Obituary: Maj-Gen Pat Turpin

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The Independent Online
"The practical art of moving armies and keeping them supplied are sometimes said to comprise as much as 90 per cent of the business of war" commented Field Marshal Wavell after his experiences in the Western Desert. Pat Turpin understood better than most the "business of war" for he was the outstanding army logistician of his generation.

Logisticians are not expected at the sharp end of battle, but they are vital to the fighting man, for stomachs have to be fed and ammunition replenished. After 10 years with the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), Turpin played his full part in Rommel's defeat at the Battle of Medenene in North Africa. A stickler for exactness and never a man to waste words, he wrote on two sheets of paper the specific weights and quantities of supplies to be dropped for the three divisions of 30th Corps. It worked well and Montgomery's forces advanced towards Tunisia fed and armed as well as could be expected.

Patrick George Turpin was the son of the Rev J.J. Turpin, who was vicar of Misterton, Somerset. He was educated at Haileybury and went up to Exeter College, Oxford to study Classics. He was an excellent all-round sportsman who represented Oxford at cross-country running, and later in the army he gained his colours for the same event as well as representing the Royal Army Service Corps at rugby, squash and tennis. However, it was probably the last of these which gave him the greatest satisfaction for he won the corps championship in every rank from subaltern to major-general. He also represented Somerset for many years.

Turpin entered the RASC from university in 1933. After six months detachment to the Wiltshire Regiment he was posted in 1935 to Training Battalion, Aldershot, as Regimental Subaltern. In 1938 he embarked for Egypt where he was stationed at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

In the first year of the war he was adjutant to the 7th Armoured Division which quickly deployed in the Western Desert. He was disappointed not to have been involved with the victories over the Italians in O'Connor's Cyrenaica campaign, as by now he was studying at the Middle East Staff College, Haifa. His first appointment was as Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General (DAQMG) in HQ British Troops in Egypt. He then returned to Haifa as an instructor for the whole of 1942. In early 1943 he became Assistant Quartermaster General (AQMG) to HQ 30th Corps. It was here that at last he was able to put his skills to practical use at Medenene.

He remained with 30th Corps for the rest of the Tunisian campaign and gained more experience in the combined airborne and seaborne attack on Sicily. With D-Day in mind, 30th Corps were recalled to the United Kingdom, but Turpin remained to take over as QMG of HQ 5th Division before their attack on the Sangro in autumn 1943.

Next came the fiercely fought battles of the Anzio beach-head, of which Churchill was to write later, "I had hoped that we were hurling a wild cat on to the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale". That whale however had to be fed and armed, and desperate as the situation was, Turpin was well prepared for it.

After Anzio and after nearly seven years of unbroken overseas experience Turpin was recalled to become Chief Instructor of the RASC Officers' Training Centre at Southend. His next appointment was A/Q (Chief Administration Officer) in HQ 1st Corps for the Rhine crossing and the advance to the Baltic. It was in this advance that Turpin had to use all his experience, for he had seen the German advance falter that winter due to lack of logistical support and fierce opposition. Only 34 and now a brigadier, twice mentioned in despatches, he was undoubtedly the man for the hour. He was appointed OBE for his wartime services.

After the war, for the first 18 months of the occupation period in devastated Germany he was Brigadier Administration in HQ 21st Army Group. In 1946 he reverted once more to Regimental employment and was then selected for Joint Service Staff College (JSSC) before returning to his old habitat, Egypt. Back home again in 1951 he spent two years as an instructor at JSSC, leaving there on promotion to Colonel. After a spell at the War Office in 1955 he was then selected for Imperial Defence College. On completing this he was posted to HQ BAOR, regaining the rank of Brigadier. In 1959 he became Brigadier Administration of the 17th Gurkha Division in Malaya at the end of the anti-terrorist campaign. He delighted in this appointment.

He took over as Director of Supplies and Transport in mid-1960 and was promoted major general. At the end of his three-year tenure he was selected as the Director of Movements, a major policy-making directorate, which had always previously been led by a senior Sapper officer. Here he was to play a vital part in the reorganisation of the army's diverse movement agencies into the new Royal Corps of Transport (RCT). After this many thought he should have been the first logistics service officer to become a lieutenant-general, but he was not operationally qualified to be placed on the selection list for an army command.

On his retirement in 1966 he became Colonel Commandant RCT until 1971 and Colonel of the Gurkha Army Service Corps until 1973. At last, with a lifetime of military service behind him, this basically quiet man could enjoy his retirement and his favourite hobbies of tennis and gardening. He was chairman of the Heather Society for 15 years.

Pat Turpin was an English gentleman who played his military life by the book. Even under fire he carried out his task calmly and unhurriedly for he seemed just ahead of time. Little ever perturbed him. He was exact in everything he did. He once delayed a container of salt and pepper insisting that each one ounce packet be re-weighed. He knew the effect of running out of salt several weeks into an operation.

He had a good sense of humour: in a report on one of his men he wrote "He gives no trouble, but takes none." He was a fine shot, a keen photographer, and an ardent ornithologist, but above all, he enjoyed his family and his military career.

Max Arthur

Patrick George Turpin, soldier; born Torquay 27 April 1911; OBE 1945; CB 1962; married 1947 Cherry Grove (one son, one daughter); died 14 September 1996.