Death of leading general could ‘drive a wedge’ between Navy and Royal Marines

·4-min read
The funeral of Major General Matt Holmes is due to take place on Wednesday
The funeral of Major General Matt Holmes is due to take place on Wednesday

The death of the former head of the Royal Marines is “serving to drive a wedge” between the elite unit and the Royal Navy, his successor has warned in a letter to senior commanders.

An inquest which opened on Tuesday into Major General Matt Holmes’ death heard that his body had been found in a bedroom at his home in Winchester after he had "concerns about his marriage and service career".

The father-of-two - a pallbearer at Prince Phillip’s funeral - was, according to reports, said to be in a “bad place” over the loss of his “dream job”. Maj Gen Holmes’ body was found on October 2.

The coroner requested details of how the Royal Navy, of which the Marines is a part, had managed his career, including his removal from post.

Ahead of Wednesday’s funeral of Maj Gen Holmes, the Marines's most senior officer appealed for calm for the sake of his widow, explaining that the “dispute” was “making that journey harder”.

Maj Gen Holmes, pictured inspecting the guard at the supersession of the Commandant General Royal Marines - Joe Cater/PA Wire
Maj Gen Holmes, pictured inspecting the guard at the supersession of the Commandant General Royal Marines - Joe Cater/PA Wire

In the letter to senior commanders, Lieutenant General Rob Magowan, Commandant General Royal Marines (CGRM), wrote: “I thought I would drop you a short note as we run towards Matt’s funeral on Wednesday. Stories are playing out in the press that are making that journey harder.”

The senior officer said he was “really keen… to help contain things”, not least to help his widow, Lea.

Lt Gen Magowan said she was “very upset” at how Maj Gen Holmes’ relationship with Admiral Sir Tony Radakin “is being publicly portrayed”. It was announced last week that Sir Tony, the First Sea Lord, is being promoted to Chief of the Defence Staff, heading up the Armed Forces, at the end of November.

In reference to the colours of the shirts worn by the Navy and the Marines, Lt Gen Magowan said: “The ‘dispute’ is serving to drive a wedge between white shirts and lovat, which helps nobody. It is making my job harder as CGRM.

“I’ll manage that but it is also impacting the serving Corps, just as we mature an integrated relationship across the Navy in pursuit of the Future Commando Force, a concept that is rooted in the maritime.”

Lt Gen Magowan added: “The focus this coming week is to celebrate Matt’s amazing career, and to support his family. Anything else is a straight distraction. So I am asking all of us to work together, for Matt, his family and the Corps.”

Inquest opens into death

The funeral will take place on Wednesday at Winchester Cathedral, a day after the opening of the inquest into the 54-year-old’s death.

At the opening of the inquest, Jason Pegg, the Hampshire coroner, said he would be asking for details from the Royal Navy of Maj Gen Holmes' career, including the end of his tenure as CGRM after just under two years in April.

Mr Pegg said: "It's suspected that Matthew Holmes had a number of concerns at the time of his death including matters relating to his marriage and his service career."

He added: "I direct the Royal Navy provides a statement setting out very briefly Matthew Holmes' career and his career management post-supersession from his post as Commandant General Royal Marines and the known response to that from Maj Gen Matthew Holmes."

A year before his death, Maj Gen Holmes reportedly said in a message to a friend he felt “beaten down” by Sir Tony, and that he had been undermined during a well-publicised spat over the future of the Royal Marines.

He is said to have told the friend that he felt he had been “run over by someone with no military judgment” after Sir Tony sent emails “imposing his authority and keeping me constrained”.

The Ministry of Defence has declined to comment on the messages.

A senior military source said: "There is a huge amount of resentment at the way he [Matt] was treated, and people are very angry about the tragic circumstances surrounding his death."

But a Navy source suggested that disaffected former Royal Marines “are using this tragic event to their own ends”. The source said Lt Gen Magowan’s letter was “simply him leading the organisation and seeking to prevent distorted truths from being interpreted as anything else”.

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