A FAMOUS NAVAL AND INTERNATIONAL FAMILY OF SUFFOLK, UK

To most a little known family but to me a near neighbour, albeit long gone from the family home!

The Rivett-Carnac's of Fornham St Martin

 In my tiny little village, in its 700 year old church, there is a Memorial Plaque to Vice Admiral James William Rivett-Carnac CB CBE DSC DL Legion D'Honneur Croix de Guerre.  This admiral fought in both world wars, was mentioned in despatches twice, was Commodore of the RNZN in 1930 and Admiral in Command of Beaches for the Normandy landings in 1944. He was also a Deputy Lieutenant of Suffolk in 1958.   He lived from 1891 until 1970. Almost directly opposite the church is the former large home of Fornham House, the home of the Admiral and his wife plus their children.  It has long been owned by other people and much altered, and the equally splendid park-like grounds have been fragmented and sold off as generous building plots, making for a very tranquil style of living on the outskirts of the lovely West Suffolk town of Bury St Edmunds.  For the first piece of the puzzle I can tell you that the house in which my wife and I live, is one of three built fifteen years ago in what was once the Admirals garden. 

Admiral Rivett-Carnac belonged to a family with an impressive history whose members have held some of the highest administrative positions in the old and new Commonwealth countries including India, Siam, Burma and Canada. However, above all else, the family has a baronetcy, that of Derby, plus a rather unusual reason for it having a hyphenate surname.

In the 18th century General John CARNAC married Elizabeth RIVETT but they had no issue.  They made a pact with Elizabeth's brother James Rivett [enshrined in law] that providing he adopted the name RIVETT-CARNAC in lieu of his own name of Carnac, he would be nominated the sole heir to their estate.  This he did and in 1801 the family name was established.  It wasn't until 1836 that the Governor of Bombay [his eldest son] was created the 1st Baronet Derby. The list, looked like this.

Baronet Name and dates lived Remarks
1st Sir James Rivett-Carnac 1784-1846 Eldest son of James Rivett-Carnac formerly James Rivett [see above].  His younger brother was Admiral John Rivett-Carnac 1796-1869 famous for his discoveries in Western Australia. Sir James' grandson, Charles Rivett-Carnac {1853-1935} remains the oldest Briton, at 55, to have won an Olympic Gold Medal {for Yachting} achieved at the 1908 London Olympics.
2nd Sir John Rivett-Carnac 1818-1883 -
3rd Sir James Henry Rivett-Carnac 1846-1909 -
4th Sir Claude James Rivett-Carnac 1877-1909 Sir Claude went missing for over two years and on the 31st December 1909 he was declared as "assumed dead" by the Chancery Division. He fought in the Boer War as a private soldier in the Cape Mounted Rifles.
5th Sir William Percival Rivett-Carnac 1847-1924 -
6th Sir George Rivett-Carnac 1850-1932 -
7th Sir Henry George Crabbe Rivett-Carnac 1889-1972 Succeeded by his nephew, Nicholas, elder son of Vice Admiral James William Rivett-Carnac C.B., C.B.E., D.S.C., DL., Legion D'Honneur., Croix de Guerre., commemorated on the church plaque.
8th Canon Sir (Thomas) Nicholas Rivett-Carnac 1927-2004 Army [Guards] for 10 years. Various jobs before Ordination in 1963 aged 35. Married in 1977 aged 49.  No issue, and was succeeded by his brother.
9th Sir Miles James Rivett-Carnac 1933-2009 Second son of Vice Admiral James William Rivett-Carnac. A former High Sheriff of Hampshire, a Vice Lieutenant of Hampshire and later a merchant banker. He was also a naval officer and a Long Course Signals Officer - this adds the second piece to the jig saw because of the signals officer connection but also because Sir Miles at one stage in his early life lived on "my patch" at Fornham House.  Left the navy in 1970 and became the 9th Bt, Sir Miles, in May 2004.
10th Sir Jonathan James Rivett-Carnac Born 1962 -

    In a moment I will be showing you the Daily Telegraphs obituary for Sir Miles James Rivett-Carnac who died in September 2009.  In it you will read that Sir Miles was a Communicator and for those archivists amongst you, you may be interested to know that he did his Long Course in HMS Mercury in 1958 but he didn't win the Jackson-Everett Prize for coming top of course.

