Scotland's last 'warrior poet' laid to rest

HE has been described as a "warrior poet", one of those few men whose eclectic skills found their best use in the chaotic cauldron of the Second World War.

With the passing of Sir Alexander "Sandy" Glen, possibly the last of the country’s quiet heroes from the make-or-break fight against Nazism has gone.

The Glasgow-born adventurer had few equals and, sadly, they too are all now dead: Evelyn Waugh, who shared a nearly fatal experience in the Arctic with him; the legendary adventurer Fitzroy Maclean, with whom he fought clandestine wars to win awards for valour from three countries; and Ian Fleming, his spy mentor in British naval intelligence, who went on to write the Bond novels.

Sir Alexander Glen, DSC (bar) and Polar Medal, a captain in the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve (RNVR), died on 6 March, aged 91.

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    He will be laid to rest today at St Saviour’s Church, Broadway, Worcestershire.

    His wife Zora, to whom he had been married for a lifetime, died last year and they had no children.

    A family friend said: "There are so few to remember the man of action, one of that unique breed of educated heroes who came of age in the 1930s. They were the natural inheritors of gallants such as TE Lawrence, and the epitome of the warrior poets of the past."

    There may be the odd aged "assassin" at his funeral, but most of the mourners will be business types remembering the captain of industry, not the man of war. Sandy Glen, son of a shipping magnate, was the complete warrior, heroic yet contemplative.

    His life was defined by the Arctic, the Balkans and the City of London. In the 1930s, while he was studying for his degree at Baliol College, he became a leading light in the Oxford University Arctic expeditions.

    In 1934, accompanied by Waugh, he went to Spitzbergen, the Norwegian Arctic island. Waugh was not enamoured of the cold climate. At one point, pressed close to Glen on a narrow ledge, sheltering in a storm, Waugh spat: "This is typical of your folly. If I hadn’t joined the Church of Rome, I could never have survived your appalling incompetence."

    A year later, Glen led another major expedition, supported by the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society, to the Norwegian island North East Land. In the inhospitable terrain, Glen devised survival techniques, one of which was to tunnel under the ice with chisels to create a sheltered base.

    He quipped that it was "like a June day at Henley" and far cosier than the "misty playing fields of Edinburgh". The tunnels made the Arctic seem like the Ritz, said the adventurer, who had been educated at Fettes, where, by his won admission he had been pretty idle until his last year.

    As a result of his inspired leadership of the 1935 expedition, he was rewarded with the Patron’s Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, the Polar Medal, and the Bruce Medal of Edinburgh’s Royal Society. The trip provided vital scientific information that would also be put to good military use at the outbreak of the Second World War.

    When he left college, Glen went into banking, and at the outbreak of war joined the RNVR, then a stepping-stone to the secret service, and he was soon working in naval intelligence alongside Ian Fleming.

    In 1940, his masters sent him to Belgrade, where one evening an aristocratic Serbian, Baroness Zora de Collaert, inquired: "Who is that little ‘Englishman’ in the crumpled trousers?" The little "Englishman" proposed that very evening.

    On his return to London, he was seconded to the Norwegian desk. Because of his Arctic experience, he was sent in 1942 to help evacuate Spitzbergen’s coal-mining communities and destroy the extraction facilities. During the operation, which was aimed at denying the Germans a base of strategic importance, his team was attacked and he lost 17 men.

    The resourceful Scot saved the rest from starvation by leading them to a cache of frozen pigs he had slaughtered on an earlier trip. He was later awarded the DSC and the Norwegian War Cross.

    In 1943, Glen was once again in the Balkans, where he joined the legendary Maclean and fought with the partisans. A year later, he was parachuted into Serbia. Glen, who later joined the board of British European Airways, said a parachute was "the most civilised method of travel: no passports, no customs, on-the-spot delivery and lots of drink to celebrate".

    He was awarded a bar to his DSC and the Czechoslovak War Cross, eventually retiring from the military in 1959.

    In his business career, Glen was chairman of the Export Council for Europe, sat on the board of the National Ports Council, and was chairman of the Air Safety Committee and the British Tourist Authority.

    The family friend added: "He loved life. He once said: ‘I know women are exorbitant, expensive and exhausting, but I adore them’."