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Tribute to Lord Boyce

Ramsgate, 2017: Admiral the Lord Boyce, 2 April 1943 – 6 November 2022 | Alamy

4 min read

A man of courage and honesty who dedicated his life to the security of the nation, Lord Boyce was always at heart a submariner

Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce, who has died aged 79, filled posts of increasing responsibility and authority as he rose through the ranks of the Royal Navy, but he was always at heart a submariner. He had the imagination and agility of mind so necessary to mastery of the underwater environment, married to the drive and determination of the true hunter. These attributes were to serve him well throughout his military career and beyond.

As he filled more senior positions, his intelligence and single-minded focus on the key issues brought him the respect and admiration of those around him – even the people who would sometimes emerge bruised from their attempts to enmesh him in bureaucracy. He did not suffer fools gladly and could deal summarily and severely with those who put form over substance and process over results.

As first sea lord and then chief of the defence staff he believed in speaking truth unto power, and he put this precept into practice in his dealings with his political masters. He was not always popular as a consequence, but he did not care about that; he was much more interested in being honest. Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example, he insisted on an unequivocal assurance of the legality of the operation on which he was being directed to commit United Kingdom armed forces.

Although he was hard-driving and brought a touch of ruthlessness to his undertakings, Mike Boyce cared deeply about the people who served under him. He was admired and liked by his fellow service chiefs, but whether commanding a submarine or overseeing defence as a whole, he understood that it was the efforts of the men and women of all ranks and all specialisations which were crucial to success – that it was their professionalism and courage which really mattered. He asked a lot of them but he also gave them his total loyalty. He championed their cause, often in the face of bureaucratic resistance, and although he achieved much for them he never thought it was enough.

Mike Boyce cared deeply about the people who served under him

After retiring from the Royal Navy, Mike brought his keen mind and penetrating insight to the House of Lords. He continued to fight hard for increased military expenditure, and for fair treatment of armed forces personnel both serving and retired, but he also applied his wisdom and experience to a much wider range of issues. His style continued to be direct and challenging, but meticulously courteous. Certainly no government front bench representative could afford to relax when Mike rose to his feet. Beyond the House, he lent his considerable talents to a range of charitable endeavours, such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial Project, and he remained a valued thinker and commentator on defence matters.

As his health deteriorated in recent years he continued to drive himself hard, refusing to bow to his increasing weakness. He maintained his efforts in the House of Lords and more widely for as long as he could and, when this was no longer possible, he faced his final illness with the courage and cheerfulness that had been his hallmarks for so many years. His death has robbed us of a fine parliamentarian, and we his colleagues have lost a good friend. He leaves a legacy of courage, wisdom and honesty that offers a pattern of service which we might all admire and from which we should profit. He dedicated his life to the security of this nation and the protection of its values. His contribution was both profound and lasting; he will be sorely missed.

Lord Stirrup is a crossbench peer and former chief of the defence staff

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