Duncan Macrae

Scotland rugby international

Born: 4 November, 1914, in Balmacara.

Died: 15 May, 2007, in Dingwall, aged 92.

DUNCAN Macrae was an outstanding centre for Scotland in the 1930s: he played rugby with a rare and determined zeal and always enjoyed the sport to the maximum. He played a significant part in the heroic victory over England at Twickenham in 1938, when, before King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth and a capacity crowd of 70,000, the Scots won 21-16. The Scottish XV's triumph was the culmination of a season in which the Scots took the highest honour then in rugby.

In a team captained by Wilson Shaw and including such names as TF Dorward, RB Bruse-Lochart, GB Horsburgh, IC Henderson and WCW Murdoch, Macrae was a shining example of attacking rugby.

Duncan James Macrae was born in Balmacara in 1914. As a child he attended primary school at Auchtertyre, walking several miles each way every day. Afterwards he went to boarding school at the Edinburgh Academy from 1925-33. He subsequently won a Carnegie bursary to the University of St Andrews and graduated MB, ChB, in 1939.

Macrae and his brother Farquhar had enlisted with the Territorial Army of the 4th/5th Seaforth Highlanders in 1936, and were sent to France in January 1940 with the 51st Highland Division. Macrae was appointed medical officer.

In June 1940, his battalion, under constant assault by heavy armoured tanks and having suffered many casualties, was surrounded by the Germans at St Valery and surrendered. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions, but despite his late wife's best endeavours, the family were never able to establish the reason for the award, as the relevant records were lost in the mud and chaos of northern France.

Macrae spent five months in an officers' POW camp before volunteering for medical duties at Stalag VIII B, Lamsdorf, Upper Silesia, where he served in a hospital until the end of the war in 1945. The camp held more than 10,000 prisoners of all nationalities and, despite the challenges, he made many good friends there. The taste of Nestl's Milk and half a tin of peaches, his share of the first Red Cross parcels to arrive, was one he would never forget.

Back home, there was a happy family reunion in Balmacara with Macrae's parents, his brothers, Farquhar and Ian, and his sister, Elizabeth. After recovering from a tubercular infection picked up in Germany, he moved to Dingwall to become a partner in medical practice with the late Dr William Bruce. He continued in practice there for 30 years.

In June 1951, he married Joan Margaret Harris from Winnipeg in Canada, and together they raised their five children. Macrae was a stalwart member of the community. As well as being a justice of the peace, he was a devout churchman and served as elder, then session clerk at Castle Street Church in Dingwall from 1963-76. He sang in the church choir for many years. He was president of Ross Sutherland Rugby Football Club from 1959-61 and served as president of Caberfeidh Curling Club.

He retired to Gairloch in 1976, where the doctor embarked on a new existence as a crofter. Macrae threw himself into the task with his usual energy and enthusiasm and within a remarkably short time bogs and rushes had been replaced with corn and tatties. He relished this new chapter in his life. He loved working the land, as the flourishing crops and thriving livestock around the croft showed.

Macrae was both a talented sportsman and a great sport, whose appreciation and sense of fair play were legendary. He played rugby for his school and university and was capped nine times for Scotland between 1937 and 1939. He scored a try in Scotland's 1938 win against Ireland and was a key member of the team that won the Triple Crown with the victory over England at Twickenham in 1938. Scotland outscored England by five tries to one and his midfield partnership with Wilson Shaw and Charles Dick was hailed in contemporary reports - "they terrorised the opposition and maximised any ball that came their way".

He toured with the Barbarians in 1935-6 and was selected to tour South Africa with the British Lions in 1938. He played in 11 of the first 15 matches up to and including the first test in Johannesburg, scoring four tries, but was injured thereafter. The outbreak of war brought a premature end to his international rugby career.

Macrae was also a keen shinty player, curler, golfer and fisherman. Salmon fishing was a lifelong passion, starting as a boy at Kilillan, then later on the Conon and the Beauly. He was an accomplished bagpipe player, too; one of his fellow POWs remembered him as the Scot who always had a chanter in his hands.

As a father and grandfather, Macrae led by example. Long speeches and lectures were rare and, in his case, unnecessary. He inspired by what he did and by what he had done. It was a definite case of actions speaking louder than words.

Macrae was unpretentious but distinguished; humble but full of class. He will be well-remembered by many of his former patients as a man of self-effacing charm, kindness and modesty. He was described recently by one of his past colleagues as having the dignity to be as comfortable at the bedside of a laird as at that of a labourer, a gift rarely bestowed. One old and trusted adviser recalled asking the good doctor for his recommendation for a long and healthy life. Macrae's response was: "Choose your parents wisely."

As ever, he would not want to recognise his own contribution, but he and Joan were truly wonderful parents and his children can reflect on how wisely they chose.

He tragically lost Joan to cancer last year. He dug deep and rallied courageously to support her through her illness. When the end came it was a heavy blow, but even then, the spirit did not give in. With support from an excellent team of carers, he soldiered on, never complaining, with a twinkle in the eye, a smile and a joke, mostly poking fun at himself, right to the last.

He is survived by his brother, Ian, in Australia (who celebrated his 94th birthday the week Macrae died), his five children and ten grandchildren.