Obituary: Hon Peregrine Wishart Fairfax, War hero and farmer who was ahead of his time in caring for the environment

Peregrine Fairfax: considered ahead of his time regarding caring for the environment
Peregrine Fairfax: considered ahead of his time regarding caring for the environment
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Born: 8 March, 1925, in London. Died: 23 February, 2012, at Mindrum, Northumberland, aged 86

Peregrine Fairfax was a young troop leader whose courageous reconnaissance missions played a significant role in helping to liberate the last battleground in the Mediterranean campaign during the Second World War.

Serving with the 12th Royal Lancers, he was in the vanguard of Allied Forces as they made their gruelling advance north through Italy and he was the first to cross the rivers Panaro and Po, conducting a lone recce with Italian partisans.

Soon afterwards, in April 1945, the 12th Lancers were the first soldiers to enter Venice and his troop was part of the squadron that liberated Trieste, bringing to an end hostilities in Northern Italy and prompting the final communiqué from Allied HQ Mediterranean.

Fairfax served in various other theatres of war before leaving the regular army to study agriculture and then working at Sandringham – where he met Angus Ogilvy to whom he was best man – before acquiring land in Ross and Cromarty and Northumberland, where he commanded a Territorial Army squadron.

He was the son of the American-born Albert Kirkby Fairfax, the 12th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who became a naturalised British citizen at the turn of the last century and a Scottish peer from 1917 to 1939.

Brought up in family homes in London’s Stanhope Street and Comarques, Suffolk, Fairfax was an animal lover from an early age. Introduced to a menagerie of pets by an uncle, who gifted him exotics including kinkajous or honeybears, dourouculis night monkeys, black and white rats, the animals lived loose in the youngster’s bedroom.

He was rarely without some form of animal companion, even keeping a black and white rat in his commander’s valise during service in Italy and Palestine – it eventually met its demise, allegedly eaten by a hungry local, after the bedding roll fell off the back of his Daimler armoured car.

Educated at Eton, he left school in 1943 and joined the army. By the middle of 1944, he was leading a troop of 12th Lancers as part of the reconnaissance screen at the head of Allied Forces pushing through war-ravaged Italy.

After leaving the army, he read agriculture at Trinity College, Cambridge before a spell working at Sandringham, the Royal estate in Norfolk. There he made many of his greatest and lifelong friends, including the Hon, later Sir, Angus Ogilvy, officiating as best man at his wedding to HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent, in Westminster Abbey in April 1963.

Having inherited the family farm at Comarques, and fearing increasing urbanisation, in the early 1950s, he began looking for a new base. He sold the farm in 1956 and bought Mindrum in north Northumberland, a farm he would transform over the next half century. He also bought East Benula, a deer forest in Ross, where he indulged his love of deerstalking, and where his deep affection for Scotland developed.

He joined the Northumberland Hussars and commanded A Squadron, based in Ashington. Here he also indulged his passion for lurchers and longdogs and was president of the Ashington Lurcher Society for many years, owning a number of working lurchers.

With a twinkle in his eye and a wicked sense of humour, one of his party tricks at Mindrum was to dress for dinner, accessorised with a pair of white ferrets down his trousers. When he stood up, their red eyes would shine out of his nether region in the candlelight.

He also travelled widely, once accompanying his friend the adventurer Peter Fleming on a tour of Russia in the late 1950s in a battered old car, the boot crammed full of oranges and copies of Playboy magazine as currency.

A few years later Fairfax met Virginia, daughter of the Hon Philip Kindersley, at a party in Yorkshire, and they married in 1965 at St Margaret’s Westminster. Their son Thomas was born in 1966, followed two years later by daughter Doune.

The family was brought up at Mindrum, now dramatically enhanced by an enthusiastic tree-planting programme. These woods were an important part of Fairfax’s life and he spent much of his energy designing and developing them, both for shooting and for wildlife.

Though much of the woodland will not mature fully for several generations, latterly he witnessed some of the woods begin to fulfil the dream he had envisaged 50 years earlier.

A man who always believed in doing things properly, farming was no exception. He was adamant about farming correctly, especially from a wildlife perspective, and resisted many of the government pressures in the 1970s to increase production at the expense of the environment.

Now that thinking has come full circle, his legacy is evident in the environment he has created, which teems with wildlife.

One of the first to import of Charolais cattle into the UK, he was always surrounded by animals – at one time having 18 dogs, several horses and a selection of birds, reptiles and fish.

A great supporter of the local community, he served as High Sheriff of Northumberland in 1971 and later as Sheriff of Berwick. He also contributed to the work of the local Conservatives and the Church, where he was a warden for many years.

One who had a reputation for being incredibly generous, he would give away his most precious possessions at a moment’s notice, whether rifles, spyglasses, walking sticks, or pictures and took enormous pleasure in giving lovely things to people who would appreciate them “for the right reason”.

Fun-loving, he was always ready to have a quiet poke at anyone he felt took themselves too seriously and, though he abhorred the modern trend towards political correctness, he was unfailingly polite and valued manners and generosity above all else.

Survived by his wife, Ginny, children Doune and Tom and his grandchildren Freddie and Lucia, a thanksgiving service celebrating his life is being held today at 2:30pm in Berwick Parish Church, Berwick-upon-Tweed.