Major General J.M.D. Ward-Harrison, OBE, MC, DL

As a schoolboy at Shrewsbury in 1935, after John Ward-Harrison had coxed the School Eight at Henley, they said of him: "He commanded his crew well and steered a very good course in conditions that were not easy". Half a century later, how apt these simple words proved to be as a description of his life.
As a Private in the school OTC, his later military fame was evidently not foreseen. Born in Poole, Dorset, on 18th April 1918, he grew up in Suffolk, where he bagan his lifelong interest in country sports and where he joined the Suffolk Yeomanry before coming to the Regiment with a regular commission on 2nd July 1939. The war had become inevitable.
Thereafter, for the next 33 years he was a soldier. Growing steadily in experience and responsibility, John out-matched his progress as a career soldier with much more than the conventional esteem which attaches to mere rank. A chronological record of his appointments leaves out what really counted. As he himself said in an address at the memorial service of a fellow-officer: "Any mere catalogue of interests and achievements tends to obscure some of the simple truths. What most people need is not so much to have burdens lifted as to have their hearts strengthened with fresh hope".
He was firstly a fighting soldier, winning two Military Crosses when commanding C Squadron, the first in France on 12th August 1944 and a second on 22nd October in the attack on 's-Hertogenbosch in Holland. Outstanding courage and initiative were qualities revealed in both citations. An extract reads:
"... there was every indication that the attack would fail but for Major Ward-Harrison's personal action. With complete disregard for his safety, he manoeuvred his tank across the minefield in the face of anti-tank fire, attacking and destroying an enemy position which was holding up the advance ..."
His first formal Staff training was at the South African Staff College in Pretoria in 1945/46, and there followed a series of staff and regimental appointments in UK and overseas, including commanding 10th Hussars at Paderborn in BAOR from 1959-62. At a later stage in his career, he was Deputy Commandant at the Staff College and in due course attended the Imperial Defence College Course. He had been promoted Major General in 1968 on becoming GOC Northumbrian District.
But, in keeping with the example set by the Duke of Wellington who had his foxhounds with him during his Peninsular Campaign and the requirement that young officers went hunting at least twice a week, John Ward-Harrison saw to it that these proper diversions from strict military duty were included in his activities.
Whipping-in to a small pack of beagles in Northamptonshire in 1942; galloping paper-chase style in pursuit of Bryan Marshall (later to win two Grand Nationals) across the very rideable farmlands of Schleswig-Holstein soon after the surrender; hunting his own hounds in Germany; whipping-in to the Zetland and in recent years serving as Field Master of the Middleton, he rode well and boldly but, more to the point, he was a countryman for whom fox-hunting provided many of his joys-the open-air life, horsemanship, a touch of danger and the arts of venery. Such a lifestyle produces its anecdotes.
Once he lost a bet and gave great delight, when riding an uncertain hireling, he was despatched to watch the corner of a gorse covert in Co Wexford at the behest of the then Marquess of Kildare, MFH, and, in full view of his friends, he had a fall going and another coming back over the same very small bank.
On another occasion, again with Gerald Kildare and accompanied by their wives on their way from Dublin to Wexford, after a well-lubricated luncheon, they ran deep into a flooded river ford. Water swirled up over the floor-boards and the engine failed. It was dark, luncheon was fading, the prospects were discouraging. "Remember the Ark?" asked Kildare, "and d'you remember the dove?-well, you are the dove. Fly off and see whether any uncovered land lies ahead". Rolling his trousers up to his knees, John stepped out into the flood and disappeared into the night. Time passed slowly for the passengers and all seemed lost until, slip, slop was heard and a very un-dove-like John emerged with a large mouthful of leaves. It is said that the car eventually dragged itself out on the starter-motor.
There were other diversions and disappointments. As a young officer, John had shared with a brother officer, or so they both believed, the affections of an especially nubile young lady, only to learn that her choice was to be made known that it was not the charms of either but their green trousers that attracted her.
Orthodox as his career required, he was to his close friends a man of unsuspected diversity and even pleasingly unconventional on some issues. Those who saw him as a galloping major or the conventional impeccably turnedout commanding officer of a smart cavalry regiment or the forbidding Major General, only saw half the man and half his talents. During a concert when the Regiment was stationed in a tented camp on the Yorkshire Wolds, the stage was invaded by a furious bewhiskered old farmer. Shaking his stick and brooking no interruption, in a broad Suffolk dialect he berated the assembled company in particular and the Army in general. Early surprise, delight and then embarrassment was the response from the all-ranks audience with unsuccessful attempts to usher him off the stage. Eventually it dawned. It was Major John W-H. It was a triumph; he had fooled everyone.
Some time before his retirement in 1972, John and his wife, June, had made their home near York, where he was to become involved in all sorts of voluntary work. His innate competence, his experience and his personal qualities made it virtually inevitable that he should be much sought-after.
Especially significant was his appointment as Director of Funds for York Minster. The need for money was critical and, characteristically, John applied his talents and energies where they were most effective. The total of the funds he raised is not stated, but it was enormous. The Dean wrote: "John Ward-Harrison provided dynamic executive leadership for the York Minster Fund. As its Director he was able to focus sufficient support for York Minster in the early 1970s to carry it through the major restoration of that time. Since then, his untiring efforts have helped to provide York Minster with unequalled financial support from the whole of Yorkshire and further afield. Only a few weeks before his death, John sat in my study and assured me that the York Minster Fund would always provide sufficient money to repair and maintain the Minster. This, he added, would allow me, as Dean, to attend to the real business of providing beautiful worship of God and the proclaiming of the Christian gospel."
As Vice Lord Lieutenant to Lord Normanby, he earned the same accolades. "John was a splendidly efficient Vice Lord Lieutenant to me and I shall miss his help in this capacity very greatly indeed—and his friendship and utter integrity more than I can say."
He was also Manager of Thirsk Racecourse, in which capacity a colleague said of him, "He combined such great tact and charm with his enormous efficiency". Such qualities do not often come together.
But he did not wear his heart on his sleeve: it was hidden from most who knew him, so that kindness and a profound spiritual commitment were only revealed to a few. Not so his lovely sense of humour. Friends, as soldiers and civilians, who enjoyed half a lifetime of escapades - some outrageous, some just hilarious - remember these as they remember his sterner qualities.
His greatest happiness came in 1945 when he was married to June Fleury Teulon, and the birth of their son and daughter. Their greatest sorrow came with the tragic death of their son, Martin, and an earlier death during the war of June's brother, Basil, also an Inniskilling. Their greatest triumph was their courage and dignity in facing these disasters. No wonder they earned together - and June has perpetuated - a profound respect to reinforce the deeply-felt affection of all who have known them both.
At the funeral service in their village church, this passage was a fitting farewell in revealing John Ward-Harrison's faith, hope and courage:
If I should die and leave you here awhile,
Be not like others sore, undone, who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust and weep.
For my sake turn again to life and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort other hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine,
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you.
We cannot help but mourn his death, but let us give thanks for his life.

5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards Journal, 1985