A former head of the Royal Marines hanged himself at his marital home after his wife left him and he lost his job, an inquest ruled today.
Major General Matthew Holmes, who was a pallbearer at Prince Philip’s funeral, was found dead in a bedroom at his £1million home in Winchester, Hampshire on October 2, 2021, a court heard.
The hearing was told that in the months before his death Maj Gen Holmes had lost his position as leader of the Royal Marines in a management restructuring, faced the collapse of his marriage, and had been left ‘angry’ at the UK’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Just two days before his death, he told one senior colleague ‘I’ve got one last bullet to fire’, the inquest heard. And when his sister asked if he was thinking of killing himself after losing his job as the head of the Royal Marines, the 54-year-old asked: ‘Why shouldn’t I?’, Winchester Coroners’ Court was told.
Giving evidence at the inquest, his widow Lea said she found Maj Gen Holmes sobbing at home next to a shotgun and told her ‘my life’s not worth living without my family’.
Major General Matthew Holmes lost his job as the head of the Royal Marines in 2021
Maj Gen Holmes is pictured with his wife Lea outside Buckingham Palace in 2007 after winning the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan
Maj Gen Holmes at the front wearing a white helmet, while serving as a pall bearer at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral in Windsor Castle in April 2021
Lea Holmes, widow of Major General Matthew Holmes, outside Winchester Coroners’ Court
Maj Gen Holmes had stopped eating and sleeping and became ‘wholly obsessed’ with his marriage, career, and financial woes, his inquest heard. The high-ranking officer told friends his domestic life was ‘crumbling’ and that things were ‘indescribably sh*t’.
His inquest heard Mrs Holmes – who has two teenage children with Maj Gen Holmes – took out a restraining order on him after he apparently ‘followed’ her and ‘frightened’ her.
The marriage ending came soon after Maj Gen Holmes had to step down from his post as the head of the Royal Marines, which left him stressed. He believed his career was ‘cut short’, was ‘angry’ at how the restructure was carried out, and felt like ‘salt was being rubbed in the wounds’ as he was replaced by ‘rival’ Lieutenant General Rob Magowan CB CBE.
Major General Matthew Holmes was a pallbearer at Prince Philip’s funeral during the procession to the steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in April. He is pictured speaking to Sky News before the service
In April 2021, less than two years into his posting as head of the Marines, Maj Gen Holmes was told to agree to a restructure or resign, it was heard. He had been on three back-to-back tours and ‘didn’t have time to decompress’.
His stress mounted, feeling as if he had ‘more to give’, and on a family holiday to Cornwall in the Summer of 2021 he was angered by the UK military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and felt responsible for Afghan officers who were now at risk.
Winchester Coroner’s Court heard Mrs Holmes told her husband she was leaving him in September 2021 and Marines bosses later offered him a six-month extension at work.
His leaving dinner was a ‘car crash’, it was heard.
Mrs Holmes today told his inquest: ‘He was kind and he loved his children very much. He was a Royal Marine. That was him, through and through. He left university, got a degree, and joined the Royal Marines and it was his life.’
Mrs Holmes said in Spring 2021, Navy chiefs told Maj Gen Holmes he had to sign agreeing to a new restructure or resign.
‘He was hugely upset by that’, Mrs Holmes said as she told of how his stress impacted their family life. ‘With these huge amount of stresses, he was very unhappy at home and so that was very difficult for myself and the children. He had a short fuse. Myself and my daughter felt as if we were tip-toeing around a bit, trying to manage that.’
Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007
Maj Gen Holmes wearing a white helmet during Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021
In September 2021, Mrs Holmes told her husband she was leaving him. On September 14, she heard her husband ‘crying in the bedroom upstairs’.
‘He was sitting on the bed and he had the shotgun by him and I said ”what do you think you’re doing?”,’ she said. ‘I was concerned that he was in this way and that our daughter was in the next bedroom. He said ”my life’s not worth living without my family”.
‘I put the gun away back in the gun cabinet. There was some shots [ammunition] on the side.’
Mrs Holmes said her husband became ‘out of control’ and was ‘storming around the house’. She said he ‘followed’ her and turned up to her temporary accommodation late at night ‘demanding’ she take him back.
Lieutenant General Rob Magowan outside Winchester Coroners’ Court
His sister, Sarah Adkins said: ‘Matt was courageous, cheeky, highly intelligent, he had great emotional intelligence apart from when he was stressed. He was empathetic and he cared deeply for those he loved and the Royal Marines. From his earliest days he wanted to be in the Royal Marines and worked very hard to achieve that.’
At a summer holiday in Polzeath, Cornwall, in 2021, Ms Adkins noticed he was ‘detached’.
‘He was clearly overwhelmed with stress. He was very focused on how his career had ended and found it quite difficult,’ she said.
‘He was deeply concerned about aspects [in the Royal Marines], he thought some would be of benefit but some he profoundly thought would be detrimental. He described himself as being ”beaten down and awashed”. He was not able to distinguish between little stresses and big stresses and became agitated at things I would not have expected him to.’
Ms Adkins said she pleaded with her brother to go surfing with her, but he had become ‘intense’ and spent his time on work calls.
‘He was angry at how it ended’, she said.
Ms Adkins said in September 2021 when Mrs Holmes told Maj Gen Holmes she was leaving him he was ‘calm and surprised but disappointed’.
She said: ‘I thought he was in a state of denial. He definitely saw himself as a family man and I don’t think he was aware of the stresses that his own stresses from service placed on the family. He had spent a lot of time away from home, particularly in those last three years.’
She said he was ‘optimistic’ about the marriage despite it being clear it was over, was in a ‘bad place’, and ‘was absolutely overwhelmed and in dire need of professional support’.
