Major General Sir Desmond Rice, whose leadership proved vital during Army reorganisation – obituary

Telegraph Obituaries
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Sir Desmond Rice
Sir Desmond Rice

Major General Sir Desmond Rice, who has died aged 95, played a leading part in raising the Royal Yeomanry (RY) during a major reorganisation of the Army and in the face of great difficulties.

In 1967, following the Defence White Paper of the previous year, the regimental and divisional structure of the TA was abolished and the title Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve (TAVR) was adopted. Rice, on assuming command of the RY, had the problem of merging five squadrons.

These were drawn from five different Yeomanry regiments, each with their own ideas, traditions and forms of dress and all with different standards of training. They were also widely dispersed, being based at Westminster, Croydon, Wiltshire, Nottingham and Northern Ireland.

To foster the best characteristics of each while retaining the local links and weld these diverse elements together called for first-rate leadership, an adroit blend of tact and firmness and involved long hours of work and constant travel.

Rice created an efficient and united armoured car regiment and proved that a volunteer unit could be trained and equipped to undertake an immediate mobilisation role. In 1970, he was appointed OBE in recognition of the successful completion of a most challenging assignment.

Desmond Hind Garrett Rice was born on December 1 1924 and educated at Marlborough. In November 1944 he was commissioned into The Queen’s Bays and, arriving in Naples in the last blacked-out ship, he joined his regiment just before the end of hostilities in Italy.

In 1947, he accompanied his regiment to the Canal Zone. After a spell at the War Office, he rejoined the regiment in Fallingbostel, Germany. Command of a squadron was followed by Joint Services Staff College and then a return to the regiment as second-in-command.

Command of the RY was followed by a series of exacting high-profile staff jobs ideally suited to his analytical mind, quick grasp of key problems and command of detail. He was, progressively, GSO 2 in the Military Operations Directorate at the War Office, DAA and QMG in 11 Brigade at Minden, Germany, and Military Assistant to the GOC Berlin, Major General Sir John Nelson.

After three years as Colonel GS of the 4th Division in BAOR, in 1973 he moved to the MoD as Brigadier General Staff in the Military Operations Directorate, responsible for the operational employment of the Army.

The following year, when Turkish forces invaded Cyprus, Rice’s general was on holiday in France. Rice deployed two brigades and reported to the general that everything was under control and there was no need to cut short his holiday. He was appointed CBE at the end of his tour.

After a year at the Royal College of Defence Studies, he returned to the MoD as Director of Manning for the Army and, then, as Vice Adjutant General. This was a difficult period for the armed services as a whole; successive pay freezes had led to under-manning, poor retention rates and low morale.

Rice retired from the Army in 1979 and joined the Royal Household as Secretary of the Central Chancery of Orders of Knighthood (1980–89. He was responsible for all the investitures and the chivalry services in St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

In 1989 he was appointed KCVO and also became an Extra Gentleman Usher to the Queen. From 1980 to 1986 he was Colonel 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards.

Major General Sir Desmond Rice married, in 1954, Denise Ravenscroft. She predeceased him and he is survived by their daughter.

Major General Sir Desmond Rice, born December 1 1924, died July 14 2020