Obituary as published in The Times newspaper

Lieutenant-General Sir Robin Carnegie, KCB, OBE, was born on June 22, 1926. He died on January 1, 2011, aged 84.

Lt Gen Sir Robin Carnegie, KCB OBE
Lt Gen Sir Robin Carnegie, KCB OBE

Expert in operational logistics who served in Cyprus, Jordan, Aden, Borneo and Germany and was Military Secretary at the MoD.

In the era when virtually the entire Royal Armoured Corps was based in Germany confronting the threat of Soviet invasion of Central Europe, Robin Carnegie was unusual as a cavalryman for having seen active service in Korea, both as a tank commander and in the infantry role, qualified as a parachutist and for being an authority on operational logistics.

The son of Sir Francis Carnegie, he was educated at Rugby, where the back trouble that plagued him through most of his life was incurred on the sports field. He was commissioned into the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars in 1946 and began his service with the British Army of Occupation in Northern Italy, a duty that proved an uninterrupted pleasure other than for occasional border patrols in the region threatened by Tito’s irredentist partisans.

His regiment did not serve in Korea but he went out as an individual reinforcement to the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars who, equipped with Centurion and Cromwell tanks, supported 29th Infantry Brigade in the fighting after the Chinese intervention in the campaign.

He transferred to the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards when they relieved the 8th Hussars in December 1951 and completed his Korean episode as the machine-gun officer with the 1st Battalion The Shropshire Light Infantry.

After attending the Staff College, Camberley, he was appointed chief personnel and logistics officer of the 16th Parachute Brigade in Cyprus, an experience that exacerbated his back problem — due to a heavy parachute landing — but began his preoccupation with operational administration. As well as serving in Cyprus during the EOKA insurrection, he went to Jordan with the Parachute Brigade in 1958 to forestall any threat to Amman by the new revolutionary Iraqi regime of General Abdul Qassim, a move requiring significant logistic improvisation.

More Middle East experience followed in 1959 by taking a squadron of the Queen’s Own Hussars — the regiment formed by the amalgamation of the 3rd King’s Own Hussars with his own — to Aden. The beginnings of the political turmoil that led to Britain leaving the area in 1967 were already evident, but he later referred to this period of his service, during which he held an independent command, as one of the most enjoyable.

He appeared to enjoy his stint — always hard work — on the directing staff at Camberley, which began on leaving Aden. Tall, slightly stooping and deliberately spoken, he had something of the air of calm and understanding of a classicist don, although — if that were suggested — he would laughingly protest that he would not have been nearly clever enough.

Operational logistics came his way again in 1965 when he was appointed chief personnel and logistics officer of the 17th Gurkha Division, resisting Indonesian incursions into East Malaysia. This involved supply of isolated outposts in the Borneo jungle using Royal Navy and RAF helicopters; on one occasion even arranging the delivery of a small python borrowed from Singapore Zoo to deal with the rats infesting such an outpost.

Command of the Queen’s Own Hussars in 1967 took him back to Aden for the final fraught months before the British withdrawal, his armoured cars covering the evacuation in November of that year. He then had the unusual experience of having squadrons deployed in Cyprus, Singapore and Hong Kong with his headquarters at Maresfield in Sussex.

He took this wide dispersion of his regiment in his stride, being acknowledged as one of its finest commanding officers and was appointed OBE in 1968.

After a year as the senior personnel and logistics staff officer of the 3rd Division in the UK-based Strategic Reserve, he was appointed commander of the 11th Armoured Brigade in Germany in 1971. This was a period for testing new ideas for the defence of the North German plain against possible Soviet attack in overwhelming force, without resorting to tactical nuclear weapons. Co-operation with German formation commanders, some with experience against the Russians in the final stages of the Second World War, was developed to a closer extent than formerly, led by his divisional commander, Major-General (later Field Marshal Lord) Edwin Bramall.

By this stage of his career, Carnegie was perceived as a rapidly rising star and it came as no surprise when, following a sabbatical year at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London, he was appointed GOC of the 3rd Division in England. This reflected his experience of brush-fire wars in regions of UK interest, for which his division was tasked to deal.

His return to Germany as Chief of Staff Headquarters BAOR raised speculation that he might succeed to the command of the 1st (British) Corps but, instead, he went to the MoD as Military Secretary in 1978 and was appointed KCB in the following year.

