Obituary: Maj-Gen Dennis Talbot
Thursday 07 July 1994
DENNIS TALBOT, Chief of Staff of the British Army of the Rhine and General Officer Commanding Rhine Army Troops in 1963-64, won the Military Cross in 1940 as a result of his courageous escape following the Battle of Calais, and the Distinguished Service Order whilst commanding the 7th Battalion the Hampshire Regiment in north-west Europe in 1945.
When Calais was finally captured on the evening of 26 May 1940, Talbot, who was the Brigade Major of 30th Infantry Brigade, was taken prisoner. The following morning some 1,000 British officers and men and members of the French army began the long march towards Germany. Throughout that day and the next the march continued and the already tired troops began to straggle. This produced opportunities to escape and Talbot, with two other officers, dived into the undergrowth, ran into marshland and hid.
For nine days they walked by night and hid by day and eventually reached the mouth of the river Authie on 7 June. Their original food supplies were exhausted but friendly French farmers supplied their immediate needs. Two days later they met up with some French officers and soldiers who had acquired a boat but apparently lacked any knowledge of boats or the sea. A false start, a broken- down engine and further problems delayed their final departure until 16 June, with Talbot as navigator and helmsman - a new experience for him. The cross-Channel journey was punctuated with baling and spells of rowing as the unreliable engine failed to function for more than short periods at a time. Finally on 17 June, after 23 hours at the helm, Talbot and his party were picked up by the destroyer Vespa and the Allied party was landed at Dover. Subsequently the three British officers were received in audience by King George VI at Buckingham Palace, and interviewed by Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War, General Sir John Dill and Lord Gort.
Talbot had been commissioned into the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment in 1928 and spent the first nine years in India with the 1st Battalion, where he was an active participant in sport, shooting and sailing.
After his return to England in 1940 he followed a more normal military career, attending staff college and filling a number of operational appointments. In 1944 he was given command of the 7th Battalion the Hampshire Regiment, and it was after the advance from Caen to Bremerhaven that he was awarded the DSO. From 1945 to 1946 he commanded the 2nd Battalion the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment, and then attended the Royal Naval Staff College in 1946 and the Joint Services Staff College in 1947, before enjoying appointment as Senior Army Liaison Officer in New Zealand.
Promotion to Brigadier in 1953 brought command of the 18th Infantry Brigade in Malaya which was operating against Communist terrorists in Pahang and Trengannu. Folowing a succession of operations which included the capture of two well-known terrorists, Talbot was posted to command 99 Gurkha Brigade, where he was awarded the Sultan's Silver Jubilee Medal. He attended the Imperial Defence College and in 1958 he was given command of East Anglian District and 54th East Anglian Division (TA) with the rank of Major-General. He was appointed CBE in 1955 and CB in 1960 and in 1961 was posted to Germany as Deputy Commander Rhine Army Troops. Two years later he became Chief of Staff BAOR and GOC Rhine Army Troops; this was his last appointment, and he retired in 1964.
Regimentally he was appointed Colonel of the Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment in 1959, and subsequently became Deputy Colonel of the Queen's Own Buffs the Royal Kent Regiment on the amalgamation of The Buffs and the Queen's Own. He was also the Honorary Colonel of the 8th Queen's Cadre.
After retirement Talbot became a civil servant in the Ministry of Defence and travelled widely. At the same time he took a very active part as chairman of The Queen's Own Regimental Committee, its regimental museum and officers' club. For many years he was the chairman of the Kent Committee of the Army Benevolent Fund which owes him much for his leadership in the early years.
By virtue of the regiment's connection with the Danish monarchy, Talbot was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Dannebrog in 1962, and in 1965 was promoted to be a Knight Grand Cross of the Order. In 1964 he was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Kent.
There was always time for Talbot to devote his energies to his garden at Barham, in Kent, where he took great delight in vegetable growing and was for many years president of the local horticultural society.
Recent serious illness naturally curtailed his activities but his determination to maintain his abiding interest in regimental matters was courageously borne out by his attendance at the Grand Reunion of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment at Canterbury on the day before he died.
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