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23 Jan 2024
updated 23 Jan 2024


Born: 23 July 1909, at Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Eldest son of Capt Henry Albert Kaulbach (sic) and Alice Mary Townend

Died: 2 October 1995, at Altbough, Hoarwithy, Ross on Wye, Herefordshire

Educated: 1919-1923, St Ronan's, Worthing, Sussex
1923-1928, Rugby School, Rugby, Staffordshire
1928-1931, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge
(initially reading Geography and Mathematics, subsequently switching to German and Russian)

Married: 18 March 1940, St Mark's, North Audley St, London W1
to Audrey Elizabeth Howard, 3rd daughter of Major Henry Ralph Mowbray Howard of Corton, Warminster, Wiltshire and Helen Millicent James of West Dean Park, Sussex


(Click here for a couple of helpful maps)

1933 Journeyed though Assam and eastern Tibet with Captain F Kingdon-Ward and B R Brooks-Carrington.

1935-1937 Journeyed through mainly unknown and unmapped territory in southern and eastern Tibet with N J F Hanbury-Tracy, with the intention of discovering the source of the Salween River. This was prevented by political interference but in 22 months of travel a large portion of the upper course of the river was explored and a reconnaissance survey completed of some 25,000 square miles of hitherto unknown country.

1937 Awarded the Murchison Grant of the Royal Geographical Society in recognition of his explorations and contributions to geographical knowledge.

1938-1939 Spent 18 months in Upper Burma, chiefly on the Tibetan border, hunting and collecting specimens (reptiles, mammals and birds) for the Natural History Museum in London. Discovered a snake, five lizards and three frogs all previously unknown to science; the snake (Trimeresurus kaulbacki) and one of the lizards (Japalura kaulbacki) were named after him.

It was said2 of him

"Though exploration [has] tended more and more to become a joint enterprise conducted by scientists working in cooperation, there [is] still room for travellers of the older type making strenuous reconnaissances through little-known or unmapped territory – for a Kingdon-Ward, a Kaulback or a Thesiger"

And again when talking of "the little-known borderland of Assam and south-eastern Tibet, where the great rivers of south-east Asia break through the eastern Himalaya" it was said2

"Ronald Kaulback also made some remarkable journeys in this area. His first experiences as an explorer were gained with Kingdon-Ward on the Assam border of Tibet in 1933. Through lack of a valid passport he was turned back on that occasion but proved himself to be a resolute and independent traveller. Two years later he returned with John Hanbury-Tracy with the intention of reaching the sources of the Salween. Though this had to be given up, he explored a considerable portion of its upper course and made a reconnaissance survey, with compass and range-finder, of 25,000 square miles of little known country. In 1938 and 1939 he was back again on the border, but owing to the [Second World War] he never gave an account of the remarkable work he then accomplished."

In later life his Tibetan expertise was called upon by the BBC for two highly successful programmes on Radio 4.

Wartime service:

Transcript from Colonel Roy James Alfred ("Bill") Kaulback's diary 1931-1947:
(introductory) pages from that part of the diary entitled


(by courtesy of his elder son J A Kaulback)

1939 Netheravon

When war broke out in September 39, I was stationed on Salisbury Plain as Adjutant of the Small Arms School, Netheravon (later known as the Heavy Weapons Wing). I used to motor in daily from Martin – we had a Rolls-Royce in those spacious days – and I remember very clearly the 1st of September when the 7 o'clock news announced the entry of the German Army into Poland. We knew that it was only a matter of days before we too were involved, & so it proved to be.

The first result was of course a tremendous increase in the number of students at the school as all the Territorials came in for training, & shortly after arrived a French training team to teach us the 25 mm Hotchkiss & Peutot [?] [anti-tank] guns which we were shortly to be supplied with. Britain had none of her own then.

So we sauntered into the Phoney War. My brother Ron came back post haste from Tibet arriving just before Christmas, and was immediately given a commission as 2nd Lieut in the Intelligence Corps. This did not however prevent him from having to go for training at 168 O.C.T.U. (Officer Cadet Training Unit) in Aldershot! He came down to spend that Christmas with us in Martin, where Audrey Howard was also, and as a happy result they were married in March 1940, before Ron went off for further training at an Intelligence School in Cambridge.

