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April 2005

Obituary - Dick Rubinstein

Peter Rossiter

"I'm not afraid of you blighters!" These are not the exact words with which Dick rose as the guest speaker at an Old Gowers dinner, but they are as close as I can get to them in church. They were probably received with a hail of bread rolls and profiteroles.
The family has given me the signal honour of saying something about Dick. I joined this wonderful family through the good fortune of marrying Dick's goddaughter, Barbara, and so I knew Dick for just over half of his amazing life. And amazing it was.
Dick was a real live Boys' Own Paper character. He was also something of a Peter Pan. But this was only one side of a multifaceted personality. He was also serious, with a deep faith and commitment to practical good sense.

His wartime exploits have been widely reported but they form only one (albeit important) episode in Dick's life. Someone wrote that the extraordinary milieu of war causes ordinary people to do extraordinary things. But Dick was not an ordinary person. His prowess in France and Burma was just part of a continuous thread which ran throughout his life. He was modest about his achievements but not falsely so. He was proud to turn out at Remembrance Parades with his ''chestfull of medals" but it was many years before his sons learned what they were all for.

This is a time of great sadness at the passing of a joyous man with an astonishing genius for friendship. But it is also a time of celebration rather than moping. Dirk was essentially a positive person and the essence of fun. Life for him was for living and not for wallowing in sentiment.

Richard Arthur Rubinstein was born in Baker Street on 29th August 1921. His father, Arthur, was an importer of millinery for the clothing trade and his mother, Floris, converted to Judaism on marriage. His grandfather, Bernard, had come to this country from Latvia early in the 19th century. He served in the Tower Hamlets Rifles (the first Jewish militia unit of the British army) in the 1860s and sensibly married his CO's sister, Julia Lazarus, from Exeter. His sword is now in the AJEX museum in Hendon.

Dick went to the University College School (Junior Branch) in Holly Hill and on to the main school in Frognal where he was in the rugby 1st XV and in the rowing 1st V111. He took up rowing mainly because he could not get into the cricket 1st Xl and he fancied the resplendent blazer. Thus began a lifelong love affair with UCS. He was one of the Old Gower stalwarts, serving on many committees, the School Council, captaining the rugby 1st XV in 1952/3 and playing until he was nearly 50. He played in the same team as his son, Simon, on several occasions, stopped briefly when he nearly died in a car accident (of which more anon) and started again after this, when he skippered some of the lower sides and was fiercely protective of his younger players, threatening to punch [and actually punching! (Ed.)] the noses of opponents if his charges were victims of the customary thuggery of coarse rugby. He continued playing squash until he was 65.

In March 1938, aged only 16, Dick wangled his way into the TA as a Sapper in an AA unit which subsequently became a searchlight regiment. He was called up briefly for the Munich Crisis and then (having been assured by his physics master that he was not "a ruddy hero") went back to school and won a place at Imperial College to read mechanical engineering. However war broke out when he was at TA camp in 1939 and he was in the forces from then until August 1946. The next year he rejoined the TA and only retired in 1971 - a service of some 33 years and his TD earned several times over.

This is neither the time nor place to go into the full details of his derring-do during the war. His own account is full of self-mocking humour and he must have been a handful to the military hierarchy. He served in searchlights throughout the London blitz and then took on a training role which included night flying with fighter and bomber crews to teach them about searchlights and reading the night sky. He had been commissioned in 1941 at the age of 19.
By 1943, with the main blitz over he became bored and was turned down for the Commandos and as a gunner pilot an account of poor eyesight. He was finally accepted (and promoted to Captain) in August for SOE training, though, when he applied, he had little idea of what it entailed. When this happened, he was barely back from honeymoon. He had married Gay only a couple of months previously. He was 21 and she 20. They had known each other since schooldays at UCS and St. Pauls, when he had (literally) made his mark by spilling beetroot juice down the dress of Gay's best friend at a party. Throughout their long life together (nearly 62 years of marriage) Gay never sought to curb Dick's boyish enthusiasms. Indeed, she encouraged them, rejoiced in them and shared them whenever and wherever she could. Their combined warmth spread to all. The family shared in it and their huge circle of friends was illumined by it.

But to return to the war. Dick was trained by SOE at Milton Hall near Peterborough. Here he learned all about sabotage and acquired a taste for press-ups which was to be a touchstone of his life ever after. The three man SOE teams were called "Jedburghs". They were not spies. They wore uniform and their role was to organise, arm and train local resistance groups to disrupt enemy lines of communication, prevent reinforcements reaching the main battle area and provide intelligence on enemy strengths and dispositions.
Dick took part in four such operations - two in France in 1944 and two in Burma in 1945. The first was in Brittany, in the aftermath of the D-Day landings, and involved organising French fighters to bottle up the German garrison in the naval port of L'Orient. The second was in the Jura district near the Swiss frontier where Dick's team was tasked with providing intelligence and intercepting reinforcements opposing the allies' advance up the Rhone towards the Rhine. This task completed, he "liberated" a German motorcycle and was captured by the French and tied to a tree until he managed (by dint of his cipher code to London) to establish that he was not an enemy agent. He eventually made his way back to the UK via Paris and was brought back to earth on Hendon aerodrome where H.M. Customs charged him duty on a length of silk he had bought for Gay. However, he was partly compensated by a mention in Despatches and the award of the Croix de Guerre.

