Lieutenant-Colonel Ewen Southby-Tailyour, OBE
Updated: Jun 8, 2020
Lieutenant-Colonel Ewen Southby-Tailyour, OBE is an author, sailor, and retired Royal Marine. He served for 32 years in the Royal Marines and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel. After retiring from the Royal Marines he concentrated on his sailing and writing careers and has written a number of books on military history and the Royal Marines.
The son of the late General Sir Norman Tailyour, former Commandant General Royal Marines, Southby-Tailyour comes from a family with strong ties to the Royal Marines; an uncle, two cousins and a step-brother have previously served in the Corps. He attended Stubbington House School, Nautical College Pangbourne (where he was captain of sailing) and the University of Grenoble in France.
Southby-Tailyour's early career included active service operations in Aden, Northern Ireland, Oman, the Falkland Islands, Hong Kong and 13 winters in the Norwegian Arctic developing the use of fast raiding and assault craft for supporting commando operations. He also served in the United States, India, Djibouti, the West Indies, the North Sea (oil-rig protection), Cyprus, Corsica, Malta, Bahrain, the Yemen, Kuwait and the South Atlantic 1977-1979 (before the Falklands War).
He was attached to the USMC in 1977 in the eastern Mediterranean and, earlier, to the French Commando Hubert in Toulon with which he attended their combatant nageur course and served in a submarine, a helicopter carrier and ashore in Corsica and Djibouti with the French Foreign Legion. Following Arabic language courses at the Berlitz School of Languages in London and the Command Arabic Language School in Aden he was seconded for two years as a reconnaissance platoon and company commander with the Sultan of Muscat's Armed Forces during the Dhofar War where he was awarded the Sultan's Bravery Medal for gallantry in action - the approximate equivalent of the UK's Distinguished Service Order (DSO).
In 1978, he was the officer commanding a small Royal Marines detachment that was posted to the Falkland Islands. The following year he was promoted to major. It was then that on his own initiative he sailed around and extensively charted the waters around the islands, and had a 100+ page notebook filled with data on harbours, inlets and landing spots. This work, for which he was elected the UK's 1982 Yachtsman of the Year, and his personal knowledge of the area would later prove valuable in the Falklands War. During this campaign he was the inshore navigational adviser to the amphibious commanders prior to leading the major landings. He was appointed OBE and recommended for the DSC.
In the preafce to Falklands Island Shores Major General J.H.A. Thompson CB OBE(Commander of 3rd Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, during the Falkland Islands Campaign, 1982) wrote;
"On 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, Ewen presented himself at Hamoaze House in Plymouth, where I had set up my Headquarters, bringing with him the pilotage notebook and a large roll of charts. After a few minutes it was clear that he and his notebook and charts must come south with us — not that he needed any persuading. He became a key member of the team planning the amphibious assault.
The 64,000 dollar question that any Commander planning an amphibious operation asks is ‘Where shall I land?’ To help him decide he will want to know a great deal about a number of beaches that, after examination of the charts, look as if they might be the place he is searching for. Having reﬁned the possibilities down to a short list, he will want to send men to look at these beaches as covertly as possible to gather as much detail as they can. The problems facing a Commander choosing landing beaches on the Falkland Islands were that, in 1982, the charts were not, in many areas, up to date; the soundings did not, in most places, go close enough inshore; the kelp which is such a hazard to the propellers of small boats and landing craft was not plotted accurately; and so, from the information contained in the current charts, it was not possible to produce a short list of beaches to which the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) could be sent to glean the detailed information. There simply was not time to send SBS teams to more than half a dozen beaches. Curiously, the Falklanders themselves have a very sketchy knowledge of their own coastline, so no help would be forthcoming from Falklanders who happened to be on leave or living out of the Islands in April 1982.
However, Ewen and his notes solved the problem. His knowledge and his notes, both unique, enabled the planners to select only those beaches which were suitable for a landing for SBS reconnaissance and thus save precious time. The most vivid picture I have of Ewen during the passage south is of him in his ‘home’, which he had set up in the bath in the Senior Ofﬁcers’ bathroom in HMS Fearless, poring over his charts, producing answers to the myriad questions the planners had posed."
It was Southby-Tailyour who provided the Falkland Islands (Governor's) Flag for the raising ceremony at Government House on 17 June 1982.
He had stolen the flag as a souvenir during his 1978-1979 military tour, and during the operation to retake the Islands from Argentina, Southby-Tailyour confessed the theft and offered the flag back to the Governor, Sir Rex Hunt. Hunt told him that he would forgive the theft if Southby-Tailyour personally put the flag back from where he had gotten it from, so in this manner, he obliged.
Southby-Tailyour's final four years service were spent on the staffs of the Commandant General, Royal Marines, and the Director General Surface Ships (Amphibious Group), helping to design and procure the next generation of amphibious shipping and craft, most notably Ocean, the Albion-class landing platform dock, the LCVP Mk 4 and the LCU Mk 10.
He has published 17 books on amphibious-related subjects (including two novels) and is a commercial yacht skipper and amateur, high latitude explorer he lives in south Devon and the French Pyrenees.