Former head of Royal Marines died following split from his wife

Major-general’s sister says family is ‘devastated’ after 54-year-old took his own life following split from his wife and loss of his dream job leading the Royal Marines

  • Married father-of-two Major General Matthew Holmes CBE served in all the UK’s recent conflicts 
  • He was Commandant General Royal Marines for 20 months from June 2019 until April this year
  • Major General Holmes left post following plans to ‘double-hat’ two-star role with another position 
  • Friends have said he was struggling after losing his job and also splitting from his wife Lea 
  • 54-year-old was awarded Distinguished Service Order for leadership in Afghanistan in 2007

The sister of a senior Armed Forces commander today said her family is ‘devastated’ after the 54-year-old took his own life following a split from his wife and the loss of his dream job leading the Royal Marines. 

Major General Matt Holmes CBE, who carried Prince Philip’s coffin at his funeral, had been in a ‘bad place’ before his suspected suicide. 

The father-of-two from Hampshire was a friend of Prince Harry and served in all the UK’s recent conflicts until leaving military in April. Boris Johnson has led tributes to him today. 

Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Major General Holmes’s older sister, Sarah Holmes said: ‘Matthew confided in me a lot because we were very close.

‘He spoke to me in detail about the issues in his marriage and I’m not going to break his confidence now. Matthew and I were last in touch on Friday evening and I never thought he would take his own life.’

She added: ‘Lea was my best friend before her and Matthew got married and I’ve been speaking to her every day since this tragedy. She is devastated, as we all are.

‘She is the one who called the police on Saturday afternoon because she could not get into the house. And when the police broke the door down to get in, they found Matt’s body.’

A tearful Sarah revealed that she was informed about her brother’s death on the telephone by his wife on late Saturday afternoon.

Sarah, 55, who is a year older than Major General Holmes added: ‘As a family, we are still in shock. We are taking this whole thing one day at a time. Since news of his death, the tributes have not stopped.

‘Men who served under him have been contacting me and telling me what an amazing, incredible and inspirational man he was. I’m proud to have been his sister.

‘He wanted to be a Royal Marine since the age of five when we were taken together to the Royal Tournament. He had a brilliant career and was committed to the Royal Marines, its men and their families.’ 


Major General Holmes’s older sister, Sarah Holmes, (who he is pictured with at a dinner two weeks ago, left; and at his Marines passing out parade in November 1988, right) today said her family is ‘devastated’ by his suspected suicide 

A tearful Sarah revealed that she was informed about her brother’s death on the telephone by his wife on late Saturday afternoon. They are pictured together as children, with a model of a Royal Marine 

Major General Holmes CBE won the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan. He is pictured with his wife Lea and daughter Eleanor after receiving the award  at Buckingham Palace in 2007. A source claimed he was going through a divorce and was in a ‘bad place’

Major General Matthew Holmes welcomes Prince Harry, the former Captain General of the Royal Marines, and Meghan Markle to the Royal Albert Hall in London in March 2020

Sarah revealed that the family have not finalised plans for the funeral and that she intends to travel from her home in Cornwall to Winchester over the coming day to meet with Lea and the two children she had with Major General Holmes; Nelly and Will.

She revealed that her brother was also stressed over his professional future as he prepared to leave the Armed Forces in October.

In April, he left his post as Commandant General Royal Marines, after which he took three months leave that was owning to him from his time serving in Afghanistan.

At the time of his death, he was on a three-month transition period to prepare him for his new life on ‘civvy street.’

Sarah said: ‘He wasn’t sure what the future held for him and that didn’t help matters. He was hoping that he could stay in the Armed Forces and that the Royal Navy would create a new role for him, but nothing had emerged so far.

‘Matt was dedicated to the Armed Forces but was preparing now to take a new job on civvy street, although he had no work lined up and didn’t know what he’d do. It created a lot of uncertainty and didn’t help with his overall situation.’

Major General Holmes was Commandant General Royal Marines for 20 months from June 2019 but then left the role halfway through what would normally be at least a three-year tenure. It also emerged today he has split from his wife Lea, a solicitor and mother of their two young children. 

Their friends and neighbours told MailOnline of their shock at his death, adding that the couple had not been happy for a while and that they had lived at their home in Winchester for 17 years.  One said: ‘Lea worked from home and told me last year how the pressure of the lockdown was putting a strain on her family life. I could just tell that she wasn’t very happy with things’.

As well as the break-up of his marriage, he also was moved from being head of the Royal Marines to another role helping Royal Marine recruits with their wellbeing.

A Royal Navy source told The Times:  ‘He was not happy about the change of roles’, adding that before his death colleagues had offered a ‘lot of support’, including with daily phone calls because ‘he was in a bad place’. The insider added those phone calls were mainly about his private life rather than work. 

‘The loss of a warfighter is a significant tragedy and highlights the challenges that all members and people in all leadership roles face’, the friend said. 

The Ministry of Defence has announced that the circumstances of his death are being investigated.  

It is understood he took his own life on Saturday. 

A Hampshire Police spokesman said: ‘Officers were called to a house in Kingsgate Road, Winchester, just before 3pm on Saturday October 2 following the discovery of a man’s body.

Major General Matthew Holmes receives the Distinguished Service Order from The Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2007

‘The death is not being treated as suspicious and we are preparing a file for the coroner.’ 

Neighbours revealed that they had not seen Major General Holmes and his wife Lea together for ‘several months.’

