Maj Gen Sir Desmond Rice RIP

Maj Gen Sir Desmond Rice

The Association is very sad to share the news of the death on 14th July of Maj Gen Sir Desmond Rice, the first Commanding Officer of The Royal Yeomanry. He was 95 years old. We extend our condolences to his family.

General Desmond was educated at Marlborough and commissioned into The Queen's Bays (now QDG) in 1944 and saw service in Italy at the very end of World War II.  after the war he spent time ion teh Canal zone and the War Office before joining the Regiment in Fallingbostel. When the Royal Yeomanry was formed as the only armoured Yeomanry Regiment in 1967 he was faced with the task of merging 5 Squadrons into a Regiment fit for purpose. Former CO of the Regiment Col Jonathan Hunt writes was a junior officer at the time and writes below about what this task involved. 

"When the idea of a fully equipped Armoured Recce Regiment, which was effectively all that would remain of  twenty or so Yeomanry regiments, none of us thought it was a runner. A typical RAC yeomanry regiment held at squadron level two troops of three short wheel based land rovers with 19 sets with the controls annotated in Russian the language of our supposed foe and a Heavy troop of three Mk II Ferrets. Our main weapon was the three .30 Brownings in the Ferrets. Two week Camps accounted for two thirds of our collective training. The rest consisting of one Drill night a week and one Sunday a month devoted to individual training.

It was that sort of sub-unit which was going to be issued with 30 Armoured Cars and 15 B Vehicles up to and including a Wrecker since the establishment included a fully equipped Fitters section. They had an establishment of about 150.

Apart from the Fitters who needed to be fully trained up in REME trades up to and including Artificer the whole of the rest needed training in Saladin (10) Saracen (8) and Ferret (12). Most people would have radio trades a few D & M and hardly any gunnery before they could even leave the drill hall.

How did he do it?

  1. He negotiated a 15 strong PSI allocation per Squadron with Instructor qualifications in all the trades led by a Captain Training Adjutant. That was a brilliant decision.
  2. He was 100% RY and treated the yeomen as adults and challenged them to rise to this absurdly unattainable task. In short he went 'all in' and bet his career that his yeoman could achieve this impossible transformation and because he went all in himself his yeomen went all in as well, and in that moment he created a  can do culture which turned RY into one of the outstanding TA regiments of the Cold War era. It was this attitude which struck me the most about RY when I joined. I had come from a very capable regiment and took myself seriously but energy and drive I met when I joined was so impressive.
  3. I was talking last year to the SRY SSM at that stage who was ex regular and is highly respected member of SRY and he said what was outstanding was the very high technical knowledge of armoured cars he possessed so he could explain how quite specific problems should be overcome.
  4. He created a culture of 'vivre la difference' in the RY which he used to create a dynamic competitive edge between squadrons but at the same time he created this strong culture of excellence which we shared. When I commanded ten years later as I got closer to the other squadrons I was struck that four sabre squadrons with identical roles and equipment had their own distinct culture in how they did business inherited from the original regiments they were born out of . He gets the credit for that.
  5. He was a high flier who should have commanded his own regiment but raising RY needed a high flier and it is impressive that he always regarded RY thereafter as 'his Regiment' and supported it in all it did. I last saw him at the Guidon Parade four or so years ago.
  6. To give you some idea of the difference he made. SRY came back from its first camp in RY which had been on Salisbury Plain with a full on regimental exercise over the SW of England in the second week with precisely one armoured car - the rest were scattered to the four winds! The  next camp in Germany they all came back. He would not agree with the citation saying he had produced an operational regiment. We all know, having continued the journey he started how we learned as we went year by year so could see how little we had known before. but the foundations he laid were everlasting
  7. Even though we hardly knew each other when he commanded he became a firm friend who I admired immensely . His achievement with RY was so substantial"

Posted: Sunday, 16 August 2020