Obituary: General Sir Michael Gow GCB, soldier and author

Born: 3 June, 1924, in Sheffield. Died: 26 March, 2013, in Edinburgh, aged 88

Mike Gow was a great peacetime General and a passionate enthusiast for Edinburgh and Scotland. He was certainly one of the most distinguished Guards General of the 20th century.

Born on 3 June, 1924, he was educated at Winchester College, and at the age of 19 he was commissioned as a Scots Guards Officer on 5 June, 1943. In 1944-45 he served in north-west Europe at a time when the Scots Guards fought their way from Normandy to the Baltic.

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For a time he acted as the Quartermaster, ensuring that the solders were properly equipped and had everything they needed before going into battle.

It would not be the only military campaign in which he would be involved successfully. In 1949 he served with the Scots Guards during the Malayan Emergency, a conflict in which the security forces gained the upper hand.

Thereafter, he became Equerry to HRH the Duke of Gloucester. In 1955 he became Brigade Major and two years later Regimental Adjutant of the Scots Guards. In 1962 he became an instructor at Army Staff College and between 1964 and 1966 he commanded the 2 Battalion of Scots Guards in Kenya and in Britain.

It was at this time that it became clear that he would be destined to go to the very top of his profession. Tall, imposing and formidable, Mike Gow had immense qualities of leadership. He also had a strong academic grasp of all military issues and of all relevant army manuals.

In 1966 he became a senior staff officer of the HQ of London District, and in 1968 he assumed the command of the 4th Guards Brigade. By 1973 he had become the General Officer commanding the 4th Division BAOR, and in 1975 was given the key role of being director of all Army Training.

Then in 1979 Mike Gow received a command which he greatly enjoyed. He was appointed the General Officer, commanding Scotland and Governor of Edinburgh Castle, in whose apartments he stayed. For many Generals such a post would prove to be their last command, but not for Mike Gow.

When he took the salute at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, his obvious delight at the professionalism of the servicemen and women participating did not disguise the reality that he would soon be a Commander in Chief. In 1980 he was Commander in Chief BAOR and Commander of the Northern Army Group. In this role he would excel. Indeed, during the Falklands war he ensured that any assistance which could be given by the Northern Army Group was given in full measure.

Years later he would write a highly entertaining book entitled Jottings in a General’s Notebook, which showed him to be a Guardsman of great humility, loyalty and dedication, who had no reservations about telling amusing stories against himself.

In it he published the letter he had sent to the Chief of the General Staff on 1 July, 1983, which revealed the truth and was the epitaph of his entire career. “Sir, I have the honour to report that I have handed over the Army under my commend. To the best of my knowledge there are no deficiencies to report, and the morale of all ranks is of a high order.”

What can one say about a Commander in Chief who remains so highly prepared that he and his troops are never seriously threatened, whose authority remains unshakeable, whose standards are of the highest, and whose stature grows steadily year after year?

He was a Commander in Chief at a time of peace, and his great skills as an Army Commander were never put to the test. Instead, he could be reassured, with a certain knowledge that his had been a job well done, and that he had rendered distinguished service to his country.

He had seen military campaigns in the Second World War, and because he wanted peace he was prepared for war, and the peace was maintained.

Between 1981 and 1984 he was ADC General to the Queen and he remained close to the Royal Family. In 1989 he published, with a forward by Prince Philip, Trooping the Colour: A History of the Sovereign’s Birthday Parade by the Household Troops.

The purpose of this annual ceremony was to mark the official birthday of the monarch, and symbolised the close relationship between the Queen and the Household Division.

By writing this book Mike Gow signalled his determination that Trooping the Colour must be superb pageantry and be extremely well done.

From 1984 to 1986 he was commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies, a job in which he was able to impart his vast knowledge to others.

After his retirement in 1986 he was very active as president of the Royal British Legion Scotland and of the Earl Haig Fund Scotland. To them he was a guide, philosopher and friend. He was also chairman of the Scottish Ex-Services Charitable Organisation and chairman of the Queen Victoria School in Dunblane. He was the supporter of countless other good causes, from the Disablement Service Group Scotland to the British Scouts of Western Europe. The needs of those who had been injured in war and the aspirations of youth always remained close to his heart.

He was made a Freeman of the City of London and of the State of Kansas, so he was known and respected well beyond the boundaries of his native Scotland.

Inevitably, two of his particular enthusiasms related to the Church and to the Queen’s Body Guard of Scotland.

From 1988 he had been an elder of Canongate Kirk, close to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and assisted with many church and presbytery matters. He was also a very familiar figure as a member of the Queen’s Body Guard for Scotland, the Royal Company of Archers.

Mike Gow was happily married to his wife Jane Emily Scott for more than 50 years, and he was a strong family man with four daughters and one son.

He was a patriotic Scotsman totally committed to his regiment, the Scots Guards, and to Scotland.

His service was exceptional, and in Edinburgh he was a kenspeckle figure – a big, powerful, friendly man with a great sense of humour who brightened the lives of all around him.