Obituary: Maj-Gen Francis Piggott

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The Independent Online
An individual's place of birth often dictates the course of their future life. Francis Piggott was born in Tokyo in 1910. His father, a young captain at the time, later a major-general, was there as a language officer; his grandfather, Sir Francis Piggott, had also served as a legal adviser to the Japanese government. The young Francis's career in the army was for many years to revolve around Japan - first as a linguist, attached to the Imperial Footguards, then fighting the Japanese in the Second World War, and afterwards briefly with the Royal household.

At the age of two, with his father's term of duty completed and after a lengthy trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, he arrived with his family in Camberley, Surrey, where his father was to attend Staff College. The young Piggott was sent to prep school in Weymouth and then on to his father's old school, Cheltenham College. From there he gained a prize cadetship to Sandhurst.

In 1933 he was commissioned into the senior English Infantry Regiment of the Line, the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey). He was soon offered the opportunity of a nine-month course at the School of Oriental Studies in London. He was then sent to Japan on a three-year language course.

In Japan, Piggott found a small house, procured two servants and two language teachers. As his studies progressed he slowly began to make inroads into Japanese society and among his friends were Yoshitomo Tokugawa, who was from the family of the last shogun of Japan (the commander-in-chief and the real ruler of feudal Japan), and his wife Masako, whose elder sister was married to Prince Chichibu, the empress's elder brother.

Piggott was also attached to the 2nd Regiment of the Imperial Footguards, which not only increased his linguistic skills but gave him a unique insight into the Japanese military mind. He was given absolute freedom of movement, for the Japanese with their fear of China and Russia had no thoughts of war with the British.

In the summer of 1937 Piggott lost the sight of his left eye in an accident, which made the study of Japanese characters difficult. He was therefore shipped back to England. However, he was determined not to let having only one eye interfere with his military career.

On his return to England he became Adjutant of the Queen's Royal Regiment which soon after the outbreak of the Second World War was sent into action in France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. On his return, after being evacuatied from Dunkirk, he joined the General Staff.

One hot summer's day in 1940 he returned to his old school at Cheltenham for their sports day. There he met Joan Cottam, the sister of a new boy. He invited her out to tea and not long afterwards they were married.

In 1943, the time Piggott had spent in Japan pre-war began to be utilised when he was appointed GSO2 to General Orde Wingate in Burma. Wingate was responsible for organising the Chindits - specially trained jungle fighters. This was not always a comfortable relationship, however - indeed, Wingate once pushed him out of an aircraft as it was moving along the runway. On Wingate's death in a plane crash Piggott was posted to the 9th Battalion The Yorks and Lancashire Regiment, then based in Burma, which he was soon to command.

At the time (a late stage in the Burma campaign), the regiment, part of 25th Indian Division, was actively engaging the Japanese who were tenaciously fighting a retreat along the Arakan coast. During this period Piggott was able to use his knowledge of the Japanese and their language in his interrogation of prisoners. His steady leadership of his battalion resulted in the award of a DSO. As one of his Company Commanders recalled: "He was only with us about a year, but whatever Francis Piggott said, you did. He was short and ginger-haired and could be volatile - but he was always very fair."

After the war Piggott returned to Japan with the British and Commonwealth Forces who were under the command of General MacArthur. Here he renewed his relationship with the Tokagawas and Prince Chichita, for part of his brief was to ensure the well-being of the Japanese Royal Family. Anticipating this, he brought copies of the London Illustrated News with him which were well received.

After a spell at the Joint Services Staff College in 1947 he was sent to the headquarters of the British troops in Egypt where he was General Staff Officer (Intelligence) at General George Erskine's headquarters during disturbances in the Canal Zone. He then took command of the 1st Battalion of the Queen's Royal Regiment in Iserlohn, Germany before taking them to Malaya in 1954 where he remained until 1956 when he was appointed Commander of 161 Infantry Brigade TA.

Two years later he was appointed Deputy Director of Military Intelligence until 1961 when, promoted to Major General, he became Assistant Chief of Staff (Intelligence) under the American General Laurie Norstadt at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers, Europe) outside Paris. He retired from the Army in 1964 and became Honorary Colonel of his beloved Queen's Regiment for many years. From 1965 to 1975 he also served with thr Army Security Vetting Unit.

Francis James Claude Piggott, soldier: born Tokyo 11 October 1910; DSO 1945; Assistant Chief of Staff (Intelligence) SHAPE 1961-64; CBE 1961; CB 1963; married 1940 Joan Cottam (one son, one daughter); died 21 July 1996.