Maj-Gen Edward Fursdon

Soldier and defence correspondent
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The Independent Online

Francis William Edward Fursdon, soldier and writer: born London 10 May 1925; MBE 1958; CO25 Engineer Regiment, BAOR 1967-69; AA&QMG HQ Land Forces, Gulf 1970-71, Deputy Commander and COS Land Forces 1971; Col Q (Qtg) HQ BAOR 1972-73; Service Fellow, Aberdeen University 1974; Director of Defence Policy (Europe and Nato), Ministry of Defence 1974-77, Director, Military Assistance Office 1977-80; Military Adviser to Governor of Rhodesia 1980; Senior British Officer, Zimbabwe 1980; CB 1980; Director of Ceremonies, Order of St John 1980-94; Defence and Military Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph 1980-86; married 1950 Joan Worssam (one son, one daughter); died Shirley, Surrey 3 January 2007.

A distinguished soldier and writer, Edward Fursdon ended his military career as Commander of British Forces, Senior British Officer and Military Adviser to the last Governor of Rhodesia, helping to guide the country to independence in 1980. He then continued to act as Military Adviser to the Joint High Command of the Zimbabwe Armed Forces.

After retiring from the Army he became Military and then Defence Correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, reporting from the field in the Falklands War and the Iran/Iraq war and then writing regularly for defence magazines worldwide.

He was never a typical military type, however, eschewing the back-slapping in pubs and clubs and the plotting in smoke-filled rooms. His was a more thoughtful, understated approach which was practical, as befitted an engineer, but also involved the writing of poetry. (Grains of Sand: a book of verse from Arabia appeared in 1971, and There are No Frontiers: a book of verse from Europe in 1973.) He was intolerant of boorishness and found in his second career some of the satisfaction that had, at times, eluded him in his first.

Born in 1925, Edward Fursdon was brought up on the family estate of Fursdon near Exeter in Devon where his family has lived since the 13th century. He was an instinctive countryman but, with the family short of funds and having lost his father at an early age, he, as the second son, followed a traditional route into the Army after education at Westminster. Volunteering for active service, he enlisted in the Royal Engineers in the rank of sapper but, by the time he had completed his training, the Second World War was in its final phase.

He was commissioned in 1945 and then sent to India and Burma to begin his regular army career with the Royal West African Frontier Force, working in the Kabaw Valley and in Mandalay, having passed through battle-scarred Kohima and Imphal. From there he went to West Africa and Singapore and then to action in the Canal Zone and later in the ill-fated Suez débâcle.

His work in bomb disposal, particularly on one occasion where he, with his second lieutenant and lance corporal, dismantled a potentially lethal and unstable mixture of explosive by hand, led to his being appointed the first MBE for gallantry, in 1958; an award that was designed to replace the George Medal but which never took off - to the dismay of those like him who had received it.

He then commanded an independent field squadron in Kenya and Kuwait and - after a successful time on the Directing Staff at Staff College where his research into, inter alia, air dispatch earned him his "wings" and saw him in action in the Malayan Emergency - a regiment in Germany, before his administrative skills were called for in the run-down of land forces in the Gulf in 1971. There he became Deputy Commander and, in December, last man out.

This service overseas gave him a genuine fascination with and understanding of different races, cultures and creeds, something that had started in West Africa but never left him. It stood him in good stead during his time as a research fellow in Defence Studies at Aberdeen University in 1974. This was the start of an academic interest that sat well with his engineering background and made up for his earlier lack of educational opportunities.

He worked for a DLitt at Leiden University in 1979, researching what would become a book, The European Defence Community: a history (1980). This was done at the same time as working in senior positions in the Ministry of Defence culminating in the role that he found most satisfying and which brought together all his skills - that of Director of Military Assistance Overseas. This took him all over the world representing the British government, making 55 visits to 33 countries including 26 in Africa.

It was from this position that he was asked by the Government to succeed Maj-Gen Sir John Acland as Senior British Officer in the hand-over of Rhodesia to the Zimbabwean government. It required all his diplomacy to rescue a situation that was deteriorating rapidly and was certainly not the rose-tinted success story that his predecessor had made it out to be. For the first time he felt a lack of support from the Army and the Ministry of Defence for him and his men. After 38 years of service this was a disappointment.

His subsequent career as a journalist used all his writing skills and interest in defence studies. It was a steep learning curve for a general to have his dispatches from the front cut by the night editor but this was less likely to happen when he was able to imbue his stories with the personal experiences of those involved. His instinctive loyalty to the Services meant that he was trusted by those with whom he was working and he had access to extra information as a result.

He believed in securing his account at first hand and this led to his being tossed around in ships off the coast of South Georgia and imprisoned in Baghdad by Saddam Hussein's secret police. On one notorious occasion his military skills enabled him to lead a team of journalists out of an ambush in a town on the Shatt al-Arab waterway but his leopard crawl was compromised by increasing years - his bottom became a target for snipers. His experience of the Falklands War gave him the material for another book, The Falklands Aftermath, in 1988.

After his retirement from The Daily Telegraph he continued to write for defence journals. He had first become involved with the Order of St John in 1955 and in 1993 he retired from the position of Director of Ceremonies for the order. He had more time for other interests and the vegetables in his garden started to smarten up and dress by the right.

Other interests included filming and photography and he often illustrated his articles with his own material. He was however primarily a family man, devoted to his wife of 56 years, Joan. He is survived by her and his son and daughter and six grandsons.

David Fursdon