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Major Jeremy Whitaker
Late Coldstream Guards
by General Sir Michael Rose KCB CBE DSO QGM
formerly Coldstream Guards and 28th Colonel

Jeremy joined the Coldstream Guards in 1953, the year of the Queen’s Coronation. Previously he had done a Brigade Squad style attachment to the Rifle Brigade in Winchester, but their rather po faced selection board thought that Rifleman Whitaker did not take soldiering seriously enough, clearly mistaking Jeremy’s sense of fun and utter dislike of pomposity for frivolity. So while at Sandhurst, he made the excellent choice of joining the Coldstream Guards.  Jeremy naturally never regretted this decision for a moment, - nor did the Regiment of Coldstream Guards, and he remained a loyal and supportive Coldstreamer for the rest of his life.

Jeremy was never quite cut out to be a career officer, being too far removed from the classic Eton, Oxford and the Guards type of person that tended to populate the Foot Guards in the 1950s, - although he had been educated at Eton. He had also attended a school in Switzerland where he learned not only to ski well, but also speak fluent French.

Cheerful, enthusiastic and unorthodox in his ideas which never ceased to be energetically aired, Jeremy was someone of considerable, if sometimes rather quirky, talent. For example, while serving with the 1st Battalion in Iserlohn he spent two years making an accurate model in matchsticks of Buckingham Palace which was so good that it was later used for recruiting purposes. He also loved playing practical jokes and quickly earned the nickname the ‘Whit’.

While on Public Duties, Jeremy one day decided that it would be a good idea to wire an alarm clock into a fellow officer’s Bearskin cap and set the alarm to go off at 11 o’clock which it duly did, - causing much amusement and hilarity except, of course, to the unfortunate officer concerned. But there was never any hint of malice in any of Jeremy’s pranks, just a sense of light hearted fun which was often aimed at himself.

Jeremy was never happier, or more at ease, than when commanding his Company in the field when he would prop himself up against the hatch of the Humber One Ton Pig which at that time was the standard British Army armoured personnel carrier and with his headphones clamped on to his head, and a large map in front of him, he would direct operations with an élan and flourish that sometimes got well ahead of the exercise ‘pink’. 

On one occasion while on exercise in Germany, his company was deployed along a ridge in a reverse slope position. Ahead were the Recce Platoon whose job was to give warning of the approaching enemy which in this case were represented by a squadron of 13/18th Hussars.  The Recce Platoon was easily able to detect their approach as their tanks were streaming line astern across a bean field with pennants flying. However, it proved impossible to get a message through to Jeremy on the radio, for he was far too busy discussing tactics with his platoon commanders.  At last, without pausing for breath, he switched across to the Recce platoon, and demanded to know the exact location of the enemy. Before anyone could answer, his headphones were lifted off his head, and a languid cavalry voice said in his ear ‘Jeremy, we are here!’ Jeremy found this extremely funny and never ceased to repeat this story.

After tours of duty as a platoon commander in UK and Germany, he was posted to be the ADC to General Sir James Robertson, the Governor General of Nigeria, and Jeremy served with him during the transition to Independence from British rule.  The incoming Nigerian Governor General naturally wanted a Nigerian as his ADC, so Jeremy, who was desperately keen to remain in Africa, was posted to be Second in Command of D Company of the 5th Bn The Nigerian Rifles. Shortly after his arrival, the Battalion was sent into the Congo to be part of the UN peacekeeping force, UNOC, that tried to bring an end to the vicious four-sided civil war that was taking place there.

It was a dangerous and confusing situation, and while Jeremy was there the Secretary General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold, was killed when his aircraft crashed, an event which many people still believe was caused by the aircraft being deliberately shot down by Belgian mercenaries. The fact that Jeremy spoke fluent French was a great help to him in the Congo, although on one occasion he was accused of being a Belgian spy involved in the assassination of PM Lumumba, an event that had happened shortly after the Congo’s independence from Belgium, and Jeremy was threatened with execution. Jeremy thought that this was extremely funny and typically was able to talk his way out of what could have been quite a difficult situation.
His job required him to fly into distant airstrips in the remote province of Kasai in order to ensure that the recently signed peace deal between the warring parties was being respected by the locals, most of whom, of course, had not heard that the war was now ended. 

On one occasion, as he got out of his plane in a remote jungle strip, he was confronted by a group of armed guerrillas who pointed their weapons aggressively at him, claiming that he had landed without their authority and that he was a Government spy.  Jeremy, however, was soon able to persuade them that he was in fact a visiting agronomist who had come to talk to them about improving their crop production, and typically using his knowledge of estate management acquired at his family home, the Land of Nod, he was convincingly able to pass himself off as an expert on the growing of cassava, yams and bananas.

His next posting was to be the ADC to the High Commissioner in Malaya, Lord Head, with whom he got on extremely well, as Lord Head fully understood and appreciated his sense of humour.

Shortly after his return to Germany, the Battalion was sent to Aden where Jeremy loved being once again back on active operations, especially as he spent much of his time up country in Habilayn with his Guardsmen. It was during this tour that Jeremy honed his extraordinary skills as a photographer, and while in Aden, he made a quite unique, pictorial history of colonial soldiering in Aden. At the end of the battalion’s deployment, Jeremy persuaded the Commanding Officer to allow him to take four Land Rovers and drive with three other officers and 20 guardsmen back to England. It was an epic journey of nearly 6000 miles that included crossing the Empty Quarter. All was accomplished without incident, though Jeremy did decide to pass by Petra where typically, he gave the Guardsmen an expert lecture on archaeology.

Having got a taste for adventure and realising that his time in the militia, as he liked to call the Army, was not going to be as much fun as he had undoubtedly had up to then, Jeremy resigned his commission and became a brilliant professional photographer, once being asked by HM The Queen to photograph the inside of Buckingham Palace.

For the remainder of his life, Jeremy remained deeply interested in the fortunes of his former Regiment and he ultimately served as President of the Aldershot branch of the Coldstream Guards Association, often coming up with suggestions as to how things might be done better. A devoted family man, Jeremy committed himself for the remainder of his life to ensuring that his family home, the Land of Nod, would be passed down in good shape to successive generations.

Jeremy Whitaker will always be remembered for adding such an important element of fun and enjoyment to the lives of everyone he met.

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