John Mackay had a degree of leverage when suggesting that others of us should write about more luminaries of our post-war existence. So, his idea that I should write about our Brigadiers is accepted and is here for your consumption; as well as my editorial leverage for future contributions from other members about those who filled other roles.
Before we address the list, perhaps a brief reminder of some who could have would have, even, maybe, should have, held the position had they stayed the course or been luckier with their annual reports. Perhaps the most fiercely contested selection was Larry Bennett’s with our Cumbrian and Lancastrian contenders in the shape of Joe Holmes and Jack Ashworth. One probably just off the top and Jack arguably our best ever on paper, but regrettably not socially!
Then there is the list of those who left for personal reasons, or, after weighing up their chances of getting the one-star job. Perhaps the most prominent of these was Mike Hucker, who, on failing his Staff Promotion exam and faced with Lawrie Watkins at Staff College, started studying Law. And he was a mighty successful Barrister and Judge – notably successfully defending the SAS soldiers involved in the Gibraltar killing of the IRA operatives – and being recognised as a lifetime friend of the SAS. Of course, Lawrie in his turn took on a successful civilian challenge when faced with a tough staff job in MoD. He made a success in the courier world with Perolater and his own international Courier Consultancy.
Finally, I suppose, was the group who joined in 62/63 – Doug Swanson, John Williams and Eddie Gratwicke. Each was capable of the job but opting instead for a challenge in a broader and more difficult sphere of their choice. All proved successful and were more than pleased with their civilian lives. And just to finish this list with someone who fell foul of the change of Corps and new qualifications required – Don Kent. With better career management he should have had the job! But back to the main event and those who actually were the Brigadiers!
John Norris Drew CBE
The earliest that most of us will remember. Perhaps this was his longevity in post or the fact that he was probably the most legendary and remote of any of the modern-day Directors. Serving in the job for over 12 years meant he was the senior Brigadier in the Army and the only Director that many members of the Service ever knew. It was said that he arrived at work at 10.00 am for coffee, the newspaper, and his day’s post. At noon he would go out to meet a fellow art collector or his broker, returning around 3.00 pm to sign any letters, before a glass of something to set him up for the journey home. I thought he was a shy person given to stamping his right foot and winking at you as he delivered a rocket. (It only happened once- honest!).
But he was much more astute than this suggests, demonstrated by adding the words “Courier” and “Communications” to our title. It was he who saw off several MoD reviews of the Service.
He knew few officers by their Christian name and even fewer by their surname. He had a terrific routine at receptions and dinners… “Ah Swanson” he would say, “And how are you and how is your father?” Then it would be “Who is that chap over there?” And so, the process would be repeated. The only time I ever saw him in khaki uniform was during his farewell visit to BOAOR when he met many of our soldiers, kept saluting all and spent a good deal of time with his signatory cigar in one hand and a glass of something in the other.
Alex Seaton CBE
A well-known and widely liked individual with many affectations aimed at creating the impression of the country squire. With his monocle, mutton chops, jodhpurs and riding boots he cut quite a dash as he drew up to the Rheindahlen Garrison Saddle Club in his Porsche sports car. He was, after all, the Chairman of the club. His Liverpudlian sense of humour and competitive nature made him excellent company at our social gatherings. At work, he was more open and approachable and did listen to what more junior people said to him. He knew all his officers reasonably well and his wife Betty was ever in support speaking to our partners and children. Alex had the task of moving the Directorate from its own corridor in St Martins le Grand (the Post Office Headquarters of the day) to the humbler MoD building First Avenue House in High Holborn. He did not forget the drinks cupboard!
Lawrence Peter Bennett CBE
Yes, he was as “Happy as Larry” when he was appointed against the stiff competition of Joe Holmes and Jack Ashworth. A quiet man who loved his cricket and was a member of the MCC and followed tennis with regular seats at Wimbledon. His ruddy complexion, jovial face and warm, kindly greeting hid the deep and strong character of an officer of the highest integrity and whose word was his bond. So, when he said “incidentally……….” one knew that the ticking off was gently delivered but was meant with his inner strength and will. A wartime Navigator in the RAF, Larry proudly wore his brevet but rarely spoke of his experiences in the air. He was ever a gentleman, a calm and caring person with a fine sense of humour who was genuinely interested in all his officers and soldiers. His strength of belief was displayed in a sad way when the Service left the Royal Engineers. He could not be reconciled to the change and tendered his resignation from our Association and thereafter only attended funerals, but never a social event.
