Sir John Keegan

I\’m not entirely sure but I think this is the first major obit I\’ve seen of someone I actually met.

The book was an immediate success, and has never been out of print. It marked out Keegan as the most sparkling writer among the talented lecturers of the Sandhurst war studies department. This led to some jealousy, but he was able to use the vital addition to his income to educate the two sons and two daughters born to him and his wife Susanne Everett, later the biographer of Alma Mahler and Oscar Kokoschka.

I met him has his sons were in the same house as myself at Downside. One in the same year too. I even recall a conversation about how the US edition of The Face of Battle (a book club edition I think) had rather made the finances.

My actual meeting was rather trivial, in that he gave me a lift once. Which was most kind of him: can\’t remember where to or anything but I do recall that and only that.

On emerging from hospital two years later, his hip immobilised with a bone graft, Keegan won a place to read History at Oxford. But on going up to Balliol he developed TB again, and was away for another year while being treated with new drugs. He then returned, walking with a stick, to find himself among a highly talented intake, which included the future Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham, Northern Ireland Secretaries Patrick Mayhew and Peter Brooke, historian Keith Thomas, the Benedictine monk Daniel Rees, and the Prince of Wales’s Australian schoolmaster Michael Collins Persse.

Daniel Rees being not just a Benedictine monk but one at Downside.

Dom Daniel never taught me directly but he might well have either of the Keegans.

At a certain level British, especially Catholic British, society is really rather a small world. When my own father was at Downside the three quarters of the First XV read, for some matches, Worstall, Jebb, Appleby. Frs. Appleby and Jebb were, in order, the headmasters at Downside when I went there. Each of whom were my teachers for RI or a year.

As I say, a small world in some ways.

As a passing thought, it must be slightly strange to end up teaching the children of your own schoolmates. Especially if one has taken orders and thus has no children of one\’s own…..

But as another fleeting thought, perhaps it\’s not all that rare either. Teachers do tend to be drawn from the same sort of milieu as those being taught. From the same locality in many schools, in the public schools from those who have been to public schools, in the grander universities from those who have been to the grander universities.

It would not surprise me is dearieme had ended up teaching the occasional child of those he went through uni with for example…..

10 thoughts on “Sir John Keegan”

  1. At a certain level British, especially Catholic British, society is really rather a small world.

    I do think that you rather mean “English” here, as opposed to “British”.

    Tim adds: No, not really. The “Catholic” world brings together the old recusant families, many Irish, even some of the Port families. Not so much the Scots or Welsh, agreed, but the Irish part does make it more than just English.

  2. The most fun was when I taught a young woman whose father had taught me. It was a delight to know there was someone in the audience who would pick up on my allusions.

    My lecturing was once subject to one of those national assessments that were in vogue at the time. The key bloke said “Ah yes, I knew you’d be excellent, as my son enjoyed your lectures enormously”. Thank God for fair play, eh?

    P.S. Your pater paid Downside fees and yet you use “myself” instead of “me”. Tut ruddy tut.

  3. the great redacto

    Met Keegan a time or two at Telegraph towers. Very nice chap, approachable, courteous, fabulously accurate. Coined a phrase in the first Iraq war that went something like: “Slowly, surely, Desert Shield [the codename of the op to retake Kuwait] is becoming Desert Sword.” One of the greats.

  4. Was there a lot of upside in being at downside ?

    Tim adds: It was a bloody good education. Not that I’ve done much with mine though……

  5. Minor pendantry:

    Op Desert Shield was the American name for the 1990 operation to stop the Iraqis from taking the northern Saudi oil fields.

    Op Desert Storm was the American name for the 1991 operation to retake Kuwait.

    Both were “Op GRANBY” to Brits.

  6. Re: Deserts Sword and Shield and Granby, is it fair to say that American military operations have grandiloquent names while the British are more prosaic?

    I see to remember an Operation Enduring Trident of Hopeful Freedom or some such.

  7. MrPotarto: I think the British (and Australian – they called theirs Damask) pick their code names at random. I don’t know, though.

  8. Not to mention the names of CIA ops e.g. Operation Fake Birth Certificate. What can that conceal, I wonder?

  9. The British system uses single words and is intended to conceal the target of the Operation in the planning stages. You get the next name from a random list. You only used to be able to object to the name if it coincided with some aspect of the operation. This was changed after an op name was complained about by the ever vigilant for any offence RoP (I think it was Op BRADFORD but can’t find news confirmation.)

    The American military get to pick their own names and generally use a 2 word system. So you end up with Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, etc.

  10. SE, whatever the reasons, I’ve had the feeling since studying Operations Torch and Market Garden 24 years ago for GCSE that Septic Code names have a tendency towards being called Operation Kick Arse (ass) while ours have a tendency towards being called Operation Bimble. Nothing I’ve read since then has disabused me of that hypothesis.

    And doesn’t the Septic secret service refer to its boss in leadenly obvious code as Traveller? Now, I don’t know what Special Branch calls the PM (given our tendency to import American usage, possibly the naff Traveller) but in the last big bunfight Churchill was referred to as Mr Warden, which I rather like.

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