Captain The Right Reverend The Right Honourable Lord Runcie PC MC (late Scots Guards)
by Major PEG BalfourCBE (formerly Scots Guards)
Robert Runcie joined the 3rd Tank Battalion Scots Guards at Codford camp on Salisbury Plain in 1942 after two years as a scholar of Brasenose Oxford and a period at the Guards Armoured Training Wing. He came from a slightly different background from most of the other officers but was quickly assimilated into a group of contemporaries, many of whom had distinguished subsequent careers. It was impossible not to be attracted to his open personality, especially when it was augmented by a wicked sense of humour and great powers of mimicry . None of us had any idea of his future calling, and if asked I would have said he would either become an academic or an actor. He was given command of No 2 Troop in Right Flank squadron and led it during all the months spent training in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Kent. In July 1944 he took his troop of Churchill tanks to Normandy and was one of the leading troops in the breakout through the Bocage in the Battle of Caumont . He took part in all the remaining battles in Normandy and all the subsequent actions in Holland and Germany ending up at the Baltic with the same troop with which he had started. In early March 1945 during the attack on Winnekendonk his troop was in reserve. The attack was held up by SP and anti tank guns. The squadron leader, Alan Cathcart, ordered up the reserve troops to deal with the situation. Bob found that the only way he could see where the opposition was coming from was to take his troop out into the open. From there he quickly knocked out two SP guns and an 88mm. For this he was awarded the Military Cross. In the closing days of the war he and his co-troop leader Archie Fletcher, captured a huge Delage Staffcar of a senior German General .The Brigade Commander Douglas Greenacre demanded to see it, so they drove it to Brigade Headquarters, where in Bob's words 'several libations of gin were consumed', they set off down an apparently unoccupied road, with Archie Fletcher driving, the Brigade Commander in front and Bob in the back. They had not gone far before a burst of Spandau fire shattered the windscreen, and they all baled out into the ditch and crawled ignominiously to safety pursued by further bursts of fire. At the end of the war Bob remained with the battalion until it was disbanded and then was sent to Trieste to join the 1st Battalion. He once more became a popular figure and ended his service as part of the boundary commission set up to determine the boundary between the Italian department of Venezia Giulia and Yugoslavia. On his demobilisation in 1947 he went back to Oxford to complete his degree.
He was ordained a year later and was appointed to a curacy in Newcastle. From there he became successively chaplain at an Oxford College, Principal of the Theological College at Cuddesdon, Bishop of St Albans, and finally Archbishop of Canterbury. It is for others to speak about his ministry, but one of his obituaries noted that he had the very unusual experience for an archbishop of having been in a battle. To the end of his life he maintained contact with the Regiment, attended many reunions and dinners, and as chairman presided over a dinner of the Third Guards Club. At the celebration of the 350th Anniversary of the founding of the Regiment he took part in the march past of the members of the Third Guards Club. Whilst the parade was being formed up in Holyrood Park, the stentorian voice of a Drill Sergeant was heard to say, 'Mr Archbishop Sir, when I say stand in line, that means one behind the other'. After his retirement he was very much in demand as a lecturer and an after dinner speaker. To hear him as I did on a Swann's cruise, stand where St Paul had stood and address the gathering at Ephesus, or stand on the deck of a cruise liner going through the Dardanelles and describe the 1915 landings was a moving and uplifting experience. He and Lindy travelled all over the world and before becoming Archbishop he was the link between the Orthodox Church and the Church of England, so went many times to Russia and Eastern Europe. He was a man who enjoyed life, and his infectious enthusiasm communicated itself to all around him. His faith, of which he made no parade, was clear to all who knew him, and enabled him to meet with stoic courage the illness which clouded the last few years of his life. He was a good companion and he and his wife stayed with us in Scotland many times. His stories and witticisms were endless and we looked forward eagerly to his visits. We last saw him earlier this year when he christened our latest grandchild. In 1998 he and I together with Charles Farrell were invited by Tony Stevenson to spend a few days on his luxurious converted trawler, cruising off the West Coast of Scotland. I remember very vividly after a few days of continuous reminiscences and laughter, landing on Iona to see the site of the first Christian settlement in this country. It was fitting that the successor of St Augustine should land in a very small boat as had St Columba, but in this case brought up to date by being in a rubber boat and protected by a large golf umbrella. My last memory of him at Iona is of him moving away from our party to go alone to the small Chapel dedicated to St Columba and to kneel there in prayer.