Field Marshal Lord Bramall KG GCB OBE MC JP DL

Field Marshal Lord Bramall, born in 1923, was educated at Eton, where he played cricket for the school and was captain when Eton beat Harrow by nine wickets in a one-day match.  At the age of 16 he had two paintings hung in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.  He enlisted in 1942 and after nine months in the ranks was commissioned into the 2nd Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (the 60th Rifles) winning the Military Cross as a platoon commander in Normandy.  He was wounded twice.

After a variety of post-war jobs, including time as an instructor at Staff College, he commanded the 2nd Battalion of his Regiment in Malaysia in 1965 during Confrontation and was mentioned in despatches.  Although he never served in a Gurkha unit, it was this experience that taught him about their many admirable strengths, and it is said that senior 2nd Goorkha officers provided him with much useful advice about how best to command his battalion on jungle operations.  Although he never served in a Gurkha battalion, after his experiences in the Far East he remained a great enthusiast and proponent for Gurkhas, and for the 2nd Goorkhas in particular.

His subsequent career was stellar and including appointments as commander of 5th Brigade, then an airportable rather than an airborne formation, and as Commander British Forces Hong Kong in the early 1970s.  He was later Commander-in-Chief UK Land Forces.  However, it was his consummate abilities to fight battles in Whitehall that led to his appointment as Chief of the General Staff in 1979, Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff and ultimately Chief of the Defence Staff.  He was ennobled in 1987.

He was Colonel of the 2nd Goorkhas from 1976-86 during which time he visited the Regiment on numerous occasions, displaying an enthusiasm for Gurkhas and Nepalese matters that won him much respect and affection, particularly when he took to the dance floor for a Nepalese nautch.  He was also Colonel Commandant of the Royal Green Jackets and the Special Air Service and served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Imperial War Museum.  Away from military matters he was a Trustee of the MCC and Chairman of the Dorchester Hotel.   He wrote extensively, including an authoritative history of the Chiefs of Staff.

He was married and had a son and a daughter.  He died in 2019, and 2nd Goorkhas officers and men living in the UK spontaneously lined the route at his funeral.

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The following eulogy was delivered by Lieutenant General Sir Peter Duffell at the Thanksgiving Service for the life of Field Marshal Lord Bramall at Winchester Cathedral on 27th April 2023:

Those who marched with Dwin Bramall knew a very remarkable man – he lived his 95 years at rifle pace with a firmness of spirit, courage and good humour that few will match. It is a tribute to an enduring reputation that so many should have come to Winchester to mark his time. It is the fate of public men to attract about them a range of myth and apocrypha and the Field Marshal was no exception. When I was a junior officer in Hong Kong, I was told that the Commander British Forces was an impressive General called Bramall. “Why,” they said, “before he was twenty-one, he had been twice wounded by the Germans, won the Military Cross, played senior cricket at Lords, had two pictures hung in the Royal Academy and played the concert piano at the Wigmore Hall”. I later realised as I listened to the Field Marshal strumming the piano at home that the last accolade must have been apocryphal or the Wigmore Hall was not quite what I thought it was. But even shorn of that particular talent these seemed to me to be pretty formidable achievements. His distinguished Regiment, the 60th Rifles, certainly recognised, early on, an interesting and unusual officer and with their customary foresight began to refer to him routinely, as Field Marshal Lord Bramall.

His span was long. Following Elstree and Eton, on 7th June 1944, at the age of twenty, he crossed Juno Beach with his 60th Rifles platoon and fought with them from Normandy to the Baltic – a demanding rite of passage for this young officer. “Very noisy, pretty dangerous”, he would mildly remark but friends lost, wounds, and a military cross represented graduation into a profession in which he was to excel.  In preparation for the invasion of Japan he trained as a parachutist in Rawalpindi; under General Macarthur’s Army of Occupation he witnessed the devastation of Hiroshima, post war he was in the Canal Zone and Libya; he learned the ways of Whitehall on Lord Mountbatten’s central staff; he was at the helm of his Green Jackets campaigning in Borneo and then at every level of field command and beyond to the great offices of Chief of the General Staff – not least as one of the architects of the monitoring force in Rhodesia and victory – with its tragedies and triumphs – in the Falkland Islands – and then as Chief of Defence Staff, successfully navigating the rough waters of inter-service rivalry while demonstrating that trademark authority born of a rigorous intellect, seasoned professional wisdom and much charm, and with the moral courage to speak his mind, not least to demanding Ministers. Those who served with him recognised a different sort of General, a warmth and kindness, an interest in you, that all marked him out, a leadership that built people up rather than knocking them down – a style that for Rifleman or General – made you want to do your best for him.

The last thing this restless Field Marshal, did when he left active service was to hang up his boots. From the cross benches of the House of Lords he spoke over two hundred times across a broad canvas but always with a penetrating analysis on strategic issues – and sometimes bravely and controversially, not least on the folly of Iraq. He also spoke more prosaically, on tipping malpractices in restaurants and on hunting, where in ten minutes of robust argument he demolished the case for a ban without ever having sat on a horse. In his 90th year the Field Marshal delivered his final speech to their Lordships with the same vigour and intellectual resonance with which he had launched his first salvo 26 years before.

