Obituary: David Fulton MC, tank commander who became an exceptional and trusted lawyer

David Cairns Fulton MC WS, soldier and lawyer: Born 3 October 1922 in Edinburgh. Died: 18 July 2019 in Edinburgh, aged 96.

David Cairns Fulton

David Fulton was a man of remarkable courage, steely resolve and devotion to duty as was evident from his war ­service. A man of total ­integrity, he required from those he led the same high standards he set for himself. If this makes him sound a ­forbidding figure, nothing could be further from the truth as David had charm (many will remember his flashing smile) and a genuine concern for others.

He was the elder of the ­identical twin sons of John and Edith Fulton, his father being deputy secretary of the Prisons Department of Scotland. The twins developed a strong bond. They were ­educated at George Watson’s College and Strathallan School becoming talented sportsmen. ­David then read law at Edinburgh University during his law apprenticeship while his twin John underwent accountancy training.

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In September 1941, the twins volunteered for the ­Royal Armoured Corps. ­During ­holidays in Elie, Fife, David had met Kirsty Orchard. They fell in love. Recognising war’s uncertainties he asked Kirsty to wait for him to which she readily agreed.

After initial training, David attended the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and was commissioned into the 1st Lothians & Border Horse. He then volunteered to go to the 2nd L & B in North Africa which was in need of reinforcements. John served as a trooper, being wounded at El Alamein, and was later ­commissioned. David then managed to have John transferred to the 2nd L & B.

The officers’ Christmas ­performance of Cinderella for the troops made good use of the happy reunion of the twins. David, playing Cinders, was standing in rags in the ­palace kitchen when a thunderflash went off with a mighty bang accompanied by a big puff of smoke. When the audience, most of them ignorant of the new arrival, could again see the stage there was Cinders miraculously fully dressed in her ball gown.

2nd L&B sailed to Naples in March 1944. The twins fought at the battle of Monte ­Cassino. David’s part in the battle is described in the citation for his MC. He commanded the reconnaissance troop of his squadron from the start of operations on 13 May showing “considerable bravery” always accomplishing his tasks.

On 29 May he was leading the advance in his ­Stuart Light Tank and clearing a minefield. Another Stuart tank was destroyed by a mine. David was within two yards of this blazing tank and, knowing that the advance must continue at all costs, carried on although the burning tank might have exploded at any minute. No delay was caused and the advance was quickly resumed. The citation goes on to describe a later action that day during which his troop sergeant was killed in which David again showed “considerable bravery”.

Later John was wounded for a second time and recommended for a gallantry award. On 20 June he was mortally wounded when his tank was hit, a devastating blow for ­David.

In early September, David’s sergeant stood on a mine. In the explosion David was ­seriously wounded, resulting in the amputation of his leg far up the thigh. An officer called on David in hospital, writing to his mother to report that David, notwithstanding the loss of blood, “is already talking of walking and cracking jokes about the money he would save on buying shoes in the future”.

These two crippling blows were faced with ­David’s ­characteristic courage even though he must have had doubts as to how Kirsty would react to the loss of his leg and how he could cope with a civilian career.

However, Kirsty had no doubts and they were ­married, the union lasting for 72 happy years. They had three children, Barbara, Susan and John, and many grandchildren.

David completed his degree and apprenticeship and went to work at Shepherd & Wedderburn WS. He now sought a partnership and accepted an offer from Tods Murray & Jamieson WS. This firm had lost momentum in the ­difficult years of the two world wars and the inter-war ­period. It still had a large clientele though and a reputation for the quality of its work. Indeed one of the old clerks, sitting on his three-legged stool, was known as Dukey Robertson because of the number of ducal landed estates on which he worked.

David was well qualified to deal with the complex legal affairs of large landed estates and many of the requirements of a major banking client. He saw though that the firm lacked depth of expertise in the fields of corporate, ­commercial and financial work and needed to recruit lawyers at partner level and below to specialise in these fields. The older partners allowed David to have his way and to push forward with other modernising measures.

David was the firm’s driving force long before he became senior partner in 1980. In that role he was not going to sit in his ground floor office waiting for someone to knock. No, he would assault the staircase, pulling himself up vigorously with his strong right arm while the Georgian banisters swayed and creaked in protest.

While senior partner, ­David still shouldered a burden of client work for a number of Scotland’s aristocrats with extensive land holdings and other commercial interests, and also for a variety of ­companies, not-for-profit corporations and trusts. He retired in 1987.

One can see why he was so much in demand from the words of a partner who worked closely with him: “David seemed to me to be the last real ‘man of business’ to his clients, the generalist to whom they would turn with any business or legal issue in a time moving rapidly to ­specialisation.

“He had a real talent for ­sizing up what clients were looking for in a lawyer, even when they were not consciously aware of it themselves.”

The Society of Writers to the Signet appointed him to their important office of ­Fiscal. He was an elder of Inverleith Church and had a period as session clerk.

David was a governor of Strathallan School from 1965 to 1991, serving two terms as chairman, then became an honorary governor. He was regarded as having played a major role in the successful development of the school.

Finally, while David ­never spoke of his war to his ­colleagues, he did tell his son that not a day went by ­without him thinking of his brother John.

Robin Bell