Robin Neillands

It was a profoundly moving moment. As the dying notes of "The Last Post", played by a Royal Marines bugler, echoed through the packed crematorium, it was a final signal that Robin Hunter Neillands was no longer with us.

For Rob seemed indestructible, maybe because there were so many Robs, so many facets to his career.

A formidable-looking six-footer, Rob reached the rank of sergeant in the Royal Marine Commandos — hence the privilege of "The Last Post" — before turning his hand to book publishing, Fleet Street journalism and authorship, and becoming a military historian, lecturer and academic.

But it was probably as a travel writer, contributing to The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and countless magazines, that his name reached a wide public.

From 1991 to 1993, he was chairman of the British Guild of Travel Writers, at a time when the association was suffering an identity crisis. His new broom swept clean with military efficiency. As one member said: "It was the beginning of our Great Leap Forward."

Rob consolidated his reputation with an avalanche of books, under a variety of pseudonyms.

More than 80 titles, ranging from The History of Knots to The Hundred Years War and Romantic Weekend Breaks to the biography of Air Chief Marshal "Bomber" Harris.

His later books on military history were to become standard texts, though illness prevented him finishing his projected biography of Field Marshal Montgomery.

"I learned to walk in the Royal Marines," Rob used to joke, and his early books on walking and cycling covered every terrain: Spain, France, Scotland, Turkey, Syria, Jordan.

In 1989, he set off from Llanes, on the Bay of Biscay, and walked right across the centre of Spain to the Rock of Gibraltar, a boot-crunching distance of more than 1,000km. In Avila, he was attacked by a trio of muggers. They picked on the wrong man.

"We gazed at each other for a split second, gaping," he wrote in Walking Through Spain.

"Then I raised my stick and cracked the one in the middle across the bridge of his nose with the handle. He put his hand to his face and began to bleed copiously.

"I then hit the one on my right. This was a real blow, a full-bodied and most satisfying crack, right across the ear. It must have hurt.

"Suddenly there was a lot of yelling. Then we all ran off, the three of them back down the street, me as fast as possible up to the comfort of light and people in the main square."

Rob died, aged 70, at his home in Beckhampton, Wiltshire, after a long illness, working almost to the end. He leaves his devoted wife, Judy, two daughters by an earlier marriage, a granddaughter and two stepdaughters.

The funeral reception was held at the Waggon & Horses, opposite their home. Rob’s instructions were suitably tongue-in-cheek: "Tell them there’s a couple of hundred quid behind the bar and when they’ve drunk that, they can go home."

But there was one final glass, when the entire membership of the Guild of Travel Writers, plus 100 guests at their annual yearbook launch, stood and drank a toast "To our Rob".

Perrott Phillips

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