Allan Mallinson

Wise old war horse

Words of wisdom from an old war horse

It is always a delight to drive the country roads of Hampshire to see the man known throughout the army simply as ‘Dwin’ — Field Marshal Lord Bramall. Until quite recently, I was always greeted at the door in person by the last of the Chiefs of the Defence Staff (CDS) who had really seen war — in France and Germany — but today I am met by Paula, his dedicated carer. ‘Can’t get up so easily these days,’ he says as I ‘salute’ on entering his little study. ‘Have a chair — the Eton one or the Rifles,’ he adds, nodding to the cushions bearing the arms of the two great institutions of his early life.

The first time I met Dwin Bramall was in 1984, when he was CDS and I was a young major just out of the Staff College. He came into the directorate of military operations on my first morning as I was reading a tatty file marked ‘top secret’, which I’d found while trying to weed my absurdly overfilled safe.

‘What’s that ancient-looking stuff?’

I said it was Field Marshal Montgomery’s unexpurgated signals from 1944.

‘Why on earth have we still got them?’

I’d only had a brief look, but I couldn’t see anything of relevance to current operations. ‘I don’t know, sir, but he says some pretty scathing things about people.’

He frowned knowingly. ‘That was Monty.’

I said that I supposed he’d met him several times.

‘Two or three, yes. The first time, one of his staff said to me, the Field Marshal will ask if you’ve met before, and that he doesn’t mind whether the answer is “yes” or “no” but he doesn’t like you saying “I can’t remember.”’

The occasion was to pin a Military Cross on the chest of the then Lieutenant Bramall.

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