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Captain C D Aikenhead
Late Irish Guards

by Brigadier Christopher Wolverson OBE DL
formerly Irish Guards

On 7th July 2020, Charles (Charlie as he was known by all save his mother) Aikenhead died tragically whilst attempting to put out a fire which threatened to engulf his hotel at Rorke’s Drift in South Africa. There was a memorial service on the banks of the Buffalo River in November, which his two sons, Nick and Phil, attended. The Rorke’s Drift Hotel, following recent enormous efforts to realise Charlie’s dream, is now open again.

Charlie was born 6th February 1946. After education at Cheltenham College (where he gained a reputation as a good side drummer in the CCF) and Sandhurst, he was commissioned into the Irish Guards in 1965. He was destined for the Irish Guards, and indeed for Africa, from an early age. His father Major Robert Aikenhead served with the 1st Battalion Irish Guards in North Africa, and in Italy, where he was taken prisoner-of-war. After the war he served with the King’s African Rifles in the former Rhodesia. It was here that Charlies’ love for Africa was born.

After Charlie had served with the Battalion in Chelsea Barracks for a few months, The Queen presented New Colours at Buckingham Palace. He was one of the Ensigns for the New Colours.

Later that year he went to Aden with No 1 Company. The Battalion, whilst based in Little Aden, undertook tours up country in the Radfan mountains. His Company Commander remembers him as an effective, resilient, positive and unflappable officer. Sadly, disaster struck. He was escorting a party of sailors from HMS Caprice to a WOMBAT anti-tank gun fire power demonstration up at Habilayn in January 1967. A shell exploded prematurely. Four Guardsmen were killed and eight others, including Charlie and three sailors, were injured. Mercifully most of those injuries were comparatively minor, but he and Guardsman Bell were evacuated to England. Charlie was in and out of The Royal Herbert Military Hospital Woolwich for two years. Amongst the naval party was a young officer, whose son is now serving in the Regiment!

Charlie then went to the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham and in 1970 he was awarded a BSc in Mechanical Engineering; he was always technically minded. It is alleged that he wooed an erstwhile girlfriend, before his marriage, with tales of repairing the transmission drive shaft in his car. Hardly surprising the relationship did not blossom, but the girl still remembers the incident! He then joined the Battalion in Hong Kong as Signals Officer. Here he was able to enjoy his love of the sea and sailing. He dived, he ran the project to rebuild the Stanley Services Boat Club, which had been destroyed in a typhoon, and he had his own junk, which his wife Penny and he enjoyed. He also resurrected The Harp, a battalion newspaper, which was started whilst we were in Aden. He mentions in his first editorial in February 1971 how ‘his pen wobbles’ at the memory of those earlier editions; clearly the job went with being Signals Officer.

The Battalion returned to Caterham and then off to Belize, where Charlie acted as Adjutant and was able to renew his love of the sea, becoming a British Sub Aqua Club instructor. Those were the days! Shortly after returning to Caterham, he retired from the Army.

After a time with British Oxygen, he worked for a packaging company and then established his own company, ALPMA GB Ltd, making machinery for food packaging. His love for engineering was invaluable. The company was very successful and is now run by his son Nick.

In 2003, Charlie moved to South Africa and worked in the tourist industry. In Ladysmith, he devised a Field Gun Run, similar to the annual race at the Royal Tournament. Not only did this commemorate the vital part the Naval Brigade and their guns played in the Relief of Ladysmith, but also the valour of ‘my brave Irish soldiers’, which inspired Queen Victoria to form the Irish Guards. In 2010, he built a hotel at Rorke’s Drift. The last time many of us saw him was when he attended the Irish Guards Aden 50 Years On lunch at White’s in 2016 organised by David Webb-Carter.

Charlie was respected by his friends in the Irish Guards and is remembered fondly as an engaging, good looking, smart, fun loving, determined, and efficient officer. We shall miss him.

Quis Separabit

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