burma in March, Ian was one of only 350 who were left standing.
The shattered remnants of 77th Brigade then had to march for five days to get to a US-held airstrip at Shadazup for evacuation.
In their exhausted, emaciated state, this final march was too much for some, with several men dropping out and dying almost within touching distance of safety.
Ian himself was suffering from horrendous diarrhoea and was close to collapse, but he was determined to see his mother again, and this gave him the mental strength to keep on going.
On finally reaching Shadazup the survivors were flown back to India to recover. Ian blacked out in the plane and regained consciousness on a hospital slab being sluiced with cold water to bring down a potentially fatal high temperature.
He was found to have amoebic dysentery, and had lost 3 stone during his four months in Burma. He spent many months in hospital recovering. Indeed, most Chindits suffered health problems for months or even years afterwards, and some for the rest of their lives.
In due course, following the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Ian returned to England by troopship, and was eventually demobilised, still suffering from his dysentery for another year or so.
On a memorial out in India at Kohima, where the attempted Japanese invasion of India was halted, with the support of the Chindits, there is a moving epitaph:
When you go home, tell them of us and say,
"For your tomorrow, we gave our today."
Ian didn't give his life out there, but he gave his health and his fitness, and he never fulfilled his dream of playing for his beloved City. However, he was always fiercely proud that he had played for the Chindits.

In all my 43 years of service, including nine operational tours, nothing I have done comes anywhere close to what Ian and his Chindit comrades went through in their four months out in Burma, in terms of sheer intensity of combat, prolonged physical hardship in a hostile and unhealthy jungle environment, and unimaginable mental stress operating behind enemy lines.
What the Chindits did was the stuff of legend, and we in today's Army, and especially today's 77th Brigade, are in awe of them. Ian Niven, Chindit legend, we salute you.

Ian participated in several commemorative events over the years, including the 75th Anniversary of Victory over Japan in August last year at the National Memorial Arboretum, with Prince Charles as the VVIP, with a recorded interview wth Ian being broadcast by the BBC that day as well.
If you look again at your order of service, you will see a photo of Ian with Mike Summerbee and myself on Whitehall, about to march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday 2019. Mike and Ian had left Manchester at 3 o'clock that morning to get to London in time for a Breakfast Reception with Boris and Carrie at No 10, followed by the Cenotaph parade itself.
There was just one snag, though - City were playing Liverpool at Anfield later that day, with a kick-off at 4 o'clock. Once Mike had pushed Ian past the Cenotaph, I had arranged for a Metropolitan Police Inspector to be waiting for them. They cut away from the marching column, and the Inspector broke the crowd control barrier, cleared a way through the crowd, and showed them to where their car and driver were waiting to drive them straight up to Anfield. The timing was exquisite - as they took their seats in the Director's Box, the players were just coming onto the pitch. We won't mention the actual result, though...!

The above photo shows me Maj Paul Corden with former City star Mike Summerbee, who is now the Club Ambassador. He acted in the WW2 film “Escape to Victory” (with POWs planning an escape during a football match with their German guards), and is passionate about military history.

On Remembrance Sunday 2019 Mike organised a Man City car and driver to bring him and Ian Niven down from Manchester to London, leaving at 0330 to be in time for a Breakfast Reception with Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street, along with seven other Chindits and their 77th Brigade pushers. Mike then pushed Ian Niven’s wheelchair at the Cenotaph parade and march past. As they had to get to Anfield to watch the Liverpool v Man City match, due to kick off at 1600 that day, I arranged for a Metropolitan Police Inspector to be waiting for them just past the Cenotaph. Mike and Ian peeled off from the march, the Inspector opened the crowd control barrier, cleared a route through the crowd and led them to where their car was waiting on the Embankment. By some miracle, nearly four hours later, just as they took their seats in the Director’s Box at Anfield, the players were just coming onto the pitch. Unfortunately, Liverpool then won the match, but we mustn’t let the result spoil a good story…!