I can fit my third piece into the jig saw puzzle for two reasons, one as a flunkie but to a sport I have always adored namely cricket, and secondly because as Lieutenant Rivett-Carnac I came into contact with him in the submarine world.   In 1959 I was in HMS Mercury doing my Petty Officers course for Radio Supervisor.  I played cricket but as often as not, I waited-on the scoreboard staff putting the tin plates bearing numbers on them onto the front of the scoreboard hut in Hyden Wood to show the score to the crowd!  I scored for all comers {when I couldn't get a game myself} which included the wardroom team, and met this larger than life figure, Miles Rivett-Carnac on many occasions.  He was a very strong and athletic man but he was good fun often given to skylarking on the pitch.  Later when back in HMS Dolphin on my submarine [HM S/M Turpin] in 1960, Rivett-Carnac came to Blockhouse for a quite lengthy acquaint for duties as an SCO to a submarine squadron.  During this time he put himself around and paid many visits to the W/T department of the SM1 submarines, including the Turpin and this included day-running sea trips. He was a very likable officer, humorous, kind and considerate and he wanted to know everything there was to know about being a submariner [first and foremost] and also about being a submarine telegraphist and signalman.  He was appointed to Malta, to SM5 embarked in HMS Forth, and I am sure that he would have been a breath of fresh air for the communicators of the Forth and of her boats.

The following table shows Miles Rivett-Carnac' naval career.

Navy List Year

Rank & Seniority Date

Ship or Establishment 

Date Joined

Under Command of (if stated)

1950

Not listed

 Dartmouth

Age 17

-

1952

Sub Lieutenant (Executive Branch, Communications specialisation) 1/9/1952

HMS GAMBIA

1/5/1951

Captain P W Gretton DSO++ DSC OBE

1954

ditto

 ditto

 -

 -

1956

Lieutenant (Executive Branch, Communications specialisation) 16/2/1955

HMS DUCHESS

19/2/1956

Lt Cdr H G Austen DSO +

1958

ditto

HMS MERCURY, Petersfield

-

Captain C B Brooke

1960

ditto

HMS FORTH

-

Captain T E Barlow DSC

1961

ditto

ditto

-

Captain M L C Crawford DSC

1962

ditto

Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth

-

-

1963

ditto

ditto

 

-

1964

Lieutenant Commander (Executive Branch, Communications specialisation) 16/2/1963

HMS WOOLASTON

20/2/1964

In Command

1965

ditto

ditto

ditto

In Command

1966

ditto

HMS WOOLASTON

-

-

1967

Commander (Executive Branch, Communications specialisation) 30/6/1966

HMS SAKER, Washington DC USA

-

Admiral Sir Nigel Henderson KCB OBE

1968

ditto

HMS DAINTY

1/5/1967

In Command

1969

ditto

Directorate of Naval Signals

20/9/1968

Captain J E Pope

1970

ditto

ditto

ditto

Captain D A Poynter CVO MBE

My fourth and last piece in the puzzle comes from our contact together in the civilian world in London.  In my second career, I worked in London, in the City of London, earning my living as an independent Consultant in Electronic Security.  This career lasted for twenty years. I was the Consultant to many of the London finance houses/institutions and many Merchant Banks which included, amongst others, Barclays, De Beers, BZW, UBS, Barings, Lazards, Bank Paribar, Morgan Grenfell, Touche Ross, ABN Amro, Close Brothers, Chase Manhattan, City Corp, BBC, Vickers, Swiss Bank, Goldman Sachs.  It was whilst working for Barings [at London Bridge, London Wall and Lombard Street] that I met with Miles again and I reminded him of our previous meets and that we were RN Communicators together. He was delighted and now a little more portly, he was still a man with a striking and immaculate appearance.  We both lived in Hampshire [I moved to Suffolk in September 2007].  He treated to me to a luncheon in a smart City fish restaurant.  We spent almost two minutes talking about what I did for Barings, and then we talked about nothing else except the navy.  When he was driving the Woolaston {mentioned in despatches}, I was in HM S/M Auriga in SM7 [embarked first in HMS Medway later relieved by HMS Forth {Singapore}] and we used to take the SBS to sea in indirect support of the war against General Suharto.  The meet was agreed to be an extremely pleasant two hours of pure nostalgia.

What follows are two broadsheet obituaries, the first coming from the Daily Telegraph.

Sir Miles Rivett-Carnac, Bt

Sir Miles Rivett-Carnac, 9th Bt, who died on September 15 aged 76, was a naval officer who made a successful second career as a merchant banker with Baring Brothers.

Rivett-Carnac joined the Royal Navy in 1950, and was a midshipman in the cruiser Gambia in the Mediterranean before joining the Royal Yacht Britannia as a sub-lieutenant in 1952. He went on to be a popular divisional officer (the equivalent of housemaster) at Dartmouth, returning to sea to command the minesweeper Woolaston in the Far East.

In 1965 Woolaston was on patrol off Borneo during the Confrontation with Indonesia when she encountered a sampan that had been booby-trapped with a mine; it exploded, killing one man and wounding eight, and putting the minesweeper out of action for six weeks. Rivett-Carnac was mentioned in despatches.

