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13 October 2021

More than 700 mourners attend funeral of former head of the Royal Marines

13 October 2021

More than 700 mourners, including the Defence Secretary and senior military officers, have attended the funeral of the former head of the Royal Marines.

Major General Matthew Holmes who was a pall-bearer at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, was found dead at his home in Winchester, Hampshire, on October 2.

An inquest heard he was found hanged after he had been 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.

Among those at the funeral at Winchester Cathedral were his widow, Lea, a solicitor, and his children, William, 11, and Eleanor, 15.

Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace (centre) arrives for the funeral (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)

Also present were Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter, and his replacement, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, who will take up the post next month.

A line of marines paraded on the approach to the cathedral while the coffin arrived by hearse.

The coffin, draped in the Union flag with Maj Gen Holmes’s cap and a wreath of white roses on top, was carried into the cathedral by the same pallbearers who joined Maj Gen Holmes at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

All elements of the Royal Marines attended the funeral, which was led by the Dean of Winchester Catherine Ogle, including 42 Commando, to which Maj Gen Holmes belonged, with music provided by the Royal Marines Band Service.

A crowd of mourners gathered in the grounds alongside standard bearers from the Royal Marines Association and the US Marine Corps.

Following the service, which concluded with the Last Post and the national anthem, a volley of three shots was fired by 12 recently passed out marines from the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone, Devon.

Veterans gather behind a detachment of Royal Marines outside Winchester Cathedral (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)

Ahead of the service, the new head of the Royal Marines, Lieutenant General Rob Magowan, Commandant General Royal Marines (CGRM) wrote in a letter to senior commanders seen by the Daily Telegraph that the death of Maj Gen Holmes was being used to “drive a wedge” between the Navy and the Marines.

He wrote that Maj Gen Holmes 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.”

General Sir Nick Carter (right), the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)

It is understood that disputes within the Senior Service occurred between October last year and February, while the organisation went through a management restructure which led to Maj Gen Holmes being superseded.

A naval source told the PA news agency: “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.

Maj Gen Holmes’s 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.”

A full inquest into his death will be held on February 10, 2022.

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