Obituary: Gen Sir David Fraser, soldier and historian
BORN: 30 December, 1920, in London. Died: 15 July, 2012, in Hampshire, aged 91
David Fraser was a distinguished officer with the Grenadier Guards seeing service in Normandy and the Far East. In the Seventies he served at the Ministry of Defence on the Army Board that initiated a Service Review to carry out political demands for drastic cuts in the armed forces. In retirement Fraser wrote his autobiography Wars and Shadows, completed the biography of Field Marshall Viscount Alanbrooke (started by Arthur Bryant) and published many military biographies.
David William Fraser was the son of Brigadier the Hon William Fraser DSO, MC who in turn was the younger son of the 18th Lord Saltoun, one of the chiefs of the clan Fraser. The family’s ancient connection with the clan is complex. The Frasers of Philorth, Lords Saltoun, are the senior line and hold the title of Chiefs of the name and arms of Fraser. His family roots were very much in the Highlands, and Fraser was to spend much of childhood in Invernesshire but, because of his army commitments, he spent much of his adult life on service abroad or in the south.
Fraser attended Eton and on leaving in September 1939 applied to join the Army, following in the footsteps of his forbears. After a year at Oxford he joined the Grenadier Guards and completed his training at Caterham. Fraser was part of an elite squad who were streamlined to go to Sandhurst. Years later Fraser wrote of those days of square bashing, “I was part of an organisation with really high standards, really strict discipline and really good morale. Through all these experiences the impression was indelible. We were in a bit of the Army quite unlike any other.”
Fraser was promoted to a troop commander in a tank battalion of the Guards Armoured Division alongside Lord Carrington. The two became life-long friends. From 1944-45 Fraser served in the Baltic and Normandy and then after the war in the Cameroons and North Borneo.
His first staff appointment came in 1966 when for four years he was Director of Defence Plans (Army) during the years when Denis Healey ordered a reduction in manpower. Further appointments followed with the British Army on the Rhine and after being promoted to Lieutenant General in 1975, Fraser returned to the Ministry of Defence to implement further swinging cuts.
Fraser’s final years in the military were as the UK’s Military Representative to Nato and as Commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies. He retired in 1980 and immediately devoted himself to the Alanbrooke biography and then writing an informed account of the army in the Second World War And We Shall Shock Them.
Many books on military matters followed and several were acknowledged for their commanding research and detailed understanding of the subjects. Knight’s Cross: A Life of Erwin Rommel (1993) was written with the co-operation of Rommel’s son and examined the Field Marshal’s career in both World Wars and his possible involvement in the plot to kill Hitler.
Fraser also wrote historically based novels including a series featuring Adam Hardrow, a young subaltern in the second battalion of the Westmorland regiment serving in Crete and Egypt.
But Fraser returned to biographies for his two final books: a biography of William Douglas Home and then in 1996 a detailed and much praised assessment of Frederick the Great. Fraser explored Frederick’s campaigns with a minute military eye and concluded that Frederick was one of the most extraordinary men ever to sit on a throne or command an army.
Fraser’s two volume autobiography was deemed the work of “a civilised and highly literate man”. His relaxed style provided incisive sketches into some of the great military figures who he had encountered. For example, Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery (‘Monty’) Fraser was considered “conceited, suspicious, jealous – but a tough-minded, professional with a sure human touch with his troops.”
The autobiography displays a more tender and concerned side to this man-of-action. He writes movingly of his days as a boy in Scotland, of his parents and of his many comrades from his early career who were killed in the war.
Fraser was awarded an OBE in 1962, knighted in 1973 and advanced to GCB in 1980. From 1977-80 he was an ADC General to the Queen and served as a Deputy-Lieutenant of Hampshire from 1982-96.
Fraser, who enjoyed shooting and wrote, with an obvious pride, the history of the Grenadier Guards in the Men At Arms series, was twice married. His first marriage in 1947 to Anne Balfour was dissolved. In 1957 he married Julia de la Hey who survives him as do their two sons and two daughters and a daughter from his first marriage.
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