The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to Award Ceremony – 30 October 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the award ceremony for General Michael Rose and General Bertrand de Sauville de la Presle, held in High Wycombe on Monday 30th October 1995.


In a few moments and President and I will have the pleasure and privilege of honouring General de la Presle and General Rose for their work together in Bosnia over recent years. I would like just, if I may, to say a word about the award that I shall making to General de la Presle.

It is a remarkable example of what can be achieved in the most difficult circumstances. With General Rose, General de la Presle held very high responsibility for military operations in an area of the highest political and military complexities. There were no guiding stars as to how to cope with the extraordinarily difficult circumstances of Bosnia, there were no historical guidelines to deal with the particular level of problems that were faced there. And yet General de la Presle played a leading role in a new kind of military activity, an operation in which, almost uniquely, there were no clear enemies, but in an operation that was fraught with a great deal of danger. And in this, perhaps not uniquely, but unusually, political judgement was as important in his responsibilities as military skill.

The General led a military force comprising a range of nations. And yet on the ground at the same time he was dealing with different parties with a long history of mutual antagonisms, a history that as we have seen only too vividly was violent and often uncontainable.

And that is why I say there was no relevant experience from the past to go on. There were no books to tell people precisely what one did in those set of circumstances for they were strange and novel circumstances. It was hard to establish guidelines because the problems were changing, fluid, but more important than being fluid, inconsistent and unpredictable, not so much on a weekly basis but perhaps on an hourly basis.

The key to the General’s success, if I may be permitted to say so having observed from afar, was predominantly in the example set in working so closely with senior commanders, ensuring that everybody was absolutely up-to-date with what needed to be done, absolutely up-to-date with the latest tactical situation and completely aware of the strategic challenge facing the forces in Bosnia.

The results of that leadership I believe speak for themselves, both in terms of what was achieved at the time and in terms of the groundwork that was laid for those who came subsequently to achieve more. It was a very remarkable achievement indeed and I am delighted in a few moments that on behalf of Her Majesty I shall be honouring the General.