Major General Peter Istead OBE GM


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Major-General Peter Istead was an officer who won the George Medal for tackling an inferno on a munitions train

Major-General Peter Istead, who has died aged 78, was awarded the George Medal in 1965 for tackling a burning ammunition train.

On the evening of June 25 that year, a train carrying Belgian ammunition was derailed in a cutting near Minden, north-west Germany. Four of the wagons were uncoupled, but two of these exploded, scattering shells over a wide area. Istead, then a captain serving as an Ammunition Technical Officer (ATO) with the BAOR Ammunition Inspectorate, arrived to find two wagons devastated and burning fiercely, and the end of a third on fire. The girders of the wagons were red hot and the ground was covered with burning propellant.

There were also a number of 90mm shells in the wreckage which could have exploded at any moment. Nearby, there was a large house with a thatched roof and a group of curious spectators whom the German police had not been able to keep away.

The local fire brigade was reluctant to approach the wagons, but moved its tender to the top of the cutting and began playing water on the third wagon. Istead and his CO, Major CW Smith, broke into this wagon and removed ammunition boxes from the burning section just before they caught fire and precipitated another explosion. The two men then uncoupled the third and fourth wagons, each of which contained about 10 tons of ammunition, and moved them 60 yards further down the track.

Shells in smouldering cardboard cylinders, many of them unidentifiable because their markings had been burnt off, were still strewn across the ground. Istead took the fire hose from the firemen to spare them the danger and sprayed water over the ammunition until it was cool enough to handle. Istead and Smith worked throughout the night, and it was 12 hours before the area could be declared safe. Both men were awarded a George Medal.

Peter Walter Ernest Istead was born at Croydon, Surrey, on August 7 1935 and educated at the Whitgift Trinity School. He joined the Army in 1952 as a boy soldier and served two years in the Scots Guards before being commissioned into the Queen’s Royal Regiment (the Surreys).

After a secondment to the King’s African Rifles in Kenya, in 1956 he transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

Istead qualified as a parachutist and spent four years with the Parachute Brigade. In 1962 he attended the Royal Military College of Science and qualified as an ATO. Attendance at Staff College, Camberley, was followed by regimental duties and staff appointments.

He was a member of the directing staff of the Staff College from 1973 to 1975 before moving to Northern Ireland as Chief ATO. He was appointed OBE at the end of his tour.

After attending the Royal College of Defence Studies, he served as a brigadier and major-general in a number of demanding logistics appointments.

His sterling work while chief of staff to the Quartermaster General was recognised by his appointment as CB in 1989.

Istead retired from the Army in 1990. Throughout his military career he was held in high esteem for his professionalism and his concern for the welfare of both his officers and soldiers. His reputation for being rather formidable masked a ready sense of humour.

He joined the Institute of Brewing as chief executive, and his leadership and management skills were greatly valued. He took considerable pleasure in learning the art of brewing and in sharing his knowledge with others.

In 1999 he was appointed Representative Deputy Lieutenant of the London Borough of Wandsworth. As Colonel Commandant of the RAOC, he maintained his links with his Corps and, after retiring from business, he became a proficient artist and pursued his love of fishing.

Peter Istead married, in 1961, Jennifer Swinson, who survives him with their daughter and their son.

Maj-Gen Peter Istead, born August 7 1935, died June 30 2014
He was a top bloke - and formidable. He asked for advice from experienced people, made a plan and then followed it to a successful conclusion. Excellent ATO.
Para trained, ATO trained, balls of steel and in retirement, Chief Executive of the Institute of Brewing. A real mans man! RIP General.
Formidable is the polite word. He scared the life out of most of his staff, but still a top man!
I am reminded of a story about when he was Chairman of Corps Rugby. A CO was not keen to release an officer for a game and said he would rather die in a ditch than release him. Brig Istead got through to said CO and conversation was said to have gone...

"Istead here, chose your ditch colonel!"

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