Obituary: Lt-Col Raymond Durie of Durie

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The Independent Culture
AT DAWN on 8 December 1941, the day after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, Captain Raymond Dewar-Durie (later to be Durie of Durie), a liaison officer in the Consulate in Shanghai, woke to the sound of Japanese gun fire. He immediately set about burning secret documents and then, with his commanding officer, Major Sidney Hunt, had breakfast at the American Club. After he had finished he went to his flat to pick up some of his belongings. While he was packing Japanese troops arrived.

The Chinese lift-boy and the Russian concierge took their lives in their hands and denied that he was on the premises. With Hunt, Dewar-Durie then went into hiding in a variety of strange places, looked after by Chinese friends for nine days. Posters everywhere offered a substantial reward for information on British and American officers, making escape imperative.

After several false starts they were smuggled in the boot of a car surrounded by furs, lying head to toe with the dicky seat on top of them. The car belonged to a Chinese general who enjoyed smuggling furs as a side line. He had bribed the Japanese colonel to ride in his car to see it past the border guards. After it had passed through two sentry posts unchecked and the colonel was dropped off, the two men were released - much to their relief. They spent their first night being pecked by the inhabitants of a hen-house.

Still in Japanese-occupied territory and often uncertain of the allegiance of their guides, for the next fortnight they lived precariously, on one occasion hiding in a sampan loaded with pigs. "The sampan relieved our feet, but was very hard on one's stern end," Dewar-Durie was to recall. It was to take 51 perilous days to reach the safety of free China. The final few days were spent anxiously with three American journalists as they waited at Lake Tai for a junk to take them to freedom.

Dewar-Durie and Hunt transmitted messages to the War Office as to their position. Unbeknown to them they had both been reported "missing believed dead". Dewar-Durie had earlier received orders to rejoin his regiment but they arrived after the only available ship had sailed. The next sailing was 9 December. While he was hiding, those who made it to the ship in the hope of freedom were taken prisoner.

Raymond Dewar-Durie was born in 1905 in Persia, where his father, Robert, was the manager of the Imperial Bank and by 1916 had become involved in British and Russian intelligence as well as receiving a Military Cross while on a temporary commission in the British Army. Raymond saw little of him as a child: he was sent back to England aged five, first to a dame school before prep school in Hampshire and then on to Blundells. A good all-round sportsman with a natural eye for a ball, he later had a trial for Harlequins and played cricket for the Free Foresters.

After Sandhurst he was commissioned in 1925 into the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who were based on the Isle of Wight. He went to China in 1929 as a platoon commander of the Legation Guard and two years later was involved in anti-piracy duty on Chinese passenger ships. He was to remain in China in a number of posts until 1935. He studied Mandarin during this time and whenever possible worked on a Chinese/English military dictionary.

In 1940 he was appointed Assistant Military Liaison Officer to the Consulate General in Shanghai where he was responsible for recruiting and dispatching all volunteers in China for British forces. His revised dictionary was published in 1942. At the end of the war he was posted to Germany to deal with POWs and displaced persons.

Back in China in 1949 as Assistant Military Attache to the British Embassy in Nanking, accredited to the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, he played a vital part in the HMS Amethyst "incident". On 19 April, while sailing up the River Yangtse to Nanking with supplies, the ship was fired on by Communist artillery and 17 of the crew were killed including the doctor and sick berth attendant; the captain, along with many others, was seriously wounded.

Acting as the interpreter to the Assistant Naval Attache, Lt-Cdr John Kerans, who was to take command of Amethyst, and accompanied by a doctor and six Chinese soldiers with a heavy medical chest in a wheelbarrow, Dewar-Durie made a hazardous journey along the banks of the Yangtse. Close to the ship they stumbled upon 50 or more wounded. While the doctor attended them Dewar-Durie rowed Kerans across to the beleaguered ship in a sampan, but she glided away from them and they were unable to board her.

They returned to deal with the wounded and arrange transportation. Later Kerans boarded the ship on his second attempt while Dewar-Durie put the last of the wounded on to a train. While waiting to see if the ship would be scuttled (it wasn't), he spotted soldiers with red arm-bands advancing and beat a hasty retreat. Shanghai fell to the Communists in May but Amethyst made an heroic escape down the river two months later. Dewar-Durie moved with the embassy to Peking.

After retirement from the Army in 1958 he worked for Guinness in Belfast and later took a Retired Officer's job. In 1969 he left Northern Ireland and settled in Pewsey where he was an active secretary to the local Conservative Association.

Although there was never any doubt that Raymond Dewar-Durie was head of the Durie family which had settled in Fife since the 16th century, he did not change his name until 1988, when he followed up the Lord Lyon King of Arms' direction, first made to his father, to claim Chief of the Name and Arms of Durie and became Durie of Durie. He was a modest and self-effacing man who enjoyed a very happy marriage of over 60 years and delighted in his family. As a 90th birthday present he was given a helicopter flight from Pewsey, which passed over the Isle of Wight, where he had first joined his regiment in 1925.

Raymond Varley Dewar-Durie, soldier; born Isfahan, Persia 10 August 1905; recognised as Durie of Durie 1988; married 1932 Joan Dolbey (died 1933; one daughter); 1938 Frances Maule (one son, one daughter); died Pewsey, Wiltshire 29 March 1999.