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Lieutenant Colonel P J Hingston OBE
Late Coldstream Guards
by Major J W B Blackett DL
formerly Coldstream Guards

Peter Hingston or ‘Hingo’, as he was known regimentally, was held in deep affection by those who served with him. Just how much affection was underlined after his death had been announced as emails and Facebook posts from all ranks flew around the world. Original and unconventional almost to the point of eccentricity, physically brave and daring not quite to the point of recklessness, forthright, perhaps, if one is honest, sometimes to the point of cantankerousness, he was a big character without whom all our lives would have been so much duller. He was always very much his own man, quoting Dr Seuss’s maxim, ‘Be who you are and say what you feel for those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind’. But most of all he is remembered for his kindness and decency, as someone who was absolutely straight, with no ‘side’, unselfish, loyal and dependable, someone who cared deeply for others, particularly his family and the men and women fortunate enough to be under his command. Most of us if asked to pick someone to have beside us in a tight spot would have picked Peter.

Peter was born on 7th July 1956 to John Hingston, a solicitor who later ran the Leathersellers’ Livery Company in London and his Swedish wife Ingrid at the family home, Maynards Croft, a farm near Thaxted in Essex. He had a country childhood and developed an early interest in natural history, which was to stay with him for the rest of his life.

Summer holidays were spent at Ednam House Hotel in Kelso in the Borders where his love for Scotland started, fishing in the afternoon on the Tweed or Teviot. In retirement, after Peter had joined the Army, his parents moved to the Borders, by coincidence to Coldstream, and Peter was able to reconnect with that part of the world.

After prep school at Lockers Park in Hertfordshire where he was Head Boy and excelled in all sports, he went on to Wellington where again he was a gladiator, as a runner, as a full back on the rugby pitch and playing 1st XI hockey.

From Wellington Peter went down the road to Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Coldstream in 1975. Wild as a hawk as a young officer, actually no, not just as a young officer, he immediately established himself as one of the great characters of the Regiment. Visitors to the Officers’ Mess would be surprised to be accosted by his African Grey parrots, Matthew and Gloag. Later they might be alarmed by his party trick of munching his way through wine glasses. And after particularly riotous parties newly-arrived Ensigns might find their bedroom doors being demolished by Hingo’s chainsaw or on one occasion his shotgun. Not long after the film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came out, one officer woke to see a chainsaw being wielded above his head. He thought he was a goner as it came down across his chest. Fortunately, Hingo, always practical, had remembered to remove the chain.

Peter lived on the edge and lived it to the full, it was part of his make-up and part of what made him so compelling as a character and in celebrating his life we should also remember the nine lives he lost in cars, on motorbikes, particularly as leader of the Stanley Fort chapter of the Hells Angels around the hairpin bends of Hong Kong, and flying helicopters while serving with the Army Air Corps with verve, and often, it is said, a certain amount of Clicquot.
But party animal that he undoubtedly was there was very much more to him than that. He was a talented artist, a skilled mechanic, innovative chef and above all a highly professional soldier. It is said that soldiers follow their officers for two reasons, either out of curiosity or because they trust them. Hingo scored very highly on both criteria. They were curious as to what he would do next. One Facebook post after his death remembered how he tested the winch on his new Pajero by filling a wheelie bin full of young Guardsmen and towing it across the square in Cyprus. And they trusted his complete integrity and also his all-round competence. He could turn his hand to anything, even, unusually for an officer, mechanics, often fixing armoured vehicles before the REME could get there. And above all he led from the front. On one long night drive on a Cold War exercise to practise the relief of Berlin, Peter, as Mortar Officer, could not be reached on the radio because he had taken a turn at driving the 432 so that his driver could get some sleep.

He also served in West Belfast during a difficult period of The Troubles. Peter believed that he owed his life to his platoon sergeant, big Tom Spensley, now also sadly no longer with us. Their patrol had gone to do a pub check in the Turf Lodge. Not long before an officer in another regiment had had his throat slashed in a pub and bled to death. Suddenly the lights went out and the pub fell silent, then Peter heard a familiar voice shout, ‘Turn the fooking lights on!’ Spensley had grabbed the barman by the scruff of his neck and thrust the muzzle of his rifle into his face and the moment passed safely.

Peter’s tour in command of a rifle company in Cyprus was marred by tragedy when a 4-ton truck with 20 Guardsmen in his company was returning from the Troodos mountains after guard duty when the brakes failed, and the truck went over the cliff. Eight Guardsmen died and three more were very seriously injured. Peter and the platoon commander Rupert Novis worked night and day during the highly traumatic period that followed, burying eight soldiers up and down the country from Devon to Yorkshire. Then rebuilding morale in the Company and providing support to traumatised young soldiers and to bereaved families. Peter won the admiration of the whole Regiment by the way that he coped with the tragedy. His Commanding Officer writes ‘Peter handled himself and the situation with enormous courage, compassion and dignity although I have no doubt the tragedy wounded him deeply’. It is a tribute to Peter that at the time of his death 30 years on, he was still in touch with some of the parents of the soldiers who were killed.

As well as being an excellent regimental officer, Peter was also a very able staff officer and no one was surprised when he was awarded the OBE for a particularly demanding job at Headquarters Land. Latterly his career drew him North, he played a key role as an SO2 in setting up the new Infantry Training Centre at Catterick in North Yorkshire. Later he was a very popular and effective Commanding Officer of the 3rd Battalion ITC. Soldiering in Yorkshire allowed him to indulge his passion for grouse shooting at Warcop. More importantly, it brought him into contact with Charlotte Stirling via her granny, the late, great Tommy Wright. Charlotte was the love of his life and undoubtedly the best thing that ever happened to him. And the caring officer, devoted to the welfare of his Guardsmen, blossomed into a loving husband and father.

He was a devoted father and I am sure I was not the only dad on the married quarters patch in Wilton to feel slightly inadequate as yet another immaculate Wendy House sprouted in the Hingston garden, lovingly crafted by Peter’s own fair hand.

As a true countryman Peter was well suited for his biggest challenge when he retired from the Army and he and Charlotte moved to Ross-shire to take over the running of the Fairburn estate, continuing the careful stewardship of previous generations of the Stirling family. He was very conscientious, perhaps too conscientious sometimes for his own health, and had a ferocious appetite for hard work and really threw himself into trying to improve every aspect of the estate. Often to be found in the cab of the JCB much to the consternation of Scottish Water whose mains he sometimes hit.  Typically, he involved himself in the pastoral care of the community and carried out many discreet acts of kindness to employees and tenants. He also helped Dingwall Academy with the Rural Skills Programme which enabled children who, like Peter, were not happy in a classroom to come for one afternoon a week and learn farming skills on the estate. He and Charlotte have been wonderful hosts over the years. Peter was always generous in passing on his considerable skills with rod and gun to others and it was typical of Peter’s kindness that at the time of his death there was a party of young Coldstream officers shooting and stalking on the estate.

We have lost a great Coldstreamer but Hingo’s bold, independent spirit lives on through Phoebe, Imogen and Rebecca and in the memories of all who knew him. He leaves this world a sadder, more conventional place but so much better for his being here.

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