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Boris Johnson today said he was ‘very saddened’ by the death of a former head of the Royal Marines who was one of Britain’s most senior military officers.

The Prime Minister paid tribute to highly-decorated Major General Matthew Holmes CBE who died suddenly aged 54 in a suspected suicide, six months after leaving the role halfway through what is normally a three-year tenure.

Major General Matthew, a married father-of-two who lived in Hampshire, served in all the UK’s recent conflicts and was Commandant General Royal Marines for 20 months from June 2019 until this April. 

In March 2020 he welcomed Prince Harry, the former Captain General of the Royal Marines, and Meghan Markle to the Mountbatten Festival of Music, before sitting next to them at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was one of the Sussexes’ final engagements in Britain before they stepped down as senior royals and moved to North America.

Today, Mr Johnson said in a tweet: ‘I am very saddened to learn of the death of Major General Matt Holmes. My thoughts are with Matt’s family and friends at this difficult time, as well as the Royal Marines and Royal Navy who I know will feel this loss keenly.’ 

Major General Holmes, who died on Saturday, also won one of the UK’s most prestigious gallantry awards, the Distinguished Service Order, for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan in 2007.

But earlier this year he left the Commandant General post following plans to ‘double-hat’ his two-star role with another position, amid defence experts warning that the merger would dilute attention given to the Royal Marines.

Major General Holmes was reported at the time by the Daily Telegraph to have had a ‘really significant falling out’ with the First Sea Lord, who had argued that the incumbent in future would be a three-star officer. However, a defence source claimed that Major General Holmes’s scheduled move was part of the service’s transformation.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the circumstances of his death were being investigated – but they are not thought to have been suspicious. However, it is understood that he took his own life, the Telegraph reported

Major Holmes was married to his solicitor wife Lea and they had two young children. In April, he was part of the procession at Prince Philip’s funeral towards the steps of St George’s Chapel. 

Major General Matthew Holmes CBE won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan. He is pictured with his wife Lea and daughter Eleanor after receiving the award  at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Major General Matthew Holmes CBE won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan. He is pictured with his wife Lea and daughter Eleanor after receiving the award  at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Major General Matthew Holmes CBE won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan. He is pictured with his wife Lea and daughter Eleanor after receiving the award  at Buckingham Palace in 2007

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

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

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

Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from The Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from The Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from The Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007

Major General Matthew Holmes (immediately left of Prince Harry) at the Royal Albert Hall in March 2020

Major General Matthew Holmes (immediately left of Prince Harry) at the Royal Albert Hall in March 2020

Major General Matthew Holmes (immediately left of Prince Harry) at the Royal Albert Hall in March 2020

An MoD spokesman said: ‘Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends at this difficult time and they have our deepest and heartfelt condolences. We request that their privacy is respected at this time.’

Major General Holmes had a distinguished career, which included operational tours in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He commanded 42 Commando Royal Marines from 2006 to 2008 and was appointed as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on operations in Afghanistan in 2007. 

He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2019. 

First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin KCB ADC, said: ‘I am deeply saddened to hear about the tragic death of Matt Holmes. 

‘We mourn the loss of one of our most senior and highly decorated Royal Marines; a devoted former Commandant General who had served the nation, the Royal Navy and his beloved Corps with distinction for 33 years. 

Major General Matthew Holmes was a pallbearer at Prince Philip's funeral during the procession to the steps of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle in April. He is pictured speaking to Sky News before the service

Major General Matthew Holmes was a pallbearer at Prince Philip's funeral during the procession to the steps of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle in April. He is pictured speaking to Sky News before the service

Major General Matthew Holmes was a pallbearer at Prince Philip’s funeral during the procession to the steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in April. He is pictured speaking to Sky News before the service

Tributes were paid last night to a former head of the Royal Marines who has died suddenly. Highly decorated Major General Matthew Holmes CBE served in all the UK's recent conflicts and was one of Britain's most senior military officers

Tributes were paid last night to a former head of the Royal Marines who has died suddenly. Highly decorated Major General Matthew Holmes CBE served in all the UK's recent conflicts and was one of Britain's most senior military officers

Tributes were paid last night to a former head of the Royal Marines who has died suddenly. Highly decorated Major General Matthew Holmes CBE served in all the UK’s recent conflicts and was one of Britain’s most senior military officers

Matthew Holmes served as Commandant General Royal Marines from 2019 until April this year

Matthew Holmes served as Commandant General Royal Marines from 2019 until April this year

Matthew Holmes served as Commandant General Royal Marines from 2019 until April this year

‘Matt was also a dear friend to many, and a close friend of mine for over 20 years. He will be sorely missed by the Service and especially the Corps Family. 

‘But my thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathy are with Matt’s family. Their loss is the greatest and most painful: we will be there for them now and always.’

Commandant General Royal Marines, Lieutenant General Rob Magowan CB CBE, said: ‘My predecessor as Commandant General Royal Marines and my friend, Matt Holmes, tragically died at the weekend. 

‘My heart goes out to him and his family. We will honour him and all those closest to him. But I also think of you all.

‘It matters not that he was a General, but it does that he is a Royal Marine. I remember and celebrate him, alongside all those who he is with now. 

‘We are one family, together, just as we learned, and as we trained, alongside each other at the Commando Training Centre. Once a marine, always a marine.’

Earlier this year Major General Holmes was a pallbearer at Prince Philip’s funeral in April during the procession to the steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

At the time he recalled how generous Prince Philip was with his time whenever he visited the regiment, and once flew from London to Exeter to ensure he welcomed members of the regiment returning from Afghanistan.

Major General Holmes said: ‘He hated fuss, so we would host him and he would go straight amongst the Marines and talk to our valiant warriors. He was always generous with his time.’

Speaking to Times Radio: ‘We were utterly privileged and honoured to enjoy his company on numerous occasions. We had numerous encounters, and I think that was the beauty of his service with us.’

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local branch or go to www.samaritans.org      

Source: Daily Mail UK

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