Tommy Macpherson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search

Colonel Sir (Ronald) Thomas Stewart Macpherson CBE, MC and Two Bars, TD, DL (born 4 October 1920) is a Scottish businessman, having previously been a much decorated British Army officer during and after the Second World War.

Origins and education[edit]

Macpherson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was youngest of seven children of Sir Thomas Stewart Macpherson CIE LLD and Helen, the daughter of the Reverend Archibald Borland Cameron. His father’s brother was the first Baron Strathcarron and one of his own brothers, Niall, was also raised to the peerage as Baron Drumalbyn. Another brother was George Macpherson, one of Scotland's greatest ever rugby players. His family originates from Newtonmore, in the Highlands, yet he was raised in the city.

His childhood home was Edgebrooke, in East Fettes Avenue, and he attended Edinburgh Academy prep school before Cargilfield, in Barnton. At 14, he went to Fettes College, where he joined the Officers' Training Corps. He also attended Trinity College, Oxford, where he was awarded a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He represented Oxford at rugby, hockey and athletics and was also an international student athlete, representing the UK at the Universiade, the precursor of the World Student Games.

Military career[edit]

Macpherson was commissioned in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders Territorial Army in 1939, before serving in No 11 (Scottish) Commando in 1940-1941.

Macpherson was part of a four man team sent to reconnoitre beaches in preparation for Operation Flipper, an attempted raid on on the headquarters of Erwin Rommel, the famous German Field Marshal. In two canvas folboats, they waited at sea for their rendezvous with a submarine which was to return them to their base at Apollonia. After two nights, the submarine had not appeared and one boat was leaking, so the men decided to land again and make a final attempt in one boat, but in the end the weather was too bad. They then decided to walk to Tobruk, despite the fact they had no food, water or maps, and were dressed only in shorts. Captain Ratcliffe and Lieutenant Ravenscroft were captured on 2 November, Macpherson and Corporal Evans managed to hold out for another day before they too were captured by Italian forces near Derna. Interrogated by four army officers and six carabinieri, one asked MacPherson to demonstrate how his Colt Automatic worked, he did so by "by putting in a spare magazine [he] still had, and then held the party up with the loaded weapon".[1] Unfortunately, he then suffered a severe attack of cramp, and was recaptured and placed in solitary confinement. He made one further escape attempt before being taken to Italy in a destroyer, and held in a prisoner of war camp at Montalbo; here he made a further escape attempt, breaching the inner perimeter, but he could not find a way over the outer fence. In June 1942 he was moved to another camp at Gavi, near Genoa.[1]

After the Italian armistice the camp was taken over by German forces on 9 September 1943, and the prisoners transferred to German prisoner of war camps from 14 September when they were taken by road to Acqui. From here they were to be taken by train to Austria. Macpherson managed to get away from his guards, but was soon recaptured, and almost shot; fortunately the order by a feldwebel (NCO) was countermanded by an officer. The prisoners were then transported by train to Stalag XVIII-A at Spittal an der Drau, Austria. On arrival at this camp, Macpherson and a New Zealander, Captain Colin Norman Armstrong managed to hide from the Germans whenever they tried to take a roll call, and obtained assistance from the French held in a different part of the camp, escaping in French uniforms on 21 September, also accompanied by a Captain A. A. Yeoman. They managed to recross the Italian border, and were intending to make their way into Yugoslavia and link up with Allied-supported partisans there. Unfortunately, Armstrong became separated, and on 26 September Macpherson and Armstrong ran into a German patrol near Chiusaforte, Macpherson spoke to the patrol in Italian, pretending to be an Italian officer, and tried to convince the patrol that Armstrong was Croatian. The Red Cross rations they were carrying revealed their true status, and they were sent to a camp in Hohenstein, arriving on 30 September after a five day train journey with only a small amount of bread to eat and little water. On 1 October they were transferred to Stalag XX-A at Toruń, Poland. On 9 October they escaped again, with assistance from Private Hutson and Sergeant Glancy. The four then managed to travel to Sweden via Bromberg and Gdynia.[1] On 17 February 1944, Macpherson was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his escape.[1][2]

Operation Jedburgh[edit]

Upon return to Scotland Macpherson joined the Jedburgh Unit, a team of hand-picked operatives who would be dropped into occupied Europe to conduct sabotage and guerilla warfare.

French Guerrilla operations[edit]

In June 1944 Macpherson parachuted down to Nazi-occupied France with Lt Prince Michel of Bourbon-Parma, a French officer and a radio operator, where, on Churchill's orders to 'Set Europe ablaze', he was to embark on a remarkable war-time exploit. Apparently eschewing any attempt at stealth, Macpherson landed in full Cameron Highland uniform, including tartan kilt and Sgian-dubh.

"Just as I arrived I heard an excited young Frenchman saying to his boss, 'Chef, chef, there's a French officer and he's brought his wife!" Tommy aged 90, 5 October 2010, quote from The Scotsman newspaper. "Their mistaking me for a woman wearing a skirt was an easy error to make."

His first operation was to delay the advance of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. His group demolished a small bridge, and then held the bridge at Bicteroux for six days, despite German attacks. Just 27 men were involved in these operations, of whom 20 were killed. They then switched to attacking road and rail routes between Brive and Montauban, eventually completely stopping railway traffic between Cahors and Souillac, Lot on 1 July. Similar operations continued through July, and following Operation Dragoon (the Allied invasion of Southern France, aimed at capturing Marseille), operations increased in scale. In one attack Macpherson and his men trapped 300 Germans and 100 members of the Milice (Pro-German French forces) in a railway tunnel for several days.

