The Daily Telegraph
Major General John Badcock
Signals officer who joined an experimental unit testing armoured vehicles including floating tanks
MAJOR GENERAL JOHN BADCOCK, who has died aged 97, had a distinguished career in the Royal Corps of Signals, having seen action with an experimental combat unit in the Second World War. After the Dieppe Raid in 1942, the failure to deal with fortified obstacles in an amphibious landing demonstrated the urgent need for specialised armoured vehicles. The 79th (Experimental) Armoured Division RE was formed, and under the leadership of Major General (later Sir) Percy Hobart, it developed, assembled and deployed tanks of a highly innovative design.
Known as “Hobart’s Funnies”, and based on the Churchill or Sherman tank, they were attached to operational units. They included “Crab” mine clearers, “Crocodile” flamethrowers and tanks that floated.
There was a tank that fired a 40lb mortar projectile known as “the flying dustbin”, while the “Double Onion” tank carried two large demolition charges that could be placed against concrete walls and detonated from a safe distance.
John Michael Watson Badcock was born on November 10 1922 in Nazareth, Palestine. His father, Major Richard Badcock, had won an MC in the First World War and had subsequently joined the Colonial Service.
His mother, Doris, the daughter of Major General Sir Harry Watson, died of septicaemia a week after giving birth. Her sister, Joan Watson, arrived in Jerusalem to look after the baby and subsequently married Major Badcock.
Badcock was educated at St Peter’s, Seaford, and Sherborne, where he was a drummer in the OTC. In 1941 he joined the Royal Signals and went up to Worcester College, Oxford, on a six-month course, where he read Electronic Engineering and rowed for the college.
After being commissioned, he was posted to 35 Tank Brigade at Penrith, Cumbria. It was experimenting with the viability of a searchlight mounted in a modified turret, capable of illuminating enemy positions in a night attack and dazzling the defenders, while creating an umbra in between the aligned vehicles for soldiers to remain unseen. This required strict discipline and specific signals to ensure that all vehicles switched their lights on and off simultaneously.
His squadron carried out exercises near Lowther Castle, just beyond the limit of German reconnaissance aircraft, and he was billeted at Greystoke Castle, where he and his brother officers dined off their rations in the great banqueting hall.
Badcock was assigned to 79 Armoured Division Signals, and took part in the Normandy landings in June 1944. He landed at Ouistreham and commanded the signals element of Hobart’s tactical HQ. He took part in the battles for Brest, the Scheldt estuary, the forced crossing of the Rhine and the drive to the River Elbe. After the war, he commanded the Ceylon Signal Squadron and later instructed at the Amphibious Warfare School and the School of Military Intelligence.
During the Suez crisis he was GS02 (general staff officer grade 2) to the CSO2 British Corps and, as Somme Company Commander at Sandhurst, he led them to become Sovereign Company before he commanded the 4th Divisional Signals Regiment in Germany.
The first Signals officer to command an infantry brigade and to be Deputy Constable of Dover Castle, Badcock had a great zest for life and an interest in people whatever their background. He also had a mischievous sense of humour.
In the large, vaulted dining-room in the Constable’s tower, there were two uninhabited suits of armour. In an effort to put this right, he obtained two mannequins from a local department store. When these proved a bad fit, they were taken through a door leading from the dining-room, carried down a flight of stone steps and laid to rest in the dungeon.
Some time afterwards, a decorator arriving to paint the dining-room asked where he could leave his pots of paint. Badcock, with a wink to members of his family, suggested that they were put in the dungeon. Moments after the man disappeared, he came haring back up the stairs crying out that he had found two dead bodies there.
Two tours as brigadier at the Ministry of Defence were followed by promotion to major general and appointment as director of manning. His last appointment was that of head of the British defence and liaison staff and defence adviser in Canberra.
A keen sportsman, he represented the Corps at shooting, cricket and hockey. After retiring from the Army in 1977 he became successively chief appeals officer of the Cancer Research Campaign, Chair of SE TA&VRA (Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association), Hon Colonel of 31st Signal Regiment and chairman of a large fruitgrowing company.
Appointed MBE in 1959, CB in 1976 and Master of Signals in 1982, he was a deputy lieutenant of Kent from 1980.
John Badcock married Gillian Attfield in 1948. She and their eldest daughter predeceased him and he is survived by a daughter and a son.
John Badcock, born November 10 1922, died June 10 2020