Obituary: Captain John Macdonald-Buchanan MC, soldier and horse breeder

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Born: 15 March, 1925, in Northamptonshire. Died: 11 October, 2014, in Northamptonshire, aged 89.

In a full and distinguished life, Captain John Macdonald-Buchanan was an honoured tank commander during the Second World War and then became a leading member of the administration of horse racing and was a leading breeder at his stud in Northamptonshire.

While serving in the Scots Guards during the war, Macdonald-Buchanan was in the same Company as the former home secretary Willie Whitelaw and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie.

John Macdonald-Buchanan was the elder son of Major Sir Reginald Macdonald and the Hon Catherine Buchanan of the James Buchanan whisky distillers. The company had been founded by a forbear in the 1880s. He built their first distillery at Glentauchers, near Mullben in 1898 and the famous Black & White blend prospered and became an international best seller. The Edinburgh-based Distillers Company bought the firm in 1925 and it then became part of Diageo in 1997.

Macdonald-Buchanan’s parents had joined their surnames on marriage and after Eton he studied agriculture at Cirencester before going up to Sandhurst. He was commissioned into 3rd (Tank) Battalion Scots Guards in 1943 and was still under 20 when he displayed remarkable courage and foresight in the Allied advance through north Europe.

In spring 1945, the company was ordered to capture the Dutch town of Winnekendonk which was of strategic importance as, once captured, it would greatly assist the Allies across the Rhine and into Germany. The assault was part of Operation Veritable and was Macdonald-Buchanan’s first action as a tank troop leader. The fighting was severe and the enemy mustered a spirited defence – putting out of action two tanks.

He continued to advance but in the middle of the town Macdonald-Buchanan had to abandon his tank, instructing his crew to join another. He discovered he had left his vital code book in his own tank and with a Scots Guardsman returned on foot through the treacherous streets to recover it.

For his coolness, bravery and leadership Macdonald- Buchanan was awarded the Military Cross. He remained with 2nd Scots Guards to the end of the war in Europe and accompanied them to Malaya in 1948 with the 2nd Guards Brigade. He later served as Adjutant of 1st Scots Guards at Pirbright.

He had always been a keen horseman – riding at point-to-points and hunting – and in 1952 Macdonald-Buchanan decided to leave the army and breed horses. He joined his mother managing the Lavington Stud in Sussex.

He was widely respected throughout the sport for his fair-mindedness and knowledge of horses. He served on both the Jockey Club and the Horserace Betting Board. He bred the winner of the 2010 Irish St Leger, Sans Frontieres and Highest winner of the Dubai Cup. Earlier this year one of his yearlings made £340,000 at the sales.

Sir Mark Prescott, who trained for Macdonald-Buchanan, commented on the considerable contribution he had made to the sport. “Johnny had an enormous influence on British racing. He was a wonderful man with a very good, dry sense of humour.”

In 1980 Macdonald-Buchanan made the headlines when he spoke out against the over use of the whip by jockeys. As a senior steward of the Jockey Club, his words carried much weight. “I am concerned,” Macdonald-Buchanan said, “about jockeys who are particularly prone to hitting a horse more often than is necessary. It looks terribly bad.”

While racing and breeding took much of his time, he was an active figure throughout Northamptonshire, serving as both High Sheriff and vice Lord Lieutenant of the county.

Macdonald-Buchanan had inherited Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire which had been in the family for many years. The house is a magnificent Queen Anne mansion and Macdonald-Buchanan, a keen gardener himself, much improved the beautiful 18th-century gardens.

He was, understandably, delighted when Cottesbrooke won the Historic Houses Association/Christie’s Garden of the Year award in 2000.

During his stewardship of the estate enormous numbers of trees were planted (including a long lime avenue in memory of his father) and the gardens were nurtured and landscaped merging traditional and modern plants.

Two projects that gave Macdonald-Buchanan particular pleasure were the terrace, which has double herbaceous borders and was designed by James Alexander Sinclair, and the wild garden, which includes a babbling stream, Acer glades and plants from the Orient.

Macdonald-Buchanan married Lady Rose Fane, daughter of the Earl of Westmorland, in 1950. That marriage was dissolved and in 1969 he married Jill Trelawnay, by whom he had two daughters.

He and Lady Rose’s son Alastair has inherited the Cottesbrooke estate and also runs the Lavington Stud.

Macdonald-Buchanan is survived by his wife, Jillie, Alastair and four daughters.

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