He then volunteered for Jedburgh duties in the Far East. He was parachuted into North Burma in support of the British and Chinese who were squeezing the Japanese out of Burma, advancing southwards through Mandalay towards Rangoon. His team's task was again to arm the locals, train them, disrupt the enemy retreat and provide intelligence. The locals this time were the Kachin hill tribes who had always been pro-British. Many of them were ex-members of the pre-war Burma Rifles. The operation was a success. Dick was withdrawn and shortly afterwards parachuted back into the river plain area south of Mandalay. (The previous day, he had been hospitalised with a poisoned thumb and his colleague had delightedly announced to the world that he was in the "sportsman's ward" which, of course, he was not). His locals were now ex-members of the so-called Burmese National Army which had been raised and trained by the Japanese and had then discovered that, though the British were bad, the Japanese were worse, and so switched sides. Their reliability was proved by their skill and appetite for ambushing large numbers of the enemy, including a major general and his staff. A series of well co-ordinated operations wrought havoc and huge casualties on the retreating Japanese. Dick came home with an immediate MC.

He commanded a POW camp in Devon and then, following demob, finally took up his place at Imperial College, coming out with a first and yet another gong - this time for top student. He joined ICI on Merseyside as a workshop manager. After a year or so the family came home to the south and Dick joined a small firm involved with lifts. It was at this junction that he was involved in a horrendous road crash between Milan and Genoa, when his driver was killed and he landed up in hospital with multiple injuries. Dick reckoned that it was only when he came round and remarked on a particularly attractive nurse that the Italians decided he was worth saving. He was eventually brought back to London and made an astonishing recovery after many months. The family remember visiting him in hospital and thinking that he looked like one of the strung-up patients in the "Carry On" films.
He joined De Havilland at Hatfield around 1960 and continued with them (apart from three years with American General Electric at Reading) until his retirement in 1986. In the meantime, De Havilland became part of Hawker Siddeley and Dick was the sales manager of H.S. Dynamics Engineering where he adapted and sold into industry the electronic control systems developed for aircraft and missiles. He was particularly proud to have introduced these products to the Royal Navy for their new gas turbine ship propulsions. Later on he sold similar products into the Indian and Chinese mining industries. This was the time of Mao suits in China and he brought ones home for his sons - much appreciated as they had plenty of pockets.

He was a special constable briefly during the IRA troubles.
Retirement was a great joy. He promptly booked himself onto a gliding course. But more importantly, he was now able to stop being absorbed in his work and turn his full attention to his family. He became an adored and devoted grandfather to Jolyon, Benedict, Emma and Jack. He was also able to spend all the time he wanted with Gay on their boat "Sweet Content" on the Beaulieu river. Sailing had been a life-long shared passion. He and Gay only gave up the boat a year or so ago. He had always been keen on motorbikes, using one to visit his Searchlight units during the war, swanning about in occupied France, frightening parents by giving rides to their children and only gave up the last one some three years ago.
Cars were not of such great interest but he loved tinkering with them and annoying Gay by staying under the bonnet when Sunday lunch was getting ruined. Retirement also enabled him to take up again many old friendships, particularly through the Special Forces Club, of which he became Chairman and subsequently Vice President and Treasurer of the Benevolent Fund.

Finally, there is the Church, about which the Vicar will say more. Dick had been baptised at the time of his marriage, so that he and Gay could have the fullest participation in their life together. His deep faith and enthusiasm were infectious and it is no surprise that he was often invited to lecture on leadership - especially to young officers at Chatham and at UCL.
When, over 15 years ago, Dick was discovered to have breast cancer, he regarded it, though fully aware of the gravity, primarily as an insulting impertinence and was determined not only to beat it but not to let it disrupt his retirement. Indeed, on the day after his surgery, he mortified those caring for him by resuming his pressups and bursting his stitches. The cancer never left him but, despite continuous treatment, he did not let it interfere unduly with his life-style. It is ironic that a new drug appears to have exacerbated hepatitis damage acquired back in the Burmese jungle some 60 years ago and the consequent internal haemorrhage proved fatal on 23rd February.

So ends a remarkable life. So much fun and irreverence. So much adventure. So much service. So much love. Our thoughts go out today to Gay, to James, to Simon and to their families. They have such wonderful memories to comfort them. They will miss Dick dreadfully - and so shall we all.

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