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Major the Right Honourable
the Lord Carrington KG GCMG CH MC PC DL
Late Grenadier Guards
by his Godson, Major Lord Valentine Cecil
formerly Grenadier Guards

Peter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington, who has died aged 99, was born in Chelsea on 6th June 1919. He was the only son of the 5th Baron Carrington and the Hon Sybil Colville, daughter of the 2nd Viscount Colville of Culross. He was educated at Sandroyd in Cobham from the age of 9 to 13, and then Eton where, as a member of the School Corps, he lined the route within Windsor Castle for King George Vth’s funeral procession. While at Sandhurst he was made a Senior Under Officer and succeeded his father as Lord Carrington in November 1938. He was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards, the regiment of his father and grandfather.

In January 1939, Peter reported to Regimental Headquarters and was told by the Lieutenant Colonel that he was not to marry before he was 25, to hunt in Leicestershire twice a week and never to wear a grey top hat before the June meeting at Epsom. His brother officers behaved as if he wasn’t there for about three months. He sat when off parade in a corner of the ante-room writing letters. He wrote later ‘I have never written more letters in my life’.

He fought with 2nd Armoured Battalion across north western Europe until the war ended with the German surrender and, as Second in Command of No 1 Squadron, was awarded an immediate MC at Nijmegen. His citation read: ‘On 20th September 1944, this Officer was ordered to guide a Troop of tanks down to the NIJMEGEN Bridge and then push them across with a view to capturing the bridge intact. The Troop duly attacked, captured the bridge, and then pushed up the main road on the far side for some distance to consolidate their gain. Hearing that the enemy had infiltrated between the Troop and the bridge, this Officer on his own initiative, crossed the bridge in his tank and engaged the enemy, driving them off and remained holding the far side of the bridge until relieved by another tank. He then proceeded up the road and joined the Troop holding the Centre Line. By his devotion to duty and initiative, this Officer was undoubtedly instrumental in control being retained of the NORTHERN approaches to the Bridge at a very vital time’.

His Commanding Officer found Peter on the North Bank ‘in control, brisk and assured as usual, but annoyed by a German high velocity gun’. Earlier in August 1944, he had been given 48 hours leave to go to the beach at Arromanches, but his friend David Fraser suggested they get a couple of jeeps and go and liberate Paris with the Americans. There was still some fighting going on when they got there but that did not stop them booking into the Ritz Hotel.  Apparently, the German officers were leaving by the back door as they came in the front. The following day they relieved the British Embassy. Later in Germany, there was some looting and Peter admitted that he helped himself to a fine-looking Mercedes. When the Divisional Commander saw him with this Mercedes he said, ‘Where did get that?’ So, Peter said he had liberated it and the Commander said ‘That’s the most disgraceful thing I have ever heard. Send it immediately to Divisional Headquarters’. The next thing he saw was the Divisional Commander riding about in it.

Peter valued his time with the Grenadiers, commenting: ‘Comradeship in war obviously has an effect on you and how you think. Any social divisions disappear when you share your life with three other people in a tank. I’ll never forget the brave splendid people I served with’.

He remained in the Army until 1949, before launching himself on a political career. He held junior ministerial posts in Winston Churchill’s and Anthony Eden’s governments, and was High Commissioner in Australia, Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords in the sixties, and Defence Minister in Edward Heath’s government. As Foreign Secretary under Margaret Thatcher he once passed her a note about a foreign dignitary to whom she was offering the undiluted benefit of her views, ‘The poor chap’s come 600 miles. Do let him say something’ He negotiated the settlement of the Rhodesia-Zimbabwe crisis which ended the country’s long civil war. Three days after Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, Peter resigned as Foreign Secretary despite Margaret Thatcher’s efforts to dissuade him. He bore little blame for the government’s failure to avert the calamity, but he wrote in his memoirs: ‘The disgrace must be purged. The person to purge it should be the minister in charge. That was me’.

Peter then served as Secretary General of NATO from 1984 to 1988 when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan, the highest civilian award of the United States. As well as his political career, he served as chairman of several companies including GEC and Christie’s and as a director of many others including Barclay’s Bank, Schweppes and the Daily Telegraph. His personal memoirs Reflect on Things Past were published in 1988. He concludes: ‘We cannot see the future. To reflect on things past, on the scepticism they teach about human wisdom, may be as sound a support as any in meeting the future with a degree of equanimity’.  Peter showed the same qualities throughout a life which took him to the highest reaches of politics and diplomacy. He was shrewd, pertinacious, courageous, funny, enormously charming, utterly honest and honourable and above all kind. Nobody aroused more loyalty in those who served him.

He married Iona McClean at the Guards’ Chapel in 1942 and described the marriage as ‘far the most sensible thing I have ever done’. She was the younger daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Francis McClean, AFC, who founded the Fleet Air Arm. Their week’s honeymoon at the Lygon Arms, Broadway almost bankrupted the groom: accommodation, food and wine cost him £19.10s. Iona, whose genius in creating a garden gave joy to thousands, predeceased him in 2009.  He is survived by their two daughters, Alexandra and Virginia, and their son Rupert, who was born in 1948, and becomes the 7th Baron Carrington.

We in the Regiment have lost a very distinguished and beloved Grenadier. Peter was a wonderful Godfather and, as well as the happiest memories of him, I still have some of the excellent port he gave me, I asked him to my commissioning at Mons in 1972. He was Secretary of State for Defence at the time, which meant he had to take the parade and make a speech. As a result, the Commandant told me that I could no longer be the Senior Under Officer on parade as it would look like a fix. In 1979, when Peter and I were staying with the Queen Mother at Royal Lodge during the Rhodesia-Zimbabwe negotiations, we had a heated argument playing croquet. I tried to persuade him that Mugabe was going to win the election. Peter insisted, from the information that he had been given, that he was not, but showed no irritation at my being rather forward in my views. We both enjoyed the game and, as always, each other’s company.   

On 20th September 2009, the town of Nijmegen commemorated the 65th Anniversary of the Battle of Nijmegen with a parade attended by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Prince Philip our Colonel, and Peter, who addressed the parade. In his speech, he recalled the battle, the courage of those who took part and the courage of the Dutch people, both during the battle and the harsh winter that followed. I had the privilege of accompanying him as his ADC and witnessed the warmth of the welcome given to him by both the locals and veterans he met. He responded with typical modesty and humour. I was and am proud to have been his Godson.

A Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of the Rt Hon the Lord Carrington KG, GCMG, CH, MC will be held in Westminster Abbey at Noon on Thursday 31st January 2019. To apply for tickets online, google ‘Eventbrite Lord Carrington’ and click on the link that appears or, alternatively, write enclosing a stamped self-addressed envelope to Mr M Arnoldi, Room 31, 20 Dean’s Yard, London SW1P 3PA. Tickets will be posted by 18th January 2019.

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