Lord Lovat

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The Independent Online
In the whole of the six long years of the Second World War, Lord Lovat served hardly more than six days in action. And yet he became universally known and accepted as a great war hero.

How, one wonders, could that possibly be? Perhaps quite simply: his was an inspirational personality. Under him, men did more than they could possibly imagine they could do, were braver than they knew themselves to be. Lovat seemed to impersonate a 20th-century Robin Hood, or perhaps more realistically a Rob Roy. With him there lay danger, but also high adventure. He led No 4 Commando group on the raid on Dieppe in 1942, and No 1 Commando Brigade in the D-Day landings in June 1944.

My first close encounter with Lovat was when I was posted to 1st Commando Brigade HQ, stationed at Cowdray Park, Midhurst, in 1943. I was to be his staff captain.

Lovat was standing with his back to the fire, in the big lounge which acted as our officers' mess, chatting to a group. But as soon as I entered he spotted me and called out - "Hey you, you're my staff captain, but I can tell you this, if you're no bloody good you'll be out on your arse before you even know you've started."

Lovat did not have to shout at anyone, his normal speaking voice could have carried across a crowded ballroom. The voice and his stunning good looks were the first thing that struck one.

He had joined the commandos, some time in 1940, after a disagreement with his CO in the Lovat Scouts. When he left he took some of his best men with him. And some of them ended up with him in No 4 Commando. By 1942 he had command of his unit, which, with No 3 Commando, was chosen for the Dieppe landing.

Lovat was no conventional regular soldier. Indeed he was quite the reverse. But he knew how to pull a unit together and enthuse the men with his unique form of leadership. He was demanding. He trained his men intensely. He was completely intolerant of inefficiency. And ruthless when he had to be. He had me, so to speak, on my toes from the word go. It was like that with everyone. But, withal there was a debonair, almost romantic air about him, which intrigued and brought the best out of one.

In the Dieppe raid, his plan for the capture of the Varengeville battery was masterly. And proved brilliantly successful. Yet he had to fight the orthodox planning from above tenaciously to get his way. His was the choice of the landing beaches. And the successful scaling of the formidable cliffs and the fierce bloody attack and hand-to-hand fighting to take the battery were a model of what a commando raid from the sea could be. Every gun was silenced. And although the main attack on the harbour was a disaster, it could have been much worse if the guns had not been so successfully silenced.

When the brigade began its preparation for the D-Day landings he devoted himself almost entirely to training. And when eventually No 1 Commando Brigade landed on Sword Red Beach it was probably as perfect a fighting force as could be found anywhere. By "D" plus Six, after more than four days' continuous fighting, Lovat was desperately wounded. He calmly handed over, gave orders that not a step back should be taken, then called for a priest and was evacuated. Those who saw him then could not believe he could possibly survive.

At Sword Beach he had landed his small Tac HQ with one unit at "H" plus 30 (30 minutes after zero hour), while the rest of the brigade followed on some 40 minutes later. Nearly half his band were casualties before we even landed. He took an appalling risk, but no one queried it. Scrambling up the battle- littered beach to join him, we crouched beneath the 80lb Bergen rucksacks and, we hoped, beneath of the flak the enemy were hurling at us. When we reached the sand-dunes at the top of the beach I looked up and saw Lovat standing, completely at ease, taking in the scene around him. Instinctively I stood up straight and reported all ready and correct. With a nod he turned on his heel and led Brigade HQ inland towards Pegasus Bridge and, as it happened, slap through a wired- off area, clearly marked minefields. We followed literally in his footsteps.

Under fire, he seemed to be completely at ease; almost contemptuous of the enemy's worst efforts. Of course he was not really so. He was highly intelligent and knew full well what danger he might be in. In charge alone by "D" plus Four, after seemingly endless shelling and attack, with nearly one-third of the brigade casualties, he knew better than any one of us how near we were to annihilation.

Gay, debonair, inspirational, and yes, lovable - arrogant, ruthless, at times terrifying, his personality is too complex to explain. Perhaps we should not try to, and simply remember that he was a Lovat.

Max Harper Gow

Shimi Lovat's military background ran back through generations of Frasers, including Simon Fraser, known as the Patriot, hung drawn and quartered at Tower Hill at Edward I's orders, and Simon Lovat, beheaded after the 1745 rebellion, writes Louis Jebb.

His father, Simon Fraser, 16th Lord Lovat, was himself a distinguished soldier, raising the Lovat Scouts in the South African War, and commanding the Highland Mounted Brigade during the First World War. In the same war the infant Shimi lost three uncles killed at the front as well as his godfather, Julian Grenfell, author of the celebrated war poem "Into Battle".

