Obituary: Maj-Gen Frank Richardson
Monday 16 September 1996
His was a rich life founded on discipline and compassion and many men are alive today because of his skill and courage. With his military background he knew that in the heat of battle those in command, at any level, must remain calm. He also knew that in the opening fearsome minutes of an attack momentum has to be maintained at all cost.
In the fiercely fought Battle of Keren during the Eritrean campaign of 1941, Richardson's courage, understanding of men and his piping were brought together with dramatic effect. The Italians, smarting from their rout in the Western Desert, were determined to defend their position, particularly at Fort Dologorodoc, which blocked the Dongolas Gorge. It was essential that the Italian resistance was overcome, for they controlled the road to the capital Asmara.
During the attack, while Richardson was busy organising recovery of casualties, he realised that one of the Scottish battalions had lost their momentum. Grabbing hold of his bagpipes, which he always carried with him, he moved among them and with complete disregard for danger he played them forward. This brave and inspired action raised the spirit of the men and they overran the Italian positions. Rightly, Richardson was awarded a DSO: many thought he deserved the Victoria Cross. In this deed there were strong echoes of Piper Laidlaw at Loos in 1915: both knew the power of the pipes.
Frank Richardson was born in St Andrews and was the son of Colonel Hugh Richardson RAMC, who also won a DSO while with the Territorial Army in the First World War. He was educated at Glenalmond College before going on to Edinburgh University to study Medicine and was commissioned in the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1927.
As with many junior officers at the time, the training ground was India. Here he enjoyed the usual traditions such as polo and pig sticking and he took part in a number of expeditions to the Himalayas. He was invalided home in 1933.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he was again in India and returned to take over command of 166 Field Ambulance and was with them at the Battle of Keren. He then served in Syria, Lebanon and in the Western Desert, where he took part in the Battle of El Alamein and the advance into Tunisia with the 51st Highland Division. In June 1944 he landed in Normandy with the 160th Field Ambulance and commanded them throughout the North West European campaign. He then became Assistant Director of Medical Services of the 15th Scottish Division during some of the toughest fighting in that harsh winter. In the spring of 1945 he was involved in the crossing of the Rhine and the advance to the Elbe.
In his six years at war he had come to understand battlefield fatigue and trauma and its effect on morale. After the war he held a wide range of medical appointments in British military hospitals and field force units. He was Director of Medical Services of HQ British Army of the Rhine from 1956 until he retired in 1961. During 1957-61 he was the Queen's Honorary Surgeon.
Like Lord Moran, Churchill's doctor, who recorded his experiences of dealing with troops suffering from fatigue and shellshock in the First World War in his classic work Anatomy of Courage, Richardson now turned to writing and lecturing on his experiences. At the Army Staff College in Camberley, Surrey, he gave an annual lecture on "Fighting Spirit; Psychological Factors in War". He was a brilliant speaker who could pull from his vast reservoir of experience and captivate his audience.
In his retirement he worked for the Army Benevolent Fund and for six years was the medical adviser to the Civil Defence in Scotland. He later worked for the Red Cross Society and became director of the Scottish Veterans' Residences at Whiteford House, Edinburgh.
Richardson was not only a gifted speaker but a fine writer who did not balk at awkward subjects. His first book, Napoleon, Bisexual Emperor, was published in 1972, followed by Napoleon's Death: an inquest (1974); The Public and the Bomb (1981) coincided with his work on civil defence; Mars with Venus; a study of some homosexual generals (1981) made interesting reading. He co- authored with Seumas MacNeill Piobaireachd and its Interpretation (1987): a classic work on piping.
Frank McLean Richardson, doctor, soldier, piper: born St Andrews 3 March 1904; DSO 1941; OBE 1945; Director of Medical Services, BAOR 1956-61; Honorary Surgeon to the Queen 1957-61; CB 1960; married 1944 Silvia Innes (two sons, one daughter); died 27 August 1996.
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