Obituary: Brigadier Roscoe Harvey

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The Independent Online
Roscoe Harvey was renowned as the finest armoured leader of the Second World War, and later controlled the discipline of the British Turf for 24 years.

A superlative horseman, steeplechase rider, polo player, pig-sticker and a wonderful man to hounds, Harvey excelled as the complete cavalry commander, and was dubbed the Prince Rupert of modern warfare. Of his three DSOs, won during the Second World War, at least one should have been a VC. The 26-times champion jockey the late Sir Gordon Richards described Harvey as "the greatest man racing has known in my lifetime".

And, in Cotswold retirement, the wittiest, most generous host, breeding and racing good steeplechasers in competition with his great friend and exact contemporary the Queen Mother, he will also be remembered as the man who once drove miles down a motorway in the wrong direction - and got away with it.

He was born Charles Barnet Harvey in 1900, in Sarawak, and came to England a year later on the death of his father, who, with his friend the white raja Sir Charles Brooke, was with the wealthy Borneo Company. Harvey was riding as soon as he could walk, and foxhunting throughout his youth.

A devout Roman Catholic, he was educated at Downside and Sandhurst, and was an outstanding games player despite an inherited short-sightedness which meant his wearing thick spectacles. Foxhunting, racing, and point- to-pointing, he was commissioned in 1920 into the 10th Royal Hussars, the great love of his life, then stationed at The Curragh.

Once, forced to put up two pounds overweight in an Irish steeplechase, he was likened by a senior officer to Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, the obese silent film star, and the name stuck.

After a distinguished spell at the Weedon Cavalry School, he was appointed Regimental Equitation Officer and, although he never had much time for show jumping, for a joke entered a troop horse at the Royal International Horse Show and won his way to the final jump-off for the world's biggest prize, the King George V Gold Cup, at Olympia.

One of the finest amateur riders in Britain, Harvey suffered his worst fall in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham when the glass of his broken spectacles had to be dug out from between his upper eyelids and his skull. Riding in races big and small including the Grand National, he remained too a dedicated soldier.

During two years in Egypt he ran a successful racing stable organising some profitable coups. "The six best years of my life" in India followed. First as an adjutant, and then as a major commanding a squadron, he enjoyed not only the soldiering but played polo up to international standard, and became so good at pig-sticking that he was most unlucky to be defeated in the final of the Blue Riband of that sport, the Kadir Cup.

Back in Britain Harvey was involved in the mechanisation of his squadron, although at the end of the first course he attended his report read: "This officer shows absolutely no aptitude for mechanisation whatsoever." It was not long before he was recognised as an outstanding armoured leader.

With Harvey as second in command, the regiment went to France soon after the start of the Second World War and, although hopelessly under-equipped, had suffered only comparatively light personnel casualties when they were evacuated back to England. Promoted to lieutenant-colonel, Harvey first formed the 23rd Hussars and then, fulfilling his greatest ambition, commanded his own regiment, the 10th Hussars, arriving in the Western Desert at the end of November 1941. Twice in the next six months, although hopelessly out-tanked and out-gunned, Harvey inspired the 10th and the other two members of the gallant 2nd Armoured Brigade by leading from the front with the "cavalry dash" which frequently terrified friend as well as foe.

Although in both battles, at Saunnu and then at the Knightsbridge Box, Harvey lost nearly all his tanks, including inevitably his own, Rommel's powerful thrusts were repelled. It is fair to say that at Knightsbridge - where with 30 inferior tanks he found himself engaged in a fierce battle with 160 formidable German Panzers - Harvey halted the German advance for long enough for the British army to retreat behind the Alamein line, thereby saving Egypt and the Mediterranean.

By 6pm on the last day at Knightsbridge the regiment had fought until they had no shells left or tanks fit to fight. Harvey's own tank was shot from under him and he walked about amidst all the shot and shell saying: "Don't give one yard. Please do not give one yard. Stay where you are and fight." The position was saved and Harvey received an immediate DSO.

Back in Cairo for a refit, he wrote to his friend the Jockey Club steward Sir Humphrey de Trafford, who rushed into White's, brandishing the letter saying: "All is not lost! Here's a senior officer in the Middle East who not only thinks that racing will start again, but also wants to be part of it as a Stipendary Steward."

