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Remembered Today:

Trevor Pidgeon - Obituary


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Trevor Pidgeon was a dear friend, and author of the definative book on tanks in the Great War. "The Tanks at Flers"

He went on to write the guide book to Boom Ravine, and slightly before his death a follow up book on tanks called simply "Tanks on the Somme"

These books were a major feat in themselves, but the rest of Trevor's life was equally impressive.

I thought that his Obituary, published on the web site of Caterham School may be worth a few minutes of your time.

Published Here:

Caterham School

Caterham School

Trevor Pidgeon (1939 1940)

Geoffrey, his brother has sent us this moving obituary:

Trevor was born in Fulham on 30th December 1928. In 1933 the family

moved to Caterham in Surrey where he later won a scholarship to Caterham

School.

Trevor was only at the School for one year but what a year !

It included the start of World War II and the Battle of Britain with some of it

fought directly overhead. Nearby Kenley and Croydon aerodromes were

bombed and in one of the raids our house in Greenhill Avenue had its roof

damaged.

Our mother, having been a Red Cross Nurse on duty helping the wounded at

Croydon aerodrome immediately after the raid and having her home

damaged decided enough was enough. We packed up and moved to join

my father in Stony Stratford. He was in MI6 Section VIII (SIS Communications)

that was based at Waddon Hall near Bletchley Park. All the ULTRA traffic for

Military Commanders in the field went out via the Section VIII wireless station

at Waddon.

Trevor and I continued our studies at nearby Wolverton Grammar School but I

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left later to join my fathers unit. Trevor, nearly three years younger than me,

subsequently obtained Higher Schools in a number of subjects but I believe he

had outstanding results in Latin and French.

With the war over and wanting to continue his studies, he obtained

permission to postpone his National Service. By this time, the family were

living in London in Fulham Road, South Kensington. There were very few

universities in those days compared to the present time and the popular ones

Oxbridge and London were full. However, he found a place at Liverpool

University.

On his arrival in Liverpool he decided to take a First in French but was told

that for a First he had to have a second modern language. This was when his

remarkable grasp of languages first showed. He took Higher Schools (an A

Level today) in German after only six months study in his spare time.

To prepare his Thesis he studied for a year at the Sorbonne and he obtained a

First Class Degree in French. After a short break journeying through France he

had to start his two years National Service. Tired of studying he ignored an

easy Commission in Army Education and chose to go into the Royal Armoured

Corps. Their training camp was at Catterick in Yorkshire where he went for his

basic training.

On completing the course, he was presented with an award for being the

outstanding recruit in his draft of several hundred, and told he was to be

posted directly to Eaton Hall the Officers Training School near Chester.

Part way through the course, he had visits by Colonels from two armoured

regiments based in Germany. Both had been famous Cavalry Regiments but of

course, long since part of the armoured divisions.

Mother, father and I went up to his passing-out parade at Eaton Hall and

afterwards he changed into civvies to have dinner with us at our hotel in

Chester. He was clearly upset, as he had just been told that his academic

records had caught up with him. As a result, his career as an officer in a Tank

Regiment was off and after some leave he was to join the Intelligence Corps

at their base at Uckfield in Sussex.

After finishing his course, he was posted to the disputed port of Trieste on the

joint British American Military intelligence Mission. When he had leave, he

went on his Lambretta scooter across many parts of the region, including

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going down into Greece as far as Athens. Whilst based in Trieste he added

Italian to his growing list of languages.

At the end of his two years National Service he had a short leave and then

went into the Foreign Office. His first posting was as Third Secretary in

Chancery at our Embassy in Damascus but he left as the entire Embassy was

expelled over the Suez crisis in 1956. After a period in London he was posted

to North Vietnam in 1958 to act as Consul in the miniscule Consulate-General

in Hanoi. Being the communist half of the country this was a difficult post but

Trevor always looked back on as a time of great privilege, being able to travel

back and forth between the two halves of a nation virtually at war with itself.

