General Sir Hugh Beach, GBE, KCB, MC

06 September 2019

General Sir Hugh Beach, Honorary Fellow since 1982, has died aged 96.  He was the son of Major-General William Beach, a sapper who had won the D.S.O. in the Great War, and who was once Engineer-in-Chief of the Indian Army.  Major-General Beach’s father had been a missionary in China and the Christian faith was a powerful force in Hugh Beach’s formation and outlook.

In 1941, straight from school, he joined the Royal Engineers.  The R.E. sent him briefly to Peterhouse after his basic training and then to Officers’ Cadet School.  He was commissioned in 1942 and in the Divisional Engineers to the 7th Armoured Division.  In 1944 he was operational in Normandy and, as the allies advanced, won the M.C. for bravery near Lille.  Wounded, he spent six months in hospital, but by the time he had recovered the Germans had surrendered and he was sent out to India and Ceylon and then to Java.

He came back to Peterhouse as a student in 1946.  Here he was Captain of Boats, President of the undergraduates’ common room (the ‘Sexcentenary Club’).  He was an undergraduate contemporary at the same college and in the same Tripos as (later Major-General) Marston Tickell (1923-2009), also an M.C.  As students both men were said to have had remarkable intelligence and both gained a First in both parts of the Mechanical Sciences Tripos (as Engineering was then called).  Beach was offered a place at a theological college, but his career did not move to the church, since the Army, after funding his studies at Cambridge, determined to keep him.

In 1949 he was a senior instructor at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham training national servicemen.  In 1953 he sat and was awarded the top mark in the Staff College examination.  He spent a year in the War Office, and was then posted to B.A.O.R. to take command of 4th Field Squadron.  After a time at Joint Services Staff College he was sent to Nairobi as Deputy Assistant-Adjutant and Quarter-master General of 24th Infantry Brigade.  He came back to this country to take command of Cambridge University O.T.C. from 1960 to 1963.  Beach was a soldier and an academic and was ideally suited to this rôle.  Under his charge, and with his encouragement and guidance, some of the brightest young men of their generation went into the Army.

He was said to be the cleverest general of his own generation and his skills were revealed in from 1964, when, in the newly created Ministry of Defence, as General Staff Officer (Grade 1) of Army Staff Duties 5 under Major-General (later Field Marshal Lord) Carver, he had responsibility for the detailed planning for a fundamental and effective reorganisation of the volunteer reserves with the aim of bringing the regular Army from a peace to a war footing.

When his part in this work was done, in 1966 he was promoted brigadier and commanded 2nd Divisional Engineers and later the 12th Infantry Brigade in B.A.O.R.  He then proceeded to a Defence Fellowship at Edinburgh University and gained an M.Sc.

Beach was promoted major-general in 1971 and returned to the M.O.D. as Director of Army Staff Duties before taking over as Commandant at the Staff College.  In 1975 he was promoted lieutenant-general, and in successive years he was appointed Deputy Commander U.K. Land Forces and Master General of Ordnance, before retiring in 1981 in the rank of general.

In retirement he became Warden of St George’s House, Windsor, a conference centre for discussion in a Christian context.  He was on the governing body of the Church Army from 1990 to 1995, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge from 1994 to 1999.  His military involvement continued.  In 1982 he was appointed a member of the Security Commission, and in 1986 he became a director of the Council for Arms Control.  He was Chief Royal Engineer from 1983 to 1987, Colonel Commandant of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers from 1976 to 1981, of the Royal Pioneer Corps from 1976 to 1980 and of the Royal Engineers from 1977 to 1987.  He was also Honorary Colonel of the Cambridge University O.T.C. and the T.A.V.R. from 1977 to 1987.

He was Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London from 1981 to 1987.

Beach was a man of strong religious conviction and realised that the priesthood was his vocation; but the Army marked him for her own.

He was appointed O.B.E. in 1966, knighted in 1976, and advanced to G.B.E. in 1980.

© P. Pattenden