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Major Mick Nesbitt
Late Grenadier Guards
by Major General Sir Evelyn Webb-Carter KCVO OBE DL
formerly Grenadier Guards

Mick Nesbitt, a legendary Sergeant Major died tragically young on 5th October 2016, aged 65.  I was the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion in Munster in 1987 and Mick Nesbitt had been the Sergeant Major for just a year.  The telephone rings and the Regimental Lieutenant Colonel says ‘I have some good news and some bad news, which do you want to hear first?’   It was all bad news to me as my comparatively new Sergeant Major had been appointed to be the Academy Sergeant Major. What a wonderful and well merited accolade that was for Mick but for me and the Battalion we were going to lose one of our star players who had been an instant success, taking over albeit from a very popular and competent predecessor.  But Mick was a very modern warrant officer and he was just the right type when we were preparing to be the first Warrior battalion. His wife, Lesley, was a modern thinker too and soon established a thriving wives club; they made a formidable pair.

Mick’s military career began as a Junior Leader in 1967 and although he was tempted to join The Royal Military Police, he was influenced by Sergeant Bill Grimley and David Fanshawe, then commanding the Guards Company at Oswestry, to join the Grenadiers, a happy change of heart for us all.  He joined the 1st Battalion just as we had returned from Sharjah.  He was soon identified as a talented soldier and leapt up the promotion ladder taking in two tours at the Guards Depot and two at the Academy, where he met Lesley.

What many people do not know is that Mick, when a young gold sergeant, aged just 26, took part in a four month expedition to the Himalayas. He was a great outdoor sportsman and had taken part in skiing and canoeing expeditions, so he was an obvious choice for this special assignment. The 1st Battalion had been selected from numerous army units to become an integral part of the ‘Nanda Devi Expedition, 1977’ - an expedition with Major General E V Strickland CMG DSO OBE MM as its Patron. The Grenadiers’ primary task was to transport, overland, the expedition equipment and food to an assembly point in the Indian Himalayas. In addition, they were to assist the climbers to follow the 1934 route pioneered by Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman (the first men to ever set foot in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary or Basin) and, where feasible, to help with the logistics for the attempt on the summit of Nanda Devi itself (25,645 feet).

Although working in pairs most of the time, all six Grenadiers did manage to meet up for two full days together whilst in the Sanctuary. Four of the climbers (two British and two Americans) were to reach the summit.  The Grenadier team drove over 13,000 miles from the UK (Elizabeth Barracks, Pirbright) to the Himalayas and back. Their routes, impossible today for a host of reasons, went through Europe and Turkey, then Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to their assembly point at Josimath in the upper reaches of the Ganges. From the road-head, some 17 miles further on, the expedition followed the line of the Rishiganga River to its source and their Nanda Devi objectives. It was a most marvellous adventure for a young sergeant. His main task was to be the Quartermaster and driver. One of the party members later described Mick as ‘absolutely first rate, quiet and thoroughly competent. He was a delightful man to have as part of a small team’; ‘steady, capable and sensible’.  He was on Queen’s Guard two days after they got back and he would have been completely up for it!

He was an outstanding Academy Sergeant Major for six years and amongst the things he was particularly proud of was formally addressing the Army Staff College on three consecutive occasions.  He also established the Warrant Officer Ones’ Convention which although started as an experiment, became a very useful forum for views outside the chain of command to be aired and is continued to this day. The Commandant commented ‘he was known to be interested in the people he met whether they were cadets or staff. He was thus respected throughout Sandhurst for his personality and his determination to ensure that all cadets lived up to the standards necessary for young officers’.  He struck up a fine relationship with the Commandants with whom he worked and in 1993 he was the first Academy Sergeant Major to be commissioned. He then went to Pirbright to command Headquarter Company and 14th Company until he left the Army to run his own security business.

So we mourn a Great Grenadier who I admired as an outstanding warrant officer.  He was bright, immaculate and very straightforward with his approach to the Sergeants’ Mess who both loved and respected him.  He will be much missed by many who knew him both in the Regiment and outside. The funeral at The Royal Memorial Chapel at Sandhurst was very well attended by many from across the Army including three RMAS Commandants.  He leaves behind Lesley, his widow, and two fine looking sons, Lance and Grant, who both looked like ‘chips off the old block’.

With apologies to Major Nesbitt’s family and the author of this obituary, which should have been published in 2017. The Editor

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