A huge thank you to the Lancashire Fusiliers and the wider Royal Regiment of Fusiliers for stepping up at short notice, and so close to Christmas, to provide such wonderful presence and input to the funeral of Chindit Ian Niven MBE, ex 1st Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers, on Thursday 23 December.

Firstly, thanks to HQ RRF for their initial response. Once the “ask” reached him, David Platt did an amazing job spreading the word across his LF network and very rapidly generating the various participants needed. He also provided a wonderful medal cushion with an embroidered XX on it for the coffin, on which Ian’s medals were proudly displayed.

The two standard-bearers, Robert Barton and Steven Fitt, represented the Fusilier family in a high-profile way, adding a tremendous air of solemnity and ceremonial style to all the key moments of the proceedings, especially the entrance, Last Post and Reveille, and the departure.

Alan Headdock looked splendid in his No 1 Dress and Busby, with his scarlet tunic contrasting spectacularly with the otherwise ubiquitous light blue of Manchester City! The whole congregation, who seldom if ever experience it, were visibly moved by the Last Post and Reveille sequence – a very special part of the whole service. Recorded bugle calls just don’t have the same emotional resonance…

In addition, there was the unexpected pleasure of two more Lancashire Fusilier veterans attending, Dennis Laverick and his comrade Peter George making a total of three primrose hackles that really stood out in the crowd (incidentally, my mother’s birthday is Primrose Day, 19th April!).

The family and their friends all commented afterwards that the whole military ceremonial aspect of the funeral made it all the more poignant and special, and asked me to pass on their huge gratitude to those who contributed, and I can only echo that and add my own thanks for all the wonderful support.

