Top military officials have today gathered to pay their respects to a former head of the Royal Marines found dead, at 54, after losing his dream job leading elite British troops.
Major General Matthew Holmes was found hanged at his Winchester home earlier this month after leaving his role as Commandant General Royal Marines, amid claims of a ‘clash’ with fellow military top brass.
Before quitting his role in April, Major General Holmes, who had also recently split with his wife, Lea, told friends he felt ‘constrained’ in his role by head of the Armed Forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin.
Sir Tony is among those attending his funeral at Winchester Cathedral, where Major General Holmes will be laid to rest with full military honours.
General Sir Nick Carter, the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff, Rear Admiral Mike Utley OBE, the Commander of the UK’s Strike Force and Defence Minister Ben Wallace are also present.
Marines from the commando training centre lined the walkway leading up to the Cathedral as Major General Holmes’s coffin – draped in a Union Jack – was driven through, followed by his wife and two children William, 11 and Eleanor, 15.
A decorated war hero, Major General Holmes commanded 42 Commando Royal Marines from 2006 to 2008. He was appointed as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on operations in Afghanistan in 2007.
In 2019 he was appointed Commandant General Royal Marines in 2019. However he quit the three-year-role in April this year.
A hearing to open the inquest into his death, held yesterday, heard that Major General Holmes died as a result of hanging after having ‘concerns about his marriage and service career’.
Top British military officials have today gathered to pay their respects at the funeral of the former head of the Royal Marines Major General Matthew Holmes. Pictured: Pallbearers carry the coffin of Major General Matthew Holmes into Winchester Cathedral
Major General Matthew Holmes, who has died, won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan. He is pictured with his wife Lea and daughter Eleanor after receiving the award at Buckingham Palace in 2007
Marines from the commando training centre lined the walkway leading up to the Cathedral as Major General Holmes’s coffin – draped in a Union Jack – was driven through, followed by his wife and two children William (left), 11 and Eleanor (right with her mother Lea and brother William), 15.
Former Royal Marines in their green berets attend the funeral of Major General Matthew Holmes at Winchester Cathedral. The former Commandant General of the Royal Marines Major General Matthew Holmes was found dead, aged 54, at his home on October 2
Veterans gather behind a detachment of Royal Marines outside Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire for the funeral of Major General Matthew Holmes
Top British military officials have today gathered to pay their respects at the funeral of the former head of the Royal Marines. Pictured: A detachment of Royal Marines arrive for the funeral of Major General Matthew Holmes
General Sir Nick Carter, the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff, was among those attending the funeral of Major General Matthew Holmes this afternoon. Before quitting his role in April, Major General Holmes, who had also recently split with his wife, told friends he felt ‘constrained’ in his role by head of the Armed Forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin (pictured right)
Defence Minister Ben Wallace (pictured left) is also among those gathering at the ceremony at Winchester Cathedral today to honour the life of the father-of-two, who was found hanged at this home in the city earlier this month. Rear Admiral Mike Utley (pictured right), the Commander of the UK’s Strike Force, is also attending
The father of two was also awarded a CBE in 2019 – and was appointed as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on operations in Afghanistan in 2007
At his funeral today, the Royal Marines band played before the coffin was driven to the historic cathedral, awaited by the Dean of Winchester, Catherine Ogle, who led the service.
Wife Lea wore a long black coat and held hands with William, wearing a black suit, and Eleanor, dressed in a black top and trousers as they got out of a car and walked into the Cathedral.
The coffin was carried by pall bearers who all had a close connection to Major General Holmes, four of which accompanied him as pall bearers at Prince Phillip’s funeral, helping to carry the Duke of Edinburgh’s coffin at Windsor Castle.
His coffin was draped with a Union Jack, his Royal Marines cap, his military medals and a reef of flowers.
A squad of Royal Marines training commandos assembled to do a volley of three shots after the service.
As previously reported, Major General Holmes was found in a bedroom at the home in Winchester, Hampshire, on October 2 – and his body was formally identified by his wife Lea, the inquest heard.
It also emerged that police attended another incident at the home on September 22. The officer, who served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, was Commandant General from June 2019 until April 2021.
