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Lieutenant General Sir Robert Fry: oration

Read Professor Charles Lees' oration on Lieutenant General Sir Robert Fry for the honorary degree of Doctor of Law in December 2014.


Vice-Chancellor, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you and to this congregation Lt. General Sir Robert Fry, Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath and Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Sir Robert built his career and reputation as a senior officer in the Corps of the Royal Marines and he remains a major figure in informed debates over the future of our defence and the maintenance of our security.Sir Robert is an alumnus of this University and took a degree in Economics before working for a period in the private sector in the United States. New York’s loss was to be our gain, however, and Sir Robert returned to the UK and joined the Royal Marines in 1973.

Vice-Chancellor, please allow me to remind the congregation of the circumstances the British armed forces faced in 1973. The announcement of British withdrawal from ‘East of Suez’ was five years old, the Oil Shocks of that year further tightened the financial constraints under which British military power could be projected, the Troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height and presented an unprecedented domestic security threat, and the UK’s chief ally, the United States, was entering a period of introspection as the extent of its imminent defeat in Indo-China became apparent. It was an environment in which fresh ideas and forensic thinking about military doctrine were at a premium and Sir Robert thrived in it. He rose quickly through the Marines, initially working at the MOD and the Directorate of Special Forces, as well as earning an MA (with Distinction) in War Studies at King’s College London.

In 1989, Sir Robert was appointed Chief of Staff, HQ 3 Commando Brigade, and he subsequently played a central role in protecting Kurdish safe havens in Northern Iraq through Operation Safe Haven. This operation combined elements of a military and humanitarian operation to great effect. In 1995 Sir Robert took command of 45 Commando and in 1999 he Commanded 3 Commando Brigade and deployed to Kosovo. Like Operation Safe Haven, the Kosovo campaign required a careful calibration of military and humanitarian elements and it was carried out in a tense and potentially perilous international climate. Sir Robert was subsequently appointed Commandant General Royal Marines in 2001 and in 2002 became Commander of United Kingdom Amphibious Forces. The following year he commanded the amphibious component of UK operations in the Gulf.

The start of the Gulf War in 2003 saw Sir Robert commanding the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood and directing British operations in that conflict. He was then appointed Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (Commitments) and, in 2006, he became Senior British Military Representative and Deputy Commanding General of the Multinational Force in Iraq. This was to be Sir Robert’s last high-profile role in this phase of his life and he retired from the Royal Marines in 2007.

Sir Robert embraced life after the Marines, while retaining strong links with the organisation and culture from which he came. His portfolio of roles is impressive. He has held very senior positions in companies such as HP Enterprise Services, Defence and Security UK, and McKinney Rogers International, and is currently the Chair of Albany Associates. He is also a Visiting Professor at Reading University, a member of the Royal United Services Institute and a trustee of the Charity Help for Heroes. He is an active and highly respected essayist and columnist for prestigious outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, Prospect magazine, and the Huffington Post. He remains a Colonel in the Special Reconnaissance Regiment.

Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Lieutenant General Sir Robert Fry who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Professor Charles Lees

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