Adam Holloway is a member of the Defence Select Committee and Conservative MP for Gravesham. He is a former soldier.
Tomorrow sees the election for the chairmanship of the Defence Select Committee, and Bob Stewart is standing in a field of strong candidates. But imagine that this vote was being held on a Wednesday back in 1960; that there were eight candidates; that seven were former National Servicemen (though not only peace-time warriors)…and the remaining candidate was one of our most successful operational leaders with a DSO.
Do we think that, 15 years after the end of the Second World War, even distinguished National Servicemen would stand against such a man? Of course, this is 2014, and times change (so good luck to the other candidates): our political “leaders” don’t always appoint the best man or woman to the job on merit or experience (even at this time of national emergency).
Whilst in his recent letter pitching himself to MPs Colonel Stewart does not mention his DSO, he does refer to his tour in the darkness of central Bosnia at the height of the former Yugoslav wars; point out that he undertook seven operational tours in Northern Ireland; that he got a first class degree at university; has written two books on strategy; wrote the speeches for the Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee; was Chief of Policy for the Supreme Allied Commander Europe; attended two Staff Colleges, and never forgets that his various commands saw eight of his soldiers killed and over 50 wounded.
It is to be hoped that the House of Commons will do the right thing on Wednesday, even if the Conservative whips would prefer it not to do so. Colonel Stewart’s DSO citation is in full below: it points to rather more than the caricature of a charming bloke in a safe seat with time to drink red wine:
12th June 1993
THE QUEEN has been graciously pleased to approve the appointment of the undermentioned as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order in recognition of gallant and distinguished service during operations in the former Republic of Yugoslavia:
Distinguished Service Order D.S.O.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Alexander STEWART (487588), The Cheshire Regiment.
Lieutenant Colonel Stewart has commanded the 1st Battalion The Cheshire Regiment Battalion Group for six months on an operational tour in Bosnia- Herzegovina under the auspices of the United Nations. He has been involved in Operation GRAPPLE since the very beginning, and to him fell the responsibility for all the planning for the creation of a battalion base and a number of company bases in a region already in the throes of fierce inter-communal fighting.
During this time, and throughout the tour, he has had to deal personally with a number of difficult local authorities. Throughout the tour, both he and his battalion, although neutral in their support of the delivery of aid by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, have frequently been the target of attacks by one or other of the indigenous warring factions.
Despite the limited mandate of the operation, Lieutenant Colonel Stewart chose, early on, to adopt a classic’ hearts and minds’ campaign to win the trust of those with whom he had to deal in order to ensure the free flow of aid. In doing so, he recognised that he was assuming a considerable personal risk but his style of diplomacy and leadership and his determination to dominate paid handsome dividends and served as a marvellous example to the troops under his command.
Throughout the tour, he has led right from the front, exercising all the energy, enthusiasm, charm and courage in his possession. On a number of occasions he has personally been the target of attack from either snipers, anti-tank fire or from mortar bombardment. On others, he was often caught in cross-fire whilst conducting difficult and delicate negotiations but, on all occasions, he demonstrated cool and determined courage and inspirational leadership, never flinching from his duty.
In the continuous hostile operational environment prevailing, which was made worse by some appalling winter weather conditions, it would have been easy for morale in the Battalion Group to suffer. However, with good humour and encouragement at the appropriate moment, Lieutenant Colonel Stewart generated enormous cheerfulness and professional determination amongst his officers and soldiers. The living arrangements were crude but bearable. Nevertheless, he always ensured that the best was made of what was available.
The outstanding success of the Battalion Group tour of duty owes an enormous amount to Lieutenant Colonel Stewart’s unflagging energy, courage and leadership. He has sustained a high level of effort by the soldiers under his inspired command throughout a very difficult tour and under the most trying circumstances.