Jack Bridge CBE
There was little sign of competition when Jack was appointed as a natural successor to Larry. He was another officer with previous service in the RAF! Jack had flown Typhoons during the war and taken part in the airborne operation supporting the D-Day landings. He was tall, elegant, athletic and with a friendly air and an easy-going, confident, personality. A good, sociable mixer, he enjoyed sport and was always up for a challenge, whether it was on the golf course or as a goalkeeper against your penalties. He liked the company of his officers and took a keen interest in their wellbeing in a fatherly, disabusive manner. It always pleased him to support any team competition and he was most astute in understanding underlying tensions in his unit and took some clever decisions when awarding the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medals.
Donald Joliffe London OBE CBE
This rotund and jolly officer was delighted to be selected for the post, although one senses that he would also have enjoyed a tour as Commandant at Mill Hill first. His first edict on appointment was his management policy: “Management by merriment!” was the rule. This may appear to lack sense or direction, but was in fact a clever direction, as to be merry one had to be successful – and so it was. Don arrived with his enormous capacity for entertaining and socialising. He was hail fellow well met personified and he and Friedl were renowned for their hospitality at their home. inevitably meaning a sore head the next day! He was ever kind and supportive yet had a tough side to him that not many saw. In pursuit of better things for the Service, he was bold, stubborn and forceful, yet ever open to well-argued suggestions and ideas.
Rolph Noel Richmond Perry James CBE
During his career, Rolph had earned a legendary reputation for kindness, helpfulness, encouragement, hospitality and generosity. He was immensely proud of the Service and had led it through the Centenary Celebrations at Mill Hill, including a Royal Visit by Her Majesty the Queen. A gregarious and outgoing person he always made friends in the right places and used the facilities wherever he was to cement relationships. This was especially so at Mill Hill where Services, Rugby, Business or Local Leaders were welcomed. He was terrific at engaging with folks and finding areas of common interest along with actions of mutual benefit A one-time sportsman and keen rugby player, he put a great emphasis on success in sport and in nurturing talent in young players. An entrepreneur and open enthusiast for life he never saw any event as too big to organise nor too challenging to cope with. There was never a dull or placid moment in his company, and under his leadership, the Service survived some very serious challenges to its continuance. None greater than from the one time QMG, Gen Sir Richard Trant, who had to admit that Rolph had even more influential friends in high places in the MoD than he did himself! Perhaps the most important legacy that Rolph left to the Service is the world’s largest private collection of paintings by Terrence Cuneo depicting our history.
Dennis Leslie Streatfield
This keen and enthusiastic officer had long hankered after the post of Director. He had tried to model his career to achieve this and just sometimes fell short of target. However, when the time came Dennis was selected and this smart self-effacing airborne officer took up the reigns. A personable, thoughtful and courageous person, Dennis loved being in the company of his colleagues and sharing time with them. His time as Brigadier was tragically and cruelly cut short by the onset of Motor Neurone Disease, which meant early retirement and an untimely death. Anyone who met Dennis spoke well of him, and many were grateful that he had a clear mind for analysing problems, along with a caring nature, that produced good and compassionate solutions. He was our first post-War Airborne officer and he showed great leadership and determination in opting to tackle P Company and Parachute Training after his return from Jordan as OC 16 Parachute Brigade Postal Unit RE.
Reginald James Neil Kelly CBE
With the early departure of Dennis it was an early appointment for Neil. Our best turned out, best coiffured, best shaven and shiniest smiling Director to date, Neil never had as much as a hair out of place and even on holiday wore a matching tie. But he also had significant experience and a decent brain to go with it. A cheerful and welcoming individual with a fine sense. of humour, he delighted in entertaining guests at his private club in Totteridge where business could be conducted in convivial surroundings. He had a relatively comfortable time as Director until two things happened. There was a problem in selecting a successor and a decision had to be made over the future parent Corps of the Service, as it had been decided that it would leave the Royal Engineers in the forthcoming Defence Reorganisation. So, Neil had to stay on for an extra year to sort out his replacement; and had to opt for which out a couple of possible Corps’ the Service should join.
