MAJOR General James Cowan, Commander of Bulford-based 3rd (United Kingdom) Division, was driven out of Picton Barracks in Field Marshal Montgomery’s Second World War Rolls Royce staff car as he left both his post and the Army on Monday.

As the commander of the Army’s only battle-ready division and the senior Army officer on Salisbury Plain, General Cowan has had a key role in reshaping the division as it changed from preparing brigades to deploy to Afghanistan, to facing the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

In an exclusive interview with the Journal on his last day in uniform, General Cowan reflected on his career and life in the Army.

His father was serving in Northern Ireland when James left school and “jobs were difficult for someone with an English accent in 1982”, so he joined the Ulster Defence Regiment for a year before going to Oxford University to study Modern History.

“I come from a family with a long history of service in many different regiments but my father’s family was in Scottish regiments and I was commissioned into the Black Watch in 1987,” he said.

He served as Military Aide to two Chief’s of the General Staff from 9/11 to the start of operations in Iraq before taking command of his battalion in Warminster in 2003.

“Commanding your regiment is a very direct thing, you know everyone, it is a family, a group of friends and a very intense experience, it is a community that you come to love and it is part of your whole being, you never really leave your regiment, they are your friends for the rest of your life.”

General Cowan took the Black Watch to Iraq in the summer of 2004, operating in Basrah and Al Amarah and finally working with US troops in the battle of Fallujah for which he was appointed OBE.

He was Chief of Staff of 3 (UK) Div and on promotion to Brigadier in 2007 he was appointed commander of 11 Brigade, a new brigade that was formed for operations in Afghanistan.

“This was perhaps the most intellectually challenging task because I had to bring the Brigade together and then train it and take it to Helmand, but I really loved that and for me professionally this was the peak of my time in the Army.”

“As GOC (General Officer Commanding) of 3rd Division I am very glad that we have turned our part of the Army around from campaigning in Afghanistan to being ready for whatever contingency appears, which is a much more varied set of possibilities and perhaps a more challenging one.”

General Cowan is moving back to Scotland where he becomes chief executive of the Halo Trust which now operates in some 70 countries removing the debris of war and, for the next five years, he will be Colonel of Regiment for the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

“I have loved my time here on the plain and not just me because I am married to a doctor and my wife, Minnie, has been working as a doctor at Odstock and she has adored being in this part of the world.”

Soldiers representing every unit in the 3rd Division, including those in Germany, were represented at the farewell parade outside his headquarters. A Quarter Guard and the Pipes and Drums of the Black Watch came down from Fort George to give him a real Scottish send off.

He and his wife were driven out of the barracks in Field Marshall Montgomery’s staff car behind the pipes and drums and escorted by his quarter guard, an appropriate gesture as Monty has commanded the 3rd Division in France and at Dunkirk in 1940.

As one general left, the Bugles of 4 RIFLES blew a fanfare for the new commander, General Patrick Sanders, who commanded 4 RIFLES in Bulford in 2007.