General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley

Robust and fearless soldier of inventive mind who became an able and sympathetic historian
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Anthony Farrar-Hockley, soldier and military historian: born Coventry, Warwickshire 8 April 1924; MC 1944; DSO 1953, bar 1964; MBE 1957, GBE 1982; College Chief Instructor, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst 1959-61; Commander, 16th Parachute Brigade 1966-68; Defence Fellow, Exeter College, Oxford 1968-70; Commander, Land Forces, Northern Ireland 1970-71; GOC 4th Armoured Division 1971-73; Colonel Commandant, Prince of Wales's Division 1974-80; Director, Combat Development (Army) 1974-77; KCB 1977; Colonel Commandant, Parachute Regiment 1977-83; GOC SE District 1977-79; Colonel, Gloucestershire Regiment 1978-84; Commander in Chief, Allied Forces Northern Europe 1979-82; ADC General to the Queen 1981-83; married 1945 Margaret Wells (died 1981; two sons, and one son deceased), 1983 Linda Wood; died Oxford 11 March 2006.

Anthony Farrar-Hockley was a fearless warrior on the battlefield - and he knew many battlefields - and a robust and outspoken soldier. He cared little for the petty-thinking or time-serving soldier or politician, irrespective of rank. He was an officer who led from the front, cared for his men and as a tactician had few equals. An excellent military historian, he marshalled his material well after long research.

His courage was evident in Korea in 1950 as adjutant to the 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. He had already seen extensive action with the Parachute Regiment during the Second World War. In their tenacious stand on Hill 235 during the Battle of Imjin River in April 1951, the Glosters, who were part of the United Nations forces, were surrounded and greatly outnumbered, but fought like lions against the overwhelming number of Chinese troops who were fighting with Communist-backed North Korea.

Farrar-Hockley soon found that his job as adjutant was redundant, as his radio was dead. His last message to one of his platoon commanders, Lt Templar, was: "Guy, you will stay where you are until further notice. If your ammunition runs out, hurl bloody rocks at them." He joined A Company and was seen throughout the action spurring his men on against repeated attacks.

Then, the last ammunition was handed out and each man had five rounds. The Chinese were blowing bugles and on that morning, sensing the end was near, they reached a crescendo of noise. Farrar-Hockley ordered his drum-major to fetch a bugle and play every call he knew, "except Retreat". As he played, the Glosters cheered him on. Farrar-Hockley later recalled:

I can see him now, his tall, lean figure topped with a cap comforter. He always played a bugle well and that day he was not below form. The sweet notes of our own bugle, which now echoed through the valley below him, died away. For a moment, there was silence - the last note had coincided with a lull in action. Then the noise of the battle began again - but with a difference; there was no sound of a Chinese bugle. There are not many drum-majors in the British army who can claim to have silenced the enemy's battle calls with a short bugle recital.

Farrar-Hockley was captured along with other survivors but, never one to be held captive, he escaped six times. During his imprisonment, he was severely beaten but never gave in. All his life Tony Farrar-Hockley stood by his principles and would not kowtow to anyone, in particular a Chinese intelligence officer. For his leadership and courage during the battle, in 1953 he was awarded his first DSO. The citation read:

Throughout this desperate engagement on which the ability of the battalion to hold its position entirely depended, Captain Farrar-Hockley was an inspiration to the defenders. His outstanding gallantry, fighting spirit and great powers of leadership heartened his men and welded them into an indomitable team. His conduct could not have been surpassed.

Farrar-Hockley's first book, The Edge of the Sword (1954) was a moving record of the Glosters' battle and his brutal interrogation. Nearly 40 years later, he published The British Part in the Korean War, in two fine volumes, A Distant Obligation (1990) and An Honourable Discharge (1995).

The son of a journalist, Farrar-Hockley ran away from Exeter School on the outbreak of the Second World War and enlisted in the Gloucestershire Regiment. Missed from school and home, the 15-year-old boy was soon returned to both, but in 1941 he re-enlisted. A year later he was given an emergency commission in the newly formed Parachute Regiment.

