The funeral mass for Major General Sir Sebastian Roberts – the former colonel of the Irish Guards and Honorary Colonel of the London Irish Rifles who died aged 69 on 9 March — was held at the London Oratory on 13 April.
More than 1,000 mourners, including many retired Guardsmen, attended the event.
HM King Charles III was represented by General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, former Chief of the General Staff. His Serene Highness Prince Josef-Emmanuel represented the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. HRH The Prince of Wales, the Irish Guards’ former Honorary Colonel, was represented by Major James Lowther-Pinkerton, Prince George’s godfather. The Princess of Wales is the regiment’s present Honorary Colonel. Major General Christopher Ghika, a retired Irish Guards’ officer, represented Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal.
The mass was celebrated by Father Ambrose Henley, Dean of Ampleforth Monastery, who also delivered the Homily.
Sir Sebastian were carried into The London Oratory by eight Irish Guardsmen led by a Guards officer. The opening hymn was “O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder”. The London Oratory choir sang the Kyrie from Missa Pro Defunctis by Giovanni Anerio. The first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, was delivered by Julian Roberts, Sir Sebastian’s eldest son and a retired Irish Guards officer. The second reading, from St Paul’s letters to the Romans, was read by his second son Orlando, also a retired Irish Guards officer.
The readings were followed by the choir singing Pie Jesu from Gabriel Faure’s Requiem Mass. The gospel reading was from John Chapter 14: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Salve Regina was sung during the offertory. Sanctus from Faure’s Requiem was also sung. During communion, the choir sang the Faure’s Agnus Dei followed by Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart.
After communion, the eulogy was delivered by Lucian Roberts, one of Sir Sebastian’s brothers who recalled his ebullient character and love of “dressing up” and painting. The final reading was delivered by Anthea Roberts, Sir Sebastian’s sister.
The last hymn was “Tell out my soul.” During the absolution at the end of the mass, the choir sang In Paradisium by Faure.
Sir Sebastian was piped out of the church with Saint Patrick’s Day, the Irish Guards’ regimental quick march.
The funeral mass was followed by a reception for mourners at St Winifred’s Hall next to the London Oratory.
Sebastian Roberts was born in Aldershot on 7 January 1954. He was the eldest of the 10 children of the late Brigadier John Roberts, former commanding officer of the 2nd battalion of the Welsh Guards and the Parachute Regiment, and his wife, the late Nicola (nee Macaskie) Roberts. Sir Sebastian went to school at Ampleforth College when Basil (later Cardinal) Hume was Abbot. Contemporaries remember him as “a theatrical figure, highly articulate and entertaining”, characteristics that Sir Sebastian was display throughout his life.
Sir Sebastian studied modern history at Balliol College Oxford and was commissioned into The Irish Guards in 1977.
In 2003, Sir Sebastian was appointed General Officer Commanding London District and Major General of the Household Division. On relinquishing the command in 2007, he was knighted and elevated to the Colonelcy of the Irish Guards in 2008. Sir Sebastian held the position until he handed it over in 2011 to the Duke of Cambridge, now The Prince of Wales, after leaving regular service the previous year.
He wrote the British Army’s doctrine of the Moral Component “Soldiering: The Military Covenant” and was also a broadcaster in demand during the HM the late Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in 2022.
Sir Sebastian married Elizabeth Muir, daughter of a former commanding officer of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, who survives him along with their sons, Julian and Orlando, and daughters Cosima and Flavia.
Sir Sebastian was originally diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome when he was nine. The next time Marfan Syndrome was mentioned was in 1976, when he applied to join the Army. The retired Medical Corps Major General who headed the Medical Board at the British Military Hospital at Millbank was intrigued by his height, high palate, long fingers and bumpy chest. When Sir Sebastian asked if Marfan presented any problem, he said “only for your tailor, my boy,” and pronounced him fit to serve.
Sir Sebastian was first referred to London’s St George’s Hospital with his son and daughter in the early 1990s. “We learned a great deal that day: much more was known about the syndrome,” Sir Sebastian said in an interview published by St George’s Institute of Aortic Aneurysm & Aortic Valve Disease. “(W)e heard for the first time about the most serious eventualities: detached retinas and aortic aneurysms; but mercifully we were fortunate as a family: our symptoms were slight and gave no cause for concern.”
After Sir Sebastian was appointed to the UN force in Sierra Leone in 2001, a chest X-ray that was part of the UN medical, suggested something was wrong with his aorta. Further tests revealed a serious aneurysm.
“Within days I was given a new valve, and a few years later, a new aortic arch: in effect, a new lifespan, all owed to the professionalism, care and humanity of the people of St George’s, and the wider NHS,” Sir Sebastian said.
His family has asked for any donations in Sir Sebastian’s memory to be made to The Marfan Trust and The Irish Guards Charity.
Major-General Sir Sebastian John Lechmere Roberts KCVO OBE. Born 7 January 1954. Died 9 March 2023.