Malta mentioned in the obituary of Colonel Tom Seccombe

Tom Seccombe was an English war hero of the Falklands War. In his early career in the Royal Marine, he was stationed in Malta. He was one of the 40 commandos who served in Malta in the 1950s as an assault engineer. During his term of service in Malta, he undertook two operational tours of Cyprus during the EOKA Emergency. EOKA stands for the Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston: Εθνική Οργάνωσις Κυπρίων Αγωνιστών, or the ‘National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters’. It was an organization of Greek Cypriot nationalist paramilitary fighters who fought to bring to an end British rule in Cyprus and the eventual union with Greece. While still stationed in Malta, he was also part of a commando group sent to Libya to dismantle unmarked Second War World mines. The obituary of Colonel Tom Seccombe appeared yesterday in The Daily Telegraph and is hereunder.

Colonel Tom Seccombe, Royal Marines officer who demonstrated both tact and bravery in the Falklands – obituary

He stood his ground when under attack by Argentine bombers, while earlier he had led cross-border operations in Borneo during Konfrontasi By Telegraph Obituaries 2 January 2022 • 5:35pm.

Tom Seccombe aboard the Canberra in 1982
Tom Seccombe aboard the Canberra in 1982 CREDIT: Imperial War Museums

Colonel Tom Seccombe, who has died aged 87, participated in several campaigns, as well as the Falklands War, a conflict in which he displayed both bravery and tact, demonstrating the versatility of the Royal Marines.

In 1981-82 Seccombe was one of the staff at the Royal College of Defence Studies and, with no vacancies available at his rank in the Corps of the Royal Marines, was due to go to a dull-sounding job in Brussels when the Falklands War erupted.

Then Brigadier Julian Thompson, Commander of 3 Commando Brigade, asked for Seccombe as the Military Force Commander in SS Canberra, the ocean liner, flagship of the P&O line, which had just been co-opted for military use to carry into war 40 Commando, 42 Commando and 3 Para.

Thompson wanted Seccombe there to balance the egos of their commanders, with the dynamic Captain Chris “Beagle” Burn in command of the embarked Naval Party.

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The affable and perceptive Seccombe ensured that relations between the independently-minded troop commanders and the ship’s master, Captain Dennis Scott-Masson, who was understandably anxious about taking the white-painted Canberra into battle, were harmonious. His humour and abundant common sense proved priceless assets in gaining the respect and confidence of all concerned.

At the landings in San Carlos Water at the end of May 1982, Seccombe became the deputy commander of the Commando brigade, landing armed with a walking stick which he had borrowed from Canberra’s first officer.

In the closing hours of the war the brigade headquarters was attacked by Argentine bombers; while others hurled themselves behind the nearest rock, Seccombe stood his ground.

He encouraged the defending Blowpipe hand-held surface-to-air missile operators and machine-gunners by shaking his stick at the enemy in the midst of earth-shaking explosions, while rocks and metal splinters ricocheted around him.

Tom Seccombe at his desk
Tom Seccombe at his desk

Thomas Seccombe was born in Kensington, west London, on June 5 1934 and educated at Felsted School in Essex. Three generations of Seccombes went to Balliol College, Oxford, but young Thomas found his National Service in the Royal Marines so congenial that he chose to stay in the Corps.

He was commissioned in 1952, when he also qualified as a landing craft officer and as a swimmer-canoeist, and served in the Royal Navy Rhine Squadron as second-in-command of 2 Special Boat Section.

Next, Seccombe qualified as an assault engineer before joining 40 Commando which, though based on Malta, undertook two operational tours in Cyprus during the EOKA Emergency. Seccombe also enjoyed training deployments to Libya, where his assault engineers revelled in the deadly mish-mash of unmarked Second World War minefields.

During a “brew-up” on one such exercise, which included the future major-generals John Grey and Julian Thompson, Seccombe started to dismantle an Italian anti-tank mine until someone asked him kindly “would you mind doing that somewhere else?”

In 1958 Seccombe began his happy association with Deal, beginning as a housemaster at the Royal Marines School of Music, responsible for the welfare of boy musicians. There he played prop forward and his smartly dressed attendances at the local cinema led to the usherettes calling him “Lord Rank”.

Next, he spent a year as the assault engineer of 41 Commando before being appointed as the Officer Commanding Royal Marines in the commando carrier Bulwark, and then, after the adjutant’s course, as adjutant of the RM barracks at Eastney.

Always a fine figure, immaculate both in uniform and in civvies, Seccombe ran the barracks with style and efficiency, furnishing his rooms with silverware won by a 19th-century naval ancestor, and making time to indulge his interests in literature, fly-fishing, the arts, snooker, boxing (in smoke-filled and somewhat insalubrious East End venues), and following Portsmouth FC from the director’s box at Fratton Park.

In 1964 Seccombe was responsible for 41 Commando’s drill at the Corps’ Tercentenary review by the Lord Mayor of London on the Honourable Artillery Company’s grounds; the exercise by the Royal Marines of their traditional freedom by marching through the City of London; and a Royal Review in the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

Seccombe was then appointed to No 2 Special Boat Section in Singapore, but realising his lack of recent qualification to command such a very specialised unit in the operational environment of Konfrontasi, he sought re-appointment in 42 Commando.

After attending the Jungle Warfare School and attachment to the Gurkhas, he took command of M Company on a tour in Borneo, where in cross-border operations known as Operation Claret he wrested the initiative from a crack Indonesian regiment. Over six months, Seccombe led seven “Clarets”, promising his men that he would not return without them, “be they alive or dead”, and on one occasion carrying a wounded Gurkha back.

Next, Seccombe became adjutant of 42 Commando, which deployed to Aden to cover the withdrawal from the colony in 1967. He recalled that as a helicopter sent to fetch the Sultan of Socotra landed on deck, the Sultan’s bodyguards, wearing Argyle socks without sandals and carrying ancient blunderbusses, performed “an erratic and curious jig” as they stepped on to the broiling deck.

In 1977 Seccombe was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and to command of 41 Commando, Royal Marines, then reforming at Deal. The Commando deployed to Belfast to assist security in the strongly Republican areas of the Falls Road and the Ballymurphy and Turf Lodge estates.

Then 41 Commando carried out London Duties (guarding the royal palaces in the capital), the first time that the Corps had been so honoured since 1936, and this busy tenure of office was rounded off with a six-month tour in the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. Seccombe was appointed OBE.

As a Retired Officer Seccombe became Director of Naval Security. There were major setbacks when a group of CND supporters breached the defences of the submarine base in Faslane, and when the IRA murdered 11 members of the band service at Deal. Nonetheless he successfully shifted the emphasis on security from the Soviet threat to the physical threat from terrorists.

In 2001 Seccombe and his wife Jacqui emigrated to South Africa to be near their sons, who were working there. It was not an easy decision for this quintessential Englishman, but they bought a house nestling under Table Mountain and close to Newlands cricket and rugby stadiums and Kenilworth racecourse. Unsurprisingly, as a devotee of Evelyn Waugh, PG Woodhouse and James Thurber, Seccombe had a great sense of fun and of the ridiculous.

Tom Seccombe is survived by his wife Jacqui, née Wooll, and by their two sons.

Thomas Seccombe, born June 5 1934, died November 10 2021

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