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Friday, 20 May 2016

General Sir Brian Kimmins - At Your Service

At Your Service A Belated Autobiography of Lieutenant General Sir Brian Kimmins KBE CB DL
augumented by Malcolm Kimmins. Foreword by Field Marshal the Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank GCB LVO OBE DL.
PRICE:  Softback £10.00 + £3.75 UK postage  - Hardback £15.00 P & P £4.50 UK 
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Book launch
Edited by Malcolm Kimmins and Biddy Chittenden

It is unusual for a soldier to achieve forty years of unbroken service. That Brian Kimmins reached this milestone is testimony to his commitment, loyalty and devotion to duty in the defence of our country and our values. This span included two World Wars which makes the story yet more remarkable.

There are added dimensions. Letters from his preparatory school, a World War One Diary and some marvellous photographs all make for a  captivating record of a life of exploration and adventure, lived to the full.  

This is a story that could so easily have never seen the light of day.

The General was persuaded, with some difficulty, to put pencil to paper on his retirement from the Army at the age of sixty. There was no thought that it might be of interest beyond his immediate family, let alone be worthy of publication to a wider audience.

The manuscript, such as it was, moved from house to house, from cupboard to cupboard, until a grandchild used it for a school project and another was persuaded to type it out in some sort of order. From such a modest concept we now have a fascinating insight into what was truly a life spent ‘At Your Service’.

JP McManus gave a number of copies of At Your Service to friends as Christmas presents.
He wrote to Mr Kimmins afterwards with the following acknowledgement:

I have recently read and greatly enjoyed At Your Service the belated autobiography of Lieutenant General Sir Brian Kimmins.

The dedication of a generation that fought in two world wars and served with distinction for their country around the world is humbling in the extreme.

The General's early army life was greatly influenced by the horse and this book is a timely reminder of the role those brave, uncomplaining friends played in World War One with such a catastrophic loss of life to man and horse alike.

Quotes from letters
beautifully produced
found the letters particularly interesting and moving
that charming book
a lovely fascinating book - a look into the past
a wonderful read
I enjoyed the book so much that I read it in one sitting
the book is a fascinating reflection and description of an officers life in the age of the Empire
did any other child write such letters?
what an extraordinary man, what a hero and what a very funny schoolboy
I much enjoyed the book. I had no idea he was swimming for his life at Dunkirk. It was a horrific time.

Brian Kimmins had an Army career of forty years spanning both World Wars. His name may not be as well-known as some senior British soldiers but his contribution to the country’s war efforts was immense.

It is fortunate that he kept a World War One diary and recently the memoirs of his much admired and inspiring Battery Commander, Major Dick Archer Houblon, were rediscovered. Extracts from both add greatly when it comes to describing the fear and horror that the nineteen year old must have had to overcome as a very junior officer.

Kimmins clearly had a happy childhood and a loving and supportive family. From Orley Farm, with the help of a scholarship, he went on to Harrow. He was academically bright and well prepared to cope with officer training and the rigours of RMA Woolwich. If it had not been for the war he would almost certainly have gone up to Cambridge to read Classics.

World War One did much to shape his character. He put into practice all he had learnt on training and leading frightened men who would have preferred to be anywhere but where they were. Although Kimmins only arrived in France in August 1918 he was soon in action and quickly saw just how ghastly war can be.

In 1919 he was posted abroad to begin ten years of Foreign Service and a love affair with India and Egypt. He took every opportunity to hunt and fish, to play polo, to enjoy pigsticking and to travel widely in the subcontinent. In 1928 Kimmins, who had moved to Egypt with his regiment, was invited to be an ADC to the High Commissioner to Egypt and Sudan. This was very different from regimental life and gave him experience of the political and diplomatic life which would prove invaluable later in his career. On his return to England he made steady progress in an Army which knew sooner or later it would have to fight the Germans again.

On 3rd September 1939 war was declared and six days later he was in Cherbourg with the leading elements of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). Eventually the impossible position of the BEF became apparent and Kimmins, who had spent much time liaising with formation commanders including Montgomery, was ordered to Dunkirk. On 1st June 1940 he embarked on the destroyer Keith which immediately came under attack and was sunk. He was bombed and machine gunned in the water before being picked up and brought to England and safety.

His ability was widely recognised and he was given increasingly important posts on the staff. At the beginning of the war he was a Major, by the end a Major General. The posts in which he was most influential were in South East Asia and in the war against Japan. Lord Mountbatten liked and trusted him and Kimmins reciprocated. Much of his time was spent visiting Headquarters throughout this vast command in India, Burma, China and the USA. His schedule was punishing and meetings required all his diplomatic skills, as the Allies had different views as to how the war should be fought and what should be the outcome once the Japanese were defeated. He arranged the Japanese Surrender Ceremony and remained for a time to help locate prisoners and internees who were scattered throughout the Far East.

On coming home he held a number of appointments including Director of the TA, Head of the British Military Mission to Paris to observe on the European Defence Community conference and finally the testing Command of all troops in Northern Ireland as a Lieutenant General.

Brian Kimmins had a remarkable career in the Army. He was an extrovert, clever and able to communicate with the great war leaders, Alanbrooke, Montgomery, Slim and Mountbatten, and with Churchill and Stalin. From early in his Army life he developed the skills required to become a superb strategic planner at the highest level.

The story is well written and edited and tells us much about the British Army both at war and at peace in the first half of the twentieth century.
Field Marshal Lord Guthrie GCB LVO OBE DL

Quotes taken from the book:

We were rather frightened of our headmaster Mr Hopkins - 1907

Resplendent in my Sam Browne belt I felt a real pride in myself - 1917

I saw my first battlefield, dead men hanging grotesquely on the wire - 1918

I nearly got mauled by a large black bear which attacked me downhill - 1924

One very senior lady always arrived tight - 1928

Not realizing the date a complete April fool was made of me - 1930

We saw one bomb released at us from low altitude - 1940

Stalin, in what looked like a butcher’s coat, made a dramatic entrance - 1945

The family found it oppressive to be guarded day and night - 1956