He had told colleagues he was struggling to cope with Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, and said he felt ‘beaten down’ and ‘constrained’ in his role.
His family feels the head of the Armed Forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, played ‘a significant part in the turmoil’ the veteran faced.
But friends of Sir Tony, named Chief of the Defence Staff on Thursday, denied he undermined him.
A source close to Sir Tony said he and his wife Louise had been friends with the Holmeses for more than 20 years and were devastated by his death and claims that conflict with Sir Tony contributed to the decline in his mental health.
They said critics would be left with ‘red faces’ when the truth emerged, and blamed ‘people with agendas’ for the mudslinging.
Major General Holmes had split from his wife Lea and lost his job as Commandant General.
He and Sir Tony, 55, had been close friends, but fell out over changes to the Marines. It led to Major General Holmes leaving his post in April, halfway through his three-year role.
A friend of the Holmes family said Sir Tony and his deputy, Vice Admiral Nicholas Hine, had played a role in Major General Holmes’s decision to leave his job.
The friend said: ‘The poor family haven’t even had time to bury him and certain naval factions are already trying to settle scores and pass the buck. It is so undignified, unfair. Ultimately… the truth will out.
A hearse carrying the coffin of Major General Matthew Holmes, the former head of the Royal Marines, arrives at Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire for his funeral
The coffin of Major General Matthew Holmes, former head of the Royal Marines, is carried into Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire
Royal Marines salute as the coffin of Major General Matthew Holmes, the former head of the Royal Marines, is carried into Winchester Cathedral
Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007
‘An inquest is the proper forum in which to consider all the pressures bearing down on Matt. Not the court of public opinion.’
Relations between the two were said to have come to a head following arguments over Major General Holmes’s post.
The Daily Mail reported last week that Sir Tony undermined Major General Holmes, according to messages from the officer.
Former First Sea Lord Sir Tony became the first naval officer for two decades to land the top job and will lead 159,000 soldiers, sailors and air personnel from next month.
Sir Tony and Major General Holmes were previously close friends, but fell out bitterly over changes to the Marines this year. The dispute led to Major General Holmes leaving his post as Commandant General in April – halfway through a three-year appointment.
Last week a Daily Mail investigation found that he felt deeply let down by the admiral, who was his boss as the Marines are part of the Navy.
A directive from Sir Tony’s office included a gagging order banning the Marines officer from discussing key issues with colleagues, including the commander of the US Marine Corps (USMC), General David Berger.
Major General Holmes was also warned to ‘expect a more limited role’ in the Marines. The order and the tone of Sir Tony’s remarks left the father-of-two deeply upset.
He wrote to a friend: ‘I’ve had a very tough year. I feel beaten down. Not listened to, merely run over by someone with no military judgment: Too much is about appearance.
‘I don’t trust Radakin. It’s been awful. Awful. You should see the tone of some of the emails I’ve had from Radakin. Basically imposing his authority and keeping me constrained.
Major General Matthew Holmes was a pallbearer at Prince Philip’s funeral during the procession to the steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in April. He is pictured speaking to Sky News before the service
‘Kept away from ministers. All about his narrative. He doesn’t get the corps. But I know Gen Berger recognises my concerns (another one that Radakin ordered me not to engage with regarding my post).
‘Radakin sees himself as owning the USMC relationship. Berger doesn’t! At all. He wants to talk to me. How do you think I feel…’
Sir Tony’s efforts to bring the Commandant General into line came to a head late last year after a series of heated arguments between the two about the future of Major General Holmes’ post.
A document distributed to senior officers read: ‘I [Sir Tony] will engage with ministers and our international partners. The debate has to be toned down and ideally stopped. This is about my authority. International engagement by CGRM [Major General Holmes] is to stop. The CGRM focus is to ensure the corps delivers on its tasks, seeking opportunities for increased integration with the Royal Navy and preparing for a more limited role as CGRM from April 2021.’
The pair are also said to have disagreed about closer integration of the Marines within the Navy – a move resisted by Major General Holmes.
The complaint in Major General Holmes’ text to a friend that ‘too much is about appearance’ was said to refer to jibes about his height – he was 5ft 2in, according to media reports.
