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
Mr Niven, one of the Club's honorary presidents, was a lifelong
Manchester City supporter and part of a proud six-generation
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
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,
Major Paul Corden
Princess of Wales's, Royal Regiment (P.W.R.R.)
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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 Nivens 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 Directors Box at
Anfield, the players were just coming onto the pitch. Unfortunately,
Liverpool then won the match, but we mustnt 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 Ians 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 dont 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 mothers 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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
(*) 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.
read the story of the Chindits click here