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Colonel David Kirkwood DL
Late Royal Army Pay Corps
Honorary Member of the Welsh Guards Club
by Paul de Zulueta
formerly Welsh Guards

David Kirkwood, who has died aged 75, earned the lifelong affection of many Welsh Guardsmen as the Battalion’s Paymaster during the tour of Berlin and South Armagh in 1977 to 1980. The Battalion, commanded by Charles Guthrie, later Field Marshal the Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, was at full tilt and David wasted no time in embracing every aspect of the Battalion’s life.

The Battalion’s young officers were particularly indebted to David’s wise counsel and pragmatic nature. On one notorious occasion, a young officer visiting a club in the popular French Sector in Berlin had his cheque for 200 Deutsche Marks (DM) amended by the club’s proprietress to 20,000 DM. The cheque was not honoured and the proprietress tried to kick up a fuss, threatening to bring the matter to the attention of the Military Police. David quickly realised that matters would escalate, the Special Investigations Branch, were brought in, and all eventually landing on the Brigade Commander’s desk. David picked two Guardsmen from the rugby team just in case there was any trouble and went to see the club’s proprietress. She immediately saw sense and the matter was closed.

David began his career in the Royal Artillery but, early on, he saw his head for figures and his gift for looking after the wellbeing of others was better suited to a career in the Royal Army Pay Corps. It was a wise decision. David’s first appointment as Paymaster was to the Welsh Guards where he made an immediate impression on all ranks as a personable and approachable officer. David made it his priority to educate the younger Guardsmen on how to look after their finances, many of whom had never had a cheque book before. As David was once overheard saying to one Guardsmen who had come a little unstuck, ‘look laddie, just because you have got cheques left in your cheque book doesn’t mean you’ve got money in your account’.

David will best be remembered for his great talent for organising and leading adventurous training expeditions. In this he had the full support of Charles Guthrie who had long advocated the importance of sport, travel, and adventurous training in the Battalion’s life. In one expedition, the classic traverse of the Alps on skis from Chamonix to Saas Fee, David demonstrated leadership of a high quality. On the evening of the third day, the expedition party found itself in a complete whiteout. Worse still, one Guardsman had frost bite; another had snow blindness; and one was showing signs of severe altitude sickness.

Everyone, including David, was suffering from vertigo in the disorientating diffuse light where no horizon was visible. David knew they had to get to the refuge hut by nightfall if things were not to become serious. All the party were roped up and by using the sound navigational principle of ‘aiming off’, David got the party to the refuge hut as night fell. The refuge hut was well stocked with Stella Artois, but David’s last word of advice to keep an empty water bottle close to hand as the party turned in for the night was ignored. The refuge loo was a rudimentary affair, some distance from the hut, and down a metal staircase with no railing. In the early hours this made for some colourful language.

As the Battalion was about to embark on its operational tour of South Armagh, just after the murder of Lord Mountbatten and the Warrenpoint massacre where 18 soldiers of the The Queen’s Own Highlanders and the Parachute Regiment were killed, David gave a presentation on the Army Dependants Assurance Trust. This was an insurance scheme which he memorably described in the dark humour of the time as ‘Left Bollock Insurance’. Eyebrows were raised as David explained that the more you paid into the scheme, the more the limb would be covered.

David clearly had placemen in the Royal Army Pay Corps’s manning branch as his subsequent postings to Cyprus and Hong Kong revealed. He was the founder member and president of the Near East Forces Skiing Club in Cyprus, commandeering a well-appointed hut in the Troodos Mountains. He was also the driving force behind ‘The Lemmings’, a joint club for windsurfing and hang gliding. Hong Kong did not lend itself to skiing and windsurfing and hang gliding were considered too dangerous given the region’s topography. David contented himself with being the inaugural member of the cross-harbour swimming club. Both postings allowed David, with his wife Sandra, to bring up their four children, Judith, Douglas, David, and Robert in a carefree and spirited way.

His final appointment in the Army was as Chief Paymaster (Officers’ Accounts) and Commander Manchester Garrison in the rank of full colonel. This reflected not only his professional competence but also his great gift for getting along with all ranks. He retired from the Army in 1997.

David had a great sense of civic duty which he inherited from his grandfather, also named David Kirkwood, a trade unionist firebrand from Clydesdale who was elevated to the peerage as Baron Kirkwood in Clement Atlee’s second labour administration in 1951. In 1999, David was made a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater Manchester and chief executive of Broughton House, a care home for ex-servicemen and women. He also developed his extensive business interests in private finance initiatives for the defence and educational sectors.

He was a trencherman to the last and regularly attended the Welsh Guards Club dinners. Even as his final illness laid him low, his good spirits and humour never left him as he planned his own funeral. Sadly, the funeral could not take place as he would have wished as it was in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Royal Army Pay Corps website had many tributes to David’s life on the news of his death. One in particular seemed to capture the way he lived his life: ‘Top bloke, David, he did so much and helped so many; the only thing he never did was an audit’.

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