I remember him recounting a meeting during the Queens Birthday garden

party at the Consulate where he joined a conversation on the lawn between

General Giap, who had defeated the French army at Dien Bien Phu, President

Sukarno of Indonesia and Premier Chou En-Lai of China. What a trio !

In 1960 he was selected to learn Mandarin Chinese, spending one year in

London at the School of Oriental and African Studies and another at the

University of Hong Kong. In between he spent three months trekking those

parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Nepal that bordered the counties he

was to specialise in.

In 1962 he was posted as First Secretary to Peking (now Beijing), certainly his

favourite posting, even though he arrived in the middle of the Cuban missile

crisis and Sino-India border dispute, both of which had major repercussions in

the Chinese capital. While in China he accompanied the Ambassador on the

first Western diplomatic mission to Ulan Bator, in Outer Mongolia. Some of

the film he took there was later shown on BBC television.

The major event in Peking however, was his meeting and marrying Marion

who had arrived in April 1964 to be the Ambassadors P.A. They were married

three times ! The first was by the Chinese civil authorities. The second was in

Church an upstairs room of what was once the YMCA, the sole Protestant

Church permitted in the whole of North China. Their third wedding was by

the civil authorities in Hong Kong. Their honeymoon then took them right

around the world.

The Times printed a piece about the marriage and on a visit to the School I

showed the cutting to Arthur Davies-Jones who had been my English Master

and was Deputy-Head at the time.

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To the best of my recollection it read, In Peking the Chinese-speaking British

First Secretary Trevor Pidgeon was married by an English-speaking Chinese

Minister to Marion, the British Ambassadors P.A. Arthur Davies-Jones

commented that it could have been made a trifle clearer !

Back in Britain, they settled in East Horsley where they spent four happy years

before a new posting in 1969, this time to Caracas in Venezuela. Trevor had

to learn Spanish and completed the course in less than six months. Soon after

they arrived he found himself on Caracas television being interviewed in

Spanish !

They stayed in Caracas until 1973 when Trevor was posted to Hong Kong as

British Trade Commissioner in charge of China trade. He completed a tour of

service there then they left for home. For a number of personal reasons, they

stayed in Britain for the rest of Trevors career.

In retirement, Trevor pursued his earlier interest in tanks and published a

widely acclaimed history of the worlds first tank battle at Flers. He was an

enthusiastic and committed member of the Western Front Association,

Chairman of its Surrey branch, and its Cartographer for several years.

Marion and Trevor lived in Cobham for many years where he wrote two more

books both about the Somme a part of France that Trevor returned to year

after year and which he knew extremely well. He lectured on the subject here

and in France.

I know that on completion of his two years National Service, he had hesitated

before joining the Foreign Office pondering whether to pursue the army

career that was offered to him no doubt in tanks. All things considered, I

think he made a wise choice.

Trevor was taken suddenly ill in April and died in the Princess Alice Hospice in

Esher on May 14th. He was a devout Christian and had been Churchwarden

of St. Marys Stoke dAbernon. He wrote the village magazine for a while and

generally contributed to life in Cobham. His good work in so many spheres

was reflected by the fact that there was not a single spare seat in the Church

for the Service of Thanksgiving.

In memory of his older brother, Geoffrey has presented Trevors three books,

The Tanks at Flers, Flers and Gueudecourt and Boom Ravine to the

School Library. We are most grateful.

Rest in Peace Trevor

post-12226-031109600 1295862953.jpg

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A splendid life and a lovely man. I met him on a number of WFA occasions but had only the sketchiest idea of his own background. The obituary has really explained a great deal.

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What Chris said. The Tanks at Flers made Trevor a hero in my eyes, all by itself. I learned what a good man he was via a couple of big favours he did me some years ago. But I didn't know that he had such a distinguished career or so many interests. He seems to have excelled in them all.

Tom

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A remarkable man and a life well lived I'd say.

For me Great War Tanks will always mean Trevor Pidgeon.

Thanks for the post, Guy.

Nigel

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Thansk for sharing this. A splendid obituary that really celebrates Trevor's varied life from schoolboy through to retirement.