Major General Matthew Holmes welcomes Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to the Royal Albert Hall in London in March 2020
Major General Matt Holmes (Front) and his Marines Await pick up From Chinnook CH 47 Helicopters back to Camp Bastion
Pallbearers carry the coffin of Major General Matthew Holmes during his funeral
Maj Gen Holmes called veterans mental health charity Combat Stress eight days before his death.
On September 22 police turned up at Maj Gen Holmes’ house and seized his shotgun.
Maj Gen Holmes ‘didn’t think it was necessary as he was not a threat and was not going to harm himself’, Ms Adkins said.
When asked if he thought about killing himself, Maj Gen Holmes told his sister ‘why shouldn’t I?’
Decorated general Matthew Holmes who killed himself
Maj Gen Holmes, who served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, was Commandant General Royal Marines from 2019 until April 2021.
He commanded 42 Commando Royal Marines from 2006 to 2008 and was appointed as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on operations in Afghanistan in 2007.
He was made a CBE in 2019 and was a pallbearer at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral in April 2021 during the procession to the steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
The inquest heard Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the head of the Armed Forces, said he had ‘no inkling he was suffering so severely’ and would kill himself. He exchanged regular messages with Maj Gen Holmes, texting him on September 22 to say: ‘I’m really sorry to hear about what’s going on. We will lean in and help… Let’s look at getting a pint next week, sounds like it’s really needed.’
ADM Radakin told the inquest in a statement: ‘His death was a shock to me and to all those that knew him and to the Navy… He was a courageous leader in Afghanistan and a first class Commandant General. His personal life had been devoted to the Corps and to the nation.’
The inquest heard Lieutenant General Rob Magowan, who took over from Maj Gen as head of the Marines, had texted ADM Radakin to say ‘sir, we have a problem’ to tell him Maj Gen Holmes’ wife had left him.
Lt Gen Magowan also told ADM Radakin that ‘Mrs Holmes has applied for a restraining order as he has frightened them’, it was heard. The Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff told the inquest he exchanged ‘daily’ messages from Maj Gen Holmes, who told him ‘his life was spinning out of control’.
‘He was wholly obsessed with his predicament… but taking his own life did not cross my mind’, Lt Gen Magowan said. He added he was ‘under pressure’ to get Maj Gen Holmes to agree to a six-month extension in the Marines so his pay didn’t stop, but he couldn’t get a sense of whether that was what he wanted as it meant moving to a flat in Middlesex.
Lt Gen Magowan said: ‘He was in a different place now, not listening to what I was saying and focusing on things spiralling out of control in his life. I couldn’t get him to see a doctor or focus on the workload I wanted him to do and to move, which would lead to an irreversible eviction from his home.’
Vice Admiral Jeremy Kyd, the Navy’s Fleet Commander, said Maj Gen Holmes remained distraught over his career ending near the time of his death.
VADM Kyd said ‘he remained anguished and said his exemplary record demanded better’.
Recalling a conversation two days before his death, VADM Kyd said: ‘He reflected on what a horrible year it had been for him and his crumbling domestic situation. He said to me ”I have got one last bullet to fire”, I had no idea what he meant by that but it did not cause concern.’
Mrs Holmes’ lawyers wanted Maj Gen Holmes out of their home by October 4, VADM Kyd said.
Jonathan Ball, CEO of the Royal Marines Association, said: ‘He made some very close friends with senior Afghan officers and knew they were unlikely to be able to get out and feared for theirs and their families lives and felt like he personally failed them. It was the way the [Afghanistan] withdrawal was carried out that distressed him.’
Guests attend the funeral of Major General Matthew Holmes at Winchester Cathedral.
A detachment of Royal Marines arrive for the funeral of Major General Matthew Holmes
Mr Ball also said: ‘He had a perception of his time being cut short and had more to give. He was aware of the rivalry between him and Lt Gen Magowan and him taking over was a difficult place to be, despite a strong professional relationship. Matt perceived it as salt being rubbed in the wounds.
‘He had lost control of his life.
‘He was a leader, he was used to being in control and everything was being stripped away from him. The phrase he said to me was ”things are indescribably sh*t”. He could not see these as temporary challenges and he chose a permanent solution because it gave him control.’
In a career spanning over three decades, the decorated war hero served in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘Courageous’ and ‘committed’ Maj Gen Holmes commanded 42 Commando Royal Marines from 2006 to 2008. The father of two was awarded a CBE in 2019 – and was appointed as a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on operations in Afghanistan in 2007.
His service in Afghanistan was so successful he was awarded a Legion of Merit from the USA for it.
In April 2021, he was Prince Philip’s pallbearer at his funeral, carrying the coffin to the steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to Maj Gen Holmes at the time of his death.
His funeral in Winchester Cathedral was attended by then-incoming head of the Armed Forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, ex-head General Sir Nicholas Carter and Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace plus around 700 mourners.
Coroner Jason Pegg said Maj Gen Holmes was unhappy he was being ‘superseded’ by Lt Gen Magowan and the way in which his role would be carried out.
Mr Pegg said: ‘He was not only a distinguished officer but a son, a father and a brother. He was a family man. The role of Commandant General being taken away from him caused him much frustration and anger. It was quite clear that he was in a dark place and under stress and his world was now upside down.
‘The chain of command did all the could, it seems to me. They recognised his predicament… They agreed to an extension to keep him in service which would have provided him with stability.’
Mr Pegg added: ‘He was certainly awash with stress [when he killed himself]. No doubt preying on his mind was the need to leave his home.
‘He was suffering from substantial stress which contributed to the death.’
Mr Pegg concluded Maj Gen Holmes committed suicide.
The inquest continues.
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