Major General 'struggled with Britain's Afghanistan withdrawal'

Major General 'struggled with Britain's Afghanistan withdrawal'


Former head of the Royal Marines was struggling to cope with Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in weeks before suicide, friends say

  • Major General Matthew Holmes CBE was tragically found dead on Saturday
  • Holmes took his own life after splitting from his wife and losing his military job
  • A friend has said he was struggling with Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan
  • Holmes was friends with Prince Harry, carried Prince Philip ‘s coffin, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his service in Afghanistan 

The former head of the Royal Marines was struggling to cope with Britain’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in the weeks before his suicide, a friend has said.

Major General Matthew Holmes CBE was found dead on Saturday after he lost his job as Commandant General Royal Marines and split from his wife. 

On Tuesday, one of Holmes’s friends told The Times that he had raised concerns that ‘all that sacrifice and all that service might have been in vain because we had to get out of Afghanistan’ in the aftermath of Britain’s withdrawal from the country. 

‘It had affected a lot of people, him in particular,’ the friend told the newspaper. ‘You are talking about commanders who sent people into harm’s way. It is a really bad time to have all these problems accumulating.

‘The poor guy was not coping with leaving the service and he had a very complicated private life. Any bloke would have crumbled under these multiple pressures,’ the friend added. 

Major General Matthew Holmes CBE (pictured) was found dead on Saturday after he both lost his job as Commandant General Royal Marines and split from his wife. Holmes talked to colleagues about struggling to cope with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, a friend has said

The unnamed friend said that Holmes, 54, was being supported by First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, and Lieutenant General Rob Magowan, who replaced him as Commandant General Royal Marines – the professional head of the Royal Marines.

Britain was forced to withdraw all of its personnel from Afghanistan in August after the U.S. announced its intention to do the same, sparking a mass evacuation operation from Kabul as the Taliban swept the country to take control. 

Following his death, minister for defence people and veterans Leo Docherty announced going forward all troops would undergo yearly mandatory mental health checks to ensure they are coping with service life.

Speaking at a Forces in Mind Trust fringe during the Tory part conference in Manchester, Docherty likened the checks to an ‘annual MoT’ that will form part of the government’s efforts to emphasise the importance of the wellbeing of troops.   

Holmes, who in 2007 was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline of Afghanistan, had been removed from the position of Commandant General early in April. 

Docherty called Holmes’s death a ‘tragedy’ as he revealed the government would bring in the mental health check for all service personnel from November.

‘From later this autumn there will be a mandatory mental health briefing for every serving person,’ he said. ‘It is like an annual MoT, saying ok we should take this stuff seriously.’

He noted that the culture around mental health issues had changed in recent years, but said that it was still a constant battle. 

Holmes, who carried Prince Philip’s coffin at his funeral, had been in a ‘bad place’ before his suspected suicide, people close to him have said.

Pictured: Members of the British and US military engage in the evacuation of people out of Kabul, Afghanistan on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. A friend has said Holmes was struggling to cope with the withdrawal from Afghanistan

Pictured: Major General Matthew Holmes welcomes Prince Harry, the former Captain General of the Royal Marines, and Meghan Markle to the Royal Albert Hall in London in March 2020

The father-of-two from Hampshire was a friend of Prince Harry and served in all the UK’s recent conflicts until leaving the military. At the time of being awarded the Distinguished Service Order, he was commanding officer of 42 Commando.

On Monday, friends and neighbours told MailOnline of their shock at his death, adding that the couple had not been happy for a while and that they had lived at their home in Winchester for 17 years. 

One said: ‘Lea worked from home and told me last year how the pressure of the lockdown was putting a strain on her family life. I could just tell that she wasn’t very happy with things’.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, a defence source said the decision to replace him was made due to ‘restructuring’ of the Royal Navy, but added that Major General Holmes ‘was upset’ by his removal.

In a statement, Lea Holmes paid tribute to her estranged husband, Major General Matthew Holmes, 54, who was removed from his role in April just 20 months into a what was meant to be a three-year stint. 

She said her husband, who she had recently split from, was ‘courageous’ and ‘committed his life to serving in the Royal Marines’, adding that he was ‘selfless to such an extent that this was more important than his own career progression.’ 

Holmes’s sister Sarah said Monday that her family is ‘devastated’ by his death. 

Lea Holmes – the widow of the former head of the Royal Marines who took his own said her husband was ‘exceptionally proud’ to have served as the commandant general of the fighting unit. Right: Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from The Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline on Monday, Ms Holmes said: ‘Matthew confided in me a lot because we were very close.

‘He spoke to me in detail about the issues in his marriage and I’m not going to break his confidence now. Matthew and I were last in touch on Friday evening and I never thought he would take his own life.’

She added: ‘Lea was my best friend before her and Matthew got married and I’ve been speaking to her every day since this tragedy. She is devastated, as we all are.

‘She is the one who called the police on Saturday afternoon because she could not get into the house. And when the police broke the door down to get in, they found Matt’s body.’

A tearful Sarah revealed that she was informed about her brother’s death on the telephone by his wife on late Saturday afternoon.

Sarah, 55, who is a year older than Major General Holmes added: ‘As a family, we are still in shock. We are taking this whole thing one day at a time. Since news of his death, the tributes have not stopped.

‘Men who served under him have been contacting me and telling me what an amazing, incredible and inspirational man he was. I’m proud to have been his sister.

‘He wanted to be a Royal Marine since the age of five when we were taken together to the Royal Tournament. He had a brilliant career and was committed to the Royal Marines, its men and their families.’ 

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