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