After staff college at Norfolk, Virginia, Rivett-Carnac was appointed captain of the large fleet destroyer Dainty at the young age of 34 and looked set to go higher. But he did not relish spending much of his senior career in Whitehall, and left the Navy in 1970 to make a new start in the financial world.

He was swiftly recruited by the Baring banking family, with the idea that — since he lived in Hampshire — he might be useful running an office in Southampton. That never came about, but his sound judgment of people and cheerful willingness to undertake any difficult task soon made him a key member of the bank’s corporate finance team in the City.

He was also highly numerate, an aptitude that had been honed at the casino tables of Le Touquet, where he once broke the bank after an all-night session playing baccarat. On returning to his hotel very early the next morning, he threw open the door of his room to announce delightedly to his wife: “I’ve broken the bank” — to which the reply came: “Do you know what time it is?” Other casinos also lost out. One trainee joining the bank in the mid-1970s inherited a desk from Rivett-Carnac which was entirely empty except for a £5 chip from Crockfords.

He became a director of Baring Brothers in 1976, and did stints running its businesses in South Africa and New York. Returning to London, he became a managing director in 1981, a deputy chairman of the group in 1988, and chairman of Baring Asset Management from 1989 until his first retirement from the bank at the end of 1992.

He remained a non-executive director, but was recalled to duty early the following year to chair Baring Securities, the group’s trading arm which had fallen into losses and parted company with its high-profile chief executive, Christopher Heath. The new management team under Rivett-Carnac’s chairmanship brought the business back to what seemed to be an even keel — but also gave free rein to a young trader called Nick Leeson in Singapore.

Rivett-Carnac retired for the second time at Christmas 1994, when profits for the year looked set for £60 million; but within three months, Leeson’s dealings had brought the bank down. Rivett-Carnac’s response was one of intense sadness: “Something of which I had been incredibly proud had been turned into rather a bad joke,” he wrote; the room provided by ING, Barings’s new owners, for the use of retired partners was “depressingly full of ghosts”.

Miles James Rivett-Carnac was born on February 7 1933, the second son of Vice-Admiral James Rivett-Carnac, who was Commodore of the Royal New Zealand Navy in the 1930s and “admiral of the beaches” during the Normandy landings. The family surname was the result of the marriage of General John Carnac, commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, to Elizabeth Rivett, whose brother James was governor of Bombay. The marriage was childless, but James became the general’s heir on condition that the name was adopted.

James’s eldest son, also James, was chairman of the East India Company, MP for Sandwich and briefly governor of Bombay; he was created a baronet in 1836. The family’s association with the Raj in succeeding generations was such that Kipling mentioned them in Tales from the Hills as one of the four leading families of British India.

Miles, however, chose to follow his father into the Navy, and went straight from Lambrook prep school in Berkshire to Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, where he became chief cadet captain. An outstanding sportsman even as a small boy — according to legend, Lambrook’s opponents would whisper with awe: “But they’ve got Rivett-Carnac!” — he played cricket for Dartmouth in his first term and went on to captain the rugby team.

In his business career Rivett-Carnac was also a director of the London Stock Exchange from 1991 to 1994 and of Domecq (formerly Allied Lyons). He was a member of the Council of King George’s Fund for Sailors (now Seafarers UK); chairman of Hampshire Boys’ Clubs; High Sheriff of Hampshire in 1995; and Vice-Lord Lieutenant of the county from 2000. He was also chairman of White’s Club, where he had to contend with the embarrassment of a blackball for the writer Auberon Waugh.

In 1992 he was elected an Elder Brother of Trinity House, at a time of great change in its role both as a lighthouse and coastal navigation authority and as a grant-giving charity in the maritime sector. Rivett-Carnac’s analytical mind and business sense helped set the ancient corporation on a new course, and he was particularly instrumental in restoring the finances of its charitable arm, which had been hit by falling investment and property values.

Besides his sporting enthusiasms, Rivett-Carnac was a lifelong stamp collector. His autobiography, From Ship to Shore, was published in 1998. He succeeded in the baronetcy on the death in 2004 of his brother Canon Sir Nicholas Rivett-Carnac, who was vicar of St Mark’s, Kensington.

Miles Rivett-Carnac married, in 1958, April Villar. They had a daughter, Lucinda — better known as the handbag designer Lulu Guinness — and two sons, Jonathan and Simon. Jonathan, born in 1962, succeeds in the baronetcy.

The Times newspaper puts things a little differently, and I believe mentions some important detail not given in the Telegraph.  However, the Telegraph is correct in that he joined Dartmouth in 1950 and not in 1946.