But he was well-liked by Marines and enjoyed their company. He served in all Britain’s recent conflicts and won a Distinguished Service Order for commanding troops under fire.
Sir Tony will take over as Chief of Defence Staff from Army General Sir Nick Carter on November 30.
The admiral was described last week as an ‘outstanding military leader’ and, as head of the Navy, has been credited with deploying more naval personnel on the frontline and more ships at sea.
He is being replaced as First Sea Lord by Vice Admiral Sir Ben Key, who led the UK’s airlift of British citizens and Afghans from Kabul after the Taliban takeover.
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New head of the Royal Marines warns death of leading general could ‘drive a wedge’ between the Royal Navy and elite troops
By Jacob Thorburn for MailOnline
The new head of the Royal Marines has written to senior colleagues warning that the death of his predecessor is ‘driving a wedge’ between the Royal Navy and its fighting troops.
Lieutenant General Rob Magowan (above) warned senior colleagues the death of his predecessor is ‘driving a wedge’ between the Royal Navy and its fighting troops
An inquest heard yesterday that Major General Matthew Holmes was found hanged at his home in Winchester, Hampshire, on October 2 after having ‘concerns’ about his career and his marriage.
Maj Gen Holmes, 54, who had served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, was Commandant General Royal Marines from 2019 until April this year.
He commanded 42 Commando Royal Marines from 2006 to 2008 and was appointed as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on operations in Afghanistan in 2007.
The father-of-two was also awarded a CBE in 2019 and has been described as ‘one of our most senior and highly decorated Royal Marines’.
It comes after a war of words raged over Navy top brass mudslinging surrounding his death, with relatives said to have been angered by naval officials who raced to ‘settle scores and pass the buck’ over his mental health.
The funeral for the 54-year-old is being held today at Winchester Cathedral. It will be attended by his widow, Lea, and a gathering of 600 people, including senior naval officers.
In a letter first reported in the Daily Telegraph, Lieutenant General Rob Magowan, Commandant General Royal Marines (CGRM), wrote that Maj Gen Holmes, who was a pall-bearer at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, was in a ‘bad place’ following the loss of his ‘dream job’.
Referring 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.’
He 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.’
It is understood that disputes with the Senior Service occurred between October last year and February while the organisation went through a management restructure which lead to Maj Gen Holmes being superseded.
A naval source said: ‘The CGRM wrote to say that changes were made for the greater good of the naval service and we must all get behind them to ensure the naval service continues to provide a fantastic service to the country.’
A Royal Navy spokesman said the service would not comment on the letter and said it was focusing on providing support to Maj Gen Holmes’ family at the time of his funeral.
Following his death, Maj Gen Holmes’ widow released a statement paying tribute to him.
She said: ‘My husband Matt was a kind, generous man. He was courageous and had committed his life to serving in the Royal Marines; he was selfless to such an extent that this was more important than his own career progression.
‘He was exceptionally proud to have served as Commandant General. His entire family and I have felt very privileged to play our part in supporting Matt and the Corps family throughout his career.
Major General Matthew Holmes welcomes Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to the Royal Albert Hall in London in March 2020
‘Matt took the immense responsibility for the lives of those he served alongside very seriously; not a day would go by without him thinking of the men under his command who were lost or injured; and of course, their families.
‘Matt was a proud and loving father to his two children: his son a former cathedral chorister and his daughter a talented violinist.
‘Matt was a keen drummer and we had many happy times as a family enjoying the music and camaraderie of the Royal Marines Band Service.
‘At the same time Matt recognised their vital role supporting operations within the Royal Navy.
‘For me as Matt’s wife, it has been a privilege over many years to receive the support, camaraderie and friendship from the Royal Marines and Royal Navy family.
‘I would like to express my sincere thanks to all those friends and colleagues who have taken the time to pay tribute to Matt, it will bring comfort to all our family to know how respected he was.’
Opening the inquest into Maj Gen Holmes’ death, Hampshire coroner Jason 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.’
The inquest, which also heard that police were called to the family home before Maj Gen Holmes’ death, was adjourned for a full hearing on February 10 2022.
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