It was with sadness and regret that I learned last evening of the death of former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Boyce at the age of 79.
A proud submariner who always stood up for the often underrepresented ‘silent service’ of the Royal Navy. Michael Boyce would during his long and fascinating career earn huge respect from all those around him and particularly from those with whom he served and led.
Duty and loyalty to his nation were uppermost in his mind and his professionalism, knowledge and integrity was, as has been recorded elsewhere, an example to all those who aspire to lead. He was also rare amongst modern day military leaders in his ability to very occasionally challenge decisions made by his political masters.
A man of great sincerity, one who I dare say suffered fools badly but who was also an exceptional motivator of those with whom he served, he espoused professionalism, duty and leadership in equal measure.
I had first met Lord Boyce when he served as Commander-in-Chief Fleet and while we subsequently met but rarely until after he had retired as Chief of the Defence Staff, his qualities and knowledge of defence stood always out in abundance. He was a man who I always looked up to with the huge respect that I and many other believe he so richly deserved.
I had last seen Lord Boyce to speak to privately in Rosyth during September 2017 at the naming ceremony of HMS Prince of Wales, although we would subsequently correspond on various other issues. He was a man who was adept at listening to those with whom he conversed, always thinking before he spoke and choosing his words and answers carefully. He never left an issue raised in a worse state than he found it.
While some might say that he sometimes kept his cards rather too close to his chest, his motives, reasoning and decisions would always have been very carefully thought through. He motivated his people and those around him and he both taught and incentivised through leadership.
Born in South Africa in 1943, educated at Hurstpierpoint College and Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, Admiral of the Fleet the Lord Boyce KG GCB OBE DL joined the Royal Navy in 1961.
After completion of basic training he qualified as a Submariner in 1965 and over the next 7 years served in HM Submarines – ANCHORITE, VALIANT and CONQUEROR, qualifying during this time as a Torpedo and Anti-Submarine specialist. In 1973 he completed the Submarine Commanding Officer’s Qualifying Course and subsequently commanded HM Submarines – OBERON and OPOSSUM before serving as Staff Warfare Officer to Captain (SM) Submarine Sea Training.
After promotion to Commander in 1976 he attended the Royal Naval Staff Course from where he joined Flag Officer Submarines’ Staff as a Staff Warfare Officer. He then commanded HM Submarine SUPERB after which he spent just under a year in the Ministry of Defence (Directorate of Naval Plans) where he was promoted to Captain in 1982. This was followed by command of HMS BRILLIANT before his appointment as Captain (SM) Submarine Sea Training.
In 1986 he returned to the Ministry of Defence and the Directorate of Navy Plans and Programmes as Assistant Director (Warfare) and in 1988 he attended the Royal College of Defence Studies. He then served as Senior Naval Officer Middle East and Commander Task Group 321.1 in the rank of Commodore before becoming Director of Naval Staff Duties (DNSD) from August 1989 to 10 June 1991.
From DNSD he was promoted to Rear Admiral and in July took up the duties of Flag Officer Sea Training and Naval Base Commander Portland. In November 1992 he assumed the duties of Flag Officer Surface Flotilla which included the NATO appointment of Commander Anti-Submarine Warfare Striking Force. He was promoted to Vice Admiral in February 1994 and was knighted in the 1995 New Year Honours List. Promoted to Admiral in May 1995 he simultaneous1y took up the appointment of Second Sea Lord and Commander-in-Chief Nava1 Home Command.
In September 1997 Admiral Boyce became Commander-in-Chief Fleet with the accompanying NATO position of Commander-in-Chief Eastern Atlantic and Commander Allied Naval Forces North Western Europe. He was then appointed First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, and First and Principal Naval ADC, in October 1998, serving as the professional head of the Royal Navy until January 2001. He was appointed GCB in June 1999. In February 2001 he became Chief of Defence Staff, the professional head of the Armed Forces and Aide-de-Camp to Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth. He relinquished the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff in May 2003 and retired from the Royal Navy after 42 years service. He was awarded the Honorary appointment of Admiral of the Fleet 13 June 2014.
Lord Boyce was a Non-Executive Director and SID of WS Atkins plc (2004-2013) and a Non-Executive Director of VT Group plc (2004-2010). He was Chairman of the D Group Advisory Board (2004-2021) and is now Life President of the D Group; and a former Advisor to Atkins International, Computer Sciences Corporation, Atos and Protection Group International.
On 16th June 2003 as Baron Boyce of Pimlico in the City of Westminster Lord Boyce was elevated to the peerage where he sat as a Crossbench peer. He was subsequently appointed Lord Warden and Admiral of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle in July 2004, King of Arms of the Order of the Bath in 2009-2018. He was made a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter in April 2011 and appointed Vice Admiral of the United Kingdom in 2021.
Sail Not Oh Ship of State
It was hardly a case of if but when Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace would announce that the ‘competition’ to build a so-called national flagship had been effectively scrapped.
Contentious from the moment it was announced by then prime minister Boris Johnson in 2021 that the UK would build a new ship that would reflect the UK’s burgeoning status as a great independent maritime trading nation with the cost of build dumped on the MOD budget, few of us ever believed that a ship of this nature was required let alone was affordable particularly when Royal Navy capacity to field vessels that could support its two new aircraft carriers and defend our seas and trading routes and provide the support that we have agreed to supply to Nato allies was already significantly stretched.
Choosing yesterday when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was in Egypt and two weeks before the Chancellor of Exchequer makes his ‘Autumn Statement’ announcement, Wallace will be pleased to have seen this particular off. And yet we should remember that rather than fight the necessity of building such a ship, Wallace has supported the idea right from the start. I did not witness any eating of humble pie yesterday on his part yesterday when making the announcement in the House of Commons and sadly, while the decision of HM Treasury and Cabinet Office to ditch this project was absolutely right, we should not forget the countless thousands of hours that senior military staff and civil servants have been required to put into the notion of building such a ship and the waste of cost and resource.
Neither should we forget that the companies involved in designing a ship of this nature and in readying to compete to build it have put in along with the considerable cost involved. I sincerely hope that they are properly compensated for what was a decision not based on defence but on nothing less than political vanity and I look forward to a potential question being asked in the House of Commons as to what has been the total cost of this unfortunate exercise up to and including cancellation and proper compensation for those involved.
The MOD is often accused of wasting money and resource but as often can also be the case, the enemy of cost lies in the heart of the political process and decision making that governs us.
CHW (London – 8th November 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785