Over the course of the next two months Macpherson killed or captured many German troops and systematically blew apart bridges. He operated from caves and woodland areas with his radio operator. Under the mantle of Agent Quinine, he achieved an operation of some kind virtually every day, his high-profile presence – he brazenly toured the countryside in a black Citroën with a Union Flag pennant on one side and a Croix de Lorraine on the other - infuriating the Nazis to the extent that they placed a 300,000 franc bounty on his head, describing him as "The Kilted Killer, A bandit masquerading as a Scottish officer and extremely dangerous to the citizens of France".[citation needed]

On one occasion when a German staff car was approaching a level crossing Macpherson booby-trapped the barrier arm so it crashed down on the vehicle, decapitating the local commandant and his driver.[citation needed]

On another occasion Macpherson took decisive action as the Second Motorised SS Infantry Division and the Das Reich Division pushed towards the fragile Normandy beach-head. Unarmed and accompanied by a doctor and a French officer, he drove a stolen German Red Cross Land Rover through ten miles of enemy-held territory, through machine gun fire and straight to the Das Reich Division headquarters where, dressed in full Highland regalia, he warned that he would unleash heavy artillery and call on the RAF if they did not surrender. In consequence, 23,000 German troops surrendered. It was a bluff that may have saved thousands of lives.[citation needed]

Italian Guerrilla operations[edit]

In November 1944, Major Macpherson led Italian partisans in several major attacks on railways in Udine, northern Italy, despite being wounded soon after his arrival. Much of this effort was aimed at disrupting the German defensive line based on Tarvisio.

On one occasion during an allied air raid Macpherson spotted a group of Italian officers retreating into a bomb shelter. The Scot opened the shelter hatch and threw a grenade down it. Macpherson was shot by an Italian officer, who arrived late but whom he succeeded in stabbing after a struggle.

Post war[edit]

After the war he reverted to the rank of lieutenant and continued to serve in the Territorial Army with the Camerons.[3] He was promoted back to captain on 1 September 1948,[4] and awarded the Territorial Efficiency Decoration on 20 June 1950.[5] On 2 August 1960 he was promoted back to major, and transferred to the Gordon Highlanders.[6] He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 31 October 1961,[7] and until 1 November 1964 he commanded the London Scottish (TA - then affiliated with the Gordon Highlanders), he was then promoted colonel.[8] He transferred to Class III of the reserve on 1 April 1967,[9] and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1968 New Year Honours.[10] His CBE was for his services as deputy commander of 56th Infantry Brigade from 1964 to 1967, and his efforts in support of the TA in general.[11] He is a member of the Royal Company of Archers.

On 7 October 2010, Macpherson's autobiography was published under the title, Behind Enemy Lines.[12]

Business career[edit]

Macpherson has enjoyed a successful business career, including periods variously as the Managing Director and Chairman of the Mallinson-Denny Group, as a director of Brooke Bond Group, Scottish Mutual Assurance Society and the National Coal Board, and as Chairman of Annington Holdings plc and Boustead plc.

While with Mallinson Denny, he was a member of the National Board for Prices and Incomes between 1965 and 1967.[13][14] He was President of Eurochambres (the Association of European Chambers of Commerce) between 1992 and 1994.


Macpherson was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in 1977,[15] and served as High Sheriff of Greater London in 1983.[16] He was knighted in the 1992 New Year Honours,[17] receiving the accolade from the Queen at Buckingham Palace on 17 March 1992.[18] In 1985/86 he served as Prime Warden of the Worshipful Company of Dyers and between 2001 and 2005 he was President of the Highland Society of London.

Beside his British decorations, he is also a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur and was awarded the Croix de Guerre (2 Palms and Star) and was personally awarded the Star of Bethlehem and a papal knighthood from the Pope.

Private life[edit]

In 1953 Macpherson married Jean Henrietta, the daughter of David Butler Wilson. She is a patroness of the Royal Caledonian Ball. [19] They have two sons and a daughter.

Macpherson’s seat in the Highlands, Biallid House, near Newtonmore, is in the heart of the ancestral lands of the Clan Macpherson.


  1. ^ a b c d "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—MacPherson, Ronald Thomas Stewart—Military Cross" (fee usually required to view pdf of original recommendation). DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 12 January 2010. 
  2. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36382. p. 827. 15 February 1944. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38353. p. 4071. 13 July 1948. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 40935. p. 6722. 23 November 1956. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38945. pp. 3161–3167. 13 July 1948. Retrieved 20 June 1950.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 42186. p. 7546. 4 November 1960. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 42508. p. 8092. 7 November 1961. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 43507. p. 10319. 1 December 1964. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  9. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 44283. p. 3813. 4 April 1967. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  10. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 44484. p. 6. 29 December 1967. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  11. ^ "Recommendations for Honours and Awards (Army)—Image details—MacPherson, Ronald Thomas Stewart—Commander of the British Empire" (fee usually required to view pdf of original recommendation). DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 12 January 2010. 
  12. ^ by Sir Tommy Macpherson and Richard Bath, Mainstream Publishing, 2010.
  13. ^ The London Gazette: no. 43685. pp. 5695–5696. 15 June 1965. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  14. ^ The London Gazette: no. 44266. pp. 2771–2772. 15 June 1965. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
  15. ^ The London Gazette: no. 47116. p. 323. 10 January 1977. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  16. ^ The London Gazette: no. 49294. pp. 3829–3830. 18 March 1983. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  17. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 52767. pp. 1–2. 30 December 1991. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  18. ^ The London Gazette: no. 52935. p. 9177. 29 May 1992. Retrieved 13 January 2010.
  19. ^ "Patronesses". Royal Caledonian Ball.