Born: 19 June, 1931, in Torquay. Died: 24 December, 2015, in Kingussie, aged 84.
There was little doubt that Charles Craigie Halkett would join the army: he came from a long and illustrious line of courageous military men who had served and sometimes died for their country.
Down the centuries the family maintained a continuous tradition of son following father into the service of the Crown, more often than not as soldiers. His father, Brigadier General Hugh Marjoribanks Craigie Halkett, a Highland Light Infantry officer, was decorated three times with the Distinguished Service Order and Mentioned in Dispatches on four occasions.
The young Charles would uphold that custom of valour in the face of adversity during his own service with the regiment, cheating death in an attempt to rescue its Colours from a blazing building in Egypt and surviving a grenade blast in Cyprus.
He went on to serve in Aden, Malta, Germany, Borneo and Aldershot before taking command of a regiment in Northern Ireland where, after two years’ active service enduring some of the worst of The Troubles, he was asked to stay on for another six months during which time he suffered an undiagnosed heart attack. Grit and determination were inbuilt.
Born in Devon, he had three older sisters and was educated at St Ronan’s prep school, West Worthing, Essex before the Second World War intervened and it was evacuated to Lord Clinton’s estate in Devon. He subsequently attended Bedford School and then enlisted in the Scots Guards, passing out top of the Brigade Squad. However, he chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and on commissioning from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst he joined the 1st Bn The Highland Light Infantry as a 2nd lieutenant in 1951.
He served in Tobruk and Malta and toured the eastern Mediterranean as Officer on Board HMS Surprise with Lord Louis Mountbatten, on one occasion lunching with the then prime minister of Yugoslavia Marshal Tito.
From 1952-55 he was in Egypt’s Canal Zone as captain and commanding officer of D Company when he attempted to rescue the regiment’s Colours after the Officers’ Mess caught fire. Overcome by smoke, he was dragged unconscious from the blazing building, lucky to escape with his life. The incident was later parodied in a cartoon which appears in a book he wrote about the family history, Hold Until Relieved, and when the regiment was amalgamated with the Royal Highland Fusiliers Princess Margaret presented new Colours.
He then spent a year in Cyprus where troops were deployed to the British colony to counter the Greek Cypriot EOKA terror campaign which was pursuing a union with Greece. He was wounded when a hand grenade, thrown into the Officers’ Mess, exploded behind his chair. He carried shrapnel inside him for the rest of his life but the incident did not stop him taking part in the toboggan ice race, the Cresta Run, for the army in St Moritz on 1956.
Three years later he was captain of the Royal Guard at Balmoral during president Dwight Eisenhower’s visit and in 1960 he became Yemen Company Commander, aged 28. His career took him to Aden, Malta, where he was second in command of the King’s Own Malta Regiment, Germany and Borneo before he took a staff appointment at Aldershot. It was here that he designed an entirely new training course, of an altogether more adventurous nature, for the Combined and Army Cadet Forces. The programme, known as Apex, earned him an MBE.
From there his service included two tours of Northern Ireland, followed by a spell in Singapore on a jungle warfare course before returning to Northern Ireland from 1972-5. Promoted to Lt Colonel, he took command of the 3rd (County Down) Bn of the Ulster Defence regiment based at Ballykinler. It was a period that witnessed some of the some of the worst violence of The Troubles, including the murder of two British soldiers in a bombing outside the Ballykinler Army base in 1974.
Unbeknown to anyone, during his last six months of duty in Northern Ireland he had suffered a heart attack and, during his subsequent posting, to a Nato Headquarters in Limburg, the Netherlands, he became seriously unwell and on the verge of having a second – a period of ill health that restricted further promotion.
He became a Member of the Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland in 1975 and from 1977 spent a couple of years as housing commandant at the Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire. His final post, from 1979-85, was as commandant for the Otterburn Training Area in Northumberland. There he was responsible for 55,000 acres of land.
The management of that swathe of Northumberland was excellent experience for his life beyond the army when he became factor of Mar Lodge, a large estate at the head of the River Dee in what is now the Cairngorms National Park.
The role suited him perfectly and he ran the estate and its sportings with elan, entertaining visiting sportsmen who came to enjoy country pursuits and impressing the keepers and ghillies with his extensive knowledge of dogs, shooting and stalking. He also factored at Gaick Estate near Kingussie, then owned by the French luxury goods heir Xavier-Louis Vuitton, and Dalchully, and was a member of the British Deer Society and the Countryside Alliance.
His other interests included dogs and horses and playing polo. But behind the gifted sportsman and immaculately dressed social extrovert – in the army he held court over pre-dinner drinks known as Halkett’s Half Hour – was a talented writer and researcher. Justifiably proud of his heritage and the family’s considerable service to the Crown, he wrote a carefully-researched account of the different branches of his family’s history. His book Hold Until Relieved was published in 2001, the same year that he re-assumed, on the ruling of the Lord Lyon, the name Craigie-Halkett-Inglis of Cramond, which dated back to 1849 and the family seat of Cramond House.
A quintessential military man, who observed in his memoirs “All things considered, I am very glad I was a soldier”, his last battle was fought characteristically with great courage, against cancer. Although in pain from a fractured pelvis, he would drive himself to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for regular chemotherapy sessions where his consultant and the nursing staff insisted on referring to him as “The General”.
He is survived by his wife Patricia, whom he married in Windsor Park in 1966, son Hugh and daughters Susie and Emma.