For 12 years Dwin held the demanding appointment of Lord Lieutenant of Greater London – and in addition, there was the chair of the Imperial War Museum Trustees where the Holocaust exhibition is his permanent legacy, and Radley College Council, the Playing Fields, the Board of Vickers, Age Concern, Colonelcy of the SAS and the 3rd Green Jackets forever providing sage support to every appointment. Alongside his own trusty Green Jacket Riflemen, Dwin much admired the Gurkha soldier. For ten years he was Colonel of the 2nd Goorkhas and his direction at the time of the Falklands ensured the 7th Gurkhas was an integral part of the Task Force; on this the Foreign Office was nervous and fretting but in front of ministers the CGS briefed Mrs Thatcher that he was proposing to send a Gurkha Battalion. ‘Only one?’ was the Prime Minister’s robust response and so all was set. Years later on the 50th anniversary of VJ Day five Gurkha veterans from the Burma campaign, joined the Field Marshal for supper at an Indian restaurant in Farnham. It was a garrulous and drink fuelled gathering that began to attract attention from the packed restaurant. Sensing the mood, Dwin stood up, called for silence as only a Field Marshal can, and, with his innate humanity, announced to the diners: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen I must apologise for the noise but you should know that you are dining tonight with five holders of the Victoria Cross’. Immediately the whole restaurant rose to its feet and greeted the Gurkhas with a great cheer. Responding to the Field Marshal’s call it was an entirely spontaneous gesture and it moved Dwin and us most greatly.

For five years the Field Marshal was Chairman of his Club, the convivial Travellers, and he left the post only when past 80 with the Club much re-invigorated. Cricket remained an abiding enthusiasm –he lived by its spirit and character – he played throughout much of his life and he was an enthusiastic follower at all levels be it England, MCC, IZ, Free Foresters, the Ramblers or the Village Green. Fond of the cricketing metaphor, Dwin would say of his life that the umpire had always given him the benefit of the doubt but he would add with a wry smile ‘that was long before Hawkeye’.

Good food and wine Dwin regarded as essentials rather than indulgences. At one level with an impatient rattle of cutlery he could demolish a boiled egg in the twinkling of an eye leaving a trail of shell and crumbs in its wake while at another his deep culinary interest made him an admirable chairman of the glittering Dorchester Hotel. And modest though he was the Field Marshal did like to share his successes. One day he showed me the Duchess of Devonshire’s autobiography, Wait for Me, ‘Page 314, Peter’, and there it was the Duchess writing about the Garter lunch and who she might sit next to at Windsor; “I used to pray,” she wrote, “that it would not be Ted Heath but with luck Field Marshal Bramall with his long and distinguished career – a man in a million”. ‘Well, said Dwin, you can’t ask for much better than that’.

The Field Marshal could be impatient and stubborn; at times, useful qualities for a soldier; he was also frustratingly deaf – a legacy of his war. Intrusive technology that might have pricked at vanity was replaced by a series of aids ever more sophisticated and endlessly recalibrated for improved reception. On occasions this could lead Dwin to raise his voice quite unnecessarily. Lunching in a full dining room at the Travellers many years ago when MI5 and MI6 were no more than shadowy digits and their leadership in the deepest of cover, the Field Marshal, could be heard across the room booming to his guest, “See that chap over there, he’s the head of the Secret Service”.

Dwin’s greatest asset was the serene and elegant Avril who quietly and without fuss gave him wonderful support throughout his married life. And Sara and Nicolas gave their father staunch comfort in his final years when increasing immobility gripped his frame though never his mind.  And when he needed it most, in the face of bizarre, and mendacious allegations, his family and generous friends, rallied to his beleaguered cause.  In life it is not age that matters but how you run your race and here the result is clear enough. The subaltern who crossed the Normandy beachhead became a Field Marshal and a Peer of the Realm; to the Military Cross was added the Garter and much else besides, the painting continued with a generous palette, the schoolboy cricketer became a singular President of MCC, – the Bramall papers were successfully published, while forceful letters on the testing issues of the day, continued to appear in the columns of the Times. In the end, he went peacefully enough, loyal family to hand, scrambled egg and a glass of champagne to see him off and he was gone. Yet long after the bugles sounded for him on the other side – as surely, they did – I suspect that he was still going strong; greeting St Peter for that final review with an encouraging hand to the elbow, and suggesting that a quiet word to relook at celestial strategy might be useful. And as the Field Marshal often did, no doubt he had his way.

So there, as best I can, is Dwin Bramall who we remember today with much admiration and affection. Apart from an elegant house at Crondall, this distinctive Field Marshal left no great stock of wealth, no grand staircase or avenue of trees were his. In material terms he travelled pretty light. But those who were close to him will tell you that his noble and gallant service to this nation, his patriotic courage and sterling leadership, his dignity at shocking outrage until justice was done, and his valiant human qualities – all this had the beat and pulse of an outstanding man. Well played Dwin.

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