Col Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel

26th Chief of the Clan Cameron
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Donald Hamish Cameron, landowner and chartered accountant: born Drymen, Stirlingshire 12 September 1910; Chairman, Scottish Area Board, British Transport Commission 1959-64; vice-chairman, Royal Bank of Scotland 1969-80; chairman, Cutler Guard Bridge Holdings 1970-76; Crown Estate Commissioner 1957-69; Vice-Lieutenant of the County of Inverness 1963-70, Lord-Lieutenant 1971-85; President, Scottish Landowners' Federation 1979-84; married 1939 Margo Gathorne-Hardy (two sons, two daughters); died Achnacarry, Inverness-shire 26 May 2004.

In the 1960s, the most prominent Labour Party activist in the Highlands was Alan Campbell McLean, a good-natured, witty Englishman, author of prize-winning children's books, who had come to live in Inverness. But he had one obsession. He honed his invective in the year that he was chairman of the Labour Party in Scotland against the supposed dastardly deeds committed in relation to fishing rights for crofters and local people of the ancient Highland landlords. His most particular target was "Lochiel". The cry went out, "A Wilson government will sort out Lochiel."

Now, Lochiel was Colonel Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel, 26th Chief of the Clan Cameron, who was held in huge affection throughout the West Highlands. The result of this ill-conceived slogan was that Labour got hardly a vote in Fort William and came a disappointing, indeed abysmal, third place in the Inverness seat that the party had hoped to win.

I vividly remember accompanying McLean in Fort William; we went into a sweet shop and, as soon as the owner realised who McLean was, he was told in no uncertain fashion to get out - he would sell no chocolate or sweeties to a man who, he had read in the local paper, had been so rude about Lochiel. Far from a caricature absentee Highland landlord, Donald Cameron had established himself as an excellent landlord and a thorough gentleman, against whom those who knew him would hear nothing bad said.

The Camerons of Lochiel go back into the mists of time. Legend has it - and legend in this case may well be correct - that the first identifiable Cameron of Lochiel was Banquo's nephew, the son of Banquo's sister, and therefore cousin of Fleance, who makes a fleeting appearance in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Most certainly, history has it that a Cameron of Lochiel supported Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314. For centuries after that, the Camerons of Lochiel held sway in the area around Ben Nevis and Loch Lochy.

Alas, in 1745 the Cameron of Lochiel, out of ill-judged loyalty to Bonnie Prince Charlie, having accompanied him to Derby and survived Culloden, faced punishment by the Hanoverians. However, there was a Bill of Attainder and his life was spared on payment of a huge fine. The 26th Lochiel enjoyed telling his friends that the fine was put to good purpose by helping to finance the elegant and distinguished building which now is Register House in Edinburgh. "But," he said, "my family never recovered from the debt, until we were paid compensation by Hugh Dalton, the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, for fire on our hillsides during wartime military training, and damage to our house at Achnacarry at Spean Bridge."

Donald Cameron was told by his father, Colonel Sir Donald Walter Cameron of Lochiel, 25th Chief of Clan Cameron, and by his mother, Hermione, daughter of the fifth Duke of Montrose, that he would have to make his own way in the world without relying on family money, which was likely to be non-existent.

From an early age, Cameron did indeed apply himself. At Harrow, as a senior boy, he came under the influence of the then new headmaster, Sir Cyril Norwood, in 1934 to become President of St John's College, Oxford, and was inculcated as a senior boy with the ethic of public service. Years later, he became a shrewd member of the school's governing body.

From Harrow he went to the Balliol of A.D. Lindsay. Many years later, Cameron said:

Everybody may think that I am simply a great toff. Remember I was brought up by Sandy Lindsay, Harold Hartley, David Murray-Rust, the distinguished physical chemist, and Oliver Gatty, who were my Natural Science tutors. Remember also that I was tutored in economics at Balliol by Alexander Rodger.

The influence of his tutor, Brigadier-General Sir Harold Hartley, was extremely important. Cameron told me that Hartley and his wife, the daughter of A.L. Smith, a previous and famous Master of Balliol, gave him the calm confidence which made him so authoritative a figure in later life. Cameron was too modest to add that he had a Williams Exhibition from Balliol.

In 1929 he got a commission into the Territorial Army regiment the Lovat Scouts. By 1940 he had become a major and trained with them not only in the West Highlands but also in the Faroe Islands, before landing in Italy. The Lovat Scouts did an excellent job, given their mountain training, in the Apennines and east of Florence. Only once did I hear the ever-relaxed Cameron become sharp in conversation and that was when it was suggested that service in Italy was not quite the same thing as landing in Normandy and fighting through to the Rhine crossing.

In post-war years, Cameron went on to command TA units including the 4th/5th battalion (TA) of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, of which he became Honorary Colonel. On the death of his father in 1951, he decided to return from chartered accountant business in London and to do what he could to keep together the estate, which had been plunged into debt by death duties and reduced to 90,000 acres, mostly mountains, lochs and moorland.

In order to keep the Lochiel estates in order, Cameron acquired a number of jobs which he retained on merit. Peter Balfour, head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, where Cameron was a director, and later vice-chairman, says:

Donald had a heap of good sense. The Royal Bank of Scotland was comparatively small then as to what it is now as one of the major banks of the world, but he gave us calm, level-headed advice, in keeping with professional excellence as the accountant which he was.

Cameron played an important role in the success of Scottish Widows and Save and Prosper, and he was an effective Crown Estate Commissioner, 1957-69.

He had an almost boyish passion for railways and was particularly pleased that in 1944 the LLER named one of its six new steam locomotives Cameron of Lochiel for service on the Fort William-Mallaig line. Indeed it was Cameron's railway interest that played a notable part in the successful venture to restore steam traction between Fort William and Mallaig, an achievement which was partly due to his position as a director of the British Transport Commission in 1959.

Above all, Cameron was an outstanding clan chief. At 6ft 3in in his kilt, proudly wearing a red sett, one of the four Cameron of Lochiel patterns, he was a kenspeckle figure at many a clan gathering in Canada, Australia and the United States. He maintained the family tradition by becoming Lord-Lieutenant for Inverness-shire, having also served as a county councillor for Kilmallie, in the old Inverness County Council. I was told in 1963 by the formidable proprietor/editor of the Inverness local paper, Nora Barron, that Cameron was about the most effective councillor in her experience of local affairs.

He established the Clan Cameron Museum at Achnacarry in 1990 and also played a major role in setting up the Commando War Memorial above Spean Bridge.

Tam Dalyell