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Sydney Capel Peck

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Major-General Sydney Capel Peck (1871-1949),

1950 Obituary [1]

"Major-General S. CAPEL PECK, C.B. , D.S.O., was one of the first holders of a University degree to be appointed directly to a commission in the regular Army. He was a student of natural science at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery at the commencement of the South African War. Subsequently he served in India and in Northern Nigeria, and on returning to Britain he graduated. at the Military College of Science.

From 1908 to 1914 he became assistant experimental officer and also assistant chief of inspection at the Royal Arsenal. During the 1914-18 war he commanded a Battery of Royal Artillery for two years, and was then appointed to the Staff. In the international "cleaning-up" process in 1919, he was appointed Head of the British Mission to Fiume, and at the Inter-allied Conference held there during the turbulent condition of affairs in the Adriatic States, he was the British representative. In 1920 the Foreign Office appointed him to the post of British Commissioner and President of the Inter-allied Commission, the organization which carried through the plebiscite in Southern Austria—the first successful plebiscite in history.

In 1922, as Colonel Peck, he took up the position of Assistant Director on the staff of the Master General of Ordnance at the War Office, and as such was responsible for the technical development of the Mechanization and Chemical Warfare branches.

He evinced great interest in the design of armoured vehicles and provided facilities for carrying out tests on the proving ground of the War Department.

In 1923 he was appointed Director of Artillery, and to his responsibilities was added the administration of such technical establishments as the Research Department of the Royal Arsenal and the Military College of Science at Woolwich, from which he had graduated in his early career.

In 1928 he became Director of Mechanization and was responsible for design, experimental, and inspection branches of the new military Arm. It was here that his keen soldierly ability carried him forward in face of opposition, prejudice, and scepticism of the old school of military authorities who at that time regarded these modern devices as undesirable, and passing fads.

Under General Peck's drive, and with his guidance, the Mechanized Warfare Establishment at Farnborough attained its position as the most efficient headquarters in Britain for testing mechanized war vehicles of all types and kinds.

During this period General Peck enlisted the aid of all the leading designers and manufacturers of motor vehicles. Those whose assistance he had invited could not fail to be impressed and influenced by his faith and enthusiasm in the future of the mechanized army, and they responded to his keenness. He combined kindly encouragement with exacting standards of performance. In testing, his object was not to find out what the vehicle would do, but to ascertain its limitations.

General Peck was grievously disappointed when the disarmament programme cut down many experimental developments that were in progress, which, had they been allowed to come to fruition, would have provided Britain with fighting vehicles second to none some years prior to the 1939-45 war. Having completed the Farnborough Experimental Establishment, he instituted a branch in Egypt in order that vehicles could be tested under conditions of tropical heat and desert sand.

General Peck was responsible for the origin of the Mechanization Board, which included representatives of all the scientific branches of the Service and most of the learned engineering societies. The Board created the first real liaison between the Army and the Institutions and between the Army and the motor industry. He was made a Companion of the Bath in 1927 and retired six years later. He was a member of council of the Institution of Automobile Engineers for three years, Vice-President for four years, and President of that Institution in 1937-38. His death occurred, at seventy-eight years of age, on 25th June 1949."

G. H. Lanchester, M.I.Mech.E.

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