PENFOLD, Robert Bernard (Major-General)


Major Mentor; Generous General


Major-General Robert Bernard Penfold CB LVO

1916-12-19 — 2015-04-22

As a long-time British professional Army officer from 1936 to 1972, with his military career canvassing India, Iraq, Tanganyika, Kenya and UK, including a commanding post of the South East District.

Major-General Robert Bernard Penfold also served as the first General Manager of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club from January 1972 to December 1979.





Early Life:

1916-12-19 Robert Bernard Penfold was born in St. Neots, Cambridgeshire, UK. (24 km west of Cambridge and 79 km north of London)

His father, Mr Bernard Hugh Penfold (1880 -1917) was from Birdham, Chichester, West Sussex; his mother, Miss Ethel Ives Arnold.

In 1911, they were married and also had two daughters.

Mr Hugh Penfold was a manager in Barclays bank, who joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps shortly after WWI.

After combat missions in Ypres, Belgium and Somme, France, he was transferred to the 15th Battalion, Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment (The Sherwood Foresters).

In 1917-10-20, Second Lieutenant Hugh Penfold, commemorated on The Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium MR.30 and named on “Selsey War Memorial WW1”, was killed in the the Battle of Passchendaele.

Later, his young son Robert was admitted to the prestigious Wellington College and Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.





Career in Military:

After graduation, Robert Penfold followed his father’s footsteps to join the Army.

On 1936-08-27, Penfold, as a second lieutenant, was commissioned into the Leicestershire Regiment, and then transferred to the Indian Army to serve as a Major in the 11th Sikh Regiment next year.

On 1937-11-03, he was promoted to Lieutenant, and posted to the North West Frontier Province of the British India service.

In 1939, after the outbreak of World War II, Penfold was transferred to the Central Mediterranean Forces.

From 1942 to 1943, he was transferred to the Poitier troops in the Middle East.

In 1944, he was transferred to the Tactical Training Center as General Counsellor until the end of WWII.

In 1945, shortly after the war, he returned to the Indian Army.

In 1946, he was the instructor at the Command and Staff College in Quetta.

In 1947, he returned to join the British Army’s Royal Artillery Regiment, and was promoted to Honorary Lieutenant Colonel.

From 1950 to 1952, he became the Deputy Director in the Training and Personnel Division of the Army.

In 1953, he was transferred to the Royal Naval College Office.

From 1957 to 1959, he took position as the Joint Delegation Secretary of the British Force in Washington D.C., to provide support and liaison pertaining to the closely connected Army affairs between the two nations.

In 1957, he was a key member engaged in the planning stage of Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit to the United States.

On 1957-10-29, General Penfold was awarded Member of Victorian Order, MVO honors (1984, automatically promoted to the LVO honors).


Penfold later served primarily in the UK, Africa and the Middle East.

In 1959, he became the commanding Officer of the 6th Battalion King’s African Rifles in Tanganyika, East African, until its independence in 1961.

From 1961 to 1962, he returned to London as colonel in the Department of Defense.

From 1962 to 1964, he was appointed as the Commander of the 127th Infantry Brigade.

From 1964 to 1965, he was again dispatched overseas to the Middle East as Security Operations Advisor to the High Commissioner in Aden during the Aden Emergency.

In 1966, he was transferred back to England, and worked at the Imperial Defence College, from Major General he was appointed as the Chief of Defence Staff in the Kenya Armed Forces.

From 1967 to 1969, he served as the Commander of the British Army Training Team and the Cabinet Security Committee in Kenya, to ensure a smooth transition of power after its independence.

He provided training to the armed forces for localization and professionalization of senior officials.

In 1969, he went on to be the General Officer Commanding South East District.

On 1969-06-14,he was appointed CB,The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, on the Queen‘s Birthday Honors List.

In October 1972, he retired from 36 years’ service in the British Army, with his military career reaching all over India, Iraq, Tanganyika and Kenya.





Career in Racing Administration:


On 1971-03-16, RHKJC formally announced to go professional. Under the shrewd leadership and endeavour of the next two Chairmen, Sir Douglas Clague and P G Williams, General Penfold started to raise the standard of racing in the Territory.

General Penfold, of his extensive leadership and experience, was recruited to laid an entirely modern groundwork – literally brick by brick – on the Hong Kong turf.

