Nigel Bagnall

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Sir Nigel Bagnall
Field Marshal Sir Nigel Bagnall c.1989
Born(1927-02-10)10 February 1927
Died8 April 2002(2002-04-08) (aged 75)
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1946–1989
RankField Marshal
Commands heldChief of the General Staff
British Army of the Rhine
I Corps
4th Division
4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards
Battles/warsPalestine Emergency
Malayan Emergency
Cyprus Emergency
Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Military Cross & Bar

Field Marshal Sir Nigel Thomas Bagnall, GCB, CVO, MC & Bar (10 February 1927 – 8 April 2002) was Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, from 1985 to 1988. Early in his military career he saw action during the Palestine Emergency, the Malayan Emergency, the Cyprus Emergency and the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation, and later in his career he provided advice to the British Government on the future role of Britain's nuclear weapons.

Army career[edit]

Bagnall served in Palestine in the late 1940s

Born the son of Lieutenant Colonel Harry Stephen Bagnall and Marjory May Bagnall and educated at Wellington College,[1] Bagnall undertook National Service for a year[2] before being commissioned into the Green Howards on 5 January 1946.[3] On 13 February 1946 he transferred to the Parachute Regiment[4] and was deployed to Palestine where the British Mandate was about to end.[2] Promoted to lieutenant on 24 September 1949,[5] he served in Malaya, where as a platoon commander, he was awarded the Military Cross in 1950,[6] and a bar to the Military Cross in 1952.[7]

Promoted to captain on 10 February 1954,[8] he returned to the Green Howards in summer 1954 and then took part in counter-insurgency operations against EOKA units in Cyprus in 1955.[2] He transferred to 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards on 24 April 1956.[9] He was promoted to major on 10 February 1961[10] and appointed Military Assistant to the Vice-Chief of Defence Staff in May 1964 and then became the Senior Staff Officer dealing with intelligence activities for operations in Borneo in March 1966.[10]

Promoted to lieutenant colonel on 31 December 1966,[11] he became the Commanding Officer of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards in 1967 and served in that capacity in Omagh in Northern Ireland and Sennelager in Germany.[10] Promoted to colonel on 31 December 1969,[12] he became Commander Royal Armoured Corps in 1st (British) Corps in December 1970,[10] before receiving further promotion to brigadier on 31 December 1970.[13] He went on to be Secretary of the Chiefs of Staff Committee at the Ministry of Defence in September 1973.[10] He was appointed General Officer Commanding 4th Division on 21 September 1975[14] with the substantive rank of major general from 1 November 1975[15] and Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Policy) at the Ministry of Defence on 7 January 1978.[16]

Bagnall commanded the British Army of the Rhine in the mid 1980s

He became commander of 1st (British) Corps on 1 November 1980 with the rank of lieutenant general[17] and, having been appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in the New Year Honours 1981,[18] went on to be Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine and Commander of NATO's Northern Army Group with the rank of general on 1 July 1983.[19] As Commander of the Northern Army Group he grappled with NATO's strategy of forward defence, when he persuaded the Germans that some ground would have to be surrendered to withstand a massive Soviet Army attack.[20]

After being advanced to a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in the Queen's Birthday Honours 1985[21] and also becoming ADC to the Queen on 30 July 1985,[22] he was appointed Chief of the General Staff in August 1985[23] in which capacity he was closely involved in the debate about the future role of Britain's nuclear weapons.[24] He was promoted to field marshal on 9 September 1988 on his retirement from the British Army.[23]

He was also appointed Colonel Commandant of the Army Physical Training Corps on 5 February 1981[25] and Colonel Commandant of the Royal Armoured Corps on 1 August 1985.[26]

In retirement he became a military historian and fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. He wrote a history of the Punic wars published in 1990[27] and, two years after his death, he had a history of the Peloponnesian War published.[28]

He died on 8 April 2002.[29]


In 1959 he married Anna Caroline Church; they had two daughters.[1]

Historiographical works[edit]

  • Bagnall, Nigel, The Punic Wars: Rome, Carthage and the Struggle for the Mediterranean, London: Hutchinson, 1990, ISBN 0-091-74421-0.
  • Bagnall, Nigel, The Peloponnesian War: Athens, Sparta and the Struggle for Greece, London: Pimlico, 2004, ISBN 978-0-712-69881-8.


  1. ^ a b Debrett's People of Today 1994
  2. ^ a b c Heathcote, Anthony p. 35
  3. ^ "No. 37467". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 February 1946. p. 954.
  4. ^ "No. 37517". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 March 1946. p. 1621.
  5. ^ "No. 38720". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 September 1949. p. 4552.
  6. ^ "No. 39048". The London Gazette (Supplement). 24 October 1950. p. 5292.
  7. ^ "No. 39839". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 April 1953. p. 2406.
  8. ^ "No. 40094". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 February 1954. p. 848.
  9. ^ "No. 40760". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 April 1956. p. 2393.
  10. ^ a b c d e Heathcote, Anthony p. 36
  11. ^ "No. 44223". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 January 1967. p. 307.
  12. ^ "No. 45013". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 January 1970. p. 215.
  13. ^ "No. 45271". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1971. p. 117.
  14. ^ "No. 46692". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 September 1975. p. 11931.
  15. ^ "No. 46727". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 November 1975. p. 13883.
  16. ^ "No. 47437". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 January 1978. p. 599.
  17. ^ "No. 48386". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 December 1980. p. 16704.
  18. ^ "No. 48467". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1980. p. 2.
  19. ^ "No. 49412". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 July 1983. p. 9145.
  20. ^ "Obituary: Field Marshal Sir Nigel Bagnall". The Guardian. 11 April 2002. Retrieved 18 December 2011. and see also Brian Holden Reid; Jeremy Mackenzie, eds. (1989). The British Army and the operational level of war. Tri-Service. ISBN 978-1854880093.
  21. ^ "No. 50154". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 June 1985. p. 2.
  22. ^ "No. 50226". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 August 1985. p. 11147.
  23. ^ a b Heathcote, Anthony, p. 37
  24. ^ "Obituary: Field Marshal Sir Nigel Bagnall". The Guardian. 11 April 2002. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  25. ^ "No. 48614". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 May 1981. p. 6937.
  26. ^ "No. 50233". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 August 1985. p. 11483.
  27. ^ Bagnall, Nigel The Punic Wars Thomas Dunne Books, 1990, ISBN 978-0-312-34214-2
  28. ^ Bagnall, Nigel The Peloponnesian War Thomas Dunne Books, 2004, ISBN 978-0-312-34215-9
  29. ^ "Obituary: Field Marshal Sir Nigel Bagnall". The Guardian. 11 April 2002. Retrieved 2 January 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Heathcote, Tony (1999). The British Field Marshals 1736–1997. Barnsley (UK): Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-696-5.
Military offices
Preceded by
Michael Gow
General Officer Commanding 4th Division
Succeeded by
Richard Vickers
Preceded by
Sir Peter Leng
General Officer Commanding I Corps
Succeeded by
Sir Martin Farndale
Preceded by
Sir Michael Gow
Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine
Preceded by
Sir John Stanier
Chief of the General Staff
Succeeded by
Sir John Chapple