Field Marshal Sir Nigel Bagnall GCB CVO MC and Bar

Nigel Thomas Bagnall was born in India on 10 Feb 1927. His father was an officer in the Green Howards.  Nigel was educated at Wellington and joined the army at the age of 18. He was given a regular army emergency commission on 5 Jan 1946, in the Green Howards. On 13 Feb 1946 he transferred to the Parachute Regiment and served with them in Palestine. He returned to the Green Howards in time to go to Malaya for the Emergency. For most of the time he was in an isolated place at Kampong Menchis which was at first controlled by terrorists but within two months Bagnall had combed the area and captured 11 terrorists and destroyed 16 of their camps.

Lieutenant Bagnall was awarded a Military Cross in Malaya for a night patrol action that occurred on 27 May 1950. He led the patrol in an encircling route through dense jungle until they were 30 yards from a terrorist hut. Bagnall threw a grenade into the hut, flushing out 3 men who were shot by the patrol. The citation said that Bagnall was a ‘source of inspiration to his platoon and company, and an example which can seldom have been surpassed’. He added a bar to that medal in January 1952 when he was an Intelligence officer in the Tampin area. With a combination of carefully planned fighting patrols and improvised track-side ambushes, he and his men killed 18 terrorists including a Communist branch committee member who was shot by Bagnall himself. In the Malayan Emergency it was considered a major success to kill just one terrorist, so Bagnall’s achievement blew a huge hole in the local communist network.

When he returned to England he had an accident which left a cyclist dead. He was convicted of dangerous driving and banned for 3 years. There was a period spent at OCTU as an instructor at Eaton Hall, Cheshire, then he returned to the Green Howards on 10 Feb 1954, with the rank of captain, for service in the Canal Zone, and Cyprus where his anti-terrorist skills were put to good use against EOKA. After Cyprus, on 24 April 1956, he transferred to the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards and attended Staff College. Following this he held a staff post at the War Office. In March 1966 he became GSO1 (Intelligence) Far East, and military assistant to Sir Michael Carver. After that, on 31 Dec 1966, he was appointed CO of the 4/7 DG in Northern Ireland and then West Germany, supervising the conversion of the regiment from armoured cars to main battle tanks. He left that position in 1969 and was appointed Commander RAC in 1 Corps BAOR. Ten years later he was appointed C-in-C BAOR. and then Commander of NATO’s Northern Army Group. 

He reached the position of Chief of General Staff before retiring in 1988. His time as a top soldier was in some ways controversial because he criticised the government’s Options For Change document. For this he was publicly mauled by Mrs Thatcher. He also had little time for tactical nuclear weapons and was regarded as a gifted thinker and exponent of modernisation of training. One of his proudest achievements was the Honorary Fellowship of Balliol College, Oxford in recognition of his written work on the Punic Wars and Peloponnesian War. He retired with the rank of Field Marshal and inspected the Sovereign’s Parade at Sandhurst in 1988. He was in full uniform with what he described as f……. jewellery. He hated pomposity and sported an unconventionally long hairstyle, which used to be ginger. He was married in 1959 to Anna Caroline Church and they had two daughters. Sir Nigel died on 8 April 2002 at the age of 75.

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by Stephen Luscombe