The news of John Weston-Simons sudden death at the age of 54 on 19th October 1974 in Peking, where he was serving as Defence Adviser and Military Attache, came as a profound shock to all who knew him. He was one of the outstanding characters of the Regiment and has left an irreplaceable gap in our ranks.
Colonel John Francis Weston-Simons, CBE, MC, psc, NADC, was born on 18th March 1920 and after leaving Harrow went to Sandhurst from where, in July 1939, he was commissioned into the 8th KRI Hussars, the last regular officer to do so before the outbreak of war. After a brief sojourn in England on the roll of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, he arrived to join the Regiment in Egypt in December that year.
In the exciting, if uncertain, few months between his arrival at Abbasi and the Regiment’s first action in the desert ‘Long John’ quickly made his mark. He was fortunate to serve this short military apprenticeship in the company of a band of remarkable officers then serving, men of great character and ability and with a zest for life that matched his own.
With his unrestrained enthusiasm for everything, his unfailing good humour and his infectious laughter he was quickly accepted and avidly absorbed the experiences and lifestyle of those around him.
In July 1940 the Regiment moved up to the “wire”, the western frontier of Egypt, facing the Italians, and for the next seven months, he was in continuous action.
His total disregard for his own safety brought a rebuke from at least one Squadron commander, and for his gallantry, in the battle of El Mechili in January 1941, he was awarded the Military Cross.
Later that year, in November, in action against the Germans around Sidi Rezegh he was severely wounded, being shot through both legs and badly burnt. Evacuated by way of South Africa, he finally arrived in England in the summer of 1942 and did not see the Regiment again until the war was over.
It was the nature of his wounds more than anything else that was to shape his future career and display to the full his great qualities of singleness of purpose, unselfishness and an iron determination to succeed.
He had set out to be a soldier and a soldier he was determined to remain: to achieve this meant keeping what remained of his legs and, against all medical opinion and while still suffering greatly, he adamantly refused all efforts to persuade him otherwise. It was a very personal triumph, which entirely vindicated his decision when he successfully passed a Medical Board and was able to resume his chosen career.
A measure of the man, and a fact which undoubtedly influenced the Board was that since being wounded, whilst serving at the Airborne Forces Development Centre, he had qualified as a parachutist; what the Board did not know was that (a ground landing being out of the question) he had made all his jumps into the water.
The rest of his career was one of unflagging attention to his profession and devotion to the Regiment, to which he returned in 1946 to command ‘A’ Squadron attached to the School of Infantry at Warminster. From there, his path led surely and predictably through the Mons Officer Cadet School, the Staff College, Brigade Major of a TA Armoured Brigade and back as Second-in-Command in BAOR.
The Regiment had not long returned from Korea, and as if determined to make up for lost time, threw itself into the ever-increasing pace of peacetime life. In every activity, John was exuberant to the fore and typically was the first 8th Hussar to greet the newly appointed Colonel-in-Chief, Prince Philip, when he visited the Regiment for the first time.
He was to serve only once more with the 8th Hussars, just prior to the Amalgamation in 1958. It was then that he performed a valuable, though largely unacknowledged, service in helping to plan the smooth integration of these two very independent Regiments, and the parade which marked the occasion and which included the Guidon presentation.
His post-war travels started with two years as an Instructor at the Pakistan Staff College in Quetta where, in 1955, the living was very basic; took him to Norway on the Staff of Allied Forces Northern Europe; to Amman as Military Attache; to the NATO Staff College in Rome before joining the Planning Staff at SHAPE in Brussels; and finally to Peking.
But whether the going was rough or smooth, hot or cold, he brought to each and every post his own inimitable blend of dedication and warm friendliness which left a lasting impression on all those he met.
That he never commanded the Regiment was his one great disappointment, but when his turn came he for once failed to persuade the Medical Board that he was fit enough for the rigours of active service in the Middle and the Far East.
He turned instead, characteristically, without an outward sign, to throwing all his unceasing energies in the command of the North Irish Horse, the affiliated Territorial regiment, in Belfast.
These were happy days before the troubles had started, and his efforts at strengthening the bonds between the two regiments, and to promote recruiting, were unsparing and successful.
Throughout this active life, he bore his infirmities with stoicism and outward show of indifference which roused admiration as well as concern, for no one could deter him from competing in a hunter trial or following hounds if he was so inclined.
Only his family knew fully the physical burden which this imposed on him for he refused to admit it even to himself. As well as physical he possessed great moral courage, for he had no time for compromise and saw all things as right or wrong. What was right he pursued relentlessly and to be right needed unquestioning loyalty and integrity of purpose, qualities which he possessed in abundance.
He was a paragon of the principle of maintaining the aim, and as an uncomplicated man in a complicated world, his example will be sorely missed.