On 1972-01-17, General Penfold accepted the invitation to become the first general manager of the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club, executing directives from the Board of Stewards, and took total management of the Clubs’s affairs.

At that juncture so seismically prompted by the doping scandal that rattled Happy Valley – and the Territory, in the greater scheme of proceedings – in 1969-1970, Sir John Saunders, then Chairman of both the HSBC and the RHKJC, decided to appoint an expert to professionalize Hong Kong racing .

On 1972-01-22, as per the press, General Penfold had two important projects raring to go: the Ocean Park and the new Sha Tin Racecourse.

Opening its doors on 1977-01-10, the Ocean Park is simply spectacular right off the gate. This HK$150 million marine extravaganza, funded entirely from racing profits, is an endeared amusement to millions all to this day, and is vital in one of the most densely populated metropolis in the world.

On 1972-05-30, General Penfold disclosed increments of purse allocations for the next racing season.

To avoid further doping, he initiated pre-race drug tests for all declared starters.

In early 1973, he issued a stern warning to all trainers, where they would be held responsible for all positive drug tests of any declared runners under their care.

On 1975-05-05, General Penfold managed the event of Queen Elizabeth II’s royal visit to the Happy Valley Racecourse.

On 1979-04-08, on behalf of the Stewards, General Penfold outlined the Club’s new policies to crack down the “Under-table” sales, or unauthorized transfers of horse ownership.


Betting Innovation

In 1973, General Penfold launched a comprehensive range of new betting products, including the Tierce and Quartet, accordingly for those who won the first three and the first four correct order of horse had dividends.

On 1973-10-17, for the first time in history, Happy Valley sparkled like a stellar pearl in the dark of the night, as night racing was inaugurated, to increase the number of racing dates during the season, and combat illegal betting activities.

On 1973-11-29, General Penfold successfully obtained the government’s heads-up to initiate Off-course Betting (OCB).

On 1974-04-20, while access was initially restricted against teenagers under 17, six OCB branches were officially opened, with telephone betting service augmented shortly afterwards to further eradicate illegal bookmaking.

On 1975-07-11, the Betting Duty (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill was gazetted. Then RHKJC started to operate an authorized lottery service on Government’s behalf, and was asked to introduce the Mark Six to combat rampant illegal gambling on che fa – a lottery game that had become very widespread at the time.

1978, Penfold tightened the policy to prohibit minors under the age of 18 at any betting facility. Staff was entitled to check the ID of the suspected underage.


Sha Tin Racecourse

In October 1971, the government concurred, en principle, to the construction of new Sha Tin Racecourse, of which General Penfold later took full charge.

When ground was broken in December 1973, the ambitious racecourse project, tagged then at an astronomical HK$ 700 million, roared on at full speed. 16 million tonnes of soils were gathered from 4 locations to fill out 260 acres of reclaimed land from the Shing Mun River Channel.

On 1977-11-08, General Penfold scheduled 30-36 meetings, up to 14 horses in a race, for Sha Tin with six Sunday meetings. He also mentioned the new Pokfulam Riding School for the public and people with disability.

On 1978-10-07, the new racecourse was opened by Hong Kong Governor Sir Murray MacLehose and RHKJC Chairman P G Williams – and on schedule, as projected years ago by General Penfold.


Other Accomplishments:

In 1972 General Penfold implemented the local apprentice jockey training scheme to fit the professional racing.

On 1978-01-13, a strike by mafoos upon wage disputes supported by Sheung Shui and Shan Kwong Road stable workers thus affected Happy Valley, as all nine races were cancelled that Saturday afternoon.

On 1978-01-21, General Penfold successfully resolved the labor dispute through mediation and accepting the terms of the mafoos (grooms). Mrs Eileen Stringer, the Personnel Manager, resigned during the crisis.

On 1978, Pokfulam Public Riding School became the first public leisure riding facility in Hong Kong.

In 1978 and 1979, General Penfold began initiatives to introduce Sunday races at Sha Tin and Happy Valley, to further increase the number of racing dates annually.

On 1979-04-18, General Penfold stressed the Club had given, and would continue to give , full co-operation to the police and ICAC in any investigations into racing, after the case of Stephen W K Pau.


