Anthony Gurney: ‘Well done’ was the cry of the Norfolk Major who loved the county and young people

OBIT Maj Anthony Gurney with farm manager Richard Howlett with the champion national malting malting

OBIT Maj Anthony Gurney with farm manager Richard Howlett with the champion national malting malting barley sample in 1989. - Credit: Archant

One of the larger than life characters in Norfolk, Major Anthony Gurney, who frequently entertained the Queen Mother, has died aged 91.

As a farmer, politician, countryman and sportsman, 'The Major' as he was always known, had a zest for life and was always prepared to help young people, especially the Scouts.

Anthony Richard Gurney, who grew up at Northrepps, went to school at Aldeburgh Lodge and Charterhouse. In 1941, he joined the Royal Norfolk Regiment at Britannia Barracks, Norwich, and was sent to India and commissioned the next year into the 9/12 Indian Frontier Force.

In May 1944, he was badly wounded in the battle for Imphal. With three bullets in his lungs, he was not expected to survive. Later, he met the surgeon, who went on to become president of the Royal College of Surgeons.

While on sick leave in the Himalayas, he heard rumours that a large and rare red-coloured bear had been seen. When this 6ft tall bear attacked him, he shot it and then had it sent to his Norfolk home.

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Rejoining his battalion in the advance through Burma and into Vietnam, he was at the surrender of the Japanese in Saigon harbour and then served in Japan.

He married Trish Shaw at St Margaret's, Westminster, and having joined Barclays Bank Overseas in 1948 spent two years in east Africa. Returning to Norfolk in 1950, he joined timber merchants AR Taylor, of Wroxham, later becoming chairman. Among his many roles, he was chairman of Sywell aerodrome, Northampton, for many years.

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He started farming in 1953 when he moved to Manor Farm, Northrepps, which was his home for the next 60 years. Encouraged at the start by Jim, now Lord Prior, he loved farming with a passion.

He built up a top Friesian dairy herd and was national malting barley champion in 1989 with a sample of Triumph – the first title won by a Norfolk farmer for years. He was a former chairman of Norfolk CLA branch.

Always keen to learn more, he was a regular at the Oxford Farming Conference and joined David Richardson's famous trip behind the iron curtain to Russia.

A former president of the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association, he was a regular finalist in the Norfolk county farms' competition.

A county councillor for the Cromer division, he defeated the Labour candidate in 1955, increasing his majority at each of the next four elections. He was a member of the county planning committee for 15 years when Norwich airport was expanded and Bacton gas site built.

He represented Norfolk at Strasbourg in 1970 at a European conservation conference having been chairman of the first report on Broads development five years earlier. In 1978, he was made vice president of the East Anglian region of the English Speaking Union.

In 1966, he stood for Westminster for the first time in Norwich South seeking to overturn a Labour majority of 611. It was high profile because just months earlier cabinet minister Geoffrey Rippon had lost the seat.

His love of life, which was shared with young people, saw countless students learning to farm at Northrepps.

For years, the North Norfolk Pony Club had its annual camp there. A passionate supporter of the Scouts, he helped establish a permanent home at Roughton for the local group.

He was president of the British Legion branch and as parish council chairman in 2008 welcomed the Duke of Kent, who was visiting Cromer.

His house was always open to visitors. He was proud of his friendship with the Queen Mother, who often lunched at his home.

He hunted, shot and was a great sportsman but above all he loved the countryside, Norfolk and people.

And his cheery cry: 'Well done, Well done' in the shooting field, at a hunter trial or at a party will be missed.

He leaves a sister, Pam, two sons and two daughters, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary's Church, Northrepps, on Friday, February 15 at 2.30pm.

Michael Pollitt

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