Obituary: Denis Sheldon McGregor Eadie MC

Born: 12 February, 1917, in Bridge of Weir. Died: 28 March, 2015, in Edinburgh, aged 98.

Former soldier commended for bravery and leadership during the relief of Kohima. Picture: Contributed

When Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September, 1939, Denis Eadie had been working his way round the departments of the family manufacturing firm for precisely a year. The pronouncement saved him from his stint on night shift.

Instead he was immediately commissioned into 506 Field Company Royal Engineers of the Scottish Lowland division. By the time the conflict was over, six long years later, he had been mentioned in despatches three times and awarded an immediate Military Cross for his bravery and leadership under fire during the relief of Kohima – a battle described by Supreme Allied Commander, Lord Louis Mountbatten, as “probably one of the greatest battles in history… naked unparalleled heroism”.

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It was a turning point in the Burma Campaign and the Japanese were soon driven out of the region, defeating their plan to advance on India, although the war would drag on for another 15 months.

Eadie, then a captain and second in command of 21 Field Park Company, had previously taken part in the Arakan Campaign of 1942 and had been training on India’s west coast when he was sent to Kohima in April 1944.

The Japanese had already encircled the garrison town of Imphal and, determined to take Kohima, waged a vicious battle around the deputy commissioner’s bungalow. Eadie’s division took over from exhausted Allied troops, separated from the enemy by only the few yards of the adjacent tennis court which was to give the battle its name.

On 2 May Eadie’s task was to get a six-pounder anti-tank gun up to the garrison in Kohima. It had to be manhandled round an enemy position bristling with guns, then towed up a 90ft long ramp, under heavy mortar fire, by a steel wire rope.

Though one man was killed, another wounded and the troop sergeant injured by the gun passing over him, Eadie successfully completed the dangerous mission and got the gun through. He also personally carried the dead and wounded up the ramp.

His MC citation stated: “Captain Eadie throughout the whole of the operation displayed a high standard of leadership and organising ability while under fire. The success of the operation was entirely due to his example and his rapid appreciation of the situation.”

He was decorated with the award in the field, at the roadside, by Field Marshal Sir Archibald Wavell, Governor General and Viceroy of India.

Towards the end of May Eadie’s commanding officer was killed and he was made a temporary major and given command of the company. Over the next few months the Japanese retreat continued and after the capture of Mandalay his division flew to India before sailing unopposed into Rangoon, via Calcutta where they arrived on Victory in Europe Day. The war with Japan ended that August.

After being stationed at Mingladon Airport he was included in a flight to Bangkok to bring back the first British prisoners of war. It was 3 September, 1945, six years to the day since he had joined up. He finally returned to the UK two months later.

Denis Sheldon McGregor Eadie was born in Bridge of Weir, the great grandson of Peter Eadie, who founded the family engineering business of Eadie Bros & Co Lt in Paisley, manufacturer of ring travellers for the textile industry.

He was educated locally before joining his elder brother Russell, firstly at St Piran’s prep school, Maidenhead and then at Oundle School, Peterborough. From there he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge to study mechanical sciences and won a rowing blue stroking the Cambridge crew in the 1938 Boat Race.

After joining the army on the outbreak of the Second World War, following his year at Eadie Bros, he went to the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, trained as a motor contact officer and was posted to Sixth Brigade HQ in France in April 1940 – the day after he had proposed to his sweetheart Isobel Woodsend.

After being Mentioned in Despatches for the first time, he was evacuated from Dunkirk on a destroyer in early June and married Isobel in Paisley Abbey that December, remaining on duties in the UK until April 1942 when he was posted to Burma. On his return, three years and eight months later, he and Isobel were reunited but he was not released from active service until December 1947.

Returning to Eadie Bros, he ensured the company, which employed more than 500 staff in its west of Scotland works and Manchester offices, maintained its position as a leader in its field through his various inventions and improvements to the original devices. He finally retired in 1982 on his 65th birthday.

Eadie, who was chairman of textile-associated ISO Standards committees and the West of Scotland TSB as well as a member of the bank’s board, a Paisley Hammerman Deacon and member of the Grocer’s Company, was also a keen supporter of charities, including the Paisley & Glasgow Society.

He had also helped to found Paisley’s Accord Hospice and supported, and volunteered for various duties at, Paisley Abbey and St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh.

Throughout his life he maintained a great interest in sport, including fishing and shooting, and had been involved in coaching underprivileged boys in boxing as well as Glasgow University Rowing Club and Commonwealth Games oarsmen.

He was also the longest surviving member of Henley’s Leander rowing club, captain of Prestwick Golf Club and a long-standing member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.

Whatever he undertook in life he gave it his wholehearted commitment. Charming and generous with his time he was not only a gifted communicator, his reach spanning across the generations, but a wonderful listener.

And for all his wartime, sporting and commercial achievements he remained a warm, humble and modest man who found joy and contentment in pleasures such as the beautiful gardens he lovingly helped to create at his family homes.

Isobel died in 1983 after almost 43 years of marriage, and he never thought he could fall in love twice but in 1991 he married Gillian, with whom he lived very happily in Edinburgh for more than 20 years. He is survived by Gillian and children Brian, Rosemary, Peter and Lucy.