Harvey was in the thick of the Battle of Alamein, promoted to brigadier, commanding the 4th Light Armoured Brigade. After fighting his way to Tripoli, where he held a race meeting with Arab ponies, he took over 8th Armoured Brigade and struck up a working partnership with General "Tiny" Freyberg, the New Zealand Division's commander, First World War hero and VC. With the help of the legendary American General Patton they defeated the Afrika Korps in Tunisia, earning Harvey another immediate DSO and two mentions in dispatches.

Brought back to England, Harvey took over 29th Armoured Brigade in 11th Armoured Division and, as the spearhead of the follow-up troops, landed in France on 13 June 1944. After some particularly bloody battles around Caen, the breakthrough was achieved. Harvey's brigade moved from the Normandy beaches to capture Antwerp, whose local paper ran the headline, "The Liberation of Antwerp Under the Command of Brigadier Harvey DSO".

General Sir Cecil ("Monkey") Blacker, then a major, describes the scene:

Once the battle was joined, the first thing we realised was that any failure to push ahead, even in the hairiest situation, would generate an even hairier situation back at brigade headquarters. An important element in a commander is the ability to make his troops feel less inclined to incur his displeasure than to face the enemy. The sight of Roscoe's Sherman tank following close behind with his faded red hat poking out of the turret was a considerable deterrent to any desire to linger. He must have made an enormous, unrivalled contribution to winning the war. His humour and imperturbability should never be allowed to conceal the remarkably tough, determined and inspiring character that lay

behind them. He fully deserved his

three DSOs.

In October Harvey earned his third DSO for "fine leadership, military skill and offensive spirit which permeated to all ranks", resulting in the capture of 700 determined prisoners and many German casualties in Venrai area. After helping to repel the Germans' final thrust in the Ardennes, re-equipped with new Comet tanks, Harvey set out on the last gallop, pausing only for the revolting, heart-breaking task of liberating Belsen.

Afterwards he made a final dash along the autobahns, defeating the Russians by a short head to Lubeck. He said later: "That final gallop was a close- run thing. I remember asking my driver, `How fast are we going?' he replied `Over 30, sir, still on the bridle.' "

As temporary divisional commander, Harvey was responsible for capturing the traitor William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw), who was tried and hanged, and also Heinrich Himmler, who cheated the hangman by committing suicide.

After the war, Roscoe Harvey organised and rode in a series of race meetings before making his way out of the Army to become Stewards' Secretary to the Jockey Club, in which capacity his own special form of discipline, preventing crime in racing rather than punishing it, was an unusual success. He still hunted regularly and rode many point-to-point winners in his retirement which was marred only by the death of his much-loved son Jeremy, killed in a motorcycle accident after a fall in a point-to-point at which Harvey also fell, breaking his collar-bone.

For a while Harvey was a very knowledgeable member of the British Boxing Board of Control and bred and owned some excellent jumpers. He and the Queen Mother vied with each other to win the Grand Military Gold Cup.

With his great friend the late Col "Babe" Moseley, Roscoe Harvey was driving home one of his splendid sports cars after a cavalry memorial parade in London when Moseley insisted on taking the wrong exit out of the Maidenhead roundabout on the M4, resulting in their rejoining the motorway in the wrong direction.

Harvey said: "We found ourselves in the fast lane and I said `There's only one thing to do. It may be broad daylight but I will turn my headlights on and go like hell. So they won't know whether we're cops or robbers.' There weren't many people in the fast lane and we didn't meet anybody for a couple of miles. One man held his ground, but we avoided him and luckily hit nothing. When we got to the next exit there was a gap in the crash barrier and we skidded across to get out."

Of course a couple of earnest citizens reported them and, at the subsequent court case, after their solicitor had managed to persuade Babe Moseley not to say "It was my biggest thrill since riding in the National", they got off on the grounds that the roundabout was very badly signposted at the junction.

Roscoe Harvey was very proud, at the age of 95, to take the salute from his wheelchair at the big VJ Day parade in Stow-on-the-Wold. He was a hero to everyone who knew him.

Charles Barnet ("Roscoe") Harvey, soldier and racing administrator: born 19 July 1900; married 1926 Biddy Mylne (one daughter, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved), 1966 Betty Fraser-Horn (nee Stoddard, died 1980); died 28 March 1996.