Lt-Gen Sir David Scott-Barrett

Former GOC Scotland
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The Independent Online

David William Scott-Barrett, soldier: born Kingswood, Surrey 16 December 1922; MC 1945; MBE 1956, KBE 1976; GOC Eastern District 1971-73; GOC Berlin 1973-75; GOC Scotland and Governor of Edinburgh Castle 1976-79; Chairman, Army Cadet Force Association 1982-96; married 1948 Marie Morris (died 1985; three sons), 1992 Judith Waring; died Inverness 1 January 2004.

It is an agreeable custom of the General Officer Commanding, Scotland, to invite Scottish MPs who have shown any interest in the forces to dinner at his official residence at Gogarburn House outside Edinburgh, and then accompany them to a performance of the Tattoo on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle of which the GOC is Governor - a post that goes back to the early Middle Ages.

In 1976, dinner-jacketed, I arrived with my wife to the jovial greeting of David Scott-Barrett, whom I had never met previously: "Donkey wallopers are welcome in this house!" (A reference in the lingo of the Scots Guards to junior National Service cavalry/tank crew like me.) Scott-Barrett was the antithesis of the stuffed shirt. Not that he was a weak disciplinarian. On the contrary, he was famous for taking over a sleepy headquarters and getting officers who had become used to civilian dress and relaxed ways into uniform quickly.

He and his ebullient wife Marie were a huge success among all sectors of Scottish life, repeatedly acting as a catalyst for initiatives with youth organisations. I once asked him what he reckoned was his greatest achievement. He gave an interesting answer for a general: "Helping young people to make the most of themselves." This drive to help the young was not confined to army cadet organisations in or outside school, albeit that for 14 years he was the chairman of the Army Cadet Force Association. He was greatly influenced by his religion and was an active member of Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh during the last years of his life when he returned to live in India Street in the New Town.

David Scott-Barrett was the second son of the Rev Brigadier Hugh Scott-Barrett, who from 1934 to 1945 was the Senior Officer, Military Staff, of the Judge Advocate General, and his wife Dorothy, daughter of a distinguished divine, the Rev A.E. Farrar.

As his father was Judge Advocate General of the Army of the Rhine from 1920 to 1923, and subsequently served in China and then, in the late 1930s, in Egypt and Palestine, going with the British Expeditionary Force to France, 1939-40, and with the Eighth Army, 1941-43, it was decided that David should be a boarder at Westminster School; there he received a rigorous classical education for which he was always grateful.

After a truncated course at Sandhurst he was commissioned into the Scots Guards in 1942 and served throughout the campaign from Normandy to the Rhine Crossing with the 3rd Armoured Battalion of the Scots Guards. In 1945 he was gazetted on the same day as his friend Robert Runcie, later Archbishop of Canterbury, with the award of the Military Cross for gallantry. Nearly 40 years later, in 1982, he was firm in support of Runcie's sermon at the Falklands War thanksgiving service, when Runcie asked the St Paul's congregation to pray for the dead of both sides in the conflict.

After the Second World War Scott-Barrett remained in the Army, going in 1948 into the key job of General Staff Officer 3 (GSO3) for the Guards Division. Posted to Malaya during the insurgency, he was given command of the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards. I asked him about the circumstances of the killing of a schoolfriend of mine, 2nd Lt Paul Graham-Watson. "You know," Scott-Barrett replied,

Malaya was much worse than the Second World War. In Normandy, or at the Rhine Crossing, you had a fairly good idea who your enemy was. In Malaya it was terrible because you never knew who was your friend or who was your enemy and Paul was one of those who suffered from trusting people when they were certainly not to be trusted.

However he was always proud throughout his life of having helped to prevent Malaya from falling to an unpleasant Communist regime.

Returning, he was appointed GSO2 of the First Guards Division and then to the staff of the Staff College at Camberley. In 1963, as a lieutenant-colonel, Scott-Barrett was given command of the Guards Depot at Pirbright. Ronnie Wilkie, a sometime regimental sergeant-major of the Scots Guards, told me:

Scott-Barrett was a wonderful orator. He could motivate troops and he was inspirational. He would wander round in his breeches and Sam Browne belt and convince new material, who had been in civvy street two weeks before, exactly how important a job they were going to do. Soldiers would have died for that man.

One of his habits was to go in to the evening meal, when he was due to speak to the new recruits, and tear up his notes, saying: "I'm looking round. I see no such thing as failure." He spoke from the heart, though no one knew whether there had been any notes in the first place.

From command at Pirbright Scott-Barrett was given the job of GSO1 of the 4th Division in the British Army of the Rhine and subsequently command of 6th Infantry Brigade again in BAOR. He and his wife did a great deal to promote harmony between the British army and the German civilian population, not least because he made a serious effort to master the German language. After two years, 1971-73, as GOC Eastern District, he returned to Germany as GOC Berlin between 1973 and 1975, a period of tension brought on by the oil crisis.

Scott-Barrett had a particular feeling for private soldiers. Partly it was on account of the bravery that had been displayed by a couple of guardsmen in eastern France when his tank was "brewed up" in No Man's Land by an 88-millimetre Panzer - so saving his life.

His last great campaign was in the cause célèbre of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. Like Scott-Barrett, and as one of the few MPs in the current parliament actually to have worn uniform, I felt for the guardsmen who had shot and killed a teenager in Northern Ireland in highly controversial circumstances and who were subsequently convicted of unlawful killing. Scott-Barrett felt passionately that individual soldiers who felt threatened by what appeared to be an explosive bottle/grenade should not be deemed guilty, if they were acting in the course of duty according to their training. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the British army's being in Northern Ireland, individual soldiers, acting as he saw it according to their general instruction, should not be held responsible.

Scott-Barrett's mobilising of opinion led to both Fisher and Wright's being allowed, at any rate for the moment, to pursue the option of following their army careers.

Until the week of his death Scott-Barrett, supported by his second wife, Judith, whom he had married seven years after Marie died, continued to give his energy to good causes.

Tam Dalyell