Carnegie’s final appointment in the Army was Director-General of Military Training working in an outpost of the MoD at the former RAF station at Old Sarum. Although well-equipped for this post and strongly supported by the then Chief of the General Staff, his former divisional commander, he found it difficult to establish his authority in the face of opposition from divisional commanders who considered training solely their prerogative.

Only 57 at the conclusion of this appointment, he had time enough before retirement for a four-star post, which he was offered but chose instead to retire to Wiltshire, his recurrent back problem probably being a contributory factor.

He was a Deputy Lieutenant for Wiltshire and served as Chairman of the Appeal Body of the Army Benevolent Fund in Wiltshire and sat as a non-Service member of the Home Office Selection Board for the Police, Prison and Fire Services.

He was married to the artist Iona Sinclair, daughter of Major-General Sir John Sinclair, in 1955.

Regimental Tribute

Having joined in 1946 in Italy, and volunteered for Korea with other 7th Hussars such as John Damant, Sam Scott, Tim Thomas, and John Venner MC, Robin’s first notable position was as Adjutant of 7H in Hong Kong, taking over from later FM John Stanier, with later Gen Sir Pat Howard Dobson as a Squadron Leader, and with later Major General Harry Dalzell Payne as Assistant.

It was here that he formed his long friendship with the RSM, Blackie Blackshaw, later Major MBE. He became Blackie’s executor and handled the bequest of the estate to the Regiment as the Blackshaw Endowment, which supports the Regimental Collection. Blackie was also the founder of the original museum with the regiment, whose successor now thrives in Sennelager as The Blackshaw Museum.

The obituaries note Robin Carnegie’s very successful and popular tours as independent squadron leader of ‘C’ Squadron in Aden with Adrian Peck as his second in command; and as CO in Aden during the final stages and the withdrawal (the last armoured cars covered each other tactically on to the Landing Craft), in Maresfield, and then with his RHQ with A Squadron in Singapore, ‘C’ Squadron in Hong Kong, and later ‘B’ Squadron in Cyprus. His previous experience in the Middle and Far East and tactical and training abilities were invaluable. Having waited his turn to command the Regiment, he was promoted substantive full Colonel before he finished command, the first time since the 1840s that the CO wore full colonel’s insignia.

He took over as Colonel of the Regiment and was immediately faced with the Tercentenary. Here he showed his enthusiasm and grasp of all aspects of regimental life external and internal. He brought to fruition the relationship with Birmingham in our award of the Freedom, and the Parade to mark it. He ensured that every member of the regiment past and present including widows had the opportunity to participate in the Tercentenary celebrations.

Then and in his work on police fast stream selection he became great friends with senior officers of the West Midlands Police such as Sir Geoffrey Dear.

He brought his historical and heritage expertise to bear as Managing Trustee of the QOH Museum, (originally founded in the Lord Leycester Hospital by Major Jack Sutherland): in particular on the first redevelopment to mark the Tercentenary. He worked with his friends Major Paul Barker, Col John Venner, Major Ronnie McDuell and John Knight, the Regimental Secretary and Curator. [Robin led the production of the Tercentenary Edition of regimental history articles, and he collaborated with John Venner who designed the Tercentenary Collection of memorabilia].

Robin was in his element visiting numerous other museums to learn about displays and in esoteric debate with his colleagues about the details of history, equipment and dress. He arranged for the Colonel in Chief to reopen the museum. With his usual great generosity, he sponsored this hospitality, and many other instances, as well as doing all his museum work and entertainment for it over many years at his own expense. In 2003/4 he led a further project with Adrian Peck, John Knight and Ronnie McDuell to modernise the 20th Century displays of the QOH Museum.

With his usual regimental loyalty, he contributed significantly with advice and support to the success of the formation of The Queen’s Royal Hussars. Most notably, with Bobby Noone, then Second in Command, and Andy Peters, then QM and developer of the Blackshaw Museum, he founded the Regimental Historical Society with over 300 members. From his deep knowledge, he was able to reidentify a picture of the Battle in the Royal Collection.

During all this time he was pursuing his studies of the Battle of Dettingen with John Melhuish and Adrian Peck among others; and leading several battlefield tours to the site, taking serving QRH as well as ex-members and distinguished other historians. Arrangements are being made for his extensive research and documentation to be published.

In retirement, he enjoyed shooting and working with his labradors, and his position as President of the Bulford and Tidworth Shoot, encouraging everyone including members of the Regiment.

No tribute to Robin is complete without marking the Carnegie hospitality and unfailing support and contribution of Iona; and of Catriona, Rupert and Rachel, who have all provided contributions with educational, historical, artistic, and computer expertise.

