General Sir Michael Wilkes, one of our founding Vice Patrons, died on 27th October 2013, aged 73.
In June 1991, General Mike was Deputy Commander Field Army and Inspector General TA, when he was invited to London by GOC London District to “hear about what part of his Army was trying to achieve.” This was Project DARC STAR – a Territorial Army attempt at the first British winter ascent of Mount Everest, which took place in the winter of 1992/3. He accepted the invitation.
At that time, many in MoD and at HQ UKLF viewed expeditioning as inappropriate for the Volunteer Reserve, and were trying to kill the project. General Mike listened patiently to a briefing on the project by its leaders, Lt Col Philip Neame and Major Rod Stables. At the end, Colonel Neame invited him to become a Patron of what was undeniably a high risk project – both in terms of physical challenge and danger, and financially. There was a long pause, followed by General Mike taking time out to phone his HQ…
The meeting re-convened. The General agreed to become a Vice Patron. Neame cheekily asked if he was sure, as the patrons’ names would be on the expedition letterheads, and that success or failure, they would be irrevocably linked to the project – and that success was far from assured! “Don’t push your luck!” was the robust but friendly reply.
The next day, the phones were suddenly hot with requests from HQ UKLF as to how could they help. In the face of many other later uncertainties before departing for Nepal, his support for the project remained constant.
General Mike’s intervention undoubtedly saved the project (others were to do so financially later), opening the way subsequently to the establishment of the Ulysses Trust – of which he then also became a patron.
In this capacity, he continued to help Reserve Forces expeditioning. In those days, for example, Concessionary Non-Fare Paying (CNFP) travel was only available to Regular Forces. General Mike was instrumental in opening this up to Reserve Forces. On his retirement from the Army, he continued to take a close interest in the Trust, including representing our interests on the board of the Nuffield Trust, which has been our principal supporter for 20 years.
All those who have undertaken expeditions as members of the Volunteer Reserve, whether supported by the Ulysses Trust and Nuffield Trust or not, had their opportunities in no small measure thanks to General Mike.
We extend our sincerest condolences to his family. He will be missed.
The obituary published in the Daily Telegraph on 4th November can be found here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10423352/General-Sir-Michael-Wilkes.html