One said: ‘It’s been like that for the past three months. We’ve seen him out jogging or walking the dog but not her.

‘Sadly, the news doesn’t surprise me. Each time I saw him he appeared really glum and rarely smiled. We knew something was up in the marriage but didn’t realise it was this serious.’

Another revealed how Major General Holmes and his wife Lea had been invited to a Neighbourhood watch drinks reception but did not attend.

He added: ‘Normally they would attend together but for the last two, neither of them has shown up. He was quite a regimented, proud, self-contained man and not very emotional. We realised a few months ago that Lea wasn’t around and thought something was up, but Matt wasn’t the kind of guy who would speak about that kind of stuff.’

Major General Holmes is believed to have taken his own life at his home in Winchester on Saturday afternoon, with neighbours reporting that an ambulance was parked outside into the early hours of the evening.

One regular at the Queen Inn pub told MailOnline: ‘Lea worked from home and told me last year how the pressure of the lockdown was putting a strain on her family life. I could just tell that she wasn’t very happy with things.

‘The last time I actually saw her and Matt together in the pub was before the pandemic in December 2019. Since the lifting of restrictions, she’s not been in here and I’ve not seen her around.

‘Each time I’ve seen Matt he’s always been on his own, but he wasn’t the type of guy you could just go up to and ask how he is.’

Boris Johnson today said he was ‘very saddened’ by the death of a former head of the Royal Marines who was one of Britain’s most senior military officers.

Major General Holmes was found dead aged 54 in a suspected suicide, six months after leaving the role halfway through what is normally a three-year tenure.

Major General Matthew, a married father-of-two who lived in Hampshire, served in all the UK’s recent conflicts and was Commandant General Royal Marines for 20 months from June 2019 until this April. 

In March 2020 he welcomed Prince Harry, the former Captain General of the Royal Marines, and Meghan Markle to the Mountbatten Festival of Music, before sitting next to them at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was one of the Sussexes’ final engagements in Britain before they stepped down as senior royals and moved to North America.

Today, Mr Johnson said in a tweet: ‘I am very saddened to learn of the death of Major General Matt Holmes. My thoughts are with Matt’s family and friends at this difficult time, as well as the Royal Marines and Royal Navy who I know will feel this loss keenly.’ 

Major General Holmes, who died on Saturday, also won one of the UK’s most prestigious gallantry awards, the Distinguished Service Order, for his leadership on the frontline in Afghanistan in 2007.

But earlier this year he left the Commandant General post following plans to ‘double-hat’ his two-star role with another position, amid defence experts warning that the merger would dilute attention given to the Royal Marines.

Major General Holmes was reported at the time by the Daily Telegraph to have had a ‘really significant falling out’ with the First Sea Lord, who had argued that the incumbent in future would be a three-star officer. However, a defence source claimed that Major General Holmes’s scheduled move was part of the service’s transformation.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the circumstances of his death were being investigated – but they are not thought to have been suspicious. However, it is understood that he took his own life, the Telegraph reported. 

Major Holmes was married to his solicitor wife Lea and they had two young children. In April, he was part of the procession at Prince Philip’s funeral towards the steps of St George’s Chapel. 

Major General Matthew Holmes (immediately left of Prince Harry) at the Royal Albert Hall in March 2020

An MoD spokesman said: ‘Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends at this difficult time and they have our deepest and heartfelt condolences. We request that their privacy is respected at this time.’

Major General Holmes had a distinguished career, which included operational tours in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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 appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2019. 

First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin KCB ADC, said: ‘I am deeply saddened to hear about the tragic death of Matt Holmes. 

‘We mourn the loss of one of our most senior and highly decorated Royal Marines; a devoted former Commandant General who had served the nation, the Royal Navy and his beloved Corps with distinction for 33 years. 

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

Tributes were paid last night to a former head of the Royal Marines who has died suddenly. Highly decorated Major General Matthew Holmes CBE served in all the UK’s recent conflicts and was one of Britain’s most senior military officers

Matthew Holmes served as Commandant General Royal Marines from 2019 until April this year

‘Matt was also a dear friend to many, and a close friend of mine for over 20 years. He will be sorely missed by the Service and especially the Corps Family. 

‘But my thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathy are with Matt’s family. Their loss is the greatest and most painful: we will be there for them now and always.’

Commandant General Royal Marines, Lieutenant General Rob Magowan CB CBE, said: ‘My predecessor as Commandant General Royal Marines and my friend, Matt Holmes, tragically died at the weekend. 

‘My heart goes out to him and his family. We will honour him and all those closest to him. But I also think of you all.

‘It matters not that he was a General, but it does that he is a Royal Marine. I remember and celebrate him, alongside all those who he is with now. 





‘We are one family, together, just as we learned, and as we trained, alongside each other at the Commando Training Centre. Once a marine, always a marine.’

Earlier this year Major General Holmes was a pallbearer at Prince Philip’s funeral in April during the procession to the steps of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

At the time he recalled how generous Prince Philip was with his time whenever he visited the regiment, and once flew from London to Exeter to ensure he welcomed members of the regiment returning from Afghanistan.

Major General Holmes said: ‘He hated fuss, so we would host him and he would go straight amongst the Marines and talk to our valiant warriors. He was always generous with his time.’

Speaking to Times Radio: ‘We were utterly privileged and honoured to enjoy his company on numerous occasions. We had numerous encounters, and I think that was the beauty of his service with us.’

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123, visit a local branch or go to www.samaritans.org      

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