Obituary: Peter Duffy, mercenary soldier, hijacker, ex-convict, chef, photographer and raconteur

Peter Duffy obit, in paper 25 August 2017
Peter Duffy obit, in paper 25 August 2017
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Peter Duffy, soldier of fortune turned chef and photographer. Born: 14 January, 1941 in Elgin. Died: 5 August, 2017 in Durban South Africa, aged 76.

An outstanding Gordonstoun School athlete who later became a mercenary soldier in Africa and went to prison for his part in an infamous plane hijack in the Seychelles has died at the age of 76 in Durban, South Africa.

Peter Duffy was one of Scotland’s most exciting athletics prospects when I first met him in May 1958 at an inter-school match between Golspie Senior Secondary and Gordonstoun.

But his final years were spent in sad circumstances and he was found dead sitting on a wall outside Glenwood Shopping Centre in Durban where his cremation took place last week.

Gordonstoun won that match, the first of several between the two schools, by 45 points to 33, and though Golspie HS (as it later became) held their own in most of the field events there was no one to touch Gordonstoun’s Duffy in the javelin.

He almost threw the spear out of the little football pitch at Golspie’s Station Park and so far indeed that the field referee Tom Paterson had to improvise with an extension for his measuring tape as it would not reach Duffy’s mark.

When the distance was eventually announced as 196ft (feet and inches were still in use then) it created quite a stir as it was just short of the magic 200 feet “barrier” and indeed only 10ins short of what is now the 60 metres “barrier” .

The current Scottish Schools winners, admittedly with different heavier implements, seldom get near that mark.

Sadly however Duffy never did go on to international fame, though he attended Scottish Schools AA coaching camps at Inverclyde, where I again met him, and he may even have been in a Scottish Schools team.

Brought up in Elgin, where his family home had a large walled garden, Duffy had apparently been fond of pretending he was in Africa and had practised throwing spears there.

On leaving Gordonstoun Duffy continued his African dream and went to Tanzania to learn how to grow coffee.

Imagine my amazement when, some 40 years later, I went to visit my South African cousin and her husband in Durban to discover that they knew Duffy, who subsequently came round to their home to meet me.

By then he was working 
as a police photographer and also as a chef at a local restaurant.

The reason for the latter was that he had taken a cooking course when in prison in Pretoria, where he ended up after being involved in the notorious 1981 hijacking of an Air India airliner coming to South Africa from the Seychelles.

The Africa Dream had turned a bit sinister in the Sixties when he fought as a mercenary in the Congo with Colonel “Mad” Mike Hoare and Duffy was with Hoare in the group who invaded the Seychelles Islands in an attempted coup.

When the coup went wrong they tried to escape by hijacking the plane but were promptly arrested on landing in SA.

Undaunted, Duffy made good use of his time inside and apart from his cooking became an accomplished photographer though he was often called on to record the most gruesome of murder scenes as well as the more upmarket nightspots.

But after an accident when he was knocked down by a hit and run driver which left him unconscious for two months, his health and personal circumstances gradually deteriorated and in later years he was forced to turn to friends for help.

Ironically he collapsed and died on the very day that his life story was being sent to the printers.

He was found sitting on a wall near a well-known shopping centre in Durban.

Graham Linnscott, who has written the book, describes Duffy as a “wonderful raconteur” and as having the “gift of the gab”.

“He had a wonderful capacity for human kindness,” said Mike Hoare’s son Chris, who served time with Duffy in Pretoria. “He did so much to support my Dad during that horrible ordeal,” he said.

Sadly the ordeal may have taken more out of him than he realised at the time and he was fortunate to have friends who still supported him in his final years.

Sandy Sutherland