Expert in armoured warfare, he rose to oversee the Army’s weapons procurement as Master-General of the Ordnance
AS A young officer in the 1960s, Jeremy Blacker came to the appreciation that while, short of war with the Soviet Union, large-scale tank engagements were unlikely, the technical aspects of armoured warfare offered both a challenge and an outlet for his formidable intellect and energy.
He saw active service in the Middle East and Northern Ireland and commanded 1st Royal Tank Regiment in Germany, while the Warsaw Pact forces were still the major threat to peace, and subsequently 11th Armoured Brigade in the same theatre. But while his technical expertise drew him remorselessly into that field — and almost certainly denying him command of a division — his consequent contribution to technical development and procurement brought him great credit.
Anthony Stephen Jeremy Blacker was born in Singapore in 1939, the son of Kenneth A. Blacker, and educated at Sherborne and RMA Sandhurst, from where he was commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment in 1959. He applied his technical bent early by taking an in-service degree in mechanical sciences at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, graduating BA in 1964. Aside from this break, he served for eight years with 1st Royal Tanks; first in Hong Kong, the garrison of which then included a regiment of Comet tanks to help to deter any Chinese border incursion, then with Centurions in Germany and in the Western Aden Protectorate, where an armoured presence was required in support of the civil power in 1966, and finally in Bahrain.
He returned to England as an instructor at the Royal Armoured Corps Signal School at Bovington in 1968, before attending the one-year technical staff course at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham and then the Staff College, Camberley; his showing there led to his selection for the Military Operations Directorate in the MoD.
When he returned to his regiment in 1974, it had converted to armoured cars, of which he commanded a squadron in the “bandit country” of Omagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh for 20 months before going to Cyprus.
Promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1976 at the early age — in peacetime — of 37, he became the military assistant to the Vice-Chief of the General Staff. This was a exacting assignment to an invariably exacting individual; in Blacker’s case, first to the shrewd and calm Lieutenant-General Sir William Scotter and then, from early 1978, to the articulate and vigorous Lieutenant-General Sir John Stanier. Blacker’s composure suited these two quite different generals rather well. It was certainly good on-the-job training for high military office.
He took command of 1st Royal Tank Regiment, still in the armoured reconnaissance role, in Germany in 1979. Equipped with Scorpion and Scimitar tracked armoured vehicles, his command offered opportunity for flair in the fight for information, even on exercises. He rose eagerly to the situation, taking a regiment with an already good reputation to new levels of performance. Although he was professional and ambitious, care for his soldiers and the welfare of their families stood equally high in his priorities.
Promoted colonel in 1981, he went to the Royal Military College of Science as director of studies. This absorbed his interests, but he took care to avoid any re-emergence of the “absent-minded professor” reputation earned at the Staff College — when he once promised someone a game of squash, went to change and promptly forgot all about it.
Command of 11th Armoured Brigade in the 4th Armoured Division in Germany at the end of 1982 confirmed that he was under consideration for the Army’s higher echelon. Competition was intense and often pursued with no quarter given, but in the assessment of the divisional commander he emerged as the most decisive and quick-thinking of his brigade commanders, with a remarkable sense of how to use the ground to best tactical advantage. The 11th Armoured Brigade was also particularly self-confident and happy at this time, because of the same caring attitude he had consistently shown when commanding his regiment. From 1985 to 1987 he was principal staff officer to the Chief of Defence Staff; for the first few months to the always considerate and innovative Field Marshal Sir Edwin Bramall and then to Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fieldhouse. Both men placed heavy demands on him and he thrived on the challenge. He was advanced to CBE in 1987, having been appointed OBE on conclusion of his time as military assistant to the Vice-Chief of the General Staff..
On promotion to major-general in 1987, he went back to Shrivenham as commandant, a post to which he was admirably suited by experience and personality, but he felt it might mark the end of his chances for further promotion.
Return to Whitehall as Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operational Requirements) while very much his mark, was still in two-star rank and offered no promise of preferment. Then, two years later, he was appointed Master-General of the Ordnance, a post dating from 1414.
Since the 1960s the incumbent has been responsible for the procurement from industry of the Army’s weapons and fighting equipment. At the time of his appointment in 1991 it carried the rank of lieutenant-general, membership of the Army Board and almost certain promotion to 4-star rank. He was knighted KCB in 1992 and retired with the rank of general in 1995.
He was Colonel-Commandant of the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, 1987-92, of the Royal Tank Regiment, 1988-95 and of the Royal Armoured Corps, 1993-95 and Honorary Colonel of the Royal Yeomanry and Westminster Dragoons from 1997 to 2004.
After leaving the Army, he lived in Wiltshire playing golf and the stock market — both with success — until his death from cancer.
He married Julia Mary Trew in 1973. She survives him with two daughters.
General Sir Jeremy Blacker, KCB, CBE, Master-General of the Ordnance, 1991-95, was born on May 6, 1939. He died on March 17, 2005, aged 65.