General Sir Reginald May

The Times 28th October 1958

Former Q.-M.-G. to the Forces

General Sir Reginald May, K.C.B., K.B.E., C.M.G., D.S.O., Quarter-Master-General to the Forces from 1935 to 1939, died on Sunday at the age of 79.

Reginald Seaburne May was the eldest son of Admiral of the Fleet Sir William May. He was born on August 10, 1879, and went to Haileybury before passing into the Royal Military College. In August 1898, he was gazetted to the Royal Fusiliers. During the earlier phases of the South African War he served with the 2nd Royal Fusiliers under Buller in Natal, being present at the battle of Colenso and at the actions of the Tugela Heights and Pieter’s Hill which preceded the relief of Ladysmith. In November, 1900, May was appointed to command a company of the 13th Battalion of Mounted Infantry which operated in the Transvaal, on the Zululand frontier of Natal, and in the Orange River Colony. Before peace came he was adjutant of the 13th Battalion, M.I.

He graduated from the Staff College in 1906, and in January, 1907, was appointed commander of a company of cadets at Sandhurst, where he stayed for three years. In June, 1909, he became assistant military secretary to the G.O.C.-in-C. Southern Command, returning to his regiment in July, 1911. In the following April he went to the West Riding Division (Territorial Force) as G.S.O. 2, and was brought to the War Office in the same capacity in August, 1913, to serve under Sir William Robertson, then Director of Military Training.

When the British Expeditionary Force embarked for France after the outbreak of war in 1914 he accompanied it as a G.S.O. 3, later G.S.O. 2, on the Lines of Communication, but in February, 1915, he was appointed A.A. & Q.M.G. of the 6th Division, which had considerable fighting at Hooge in August. He was promoted major in his regiment in September, and in February 1916, when the Fourth Army was formed, he joined Rawlinson’s Staff as A.Q.M.G., being promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel in June. In December, after the Battles of the Somme had ended, he went to the headquarters of the Second Army as D.A. & Q.M.G., which appointment he held during the Battle of Messines and at “Third Ypres”. At the beginning of November, 1917, he was brought as D.Q.M.C. to G.H.Q., where he served during the German offensives of 1918 and the final advance to victory.

In May, 1919, he came home from G.H.Q. in France to assume the duties of Director of Movements – later Director of Movements and Quarterings – at the War Office, and when he relinquished this appointment in April, 1923, he was almost immediately made Director of Organisation. He left Whitehall in May, 1927, and in November became Brigadier in Charge of Administration, Northern Command. Reaching the rank of major-general in May, 1929, he left York in the following November and in June, 1930, was appointed G.O.C. 49th (West Riding) Division (Territorial Army), his first and only important command of troops. In September, 1931, he was selected to be Commandant of the Royal Military College, where he remained three years, being promoted lieutenant-general in July, 1934. After a short period on half pay he was appointed Q.M.G. to the Forces and Third Military Member of the Army Council in February, 1935. He retired in 1939 and he was Colonel of The Royal Fusiliers in 1941-49.

May was a leading light in the Toc H movement from its inception. It was he who named Talbot House, Poperinghe, when it was taken over as a Church centre for the troops in the Ypres Salient, in memory of Gilbert Talbot, brother of Rev. Neville S. Talbot, who was senior chaplain to the 6th Division.

The Rev. P. T. B. (“Tubby”) Clayton, then chaplain to the 16th Infantry Brigade, was instructed by his senior chaplain to establish, under the aegis of Colonel May, a religious centre for officers and men. He took over a small church in Poperinghe and it was there that the Toc H movement was born. May became the chief authority for the maintenance of the establishment. After the war, when Toc H became a civilian movement starting with a mere score of members, May became its first chairman and held the office for 10 years. He was afterwards one of the trustees, which he remained until his death.

He married in 1906 Marguerite Geraldine Ramsay, only daughter of John Ramsay Drake. She died in 1931, and in the following year he married Jane, widow of Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Monteith, and elder daughter of Sir John Wilson, Bt., of Airdrie. He had three sons by his first marriage.