COL Robert Begbie

Col Robert Begbie
Army officer who championed flying
Born May 11, 1920;
Died June 16, 2008.

Colonel Robert Begbie, who has died aged 88, was the Edinburgh-born army pilot who championed flying, helped found the Army Air Corps and introduced helicopters into army service.

While in action in Korea in April 1951, during the massive Chinese attack at the Imjin River, Begbie experienced every observation officer's nightmare. From his ground post, he was unable to see over the hills surrounding him on three sides, and from which the enemy advanced.

Begbie's concern at this lack of adequate visual air support extended to him wangling an attachment to the US 3rd Light Aviation Section as a means of gaining air operations support for UK forces.

His use of clandestine sorties behind enemy lines showed the effectiveness of the air support he mooted, and, on his return to the UK, he became the first qualified helicopter instructor in the army, and introduced helicopters to the service.

In 1957, service chiefs built on Begbie's experience by forming the Army Air Corps, with Begbie playing a leading role in the organisation and operation of the new unit.

Flying had interested Begbie from the time of enlisting in 1936 as a TA member of Edinburgh Field Artillery Regiment. He had an active war, being evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940 as a member of the British Expeditionary Force, and saw action in North Africa at El Alamein.

His flying opportunity occurred when, near Tunis, he was startled to see an Auster being flown by an artillery officer as part of air operations. He had no idea that there was such movement between military disciplines, and determined to be part of what he saw as a new way to engage the enemy.

But he had to wait until he had fought his way up the length of Italy before realising his ambition at an air operations course in England. He was posted back to Italy on air operations then joined counter-insurgency operations in Palestine.

When the war concluded, Begbie's fascination with flying saw him taking tours with Spitfire squadrons in Cyprus and the Canal Zone before seeing service in Korea. It was during a subsequent posting to Germany with 654 Squadron that he introduced the use of helicopters.

His abilities were noted when, after attending RAF staff college at Bracknell in Surrey, he became Commander of the Army Air Corps in Far East Land Forces and CO of 656 Squadron, with the task of introducing Westland Scout and Bell Sioux helicopters there. In various theatres, his squadron was deployed across Brunei, Indonesia, Borneo, Sarawak and Malaya.

In 1965, Begbie returned to the UK on appointment as General Staff Officer Grade 1 (Army Aviation). Promotion to colonel followed appointment as commandant of the School of Army Aviation, Middle Wallop, Hampshire. After a posting as defence attache to the British embassy in Jeddah, he moved to the British high commission in Kenya as defence adviser.

Begbie retired from active duty in 1975 but took up a position in defence intelligence at the MoD, finally retiring in 1985. He settled in Andover, Hampshire, remaining an indefatigable champion of army flying and the AAC to the end of his life. The golden jubilee last year of the foundation of the Army Air Corps was a matter of some celebration for him.

He met his wife, Ann Marsh, in Venice in 1947, and is survived by her, and their son and daughter.



War Hero
What an amazing man, quite astonished that I'd never heard of him before.

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