Obituary: Viscount Allenby of Meggido, soldier and Deputy Lord Speaker

Lt-Col Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: Career soldier who became respected figure in the Lords
Lt-Col Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: Career soldier who became respected figure in the Lords
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Born: 20 April, 1931, in London. Died: 3 October, 2014, in Hampshire, aged 83

VISCOUNT Allenby of Megiddo enjoyed a distinguished career as a soldier with the Royal Hussars and as a crossbench member of the House of Lords.

He was the great-nephew of Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, the renowned commander who saw action in both the Boer War and the First World War. The 1st Lord Allenby had dealings during the latter conflict with Lawrence of Arabia (Captain TE Lawrence) who wrote of their meeting: “He was hardly prepared for anything so odd as myself – a little bare-footed silk-skirted man.”

In fact the Field Marshal much respected Lawrence and appointed him as his personal liaison officer.

Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Jaffray Hynman Allenby, 3rd Viscount Allenby of Felixstowe and Megiddo, was educated at Eton and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 11th Hussars (later the Royal Hussars) and served with the ­armoured cavalry in various hot-spots: notably in Malaya (1953-1956). He acted as aide-de-camp to the governor of ­Cyprus (1957-8), Brigade Major of the 51st Brigade in Hong Kong (1967-9) and commanded the Royal Yeomanry (TA) (1974-7).

Before retiring from the army in 1986 Allenby was an instructor at the Staff College in ­Nigeria.

Allenby took his seat in the House of Lords in 1985 and served as its Deputy Speaker from 1993 to 1999. He was a regular attender at the Upper House and served on many ­internal committees.

Having lost his automatic right to a seat under the House of Lords Act 1999, he was never­theless elected by his crossbench hereditary colleagues to remain in the House. It was a mark of the respect in which he was held by his fellows that he retained his seat.

One of Allenby’s passions was the excavations at Megiddo in Israel; the site has enormous theological significance especially under its Greek name – Armageddon. In 1918 his great uncle had commanded the British troops in the Battle of Megiddo against the defending Ottoman troops.

The area has been the site of several important archaeological digs over the centuries and Allenby and his wife Sara often joined the archaeologists from Tel Aviv University – spending days in the hot sun with a trowel and carefully removing the sand from artefacts. They stayed with the team in a nearby kibbutz and had long discussions into the night about their finds of the day. Allenby was a tremendous enthusiast for the ­excavations and admitted on one of his last visits to the site, aged 80, “We find it absolutely riveting to be here and see the work progressing so well.”

He was a most dedicated ­patron of the British-Israel-World Federation and did much to raise the profile of the historical importance of the site.

Throughout his life Allenby was a keen horseman and took a special interest in eventing. In 1988, he became the regional co-ordinator for South-east England and he gave much encouragement to young riders. Later, he became a selector and took teams to four European Championships – winning team gold and individual gold at Blair Castle in 1996.

Allenby gave British eventing coach Gill Watson a tour of the House of Lords. She recalled: “It was a great experience; Michael always made time for all of us involved with the team. He made a huge contribution to the sport, in particular to the junior programme.”

Allenby was chairman of the International League for the Protection of Horses 1997-9. In 1999, he questioned the minister in the Lords suggesting the 1911 welfare Act needed updating.

He also intervened in the ­debate on hunting in 2003. With typical commitment he made his position crystal clear: “I believe passionately in the right of others to hunt with hounds, whether it be for foxes, deer, mink or hare.”

After a balanced and informed speech, he concluded: “Whatever one’s personal view on hunting, are there not more important matters to which the government should give their attention?”

Viscount Allenby, a much respected man for his courtesy, gallantry and civility, married Sara Wiggin in 1965. Their son, the Hon Jaffray Allenby, ­succeeds to the title.