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Robert Elliott "Roy" Urquhart
28 November, 1901 – 13 December 1988
Urquhart outside his headquarters.jpg
Urquhart outside his headquarters during Operation Market Garden.
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1920–1955
Rank Major General
Unit Highland Light Infantry
Commands held 2nd Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
British 231st Infantry Brigade
1st Airborne Division
Malaya Command
Battles/wars Second World War

Malayan Emergency

Awards Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Bronze Lion (Netherlands)

Disambiguation: for the Scottish character actor, see Robert Urquhart (actor).

Major General Robert "Roy" Elliott Urquhart, CB, DSO (28 November 1901 - 13 December 1988) was a British military officer. He became prominent for his role commanding the British 1st Airborne Division during Operation Market Garden.

Contents

Early career

Urquhart attended the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst before being commissioned into the Highland Light Infantry in 1920. When stationed in Malta with his battalion he became friends with Academy Award winning actor David Niven. In his autobiography, "The Moon's A Balloon", Niven described Urquhart as, "A serious soldier of great charm and warmth..."

Second World War service

Urquhart was serving in India during the early years of the Second World War. He remained there until 1941 when he was posted to North Africa before an appointment as a staff officer in the 3rd Division in the UK. Thereafter, his career accelerated. Between 1941 and 1942, he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and commanded the 2nd Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry until 1943, when he was appointed as a staff officer in the 51st Infantry Division, which was stationed in North Africa. For a short time, he commanded the British 231st Infantry Brigade, which faced action in Sicily.

Arnhem

Until 1944, he was a senior staff officer in XII Corps. However, in that year, he was given command of the 1st Airborne Division. Its former commander (Major-General G.F.Hopkinson) had been killed in Italy, and his successor, Brigadier Ernest Down had been given a command in India. Ironically, Urquhart was prone to airsickness and had never commanded or, for that matter, been a member of an airborne unit. Although a newcomer to airborne operations, Urquhart commanded his division during Operation Market-Garden in September 1944 as it was dropped into Arnhem in Holland in an attempt to secure a crossing over the River Rhine. For nine days Urquhart's division fought unsupported against armoured units of the II SS Panzer Corps. Suffering increasingly heavy casualties, the British airborne forces desperately held on to an ever-shrinking defensive perimeter until orders were received for the remnants of the division to withdraw across the Rhine on 25 September. During these nine days of heavy fighting the 1st Airborne Division had lost over three-quarters of its strength. Shattered as a fighting formation, the division was withdrawn to the UK and never saw action in World War II again. He was awarded with the Bronze Lion for his command.

Post-War service

Following the end of the war Urquhart served in several staff positions, including service as the General Officer Commanding Malaya Command (1950–1952) during the Malayan Emergency. Roy Urquhart retired from the army in 1955.

Later life

After leaving the army Urquhart became an executive in the steel industry, retiring in 1970. In 1958 Urquart published Arnhem: Britain's Infamous Airborne Assault of World War II (ISBN 0-9644704-3-8) detailing his exploits in the battle.

Urquhart was portrayed by Sean Connery in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far, for which he himself served as Military Consultant. He is the subject of the biography Urquhart of Arnhem (ISBN 0-08-041318-8) by John Baynes.

Urquhart and his wife Pamela had four children, among them Elspeth Campbell (wife of the former leader of the Liberal Democrat party Menzies Campbell) and Suki Urquhart, author of The Scottish Gardener.

In his memoirs, Campbell says that Urquhart told Elspeth's first husband, Philip Grant-Suttie, "don't call me Mr. Urquhart; just call me General", and that he also insisted on tasting all the food and champagne for Elspeth and Menzies' wedding before paying for it. He is also known to have told his daughter never to trust men who bought half-bottles of wine; Campbell bought Elspeth a full bottle on their first date.

Major General Urquhart died on 13 December 1988, aged 87 years.

References

Recommended reading

  • Urquhart, R. E., Arnhem: Britain's Infamous Airborne Assault of WW II, Royal Pub. Co., London 1995 (1st edition 1958)

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