In Feb 1940 volunteers were called for to form an Alpine ski force to fight against the Russians who were then invading Finland. I volunteered but the project was cancelled almost immediately afterwards owing to sinister developments elsewhere, & I remained at the SAS.

In May the Germans invaded the Low Countries, & soon after came the evacuation at Dunkirk, known as Operation Dynamo. We were involved in this to the extent of having to make arrangements for receiving several thousand exhausted soldiers at the School, & for a while it was hard work.

By now I was living at the School, sharing his house with the commandant, Colonel Pat Harris of the 17/21 Lancers. German air raids became a nightly occurrence on the areas round about. Willie was born on June 10th, the day Italy entered the war against us!

Ron now was at a loose end, so I arranged a vacancy for him on a 3" mortar course, where he did so well that he passed out top, & was called back to be an instructor at the end of the year. He was then promoted Major and Senior Instructor of the mortar wing, & as a result was tied at home till 1943 winter, having in the meantime been sent out to Canada to help the S.A.S. (Small Arms School) there reorganize. In 43 he flew to India & was dropped behind the Japanese lines in Burma to organise guerrillas, which he did for a year very successfully: after which he returned to our side of the front as i/c [officer in command of] guerrillas & was promoted to Lt Colonel. He held this appointment till the end of the war & was awarded the OBE.

1939 Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, Intelligence Corps.

1940-1943 Instructor on the Directing Staff of the Small Arms School, Heavy Weapons Wing, Netheravon, Wiltshire

1941 Promoted Captain

1942 Four-month attachment to the Canadian Small Arms School, Long Branch, Ontario, instructing in mortars and machine guns

1942 On return to Netheravon, promoted Major and Chief Instructor Mortar Wing.

1943 Promoted Lieut Colonel, Special Force 136, i/c an intelligence group working behind Japanese lines in Lashio area of Burma. Appointed British Political Officer in Kokang (the only Chinese region within Burma, annexed by China after the war).

1944 Special Force 136 reassigned to guerrilla activities as 14th Army (the so-called Forgotten Army, under the command of General William Slim) started its drive south into Burma. Appointed Liaison Officer Force 136 to the 10th USAAF in Myitkyina and later in Bhamo.

1945 Appointed Officer Commanding Tactical Wing, Force 136, at HQ 14th Army at Meiktila, with command of some 13,000 Karen irregulars and 20 or so British officers, in area east of Irrawaddy and north of Rangoon. 13,500 left ears collected from the slain opposition provided dramatic evidence of Karen prowess.

1946 Awarded OBE and after demobilisation relocated from England to Ireland with wife Audrey and young family.

Postwar Career:

1946-1969 Hotel proprietor, Ardnagashel House, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

1969-1974 Restaurant proprietor and publican, Ardnagashel House as above


The Assam Border of Tibet,
1934, The Geographical Journal,
Royal Geographical Society, London,
Vol LXXXIII, No 3, Cover pp 177-189

Zayul and the Eastern Tibet border country,
1934, Journal of The Royal Central Asian Society,
Vol 21, Issue 3, pp 435-444

Tibetan Trek,
1934, Hodder & Stoughton, London

Eighteen months in South-Eastern Tibet,
1937, Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society,
Vol 24, Issue 4, pp 551-566

A Journey in the Salween and Tsangpo Basins, South-Eastern Tibet,
Feb 1938, The Geographical Journal,
Royal Geographical Society, London,
Vol. XCI, No 2, pp. 97-121

1938, Hodder & Stoughton, London
1938, Harcourt Brace & Co, NY

And, by proxy, so to speak,

The Amphibians and Reptiles obtained by Mr Ronald Kaulback in Upper Burma,
Malcolm A Smith [Department of Zoology, British Museum (Nat Hist), London], Records of the Indian Museum, Vol XLII, Part III, pp 465-486, Calcutta, September 1940

See also a fascinating recent internet appreciation1,  2 of Kaulback and his great friend and fellow explorer John Hanbury-Tracy.


Athletics, Rugby football (represented University of Cambridge and Harlequins, 1928-1929), shooting, fishing, skin-diving and sub-aqua, sailing and coin collecting.


1: The Kaulbacks, Lt Col R J A Kaulback DSO MA FRGS, published privately,1979
2: Royal Geographical Society Record 1931-1955, G A Crone, John Murray, 1955