Lord Westbury (the Hon David Bethell)

(to King's Mead in 1931)

(obituary from the Daily Telegraph, 17th October 2001)

THE 5th LORD WESTBURY, who has died aged 79, was awarded an MC while commanding a platoon of 1st Battalion, the Scots Guards, in Tunisia in 1943.

The Germans had reacted swiftly to the Allied "Torch" landings in North Africa in November 1942 by flying in troops from Italy who, in the mountains west of the Tunisian Plain, put up fierce resistance. In April 1943, as part of V British Corps' push towards Tunis, designed to draw German reserves from the main effort (by IX Corps) further south, 1st Infantry Division was ordered to seize Djebel Bou Aoukaz, the hill that became known as "the Bou".

This was one of a series of well-defended ridges and gave the enemy excellent observation over the southern approaches, as well as over the country through which IX Corps were to advance.
On April 23 Westbury - then Lt David Bethell - was commanding a platoon of the "Left Flank" company of his battalion, part of the 24th Guards Brigade, in an attack on one of the Bou's forward spurs. The leading platoon soon came under heavy machinegun fire. Bethell's platoon, the right rear platoon, was also fired on.

Unable to move forward on his own front, Bethell decided to lead his men crawling through the corn under machinegun and mortar fire to a position on the left. From here he led them in an assault in which even the wounded took part.No sooner was the company's objective taken than it came under prolonged mortar fire. Moving about regardless of his own safety, Bethell gave assistance to the wounded and consolidated the position. It soon became clear that all the other officers in the company had become casualties, including the company commander.

Bethell assumed command of Left Flank, and continued to lead it until he was relieved that evening, despite the fact that he had himself been slightly wounded in the chest and hand. Four days later, the Scots Guards attacked the summit of the Bou from the west and south. By then, Bethell was back with his platoon. As one officer put it: "David Bethell has broken out of hospital 40 miles back, and is back in the line. He still has shrapnel in the hand and chest. That shows you the spirit."

Bethell's company commander was killed early in the assault, and Bethell again took over command. During the ascent, Bethell and two guardsmen attacked and silenced an enemy machinegun post. For his "initiative, courage and leadership" in the fighting of April and May 1943, Bethell was awarded his MC.

David Alan Bethell was born in London on July 16 1922. He was the son of the Hon Richard Bethell, a keen Egyptologist who was with Howard Carter at the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922.

Those who believed in the "curse" which attended people who disturbed the tombs of the Pharaohs were interested to note that Richard Bethell died seven years later, and that three months after that his father - the 3rd Baron Westbury - also died suddenly. The title - which had originally been conferred on Sir Richard Bethell, Lord Chancellor from 1861 to 1865 - passed to David Bethell's elder brother. David Bethell was educated at Harrow, and in January 1941 enlisted in the 10th Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment. In September he was commissioned into the Scots Guards, and the following year he was posted to the 1st Battalion, with which he embarked for North Africa in February 1943.

The wounds Bethell received at the Bou required protracted hospital treatment; he was readmitted twice in Italy between January and July 1944. On August 5 1944, however, he rejoined his battalion, which was by then pushing up into the Apennines towards the Gothic Line.

He was now commanding a platoon of Right Flank, and on the night of August 29 he led a patrol towards a German position on the south bank of the Arno. Having approached to within 50 yards of the position, he trod on a mine which injured him severely in both legs; he was evacuated home.

By October 1945, Bethell was in North-West Europe as ADC to the Commander, Guards Division. He held the post until February 1947, when he was appointed ADC to GOC London District. In March that year he became ADC, and the next month Equerry, to the Duke of Gloucester. Bethell retired from the Army in the honorary rank of captain in May 1949.

In 1952 Bethell bought Knapton Hall, near Malton in North Yorkshire, and soon became a regular on the hunting field with the Goathland, the Derwent and the Sinnington hunts; although never an especially athletic horseman, he became a popular Master of Foxhounds.

When his elder brother died childless in 1961, David Bethell succeeded him as the 5th Lord Westbury. He was not a rich man, and for a time he went into business selling fertiliser. Later he revealed a talent for public relations. Through a hunting friend, Henri de Montesquieu, he was appointed public relations officer for Moet et Chandon in Britain, a job at which he excelled; no one seemed to mind that he referred to his boss as "Le Petit Grenouille". He also handled the PR for several London hotels - the Ritz, the Stafford and Dukes - for 10 years.

Lord Westbury was an ebullient man, loved for his sense of humour and the delight he took in the ridiculous. He was once driving his car in a village street in Yorkshire when he became involved in an altercation with a lorry driver. The lorry driver peered down from his cab at the mustachioed peer and demanded: "What's up with you, fungus-face?" Westbury roared with laughter, and they parted the best of friends.

Westbury was active in the House of Lords and was disappointed to be, as he put it, "ethnically cleansed" from the Upper House as a result of the reforms. But his main interest in later life was as a highly successful charity fund raiser. He helped to raise more than œ10 million for various charities, among them St John Ambulance - for whom he was director of fund-raising - the Army Benevolent Fund, the Griffin Trust and Toynbee Hall. For this work he was appointed CBE in 1994.

He became a Deputy Lieutenant for North Yorkshire in 1973.

He married, in 1947, Ursula James, who survives him along with a daughter and two sons, the eldest of whom, Richard Nicholas Bethell, born in 1950, succeeds to the barony.

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