Obituary: Captain Harry Hyde, BEM, soldier and railways director

Captain Harry Hyde BEM: Soldier who was badly wounded and taken prisoner on D-Day and went on to become a director of British Rail
Captain Harry Hyde BEM: Soldier who was badly wounded and taken prisoner on D-Day and went on to become a director of British Rail
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Born: 11 October, 1923, in Carstairs, Lanarkshire. Died: 18 March, 2014, in Torquay, aged 90

Harry Hyde, who has died aged 90, was badly wounded in an explosion and taken prisoner after landing with commando forces on Sword Beach, Normandy, exactly 70 years ago, on D-Day.

Posted missing, believed killed, he survived captivity and returned to Scotland where he became a director of British Rail, responsible for such landmark state-owned hotels as the Caledonian, North British, Central, Gleneagles and Turnberry.

Hyde joined the army in 1941 aged 17, became a Royal Engineer and trained intensively with Combined Operations forces before being attached to the Lovat Scouts for the Allied invasion of Europe. After landing on Sword Beach, he was one of the first to be piped across Pegasus Bridge by Bill Millin, Lord Lovat’s personal piper.

He was a forward observer with No. 1 Combined Operations Bombardment Unit, directing salvos of 15-inch naval gunfire from the battleship HMS Warspite. The vessel, a veteran of Jutland, had left refit in Greenock days earlier and was the first to open fire on D-Day, targeting the German battery at Villerville.

Severely injured and the sole survivor of a landmine accident, he was taken prisoner, ended up in a German field hospital and was one of the first patients to undergo major surgery by epidural. He was then sent to a Frontstalag near Rennes before being liberated by advancing US forces in August.

His parents, meanwhile, had received a letter saying he was missing, presumed killed. After spending some time recovering from his wounds in the UK, he was posted to the Far East to support landings in Burma and, following the Japanese surrender, was attached to the Ceylon Army Command as embarkation staff officer at the Port of Colombo.

He had special responsibility for the movement of freed Allied PoWs and internees from the Dutch East Indies to Ceylon, for rehabilitation in rest camps before shipping home to Holland and the UK.

Harry Edward Hyde was born on 11 October, 1923, at Carstairs, Lanarkshire, to Harry Hyde and the former Elizabeth Whysker. By the age of 14 he held three jobs: collecting empty bottles for the cash refund, a paper round and a beater for the local pheasant shoot.

After being demobbed from the army in 1947, he followed his father into the railways and was at one point working at Buchanan House in Glasgow, alongside his brother Adam and niece Alison. He also joined the Army Emergency Reserve as a captain in the Royal Engineers, later receiving the British Empire Medal and Emergency Reserve Decoration.

The railways had just been nationalised and his first role was as establishments and staff officer at the newly formed British Railways (BR) headquarters, Scottish Region.

Through the 1950s and 60s he rose through the positions of traffic assistant, senior assistant to the general manager, secretary to the Scottish Railways Board and chief passenger manager.

In the latter role, he arranged all the Queen’s visits to Scotland and accompanied the entourage on the Royal Train. He was also responsible for all visits to Scotland of prime ministers and other dignitaries and VIPs. In 1976, he was appointed director of BR’s in-house catering arm, Travellers Fare, and moved to England.

A fellow of both the Chartered Institute of Transport and the Hotel Catering and International Management Association, he was finally made executive director of British Transport Hotels. From 1982, he was involved in the Thatcher government’s sell-off of prime state assets such as the Caledonian and North British (now the Balmoral) hotels in Edinbugh, the Central in Glasgow, and the Turnberry and Gleneagles hotels.

Hyde was diagnosed with cancer but fought the disease with stoicism for 15 years, surviving a 12-hour operation and declaring that he was “not ready to throw the towel in”. He refused personal carers lest it should impact on his own independence and survived five major operations, assuring medical staff: “I’ve been living on borrowed time since the war.”

He died in Torquay, having had his garden landscaped, house painted and placed his affairs in order.

He wrote his own death notice and checked newspaper obituaries daily “to make sure I’m still alive”. Colleagues recall a firm but fair manager who demanded exacting standards but rewarded this with generosity, while his loved ones remember a family man with a passion for football (Liverpool FC) and cricket. Hyde’s wife of 52 years, Elaine Macpherson, predeceased him in 2008. He is survived by their daughter, Carol, and son-in-law Ron and three step-grandchildren.