Regards,

Jonathan S

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I knew Trevor for many years. Until the time of his death he was Chairman of the Surrey Branch of the WFA and the very best of chairman at that. I had the very great priveledge of being asked to give the ovation at his funeral at St Mary's Church Stoke D'Abernon on May 28th 2008.

I said: "Like his many other friends in the Western Front Association, I will miss his wry humour, his lightly borne knowledge and kind presence. Above all, we will all miss Trevor the gentleman", before reading a few words from Quaker Faith and Practice about grief and those left behind and read the poem "Do not be Afraid" chosen by Trevor and his Wife Marjorie which ends with the words "Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there - I do not sleep.

Missing from the review of his recent posthumously published book in the latest edition of Stand To! insufficient credit was given to Graham keech who with Linesman completed tidying up the copy, seeking the picure and arranging for Pen and Swor to publish the book. A great and generous tribute by them to Trevor.

As an final point, Trevor self published "The Tanks at Flers", because pen and Sword - he said - would not publish it with all the maps which he considered essential. Amazingly for a self published book it was reviewed in the Telgraph by Keegan who was huge in his praise for it calling it, from memory, the very best kind of self published boo - and it was.

Above all Trevor is still mention with frequency and affection at Branch meeting s- hi is greatly missed.

With fond memories

David

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What everyone has said about Trevor above rings very true. Perhaps one of the lesser known kindnesses was the years that he put in as WFA Cartographer. He did an enormous amount of work on Trench Mapping, in his usual meticulous way; and the service he provided to those of us who took full advantage of buying such well reproduced maps (tho' admittedly in Black and White) was quite outstanding. He also worked with the French local authorities over some months when the Flers area remembrement came up, trying to safeguard, so far as apossible, tracks that had survived from the Great War.

Trevor was a very modest man who wore his learning lightly and was invariably willing to help people in their researches at no small inconvenience, on occasion, to himself. I would reiterate what David said about Graham Keech's hard work in putting together Trevor's last, posthumous, book - along with one or two other of Trevor's friends, but the bulk of the work was Graham's. My small part lay in editing it and so I can testify to just how much time was needed to produce the finished product; altho' the text was all Trevor's, there was a tremendous amount of work involved in putting it together and sorting out and editing the maps. In the end Trevor was able to have his books completed on the use of tanks at Flers Courcelette and up to the end of the 1916 Somme battle and they will remain an outstanding resource for years to come.

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I met Trevor but once; a true gentleman he has guided me in my reseach before and after his death.

Whenever I get stuck, I re-trace my steps and often Trevor provides a clue.

Thanks for posting the obituary

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I had Trevor's book 'Flers and Guedecourt' for Xmas and have just started reading it

Its nice to know more about the man who wrote it

Liam

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Thank you for the post Guy. A fitting tribute to a great contributor to our knowledge of the War.

Neil

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I would also re itterate that had it not been for Graham Keech, Trevor's last book would not be on the shelves.

Trevor was shrude to the end, as he chose Graham wisely, as somebody capable and trusted to pull it altogether.

Graham should be congratulated by all of us.

It is rare indeed to come across a man, so widely liked, and who, if he were still alive, would gladly help any one of us, with no thought of recompense.

It was a privilege to know him.

I still have two hours of film of Trevor. I have a recording of his 'Tank' Lecture at the National Army Museum on the 14th September 2006, and the following day, I filmed him giving about an hour's talking actually on the battlefields around High Wood and Flers.

One day I will learn enough about moviemaking to do something with it!

Anybody out there with any tips?

Guy

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One day I will learn enough about moviemaking to do something with it!

Unfortunately I cannot help but I am sure we all look forward to your end result!

Regards,

Jonathan S

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Guy,

I would really urge you to seek advice about digitising the film you have of Trevor. I am sure a number of us would be happy to make a contribution to a suitable charity for a DVD of this footage , no matter how "raw".

I was fascinated by the details of Trevor's life story - as has been said a life very well led. It explains his effortless urbane charm and lightly carried scholarship.

