Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Richardson: Royal Scots officer who served in Korea, Suez and Aden before distinguished service in Ulster

With his calm and considered approach he was credited with easing tensions and helping forge a crucial relationship between the Army and the RUC

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The Independent Online

Bob Richardson was a passionate, no-nonsense soldier who led his troops from the front. He served in the Korean War and the Suez Crisis during the 1950s, the Aden Emergency in the 1960s, in Germany during the Cold War and as commander of the 1st Battalion of Royal Scots in Northern Ireland at the start of the Troubles in 1969. He completed several tours there before becoming General Officer Commanding (GOC) in 1982, responsible for all troops in Ulster.

Richardson's promotion to commander of 1st Royal Scots coincided with his battalion's deployment in Northern Ireland. When they arrived in March 1970, Ian Paisley had fuelled discontent by suggesting they had been sent to defend the Protestants. It was a misguided and inaccurate claim: at least a third of Richardson's "Jocks" were Catholics, and the battalion was trained to put regiment before religion.

Formed in 1633, the Royal Scots, the Army's oldest infantry regiment, have the motto Nemo me impune lacessit (Nobody harms me with impunity), and the tough Edinburgh and Lothian soldiers were impartial in giving a good account of themselves. Leading by example, Richardson was frequently on the streets of Belfast, his presence welcomed by units under his command and helping to forge a productive relationship with the RUC.

In April 1970, when 70 Royal Scots were separating Protestant and Catholic mobs from the Highfield and Ballymurphy housing estates in Belfast, they were attacked from both sides with projectiles and home-made bombs, injuring more than 25 of Richardson's troops. He was forced to call upon his entire battalion to restore order, furthering its reputation for fearlessness and no-nonsense responses.

The following year, Richardson and his battalion were sent to quell growing unrest in Derry. When he arrived the brigade commander welcomed him with the words, "Your reputation has gone before you; I cannot allow your men into the city." But after deployment elsewhere, Richardson and his troops were soon called to go to the aid of a rather less forceful battalion surrounded by rioters on the Catholic Creggan estate.

Following the 1973 Sunningdale Agreement, designed to introduce power-sharing in the Province, as well as a new "softly-softly" approach, it was a surprise when, in 1974, Richardson was chosen to command 39th Infantry Brigade, responsible for all Belfast.

After a spell in Europe he was promoted to lieutenant-general and returned as GOC Northern Ireland between June 1982 and 1985. Though atrocities were committed by different factions, with his calm and considered approach he was credited with easing tensions and helping forge a crucial relationship between the Army and the RUC, with the latter taking greater responsibility and the Army's role gradually being reduced.

Born in the Edinburgh district of Leith in 1929, Robert Francis Richardson was the fourth of six children; his father was a successful wine and spirits merchant. He was educated locally at the independent George Heriot's School before undergoing officer training at Sandhurst. While there, he excelled at rugby and later captained the Army and Combined Services' XVs while serving in the Suez Canal Zone.

He graduated as second-lieutenant in 1949, his first overseas deployment coming towards the end of the Korean War (1950-53). He then travelled with the battalion to the Middle East, where he was promoted to captain in 1955. He was sent to Suez, following the invasion of Egypt in late 1956, by Israel, Britain and France in an attempt to regain Western control of the Suez Canal.

After service with the British Army of the Rhine he studied at the Defence Services Staff College in India before a spell at the Ministry of Defence. Later, while based with the BAOR in Osnabrück and Berlin, he was sent to southern Arabia in 1967 after the Aden crisis worsened, hastening the end of British rule in the territory which had begun in 1839.

With his composed approach he was named Chief of Staff of the Aden Brigade, fighting a rearguard action against the National Liberation Front, leading to British withdrawal in November 1967. Richardson was mentioned in dispatches for his service during the conflict. In 1969 he was appointed commanding officer of 1st Battalion Royal Scots, a post he held until 1971.

In between tours of Northern Ireland, Richardson was based at British Army HQ in Germany and was responsible for personnel, ceremonial and disciplinary matters. He was involved in the arrangements to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. He returned to Berlin as a major-general and GOC of the British Sector, which included Spandau Prison and its only inmate, Rudolph Hess.

While in Berlin Richardson was responsible for the Queen's 1978 birthday visit, which, following a successful parade, culminated in a personal thank-you in the form of a CVO. He was later charged with looking after President Jimmy Carter when he visited Berlin.

Retiring from the army in 1985, Richardson spent the next decade as administrator of the MacRobert Trust estate, 7,200 acres of farm and woodland near Aberdeen. He was also a respected member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield and later concentrated on his "three Gs" – golf, garden and his 10 grandchildren.

In 2006 Richardson saw the last parade of the Royal Scots before they merged. "The Jock is second to none and admired throughout the world," he declared. "One request to my old comrades and those serving today: treasure the past, draw strength from it but do not live in it. The old days are gone, never to return. Embrace the future."

Sir Robert Richardson, soldier: born Leith, Edinburgh 2 March 1929; CBE 1975, CVO 1978, KCB 1982; married 1956 Maureen Robinson (died 1986; one daughter, three sons), 1988 Alexandra Inglis (two stepsons); died Haddington, East Lothian 21 November 2014.

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