Obituary: Lt-Gen Sir Steuart Pringle of Stichill, Commandant-General of the Royal Marines

Sir Steuart Pringle. Picture: Contributed

Sir Steuart Pringle. Picture: Contributed

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Born: 21 July, 1928, in Dover. Died: 18 April, 2013, in London, aged 84.

Lieutenant-General Sir Steuart Pringle of Stichill was the Commandant-General of the Royal Marines who survived an IRA bomb attack of the type that killed Airey Neave MP. The device exploded in his car shortly after he drove away from his south London home. Knowing the capacity of the IRA for secondary devices, his immediate action was to warn would-be rescuers to stand clear of the scene.

Seriously injured – he lost his right leg below the knee – Sir Steuart displayed the courage that personified him by being back at his desk at the Ministry of Defence five months later.

He achieved all this at a time when the very existence of the then 317-year-old Royal Marines was in doubt, following a review by John Nott, the then Secretary of State for Defence.

The terrible injuries created a truce in his personal battle to save the Marines, but when Argentina invaded the Falklands, it was to Pringle’s Marines that the Ministry of Defence turned, and the conflict effectively saved the Corps.

Steuart Robert Pringle of Stichill, always known as Robin to his friends, possessed notable Scots ancestry. He was tenth in line from Sir Robert Pringle, laird of Stichill, a village near Kelso, Roxburghshire, who was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1682. Sir Robert went on to become MP for the county, thus beginning a long line of public service which ran down ten generations through military, civilian and consular life.

Sir Steuart’s father, Sir Norman Hamilton Pringle of Stichill, the ninth Baronet, served as a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. His line, however, goes back at least to the 15th-century William Pringle, constable of Cessford Castle.

The family seat was Newhall in Roxburghshire until it was sold in 1920 by the eighth Baronet, Sir Norman. The sale cut the Pringles from their Border heritage, though it did not halt a long-standing campaign to have Sir Steuart recognised as head of the notable Border family of Pringle.

The house of Pringle remains without a chief, though down the centuries help towards recognising a head of the family has come from many quarters, notably Sir Walter Scott. In his ballad collection Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Sir Walter notes: “The honourable name of Pringle, or Hoppringle, is of great antiquity in Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire. The old tower of Torsonce is situated upon the banks of the Gala [Water]. I believe the Pringles of Torsonce are now represented by Sir John Pringle of Stitchell.”

Hoppringle of that Ilk, afterwards Pringle of Torsonce, had been head of the house until the last chief, John Hoppringle of that Ilk and Torsonce, died in 1737. His only daughter, Margaret, married Gilbert Pringle, younger son of the second Baronet of Stichill, thus carrying the arms and lands into the Stichill branch.

Educated at Sherbourne, Steuart Pringle was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1946. His abilities for leadership and command were soon recognised, and he saw active service in the Emergency in Malaya, at Suez with 3 Commando Brigade, as well as two tours of duty in Cyprus during the EOKA campaign.

His appetite for action was unabated and he saw further front-line action in Brunei, following a revolt against the sultan, and during the Indonesian confrontation.

Such action did not dim his deserved reputation as one of the most cerebral Marine officers, and top command quickly came his way – in defence planning in Whitehall, with 40 Commando on relief aid in the then East Pakistan, and as Commanding Officer of 45 Commando in two tours of Northern Ireland.

Appointed KCB in 1982, he took retirement from his beloved Marines two years later, and for many years was president of the Royal Marines Association, as well as becoming the very active chairman of Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust.

Sir Steuart succeeded in the baronetcy in 1961, and is survived by a son and two daughters. He was predeceased by another son, and by his wife Jacqueline Gladwell. His elder son Simon Robert Pringle of Stichill succeeds as 11th Baronet.

GORDON CASELY

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