One of the great pleasures of my jaunts on the Western Front was Trevor's kind invitation to tag on to a visit to the interior of High Wood. Obviously, no better guide could be imagined.

Of course, my copy of "The Tanks at Flers" has pride of place on my bookshelf. It is such an obvious labour of love that one almost feels guilty to have stolen it from him for whatever silly price he asked for it all those years ago.

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Guy,

I for one would also be interested in seeing a copy of the DVD and listening to Trevor's "Tank" lecture. If this is available then do let us know. Like Ianw I am sure several of us would pay to have copies of these gems

Tanks3

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I had the great pleasure of meeting Trevor and enjoying his company more than once; he was as Terry Cave put it in his WFA obituary, the quintissential English Gentleman. A delightful man who was always eager to share his knowledge. I know what he was honoured to have been asked to give the exhortation in the Guards' Chapel but sadly fate intervened.

I must put right the absence of his posthumous work on my bookshelves; I sure that Graham found it bitter sweet to be editing his late friends' work.

Michelle

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Thank you for posting the obit. I am afraid I never met him but remain in awe of his scholarship.

Guy: even a transcript of his lecture would be fascinating.

Gwyn

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Like Michelle I was fortunate to meet Trevor . He was a kind gentle man , always willing to share his deep knowledge of the Great War . He is greatly missed .

Maurice

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Guy,

I for one would also be interested in seeing a copy of the DVD and listening to Trevor's "Tank" lecture. If this is available then do let us know. Like Ianw I am sure several of us would pay to have copies of these gems

Tanks3

Finance is definately not the issue. I would not dream of selling the end product (other than costs), that would most definately not be what Trevor wanted.

The footage is already digital, having been taken on a Sony camcorder. I just lack the expertise/knowledge of editing software and formats to present something that is shareable.

The Sony format is awkward, and my previous attempts, when transfered to DVD, have ended up with either no sound, or squashed pictures. All very frustrating. The sound may also need enhancing, so I need it done by somebody who knows what they are doing.

I'll get round to it.

Guy

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Guy,

I don't think anyone was suggesting that finance was the issue here - I would be similarly challenged by digital video formats. However, if such a DVD were to be available, it would be nice to use it as a vehicle to raise funds say for the hospice that is associated with Trevor or another appropriate charity.

Regards Ian

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I still have two hours of film of Trevor. I have a recording of his 'Tank' Lecture at the National Army Museum on the 14th September 2006, and the following day, I filmed him giving about an hour's talking actually on the battlefields around High Wood and Flers.

One day I will learn enough about moviemaking to do something with it!

Guy - thanks for posting the obituary. He was indeed a gentleman and always willing to share his knowledge. I've just been reading the latest book which reminded me of what amazing depth of scholarship we have lost. Graham did a superb job in editing it as you say.

As one of those who was guided around the wood by him on 15th Sept 2006 I would love to see the film one day.

Charles

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Had no dealings with Trevor; sounds like I missed out quite a lot. Marvellous obituary.

Bernard

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  • 6 years later...

I met Trevor in the summer of 1961, in Kabul. I and 4 other undergraduates were driving to India, and Trevor joined us. From Rawalpindi we flew to Gilgit in a Pakistan Airforce DC3, up the Indus gorge with mountains far above us on both sides. From Gilgit we trecked towards and part way up Mt Rakaposhi. After a hair-raising jeep ride back down the Indus gorge, we parted in Rawalpindi, Trevor to continue on his way to Hong Kong. I remember a delightful man, who seemed much older and wiser than we undergraduates.

Hereward Corley

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  • 5 months later...

Trevor's book, Tanks at Fleurs, is now very desirable, selling at over £100.  I got a reply from him when the book was new, and I shall cherish it more now I'veread this obituary.  Thanks.

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The Tanks at Flers is also one of my favourite books.  I couldn't believe my luck when I managed to get a copy (listed "as new" but seemed new to me) fairly cheaply just over a year ago.  I believe the proposal to reprint it has now been shelved?  Needless to say, mine is not going anywhere.

 

Reg

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