In August 1944 he saw action with the 6th Parachute Battalion. Based in Italy they parachuted at dawn into the south of France, north of Fréjus. They quickly secured this important position, making it possible for the US Seventh Army to advance north. Farrar-Hockley recalled coming across a group of French peasants near a farmhouse:

I made them a speech in my best French telling them that the day of liberation had arrived and how splendid it was for them, etc. There was no answer and then one of the women nudged one of the men and said in French: "Tell him to shove off."

His next action was in Greece, where his battalion were operational in Thebes, clearing out small pockets of Germans and carrying out vital relief for a population deprived of food and bedding. Throughout this time, their work was hindered by a Communist-led guerrilla brigade some 5,000 in strength. Moved quickly to Athens, Farrar-Hockley was again in continued skirmishes against the guerrillas. His commanding officer was wounded and the command of C Company was handed over to the 20-year-old Farrar-Hockley. He recalled many years later:

I felt like a seasoned soldier. One morning we were mouse-holing through a chemist shop and as we went through I saw one or two rogues taking cards of scissors, etc. I stood in the middle of this attack, very vexed, and said to my sergeant: "Get a hold of your soldiers and have all those goods handed back before we go on another step." Which he rapidly did. The whole war seemed to stop for a moment as a reminder of the importance of discipline.

After the war Farrar-Hockley served for a year in Palestine before rejoining the Glosters and went to Korea in 1950. After his release from two years in the prison camp he attended Staff College and then rejoined the Airborne Forces where he saw action with them in Cyprus against EOKA and was involved the ill-fated Suez campaign, as well as in Jordan in 1958.

Then, to his delight, in 1959 he became Chief Instructor at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, before taking command of the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment in the Persian Gulf in 1962.

Two years later he was seen again at his most commanding and inspiring. The British army had been sent to help the Aden Federal Government in an attempt to curb a tribal insurrection in the Radfan. On 30 April, Farrar-Hockley was warned to have a company available to parachute in to an area codenamed "Cap Badge" and to occupy until relieved. This idea was abandoned when their aircraft came under fire.

Farrar-Hockley decided on a daring approach. After a tough climb carrying heavy packs, mortars and ammunition, in intense heat and with considerable resistance from the Radfanis, his company came down the sharp and almost vertical sides of the valley into the Wadi Dhubson, the seemingly impenetrable home of the Radfanis. To gain greater overall understanding of the situation, he called in a helicopter but during the flight it was attacked and was forced to return to base. But Farrar-Hockley managed to rejoin his two companies and to see them take control of the area. For his leadership in this action he received a bar to his DSO.

Farrar-Hockley then became Chief of Staff to the Director of Operations in Borneo, where he organised covert missions inside Indonesian territory. These well-executed raids by the SAS and other units in many ways brought about an end to the confrontation and the ignominious reign of President Sukarno. Back in the UK in 1966 he took command of the 16th Para Brigade.

Then, aged 44, he went to Exeter College, Oxford, on a Defence Fellowship, where he interviewed over 2,000 young men to ascertain their views on the recently abolished National Service. Most told him that they would welcome a return of conscription.

In 1970-79 Farrar-Hockley became Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland at a time when riots by both sides were growing. His firm handling of the situation made him a target for the IRA. Twenty years later a bomb was found attached to his garden hosepipe and defused. To the awaiting reporters, he said simply, "I don't much care for people who place explosive devices in my garden."

He took command of the 4th Armoured Division in 1971 before moving to the MoD, where his enthusiasm and inventive mind was given full scope as Director of Combat Development. In 1977 he was appointed GOC South East Command and this took him back to Aldershot, the home of the Parachute Regiment. Then, two years later he became Nato's C-in-C Allied Forces Northern Europe.

On his retirement from the Army Farrar-Hockley continued his writing and acted as a defence consultant. His book The Somme (1964) is very visceral and captured the horror of that appalling battle. Goughie (1975) is an excellent biography of General Sir Hubert Gough, the Fifth Army commander in the nightmare situation of 1918.

Tony Farrar-Hockley wrote of war because he understood war at close quarters. But he was also able to stand aside to see not only the tactical but the psychological insights of those who wage war and those who fight them.