On 1972-01-17, General Penfold signed a five-year contract and later extended to the 1978 Sha Tin Racecourse opening. Then it was extended for one additional year further to ensure the functioning of the new Racecourse and to provide smooth transition to his successor.

In April 1974, RHKJC Stewards announced the appointment of Sir John Archer, then the Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong from 1976 to 1978, as the next General manager.

In December 1979, General Penfold officially retired after his eight years’ brilliant tenure.

On 1980-01-05, a farewell ceremony was held in Sha Tin Racecourse between races.


During his tenure, General Penfold frequently hosted press conferences, and was a media favourite, who changed the once conservative impression upon the RHKJC.

He successfully materialized professional racing and the Sha Tin Racecourse, and improved facilities for both the members and the public, so his performance was greatly praised.

On, 1979-05-01, the Industrial Commercial Daily Press lauded General Penfold as “the Magician”, who simply reiterated more than a hundred years’ of racing legacy in Hong Kong, and led the Club into the new millennium.

Not only did he wrote an indelible page in Hong Kong’s racing history, but also begot memories that last a lifetime for generations of race fans.


In 1975, the Hong Kong Government appointed General Penfold as Non-official Justice of the Peace.

On 1979-09-17, the RHKJC decided to re-christen the Infield Park within the Sha Tin Racecourse as ”Penfold Park”.

Chairman P G Williams said that since the General entered the club’s service in the early days of professional racing, and in seven years,”our standards in every aspect of the sport and its administration have risen dramatically to the point that we are envied and admired throughout the horse racing world.”

And said, “Without his drive, determination and imagination, I do not believe we would have had the same achievement and certainly not in the amazingly short time this vast undertaking was constructed”.



General Penfold enjoyed his retirement in Andover, Hampshire, located at the Southern part of England.

He was still enthused about horse racing and horse racing in Hong Kong.

From 1980 to 1986, he was the President of the British Horse Racing Advisory Council.

On 1984-12-08, General Penfold was invited back to Hong Kong from Britain as Guest of Honor at the Jockey Club Centenary.

On 1987-05-25, General Penfold returned again for the Horse of the Year Election Event, and attended the closing weekend of that racing season.

On 1998-07-03, General Penfold, as usual, enjoyed one of the many Hong Kong Days through the years at Sandown Park, Great Britain, and was photographed on that day.


Personal life:

In 1940, General Penfold married Ursula Gray, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel EH Gray.

They had two daughters, Erica Jill and Valerie Gay.

On 1978-12-31, New Year’s Eve, Mrs Penfold was invited to salute firing in the Jardine Midnight Gun Ceremony at Causeway Bay. She passed away in 2010.

General Penfold‘s hobbies include shooting, golf and gardening, he was a member of The Army & Navy Club in London.

He was the member of the Muthaiga Country Club in Nairobi, Kenya.

He served as regional advisory committee of the Hong Kong Sea Cadet Corps and also of the Royal Society of St George’s Hong Kong Branch.


On 2015-04-22, General Penfold, aged 98, passed away peacefully at home, in Ryme Intrinseca, Dorset, South West England.

On 2015-05-11 after General Penfold‘s funeral, they had a lovely military farewell and drinks at his house with Jill. Mr James Barber came, Mr Philip Johnston and Robert Locking were there together with their wives, Liz and Sarah.





2015-05-08, commenting on General Penfold, the Club’s Chairman, Dr Simon S O Ip said:

General Penfold leaves a strong and unforgettable legacy in Hong Kong. The many community projects he helped to establish still flourish….


Honorary Distinction:

listing of full name and acronym of honor:

Victoria Junior Medal (MVO) (1957-10-20)

Order of the Bath, Campion (CB) (1969-06-14 Queen‘s Birthday Honours List)

Non-official Justice of the Peace (J.P.) (1975)

Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO) (1984-12-31)





Place named after General Penfold:

Penfold Park

Located in Sha Tin Racecourse, New Territories, Hong Kong.

1979-05-11 the Park was originally known as Infield Park, a large piece of greenery in the middle of the Sha Tin Racecourse has been opened to the public.

1979-09-17 the Park has been renamed as Penfold Park.





Sha Tin Racecourse – 《RacingMemories.HK》

General Penfold – 《Wikipedia》


Acknowledgment to Mr Clithering for relevant data.

Acknowledgement to Mr. Bernard Yiu for re-working.




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