Tribute by FM Lord Inge

General Robin Carnegie was an inspirational commander to work for and I felt that the heading in The Times obituary saying ‘Lieutenant General Sir Robin Carnegie was an expert in operational logistics who served in Cyprus, Jordan, Aden, Borneo, Korea and Germany and was Military Secretary at the MOD though accurate and certainly he had considerable operational experience – but did not do justice to his very special leadership style and character. He was a wonderful human being, soldier and leader. He was a challenging and inspirational person to work for and had a style which was uniquely his own.

I first met Robin Carnegie when I became his Brigade Major in the 11th Armoured Brigade in Minden. I was a student at the Joint Services Staff College and we had just left Minden where I had been commanding a Company. We had put our dog in kennels and were hoping to live in our own house. So a return to Minden was not hugely popular but I quickly recognised how fortunate I was to be working for such a very special and remarkable man who was also a wonderful family man. The ethos, the way he challenged us intellectually and his calm but clear leadership developed a wonderful atmosphere – not only in the Brigade Headquarters but throughout the Brigade. It was fun and rewarding to go to work.

I only once saw him come close to losing his temper and that was when I was the Brigade Major and we had given General Robin the wrong grid reference for the location of Brigade Headquarters and he spent a significant part of a dark German night driving round a very large German wood trying to find us. He hardly said a word when he came back – he did not need to – I knew what he thought!

He had a wonderful and clear brain and was never afraid to challenge the accepted wisdom of the day. But at the same time, he also took a great interest in individuals, in their training and their development, and not just those he thought were going to be stars of the future. Certainly, he led a very happy team which benefited from his example, his intellect and of course his calm but clear direction and leadership. People really mattered to him.

The many letters that Iona and the family have received bring out what made Robin Carnegie special and a very special human being and a great leader and a wonderful soldier. I might just quote – and Iona knows I am doing this – a couple of comments made in the letters to her:

“To be in his company was a real privilege, his wonderful brain and clear logical thinking made for stimulation and fun”. And in another “He had a handful of aces and played them calmly and shrewdly for the benefit of others”. This latter quote highlights one of his qualities. His great interest in and care for the individual. And from a fellow gun in the Tidworth shoot on retirement: “we gave him our very best because we so greatly respected and liked him. He was such fun to be with and he never left a wounded bird”. I might just add that we got from Robin a wonderfully trained golden labrador who was the most special dog and only Robin would have called a labrador Plato but he deserved that name!

When I was a Battalion Commander in the 3rd Division, General Robin was the Divisional Commander and came to visit the 19th Foot to check that it was not a complete shambles. I remember the Regimental Sergeant Major saying to me “well you worked for him Sir we should be alright”. I replied it is because I worked for him that I knew that this visit has got to be properly organised and fun. Robin spent the best part of a day with us and it was a hugely enjoyable and stimulating visit. Not everything went strictly according to plan. But at the end of the visit, the Regimental Sergeant Major turned to me and said “You know Sir, the Battalion has really enjoyed the General’s visit and in particular I don’t think the corporals and soldiers have ever enjoyed this sort of visit more”. This says a great deal I believe about Robin Carnegie – his genuine interest in people and of course in his leadership.

Robin had another very wonderful quality which was his great courtesy and calmness even under the most trying circumstances.

I know there were many of us who thought he would make a wonderful Commander of the 1st British Corps in Germany but for whatever reasons that were not to be and he became the Military Secretary where he certainly had the confidence of the Officer corps and many expected that he would become a member of the Army Board.

Instead, he chose to become the Director General of Doctrine and Training where he had a great influence on the Army’s operational thinking and its training and he laid the foundations for today’s Army. But in any case, Robin Carnegie was never going to follow the orthodox route.

As I mentioned Iona has been good enough to show me some of the many wonderful letters she received and there was one that struck a particular chord with me and I hope the family and God will not mind me quoting it.

“Robin was not religious in the strict sense of that word but I feel we can be confident he will not be far from the Almighty and indeed is even now engaging him in some deep philosophical discussion”.

What I do know is that Robin Carnegie had huge moral courage and that his love and impact on the British Army were very significant. Like many others, I count myself very lucky to have known him and to have worked for him. Of course in all of this, he was wonderfully supported by the love of Iona and his family.

Related topics

  1. A short history of The 3rd Hussars
  2. A short history of The Queen’s Own Hussars
  3. Aden 1967