Tony, a youthful 73, was brought up in Okehampton and despite going to boarding school and travelling the world through his life in the army, he has managed to stay pretty close to the town and moors that he loves so much. He and his wife Helen have lived in the same very beautiful Devon longhouse in South Tawton parish for the past 23 years, where they brought up their two children.
On finishing his initial officer training at Sandhurst, Tony was commissioned into the Parachute Regiment where he commanded 4 PARA. Later he became responsible for the Army’s training estate in the South West, including Dartmoor. When he left active service at the age of 55, he became Commandant of the Dartmoor Training Area for the next eleven years. ‘I started wearing khaki uniform at the age of eleven and stopped when I got to 67 – which doesn’t really show much in terms of fashion talent!’
Although use of the moor by the military has its opponents, Tony strongly believes it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. ‘It’s a symbiotic relationship. It’s incredibly important to the Army and they work with local people looking towards the environmental care of the moor, whether it’s repair of tracks or contributing towards study projects.
‘My favourite words, by reducing a variety of elements down to a simple phrase, are “care and consideration”. For me this encapsulates the relationship that the Army and everyone else, whether ramblers, commoners or locals, has with Dartmoor. It’s a precious asset and if we damage it, it won’t be precious any more.’
As a result of his military career, Tony became heavily involved in Ten Tors, the annual event that has seen thousands of young people trek over Dartmoor on a two day expedition. It is organised by the Army and these days Tony’s official title is ‘advisor to the Director’, a role where he can put to good use the 23 years worth of invaluable experience gained with a youth challenge he is still completely passionate about.
Since retiring Tony has become involved with the More than Meets the Eye Landscape Partnership – a Heritage Lottery-funded scheme bringing communities and organisations together to explore Dartmoor’s past, conserve its wildlife, improve understanding of this unique area and develop and share the skills to look after it for generations to come. It is in the process of delivering some 28 projects ranging from improved access at Fernworthy Reservoir and the Hameldown World War II bomber crash archaeological survey, to the creation of the Wray Valley Trail.
Tony is also chairman of the Dartmoor Trust – an organisation created 19 years ago. It supports practical projects benefiting the National Park through grant aid. Tony explains: ‘The National Park has had a considerable reduction in the amount of money it receives from central government, which means it isn’t able to deliver some of the highly desirable work needed to look after Dartmoor. The Trust cares for the archaeology, history and cultural heritage of the moor, doing so by raising money and supporting work for the good of Dartmoor.’
He explained that one of the Trust’s biggest projects to date has been the creation of the Dartmoor Trust Archive, a fascinating collection of wonderful photographs of the moor, dating back to the middle of the 19th century. ‘We are also keen to create a study centre, somewhere on Dartmoor, so the many enthusiasts of the moor have a space they can use for research.’
When not volunteering many hours for the good of the area he loves, Tony also runs the lifesaving section of Okehampton Otters Swimming Club. He also enjoys photography and working on his smallholding.
‘I just feel so lucky to live on Dartmoor and in such a wonderful community; it’s an incredible place. To be able to give something back to the area and to contribute to it, I think, is really important and I have no desire whatsoever to live anywhere else.’