Colonel the Lord Penrhyn
(Filed: 09/12/2003)
 

Colonel the 6th Lord Penrhyn, who has died aged 95, was awarded an MBE as brigade major of the 38th Irish Brigade in North Africa in 1943, and a DSO as commander of the 5th Reconnaissance Regiment during the advance to the Elbe in 1945.

In November 1942, Major Frank Douglas-Pennant (as he then was) took part in the invasion of Algeria, with the 38th Irish Brigade. For the next five months, until the final surrender of Axis forces in Tunisia, this was in constant contact with the enemy, in a succession of hard-fought battles.

Douglas-Pennant, a pre-war regular officer from the King's Royal Rifle Corps, soon showed himself to be "a cool and competent Staff Officer, quite unperturbed by enemy actions", according to the citation for the MBE. Attributing the smooth running of the headquarters to his efficiency, Douglas-Pennant's brigade commander regretted the fact that he had "not had the opportunity of performing any outstanding and gallant act"; that opportunity soon came.

After taking part in the invasion of Sicily, Douglas-Pennant was posted to his own regiment's 1st battalion, and then to 5th Recce as commanding officer. The Reconnaissance Corps was founded in 1941 "to gather vital tactical information in battle for the Infantry Divisions". Equipped with the Humber armoured car, and later the Daimler "wheeled tank", the recce regiments were in the forefront of any advance.

After a period protecting communications between Naples and Foggia, the 5th were sent to the Anzio beachhead. Three months of fighting followed which ended for the regiment at Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber. In the spring of 1945, it was sent to Marseilles, and then by train to Holland and on into Germany; and within weeks, the regiment was spearheading 5th Infantry Division's push to the Elbe.

On April 21/22, after an approach march of 120 miles, 5th Recce went straight into action clearing the enemy from woods and villages north-east of Uelzen. On both days, Douglas-Pennant could be found wherever the opposition was stiffest, encouraging his troops and exercising his considerable tactical skills.

"His complete disregard for his own safety was an inspiration to his officers and men," the citation for his DSO declared. "This action was the culminating example of this officer's outstanding leadership of his regiment, which he has already shown in action in the Anzio beachhead."

Malcolm Frank Douglas-Pennant, second son of the 5th Baron Penrhyn, was born on July 11 1908, only a few months after his father's horse Rubio, who had been found between the shafts of an omnibus in Towcester, had won the Grand National at odds of 66-1.

Educated at Eton and Sandhurst, Douglas-Pennant was commissioned into the 60th Regiment, the King's Royal Rifle Corps - in which his father had served before him. Joining the 1st Battalion at Lucknow in India, he moved with it to Calcutta and Burma, where he became adjutant. In August 1938, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion at Tidworth, and was training recruits at Winchester when war was declared.

In July 1940 he attended the Staff College at Camberley before returning to the 2nd Battalion, and being posted on to the 38th Irish Brigade as Brigade Major. After his service in North Africa, Douglas-Pennant was a logical choice to command 5th Recce. The regiment had started life as the 3rd Tower Hamlets Rifles. The men soon found they had an inspirational leader, courteous, modest to the point of shyness, and inclined to take a lenient view of minor transgressions.

Having commanded his regiment from Anzio to the Elbe, Douglas-Pennant found himself driving on to the Baltic. At Neustadt, 5th Recce came upon a group of concentration camp survivors who had been brought there to be disposed of by being sent to sea in ships and sunk. Douglas-Pennant found a well-equipped German hospital nearby awaiting Wehrmacht casualties; the authorities were reluctant to tend to the camp victims until Douglas-Pennant drew his pistol.

After 5th Recce disbanded when war ended, Douglas-Pennant served on the Staff in Brunswick and Hanover. In 1948, reverting to his substantive rank of Major, he returned to England as second-in-command of the 2nd Battalion of the 60th at Barton Stacey. Three years later he was involved in the preparations for the merger of the KRRC and the Rifle Brigade to form the Royal Green Jackets.

After taking a year's leave, he took command of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets in Winchester, moving with it to Tidworth, and in 1953 to Munster, in Germany. The following spring he returned to Winchester to command the regimental depot until his retirement from the Army as a full colonel in 1958.

Douglas-Pennant then took up farming near Bishops Waltham in Hampshire. In 1967 his father, who had made his maiden speech in the House of Lords at the age of 100 only two years earlier, died. Since his elder brother had predeceased him without a male heir, Douglas-Pennant succeeded to the title as 6th Baron Penrhyn.

Since the family home, Penrhyn Castle in Gwynedd, had passed to the National Trust in 1951, the new Lord Penrhyn continued to live at Dean Farm until 1980, when he moved to Littleton Manor, near Winchester. He hosted a number of reunions of the 5th Reconnaissance Regiment at his home.

A keen birdwatcher, conservationist and fisherman, Penrhyn was also a first-class shot, captaining the Army team for three years and shooting for the House of Lords. A church warden and a member of the parochial church council, he was also involved in children's charities.

Lord Penrhyn, who died on November 8, married, in 1954, Elizabeth Rosemary Laurie. She died last year, and he is survived by their two daughters.