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Chris Poole discovers what a man who commanded British troops in many of the major conflicts of the late 20th century does in retirement... in Herefordshire
War and peace
Chris Poole discovers what a man who commanded British troops in many of the major conflicts of the late 20th century does in retirement in Herefordshire
We came back to retire here on a cart pulled by a donkey, explains Major General Arthur Denaro sitting in warm sunshine in the garden of his home in the Herefordshire countryside.
You cant help but be aware of Arthur Denaros presence. This is a man who spent his military career leading and negotiating in areas of conflict and on UK Special Forces missions; one of the most senior figures within the British Army. He has an air of authority that is hard to ignore.
But he is easy company and with characteristic good humour he goes on to talk of retirement. If youre an engineer or an accountant theres always some opportunity to use your skills and experience once you leave a full-time career behind. But in the army you become totally focused on soldiering. So what do you do on retirement? Theres writing and painting or being a hobby farmer if youre in the right place.
Arthur Denaro and his wife Maggi are in the right place for them. With space for their horses, and a large and growing family, Herefordshire clearly appeals. Neither is from here but the whole family has made the county their home.
Maggi, says Arthur is a wonderful person who paints, sculpts and looks after our chickens, ducks and horses as well as bringing up five children. As an accomplished landscape artist its hardly surprising that Herefordshire suits Maggi Denaro the people here make such a difference. And I love the quality of the light, even on a dull day. Its wonderful to look out from here at night and see no other lights except, when its clear, fantastic, big night skies, she says.
Military careers and family life arent always easy to combine. The one sets up unique stresses and strains in the other. For the Denaros, though, military service is in the blood. Maggis first husband, Major Mike Kealy, had a distinguished career with the SAS until his untimely death in 1979 on a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons, leaving his young widow with a three-year-old and five-week-old twins.
Of the Denaros five children four have army lives.
All of our three daughters, says Arthur, are married to soldiers. One of them was a soldier herself and served in Iraq. One of our two sons is a soldier. The other, just to break the mould, is a tree surgeon.
Family responsibility seems to sit easily on Arthur Denaros shoulders. How does it feel to be a parent with sons or daughters in active service theatres like Iraq or Afghanistan? You do get used it. But an important part of soldiering is accepting that it is a risk business. Having spent so much time myself in conflict areas helps. But were among many whose sons and daughters are in harms way quite a lot of the time. We all know its part of the deal.
Our thoughts are always with those on active service and their families at home, all the more so as Remembrance Sunday approaches.
The Middle East, inevitably, occupied much of Arthurs career. Although it was difficult to speak out while still a serving officer, doing so is easier now.
He says, of conflicts in the area, I think of the first Iraq war as the liberation of Kuwait. We had a strictly defined purpose and end game, massive resources and an exit strategy. Collateral damage, fighting in the desert, was minimal.
The later conflict was very different. I was better placed than most to see the events leading up to the second Iraq war and spoke out against it. It was, in my view, illegal and unjust. The Americans wanted to do it light and fast which you can do if its an intervention but not if youre going to invade and then stay to run it. The Chilcot enquiry has considered his observations.
As for any hope of peace in the Middle East? As ever the Palestine/Israel issue is the key. There was a point a few years ago when some kind of resolution, two-states, was in sight but we missed it and the moment has gone for now. A relationship with Iran is unavoidable dialogue is vital.
Throughout his distinguished military career and beyond, Arthur Denaro has shown a strong commitment to the development of young people. This comes across when he talks of his time as Commandant of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.
Even though you know that many of the young people going through that system would spend no more than five years or so in military service, you can see the benefits. They leave with a sense of duty, loyalty, selfless commitment, comradeship, respect for others and qualities such as leadership and courage all of which equip them equally well for civilian life as for military service.
Outside a military context, Arthur has worked as a trustee for The Princes Trust. In this, he explains, you work with youngsters from a much less privileged background, helping and encouraging their development. He has taken on a role supporting the Lord Lieutenant of Herefordshire with a special interest in some of the countys schools in particular at Peterchurch and elsewhere in the Golden Valley.
Herefordshire, with Monmouthshire and Powys as neighbours, is the most beautiful place to live. Here we can ride out across the River Wye and on into the Golden Valley. Leaving the garden we walk across a field to meet another love of Arthurs life Lancer, a bay-roan standing 17.3 hands high. He continues as we walk: The county also punches above its weight in its generosity towards the military units stationed here. People are supportive and protective of our military proud of them and understanding of their need for privacy and secrecy in their work. Very much appreciated by the soldiers.
They give, too, both time and money to military charities the ABF, the Soldiers Charity as it has become in particular. He works with the Herefordshire branch seeking to raise funds for those who so badly need help and support once their military service to the country has ended.
Retirement is a busy time in another direction. Arthur has continued in a role for which he is so well equipped, guiding and advising others. Corporate bodies now engage him to speak on such complex issues as effective leadership, team building and motivation. The website cityspeakersinternational.co.uk has the following testimonial from a school at which he spoke. Your excellent speech certainly made a hit here: the children thought you were cool, the fathers said they would follow you into battle, and the mothers said they would follow you anywhere!
And the donkey-powered return to Herefordshire? Maggi and I wanted to do it. Id been based in Shrewsbury and on my retirement in 2003 we came home along highways and byways on our cart with the kids on bicycles.
Many former servicemen have made Herefordshire their home. Arthur Denaro, having devoted his working life to protecting us, now gives his time and experience to helping and supporting our community. And, with his family, enjoying the peaceful pastures of rural Herefordshire.
Arthur Denaro CBE DL
Commissioned into the British Army (Queens Royal Irish Hussars) from Sandhurst in 1968
Commanded his regiment during the first Iraq war
Chief of Staff to UNPROFOR (international mission in former Yugoslavia)
Deputy Commander British Forces in Cyprus. Commandant Sandhurst Military Academy 1997-2000
Middle East Adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence 1996-2002
General Officer Commanding the West of the UK until retirement in 2003