Henry Gurney

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Honourable
Sir Henry Gurney
Sir henry gurney.gif
British High Commissioner in Malaya
In office
1 October 1948 – 6 October 1951
Preceded by Sir Edward Gent
Succeeded by Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer
Personal details
Born (1898-06-27)27 June 1898
Poughill, Bude, United Kingdom
Died 6 October 1951(1951-10-06) (aged 53)
Fraser's Hill, British Malaya
Spouse(s) Lady Isabel Lowther Weir
Religion Christian

Sir Henry Lovell Goldsworthy Gurney KCMG KStJ (27 June 1898 – 6 October 1951) was a British colonial administrator who served in various posts throughout the British Empire. He was killed in Malaya by communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency.


As a boy, Gurney was educated at Winchester College. During World War I, he joined the British Army, and served with the King's Royal Rifle Corps from 1917 to 1920.[1] After a brief spell at University College Oxford, he joined the British Colonial Service in 1921, and was posted to Kenya as an assistant district commissioner. In 1935, after fourteen years in Kenya, he was appointed Assistant Colonial Secretary to Jamaica. After a brief stint working at the Colonial Office in London, Gurney served as Chief Secretary to the Conference of East Africa Governors from 1938 to 1944, and Colonial Secretary in the Gold Coast from 1944 to 1946. In 1946, he was appointed Chief Secretary to Palestine, serving until the end of British rule there in 1948. While serving in Palestine, Gurney was instrumental in crafting British policy during the Jewish insurgency in Palestine.[2]

In the 1947 New Year Honours, he was promoted to Knight Commander (KCMG) of the Order of St Michael and St George, which is the second highest rank in this order — for his service in Palestine. He had previously been a Companion (CMG) in the same order.[3] In 1949 he was made a Knight of the Venerable Order of Saint John.[4]

On 1 October 1948, Gurney was appointed High Commissioner to Malaya. Gurney assumed his post as the Malayan Emergency was beginning, and over the next four years, he became the chief architect of British policy in Malaya.


On 6 October 1951, Gurney was killed in an ambush by communist insurgents from the Malayan Communist Party while on his way to a resort at Mile 56 ½, Kuala Kubu Road near Fraser's Hill.[5] Gurney was riding in his Rolls Royce Silver Wraith with his wife, private secretary D.J. Staples, and his Malayan chauffeur as part of a convoy that included an armored scout car, a police wireless van, and a land rover with six Malayan policemen sitting in its open back. Eight miles from the ambush site, the wireless van developed engine trouble, and the commander advised Gurney to wait, but Gurney decided to press ahead with the rest of the convoy. About 60 miles north of Kuala Lumpur, as the convoy rounded a curve in the road, it was ambushed by a force of 38 Malayan Communist Party guerrillas, who opened a withering fire on the convoy with three Bren guns, Sten guns, and rifles. Gurney and five of the six Malayan policemen in the land rover were wounded, and his chauffeur killed. Both vehicles came to a halt as bullets punctured their tires. Gurney pushed his wife and private secretary into the footwell of the car, then got out and staggered forward towards the ambush site to draw the insurgent's fire away from the car and towards himself. The guerrillas fired a fusillade in his direction, fatally hitting him. Meanwhile, the armored scout car pushed ahead of the Rolls-Royce with some difficulty to get help from a nearby police station. The insurgents stayed in the area for about ten more minutes, firing intermittently at anything that moved. A bugle call then sounded, and the insurgents pulled back. When the firing eased, Lady Gurney and Staples crawled out of the Rolls Royce and discovered his body in a roadside ditch. Twenty minutes later, the officer in charge of the armored scout car arrived at the scene with reinforcements from the police station.[2][6]

According to Communist leader Chin Peng, the ambush was routine, the killing by chance, and the guerrillas only learned the High Commissioner was among the dead from news reports.[7]

Gurney's funeral took place on October 8, 1951. He was buried in Cheras War Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur, in a ceremony that drew thousands of people.[8]


Gurney's grave at Cheras Christian Cemetery

Although Gurney was knighted by King George VI, Malayans from all classes and nationalities, having already given him their esteem and affection, kept his memory green, and when he died on 6 October 1951 they would mourn him as a friend who "has gone home to the mercy of God". At that moment, his funeral was not only attended by his family members and British Officers in Malaya but also attended by the Malayans from all classes and races. Today, Gurney Road in Malacca, Seremban, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are named after him. The town named Pekan Gurney in Perak is also named after him. The popular beachfront Gurney Drive, in Penang, is also named after him, as well as the Henry Gurney Prisoners School in Teluk Mas, Melaka. Gurney was buried at Cheras War Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

His tombstone (shown on the right) is inscribed:

Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Gerard Edward James Gent
British High Commissioner in Malaya
Succeeded by
Sir Gerald Walter Robert Templer
Preceded by
Sir John Valentine Wistar Shaw
Chief Secretary of Mandatory Palestine
Succeeded by
David Ben-Gurion
(First Prime Minister of Israel)


  1. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32343. p. 4388. 2 June 1921. Retrieved 2008-01-02.
  2. ^ a b Grob-Fitzgibbon, Benjamin: Imperial Endgame: Britain's Dirty Wars and the End of Empire.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37835. pp. 1–3. 31 December 1946. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 38804. p. 60. 3 January 1950. Retrieved 2007-11-30.
  5. ^ "Pembunuhan Sir Henry Gurney". Hari Ini Dalam Sejarah (in Malay). National Archives of Malaysia. 1951-10-07. Retrieved 2015-09-02. 
  6. ^ Telegram from Chief Secretary del Tufo of the Malayan Government to Colonial Secretary Griffiths
  7. ^ Chin Peng, My Side of History, Media Masters, Singapore, 2003, pp 287-289.
  8. ^ Slain British Officer Bured