Michael Anthony Browne CBE
A tall, slim, athletic and immaculate airborne officer, Mike sorted out another annual report and was selected and appointed. As a paratrooper he knew the meaning of tough challenges – he had passed Parachute Selection and Training. He had the task of delivering and integrating the Service into the new Royal Logistic Corps. A tough one! History, and those about at the time, will confirm that he did an excellent job of it. Mike excelled at using all the skill, talents and expertise of his team and delivered many very good results and several firsts as Chief Executive of the Defence Postal & Courier Service Agency. A religious person, he had a kindly approach and was skilful at engaging with folks without needing a glass of alcohol in his hand. His mischievous sense of humour was entertaining and comfortable. But to say his facial scars were the result of a parachuting incident rather than going through the windscreen of LCpl Inkpen’s car is stretching it a bit!
Tweedie McGarth Brown CBE
Step forward another gregarious, engaging Celt and our first ever Scottish Brigadier, with a name to remember and a charismatic delightful personality to match. Our first to come through Staff College, and a pair of really challenging Staff Appointments, and first to get another one star staff job after his tenure as head of the Service. A tall, impeccably presented, bespectacled intellectual, who embraced change and new management techniques, theories and practices. Articulate and amusing when conversing or presenting, he was an outstanding ambassador for the Service, especially with all the correct ticks in the military career boxes. With his Headquarters now at Mill Hill he made full use of the facilities there to raise the profile of the Service and enhance the reputation as a forward looking efficient Service. A keen follower of the music and arts scene, he brought a fine extra dimension and contacts to military life.
Barry John Cash
The final home produced Brigadier, the youngest looking and the one with the worst taste in civilian headdress – the gangsters snap down Fedora. Possessing a huge welcoming smile, a sense of humour and the warmest of handshakes ever. Barry (or Barrington) was a genial, lively and outgoing person who revelled in showing off his Service to the other Services, Businesses and the Local Community at any opportunity. He changed the brand of the Service from the lengthy descriptive one to BFPO or British Forces Post Office, aptly repeating the address format used to send mail to our Forces overseas. Ever happy to celebrate achievements of the Service and to make sure that others knew about them. When the time came there was no candidate from within the Service to meet the more stringent attributes for one star rank and a non-Postal and Courier officer was appointed.
We have had three Brigadiers appointed from the RLC. Two are still serving and the first retired, so it would be inappropriate to mention too much about them. Each has added value and dispelled any suggestions that non Postal & Courier officers could never do the job.
Peter John Tyler Maggs CBE
The most impeccably dressed and smartest turned out ever who arrived wearing a CBE, so he had little to gain from his final tour. However, he certainly earned my respect (as a TA Group Commander) by his swift learning about the Service and interest in improving postal operations. He even knew the code for the back gate to the Sorting Office – which indicated previous visits! He arrived just before the second Gulf War and received a Squadron of TA to support his operation. Peter did an amazing job and carried the Service forward to operating successes. He is never absent from any Association reunion or event.
Michael Hickson OBE
An outstanding and engaging speaker and well-travelled personality who races cars in his spare time, as well as teaching racing car driving. He co-drove with Stirling Moss until earlier this year (2010) when Stirling fell down a lift shaft. Proved an excellent frontman for the Service and an individual who has done many outlandish and interesting things in his life – like riding a motorbike around the world. He oversaw the troubled move to Northolt and suffered badly at the hands of incompetent project managers. He moved on to a very high profile one star job at PJHQ and. At the time of writing, he was trying to evict the incumbent DRLC from Dettingen House at Deepcut so he could take up the reigns as Director Royal Logistic Corps. He was also Honorary Colonel 88 Postal & Courier Regiment RLC (V).