Lives Remembered: Neil Greig
Wednesday 30 June 2010
Neil Greig was successful in military and civilian life but he will be remembered for his unassuming modesty, unswerving integrity and an unassailable devotion to his wife. While keen to share memories of the Second World War with anyone who professed an interest, he underplayed his own heroic role as a signals officer laying down wireless communications across unswept minefields in North Africa, for which he was awarded a Military Cross in 1942.
A major at 25, he went on to run a large section of Germany's devastated telecoms systems at the end of the war before entering the London Association for the Protection of Trade (later the UAPT) which under him became the UK's largest credit reference agency.
John Cameron McNeil Greig was born in London on 6 December 1919, the son of Cuthbert Greig CBE, a stalwart and former president of the UAPT. John attended Hurstpierpoint in Sussex, where he developed a passion for amateur radio. He qualified as a radio operator in 1934 at 15, and like the first generation of internet pioneers demonstrated obsessive single-mindedness: his notebooks frequently record him starting transmission at 5am and continuing until 2pm with a brief stop for breakfast.
He met his future wife Helene while at school and would broadcast to her house, where her brother was also a radio ham. In what was excellent preparation for his war work he would send coded messages to Helene before school and play jazz, a genre for which he had a great enthusiasm and would later pass on to his children and grandchildren.
After gaining his School Certificate a year early he went to work at the De Havilland Aircraft Company in Hatfield, but when war broke out he joined the Royal Corps of Signals. In the few days before embarking for war he had the more pressing business of persuading his future mother-in-law that he was the right man for her daughter.
After a hurried honeymoon he was posted to North Africa, where he was to win a Military Cross for bravery. In the citation Lieutenant General Lees, commander of 30 Corps, recalled Greig as "an excellent wireless officer who has carried out extremely valuable work with my tactical HQ during the advance from Mersa to Nofilia... My communications never failed largely due to him. He worked night and day himself, sometimes operating personally to save my operators. He showed great courage and determination in laying cables from Tactical HQ to Main arteries, along telephone lines, in mined areas which had not yet been swept by detector squads." Greig continued his work, fighting in Sicily and in the D-Day landings.
After six months in Germany repairing the ravaged communications systems in Brunswick he followed in his father's footsteps, joining the London Association for the Protection of Trade in 1946, serving as Chief Executive from 1958 to 1981 and as Vice President until 1987. He was awarded the OBE in 1968, principally for his work as secretary of the Hire Purchase Trade Association, and he was also instrumental in setting up the 1974 Consumer Credit Act.
After retirement, Greig maintained his interest in the credit industry with his book The Growth of Credit Information (1992). He lived out his last years in the Sussex countryside with his wife of almost 70 years, where they hosted a Siddha yoga meditation centre. He died on 18 March 2010.
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