The words spoken by Mike Kay (Ian's) Grandson

Grandad - Ian LG Niven
Written by: Mike Kay - Grandson of Ian and son to Olivia, Ian's daughter.
Hi Everyone,
Just over two years ago I stood in front of a lot of people, and family who are here today, who were also at our Nana's funeral. Nana was my Grandad's first wife, and I remember saying at that time that our Nana was a 'real' and 'typical' Nana…in all senses of those words.
Over the last few days, I've been trying to think of words to sum up Grandad, and it's fair to say, and I'm sure he'd fully agree, that he definitely wasn't a 'typical' Grandad at all!
In fact, for a number of years when Karen, Ian, Ian and I (all his grandchildren) were all younger adults, he tried to make sure we didn't call him Grandad in public…we even started receiving birthday cards signed 'Ian'! We didn't listen to him of course, we just said 'Grandad' louder and with more purpose…so Grandad it was always, and will always, be.
Grandad was a Force of Nature…and even when we were all much younger, when as kids you don't really question things and take things and everyone for just how they are, it was clear that there was something really special, different and unique about him.
One of the most obvious things that made you realise this, was that when you went to visit Grandad, he didn't have a house - he had a pub! (The Royal Scot in Marple Bridge) …and he didn't just have a pub, he had a pub with loads of pictures and stuff about City in it! …pretty special when you are only 9 or 10 years old.
Also, when we went to visit him (a lot of the time on Sunday afternoons in the few hours the pub was closed between lunchtimes and evening opening times), if you wanted a drink you could go round to the other side of the bar and fill your glass with Coca-Cola from what appeared to be a magic tap - not only that, you could pull a packet of crisps or nuts from where they were hanging on the wall behind the bar. Now after all you've heard already from The Major and Kevin about Grandad's life today, you might think this is pretty unremarkable, but to a ten-year-old it elevated him to superstar status!
I also have other personal memories such as when we visited, he always remarked how tall we had grown, measuring us, like Grandfathers do, and using the line of buttons on his shirt as 'markers' to prove we had grown since the last time we had seen him. The shirts he wore had his initials embroidered on his chest pocket which was another 'special' thing he alone seemed to have…even the bunch of keys he carried seemed to be bigger and more impressive than anyone else's.
I also remember all the little signs dotted round the pub, instructions telling people what or what not to do - in fact I think there were probably more signs for the customers than those for the staff!
Grandad of course had a very busy life, what with running the pub and all his commitments revolving around City, so it's true that we didn't seem him regularly on a weekly basis. Despite this when we did see him, he was always keen to know how we were doing at school, or at sport, and what we wanted to dowhen we were grown up - 9 out of 10 was the highest mark he would give us for whatever it was we were doing, as there was always a need to leave room for improvement.
As we got older, it was nice to spend time with Grandad in what was probably his most natural environment, on family evenings out around Manchester for special occasions or birthday celebrations, such as at Rafa's (El Rincon de Rafa) in Manchester…listening to his many and varied 'words of wisdom' throughout the evening as I'm sure you've all experienced from time to time.
After mine, and my brother Ian (Kay)'s mum, Olivia, passed away 8 years ago, the silver lining from the dark cloud of my Mum's death was that I was able to spend a lot more time with Grandad in these recent years, visiting him at his flat in Didsbury and listening to him reminiscing about family stories, his time in the war, early life at school and playing football for Manchester boys and of course stories about his time at City.
And, it was always lovely seeing his great grandchildren, James, Eleanor, Mia, Lily, Jace and Ava and then listening to him have the same conversations with them that he'd had with us 25-30 years before...but only ever 9 out of 10 of course!
But I can't talk about Grandad without talking about City - because this was always the topic of conversation we came back to. For those of you who don't know, Grandad became a City fan as a result of his own Grandad, Andrew Niven,who had played in goal for Dunfermline. Andrew was in touch with Peter Hodge, who became City manager in 1926, and the rest as they say, is history, and the start of 6 generations, or put another way, nearly 100 years, of a family of City supporters.
So more than anything, it was City that made Grandad extra special - seeing his name in the programme every week, his picture popping up in the Manchester Evening News in an article he had featured in, or a glimpse of him on TV without warning from time to time. You might not know he also used to visit all the primary schools in Salford and Stretford, and the areas of Manchester who might otherwise naturally lean the other way football wise, distributing free tickets with the objective of sowing and nurturing new blue supporting areas for future generations to come.He even signed autographs at Junior Blues meetings, always with 'Only the Cream' as his motto under his name…he wrote this in birthday cards too!
By the way…even receiving a letter or card in the post from Grandad seemed unique - the envelopes always seemed larger or just that bit thicker, with his unique and easy to identify classical handwriting, that was 'grander' than other peoples …and I'm sure a lot of you will know that familiar smell as you opened the envelope, that my Mum always said was a mixture of his aftershave and TCP!
So, as well as his family, City was Grandad's life work, and you can't think of him without thinking about City and vice versa - it's that deeply ingrained within us all.
He's the reason that none of us will ever wear the colour red, he's also the reason when I go in supermarkets, I hide all 'that other team's' magazines and birthday cakes when I see them and push them to the back of the shelves, maybe keeping his crusade going! He's also the reason that every time we go to watch City each week, amongst all the fans, it doesn't just feel like home, it really IS home - most recently just last Sunday, when my Dad,James and I were at St. James's Park in the away end for the Newcastle v City game.
Just finally, on the weekend Grandad passed away only a couple of weeks ago, City had only hours earlier beaten Watford to go back to the top of the league table again. And, in truth, that's all that Grandad ever wanted, all his work over all these years was to get City in the top spot, and to stay there for a very long time.
And so, I've managed to get these words in which seemed fitting…the City fans here might just recognise them from somewhere familiar and we thought it summed things up today:
Maybe in another generation,
When other lads have come to take our place,
They'll carry on the glory of City,
Keeping City in first place. (*)

And so, it might have taken a little longer than you thought Grandad, with a few bumps along the way, but you did it…you did it.
(*) words taken from the third verse of 'The Boys in Blue' by Manchester City FC 1972 squad, still regularly played at The Etihad Stadium before home games.


To read the story of the Chindits click here