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In memoriam: Sir Thomas Macpherson, CBE, MC and two bars

Sir Thomas died on November 6th and so just missed having his Times obituary appear on Armistice Day. He was 94. There will not be many more obituaries like this.

The Jedburgh team of which Major Macpherson was in charge, codenamed “Quinine”, was flown from Blida in Algiers and dropped near Aurillac, in the Cantal department, on the night of June 8, 1944. Accompanied by Aspirant (officer cadet) Prince Michel de Bourbon of the French Army and Sergeant Arthur Brown of the Royal Tank Regiment, Macpherson — a proud Scot — wore his kilt for the occasion. The attire caused some confusion and the first report to reach the local maquisards claimed “a French officer has arrived with his wife”.

In order to swell partisan numbers, Macpherson drove around in a car — still wearing his Cameron Highlander tartans — openly flying the Union Flag pennant and the Croix de Lorraine, much to the astonishment of his comrades

Whether through bravery or chutzpah, Macpherson won the surrender of 23,000 Wehrmacht troops by spouting a series of brazen lies. He presented himself to the commanding officer, Major-General Botho Elster, and assured him that heavy artillery, 20,000 troops and RAF bombers were waiting for Macpherson’s word to attack. In reality he had only the aid of another Jedburgh team. Surrender or die, he urged Elster; the bluff worked. Elster and his troops eventually passed into US Army captivity.

. . . Macpherson won an athletics Blue and could even boast a rare victory over Roger Bannister.

Oxford eased him back into civilian life — “Our life was finished, and then it started again”. For nearly 30 years he worked for the timber company William Mallinson & Sons, where he started as a personal assistant to the chairman and finished as managing director.

As children they recall their father beginning every day with a cold bath and an hour of exercise.

He published an autobiography, Behind Enemy Lines, in 2010. Once asked to name his proudest moment, he pondered and said: “It’s very often that one remembers the small things and forgets the big ones.”

13 comments to In memoriam: Sir Thomas Macpherson, CBE, MC and two bars

  • Paul Marks

    A hero indeed.

    Sadly our Black Flag foes would hate this hero. Not just because he fought in World War II (which they regard as wrong), but because he then spent his life in a corporate private enterprise – which they also regard as wrong.

    And “Black Flag foes” indicates the “libertarian” left.

  • michael grosh

    Paul you have managed to confuse me. A libertarian who hates private enterprise is not libertarian, left, right, or circular.

  • Mr Ed

    Michael, Paul has concerns over the ‘libertarian left’, I fear that he has similar worries about hot snow and dry rain. I have never come across any of these things.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Michael Grosh

    Hence the scare quotes around “libertarian”!

    As someone who once was of the soi-disant “libertarian left”, may I say that it is often worth while politely pointing out the inconsistency in their beliefs about freedom in money matters as against freedom in anything else.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    While I’m here, may I add a little more about the subject of this post. I downloaded Macpherson’s autobiography, linked to above, on to my Kindle. I did this as a tribute more than anything else, as in my experience there isn’t necessarily any correlation between bravery and literary talent. However so far it is an excellent read, despite the fact that I haven’t yet reached the point where the first shot is fired. He describes the sadly almost vanished Scotland of the self-made men, in which his grandfather, who among other jobs drove English visitors from their hotels to Newtonmore station in his horse-drawn carriage, was asked rather condescendingly by one of his passengers whether he had any sons and what they did in life. “Well, yes, sir,” he replied, “I have three sons; the youngest is a serving officer with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders in France [it was 1916], the second is a minister of the government and a member of the War Cabinet and the third is a judge of the High Court in India.”

    The next generation of the family seem to have been like that as well, ticking off scholarships to Oxbridge and international sporting caps as a matter of routine. Obviously they had moved up in the world, but not to the extent that they could afford not to get those scholarships.

    They all assumed that they could do absolutely anything they set their minds to. Yet it was a million miles from our smothering modern nurture of “self-esteem.” On the contrary, the author says with no more than slight wistfulness that it was always clear to him that as the last of seven children, and quite obviously one born as a result of “an error of judgement” during one of his father’s periods of leave, he was something of an annoyance to his father. Even if he hadn’t been, he’d still have been passed around from relative to relative while attending boarding school because that’s just what happened to the children of people in the Indian Civil Service.

    In the same way, when his brother went out skiing alone in the Scottish mountains and dislocated his knee, he bound his skis together to make a toboggan and then propelled himself five miles down the hill. Obviously. That was just what you did.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Now on my Kindle. Thanks, Natalie.

  • Nick (Natural Genius) Gray

    If we want modern people to have ‘self-esteem’, we’ve got to stop printing and/or reading biographies of people like this who did so much! (This was before the word ‘over-achiever’ was invented, obviously.) How can they possible compete? Burn those Bios! Do it ‘for the kids!’

  • Very retired

    No, Nick, we don’t have to suppress anything about the heroes of our past, because heroic men and women every bit as courageous are around us every day.

    Our elites may very well be overstocked with fools and cowards, from the leader of our current bunch of incompetents to the deluded fools in the EC and elsewhere, but there are plenty of young people who are every bit as ready and able as the subject of this post.

    I have had the privilege of knowing and working with men every bit the equal of the finest and bravest anywhere and anytime. One of them is my youngest son, who received his commission last year.

    A heartfelt happy Veteran’s Day to all free men and women everywhere.

  • Nick (Natural Genius) Gray

    There will always be some people who are better than others, but we should be concerned about the average kiddie! Until we learn how to raise everyone ABOVE the average, we have to protect them!

  • My best wishes to your son, VR.

  • Paul Marks

    Very Retired, I give thanks for your son’s service.

    Natalie has already answered the questions for me – but I will add.

    Sorry but the “Libertarian” left (the Black Flaggers and their friends) very much exist – and do rather well among the young (perhaps better than we do) and among the not so young.

    Their message of envy (of hatred for “the rich” and “the corporations”) strikes a cord in these degenerate days.

    They, the Black Flaggers, work with the Red Flaggers (in the Teacher Unions, the “Occupy” movement, the media – and so on) for their common goal of the destruction of the West (especially the United States).

    And they have many “fellow travellers” – for example the person-in-Kent is one of their enablers.

  • His remark about his sons reminds me of one of Prince Philip’s quips. When asked if he knew the Scilly Isles he joked “Yes, my son owns them.”