Obituary: Nicholas Ridley, OBE, soldier

Brigadier Nicholas Ridley OBE led hunt for bombers after 18 soldiers killed in an attack in Northern Ireland. Picture: Contributed
Brigadier Nicholas Ridley OBE led hunt for bombers after 18 soldiers killed in an attack in Northern Ireland. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 25 March 1941, in Quetta, British India (now Pakistan). Died: 20 April, 2016, Melrose, Roxburghshire, aged 75

Nicholas Ridley, as acting commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, the Queen’s Own Highlanders, was the man who rallied both his own men and those of 2 Para after a double radio-controlled explosion killed 18 British soldiers at Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland, on 27 August, 1979. It was the British Army’s worst loss in a single incident during the Troubles.

Two days later, Ridley was host to the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, on a visit to soldiers at Crossmaglen, in “bandit country”. She wept on being shown the solitary epaulette remaining of the battalion’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel David Blair. What Ridley told her led to the setting up of a new security directorate to improve intelligence.

Ridley, in command of D Company on the battalion’s five-month tour of duty, had already demonstrated initiative far beyond that expected of a soldier in what was supposed to be a peacekeeping role. Faced with a ruthless enemy that was targeting the troops with advanced technology, and having lost one member of a foot patrol to a remote-controlled bomb, Ridley set out to catch the killers.

A raid on a suspect boat on Lough Ross yielded, after an exchange of gunfire, a quantity of radio-control equipment.

Soon afterwards, Ridley personally made a night patrol in Crossmaglen so as to lure out the operator of a radio-controlled bomb which, it was known, had been planted in the area. He located three men hiding in a farmhouse overlooking the village. On seeing one attempting to escape, Ridley used patrols from S and D companies, and from 2 Para, to capture the three. The 100lb bomb was found and removed.

For his work between August and December 1979, Ridley, the grandson of Edinburgh-born Second World War General Sir Philip Christison, was appointed MBE.

After a tour in Hong Kong, Ridley was made commanding officer of the battalion in January 1982, and led it in restoring to order the war-scarred capital of the Falkland Islands, Port Stanley. The battalion formed the first garrison there after the British victory over Argentina, and, under Ridley’s enthusiastic and technically accomplished leadership, the place was transformed. For that achievement, Ridley was made OBE.

Nicholas John Ridley was born in Quetta, British India (now Pakistan), and educated at Shrewsbury School, Shropshire. He first considered joining the Royal Navy, but failed an eyesight test. Instead he went to Sandhurst, and was commissioned into the QOH (now 4 Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland) in 1962.

He was close to, and held in high respect, his grandfather, whose XV Corps in Arakan, Burma, won the turning-point “Battle of the Admin Box” over the Japanese in 1944 and went on to take Rangoon. Christison also received the Japanese 7th Area Army’s surrender of Singapore to the British on 3 September, 1945.

The general, who became GOC-in-C of Scottish Command and Governor of Edinburgh Castle, visited the battalion when Ridley was commanding officer.

Ridley’s mother was Christison’s daughter, Heather. His father was Colonel Charles Ridley. He had a brother, William, who predeceased him, and a sister, Caroline, who survives him.

Ridley was posted to Singapore early in his career, and led a platoon in campaigns in Borneo. He married, in 1966, Isabel Susan Spencer-Nairn, known as Sue. They had three children, Alexia, Susanna, and Charles. Alexia predeceased him in 1992. His wife died in 2009. His son and daughter and close friend, Rosemary Wolrige Gordon, survive him.

After serving as intelligence officer and later adjutant at the Highland Brigade Depot at Bridge of Don, as well as in Germany, and Northern Ireland, he studied at the technical division of the army staff college at Shrivenham. This was followed by staff college, Camberley, in 1973. A post as GSO 2 Weapons (Operational Research) at the school of infantry, Warminster, prepared him for Northern Ireland; after 1979 he worked at the Ministry of Defence in London.

He went on after the Falklands to direct studies at Shrivenham, then in 1988 worked on the development of the Warrior armoured vehicle. He was promoted Brigadier in December 1988, and took charge of 54 Infantry Brigade in East Anglia, before a final senior posting at Shrivenham, and retirement in 1993.

Proficient at athletics, cricket and football, Ridley enjoyed the grouse moor and country pursuits, being, his family recall, “a very good shot”.

He made a second career in charity work, being a lead fundraiser for Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals in London, and supporting the regimental museum and local causes near his home in Melrose, Roxburghshire.

Yet he is remembered most fondly for his enthusiastic support of the regiment’s music. Himself a talented singer and violinist, he encouraged its peerless pipers, such as Alasdair Gillies (Scotsman obituary, 29 August, 2011), and singing in Gaelic.

When he sang, for the last time, the regiment’s March of the Cameron Men, as guest of honour at a luncheon last year, the accompaniment was played on the very clarsach, or Celtic harp, that was its gift from the illustrious grandfather whose triumphs his own achievements echoed.