Lt-Gen Sir Chandos Blair KCVO OBE MC & Bar, soldier and GOC Scotland 1972-1976. Born: 25 February, 1919, in Edinburgh. Died: 22 January, 2011, in Gullane, aged 91.
IN A challenging career Chandos Blair distinguished himself as a soldier in the Second World War - gaining the distinction of being the first officer to return home after escaping from a prisoner of war camp - and then, while serving as GOC Scotland, he was sent on mission on behalf of the British government to negotiate with Idi Amin, then president of Uganda, for the release of a British teacher. Blair demonstrated cool diplomatic skills - and a good degree of patience - that brought the unhappy affair eventually to a successful conclusion.
He won his first Military Cross after his escape and then was awarded a bar to the medal during the advance through Normandy after D-Day.
He had an incisive and quick brain and his concern for his troops was always paramount. As GOC Scotland, he was a proud upholder of the traditions as Governor of Edinburgh Castle and regularly visited army units stationed throughout Scotland.
Chandos Blair - known in the regiment as "Chan" - was the son of Brigadier-General Arthur Blair of the King's Own Scottish Borderers. He was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst where he won the Sword of Honour. He joined the Seaforth Highlanders as a second lieutenant in 1939 and the following year joined the 2nd Battalion, Seaforths,
Blair was taken prisoner when the 51st (Highland) Division surrendered to Rommel's Panzer Division at St Valery-en-Caux in northern France. The defensive hand-to-hand fighting of the Scottish regiments did much to delay the German advance to the Channel - thus greatly assisting the evacuation from Dunkirk - and the regiments at St Valery showed particular valour.
For 14 exhausting days, with little food or sleep, Blair and his fellow Highlanders marched 220 miles to Hulst in Holland. One thousand allied officers were sandwiched on to a steamer down the Rhine to Wesel and then experienced a three-day journey in cattle trucks to Laufen in Baden-Wrttemberg, Bavaria. There they were imprisoned at the notorious Oflag VIIC and Blair committed himself to escaping at the earliest opportunity.
The opportunity presented itself in 1941. Blair slipped away from a working party and despite the perilous conditions walked for eight days by night to the Swiss border. He got money, a passport and a train ticket to Madrid from the British military attach in Berne and returned to the UK in January 1942: the first army officer from a PoW camp to return safely to Britain. He was awarded an immediate Military Cross for his endeavour.
Years later Blair spoke of his sense of shock and disgrace at being forced to surrender. He was a proud and distinguished man whose loyalty to Crown and regiment was absolute.Blair was then posted to Scotland where he was an instructor at a training camp but soon returned to the 7th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, part of the 15th (Scottish) Division, that saw action for the first time during the Normandy invasion in 1944. Under Operation Epsom, Blair had orders to occupy the city of Caen and he had to assume command of the battalion when senior officers were wounded. He showed conspicuous gallantry as they advanced on the town of Le Vaitru where they halted some SS tanks in ferocious combat. The 15th Division then advanced behind a rolling artillery barrage and overran the enemy's outposts.
Blair again displayed conspicuous courage a month later when he was wounded while helping to repel another heavy enemy counter-attack. He was awarded a bar to his MC.
After various staff appointments, Blair was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1959 and posted to Uganda as commander of the 4th Battalion, King's African Rifles. Among the troops in his command was a young sergeant who Blair promoted to lieutenant, "because of his hard work and toughness on the battlefield". The man was Idi Amin, the future dictator of Uganda. In his final year as GOC Scotland, Blair was sent to Uganda by then Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. A British teacher at a Ugandan university had written a book critical of Amin and in a desperate effort to save the teacher Blair carried a personal letter from the Queen to Kampala. Four days of endless discussion followed and Blair showed an astute awareness of the difficult situation. Although he left without any guarantee from Amin, the teacher was not executed but released months later.
Blair was made a KCVO in 1972 and served as Colonel of the Queen's Own Highlanders (1975-1983). He is remembered by army colleagues as a man of much dedication and dignity. "Chan never blew his own trumpet," Col Alaistair Cumming recalls. "He greatly enjoyed the responsibilities at Edinburgh Castle and fought to maintain it as a military base. Chan, a brave and always kind soldier, had a grand sense of humour and was a serious horseman. He enjoyed army life and its traditions."
He was a keen countryman and much enjoyed field sports. Blair hunted with the Duke of Buccleuch Hunt until he was 67. From his youth he played golf, was a member of Muirfield, and represented Harrow in the Halford Hewitt competition. He was an enthusiastic and fine angler, fishing many of the rivers of Scotland (from the Tweed to the Highlands) and spent many hours tying his own flies.
Chandos Blair married Francis Guy Travers in 1947. She predeceased him and he is survived by their son and daughter.