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Dr Piers Mackesy

History tutor, military historian and author;

History tutor, military historian and author;

Born September 15, 1924; Died June 30, 2014

PIERS Mackesy, who has died aged 89, was a son of the army whose own wartime experiences and illustrious heritage served him well for a career as a military historian and author.

Both writing and military life were in his blood - his mother was a successful journalist and novelist and his father and grandfather were both generals - but it was his service in action with the Royal Scots Greys during the Second World War that proved invaluable to the young Mackesy, giving him an intimate understanding of the reality of conflict.

He was still a teenager when he joined up and fought with the regiment through northern France in the months immediately after D-Day, then up through Belgium, Holland and into Germany.

In the final hours of the war he was with the Greys as they raced towards the Baltic to secure the area ahead of the Red Army. He went on teach at Oxford, write six volumes of military history and become a fellow of the British Academy, enjoying an international reputation for being able to get to the heart of complex matters with clarity.

Born in his grandparents' home outside Aberdeen, his father was Major General Pierse Mackesy, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross during the First World War and became a general during the Second World War. His grandfather fought as a Cameron Highlander in both the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny, also rising to the rank of general.

His mother, Leonora Dorothy Rivers Cook, was the daughter of Aberdeen shipowners and wrote numerous novels under the names of Dorothy Rivers and Leonora Starr.

His formative years were spent with his grandparents before moving to Quetta, then part of British India, where his father was posted, and subsequently Borden in Hampshire.

As a boy he was fascinated by what was, in his words, still the army of Kipling, with bands, parades and mounted cavalry. On Sundays in camp the padre wore boots and spurs under his surplice, and a Victoria Cross on his chest. He developed a lifelong love of horses, animals and landscape and, though he was particularly fond of the Aberdeenshire countryside, his introduction to hunting came in the western deserts of India when, on his first hunt, he was led on a donkey with a jackal as his quarry.

Back home in Scotland he was educated at Cargilfield Prep School, Edinburgh before attending Wellington College in Berkshire. In 1942, at the height of the war, he won a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford but duty called and, following training, he joined the Royal Scots Greys. Although not a man to readily discuss his experiences, he vividly recalled the last day of the war when, in the rush to get to the Baltic, the regiment crossed paths with German troops desperately retreating west to escape the Soviet soldiers.

Thrown together, crammed in tank traffic jams on narrow roads, they stared at each other in silence. Not a single shot was fired though the conflict was not yet officially over.

Mr Mackesy remained grateful to the Scots Greys for the experience of what he viewed as a first-class regiment and served with them until 1947 when he took up his studies at Oxford. After graduating with a first class degree in modern history in 1950, the same year he joined the Territorial Army in which he served as a captain, he completed his doctorate at Oxford's Oriel College in 1953. The following year was spent as a Harkness fellow at Harvard University in the United States.

He then went on to become a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford where he taught modern history with an emphasis on the history of European warfare from the mid-18th century to the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

In the 1960s he was a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, New Jersey and a visiting professor of history at the California Institute of Technology.

He was also the Lee Knowles lecturer at Cambridge in 1972, a member of the council of the Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia and the London-based Society for Army Historical Research.

His work as a chronicler of military history produced six books, all written with a clarity and lightness of touch, plus contributions to various other publications and journals.

His first volume, The War in the Mediterranean, 1803-1810 was published in 1957 but it was his second, The War for America 1775-83, that won him international acclaim when it came out, in 1964, in the midst of the Vietnam War.

He also wrote Statesmen at War: the Strategy of Overthrow, 1798-1799; The Coward of Minden, The Affair of Lord George Sackville; War Without Victory: The Downfall of Pitt, 1799-1802 and British Victory in Egypt: the End of Napoleon's Conquest, for which he was awarded the Society for Army Historical Research's Templer Medal in 1995. Mr Mackesy, who was a trustee of the National Army Museum in London and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, served twice as acting Master of Pembroke and was highly regarded for his effective administration and sensitive, diplomatic manner.

Though he retired from Oxford in the late 1980s, students from around the globe continue to regard him as a thoughtful and patient tutor who took immense trouble over them, whatever their academic ability. He first married in 1958 to Sarah Davies, daughter of Sir David Davies QC, with whom he had three children. He married for a second time in 1982 to Patricia Timlin.

On his retirement they moved to North-east of Scotland where he chaired the North of Scotland branch of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Association and where they lived near Alford before moving to Deeside.

There will be a memorial service at Pembroke College for Mr Mackesy who is survived by Patricia and his children William, Catherine and Serena.

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