The Master of Lovat, as he was styled in his father's lifetime, was educated by Benedictine monks at Ampleforth College, in Yorkshire, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied history. His father died in 1933 at a point-to-point meeting near Oxford, where Shimi had won a race earlier in the day, leaving him to inherit the title, the chiefdom of the Clan Fraser of Lovat, and an estate in Inverness-shire amounting to nearly 200,000 acres. He was 22.

His parents had made Beaufort Castle, overlooking the river Beauly, not just the seat at the heart of this great Scottish estate, but a second home for diverting visitors including Fr Ronald Knox, a brilliant scholar and for many years the Roman Catholic chaplain at Oxford University who came to Beaufort for his leave, and the novelist Maurice Baring, like Knox a convert to Roman Catholicism who spent much of the summer at Beaufort writing in the Twenties and Thirties.

Shimi and his siblings delighted in their company (the ebullient Baring encouraged them, in fact bribed them, to behave as badly as possible at meal-times). The two elder of Shimi's sisters, Magdalen and Veronica, were known as Catholic beauties of their day; Magdalen married to the Earl of Eldon and Veronica first to Alan Phipps, killed in action in 1943, and then to the writer Sir Fitzroy Maclean, and herself a journalist, cookery writer and editor. His younger brother Hugh, no less glamorous a figure than Shimi and with just as commanding a voice, made his name in politics, as Conservative MP for Stone and a government minister. And then there was their sister Rose, who died at the age of 14 and whose extraordinary character and spirituality is caught in a passage from Shimi Lovat's autobiography, March Past (1978), and in the poem "Rose" dedicated to her by her godfather Hilaire Belloc.

As they travelled as children on the train to the highlands, their mother, Laura, would read to them Scottish tales and legends and teach them the names of the places they passed. The atmosphere at Beaufort at the time is well caught in her own book Maurice Baring: a Postscript (1947), which takes the story up to the Second World War when Baring moved to Eilean Aigas, a house on an island in the river Beauly, where Laura Lovat nursed Baring to his death in 1945, and where he acted as a wise comfort to the family's grief after Rose's death and that of Alan Phipps and, as Lovat puts it in his autobiography, "an inspiration to the younger generation in uniform".

Lovat's career in uniform dated back to 1932, when he joined the Scots Guards immediately after university. He left the army in 1937, and took Beaufort over from his mother the following year, after his marriage to Rosamond Delves Broughton. Tragically, much of the treasures of Beaufort were destroyed at this time in a catastrophic fire that gutted the picture gallery and the library.

With the outbreak of war, he joined the Lovat Scouts, the regiment his father had founded, before transferring to the groups which were formed into the commandos. In 1941, the year before the raid on Dieppe, Lovat led his commandos on the raid on the Lofoten Islands, off Norway, sinking 12 ships, destroying factories and setting fire to petrol and oil depots. He was awarded the Military Cross for his part in a reconnaissance raid on Boulogne and the DSO after the raid on Dieppe, and promoted lieutenant- colonel in 1942 and Brigadier in 1943.

Lovat was appointed Joint Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the caretaker government in 1945, but forsook politics at the end of that year to devote himself to forestry and breeding shorthorn cattle at Beaufort. He travelled widely on clan business and for big-game hunting, and spoke on Highland affairs in the House of Lords. In the 1960s he made over Beaufort Castle and most of his estates to his eldest son, Simon, Master of Lovat, as a hedge against inheritance tax or the chance of his repeating his father's early demise.

One of the heroes of Shimi Lovat's autobiography is his maternal grandfather, Tommy Lister, fourth Lord Ribblesdale, Master of the Queen's Buck Hounds, who was the subject of a famous portrait by John Singer Sargent: a tall, slim figure in full hunting fig and top hat set at a raffish angle. "In his patrician looks," Lovat writes, "lay the essence of nobility". And there is a striking similarity in the figures cut by grandfather and grandson. Lovat also touches on his mother's inheriting from her father his European tastes, his classic looks, slim figure and long tapering hands.

In the last 12 months of his life he needed to match his mother's staunch resignation in the face of tragedy - she lost two brothers in the First World War, a husband young, as well as a son-in-law and beloved daughter during the Second. A year ago Lovat's youngest son, Andrew Fraser, was killed by a charging buffalo while on safari in Africa, while his eldest son, Simon, died of a heart attack a fortnight later. After the latter's death it was revealed that he had suffered serious business losses and left large debts on the Beaufort estates that have been for so long associated with the name of Lovat.

Simon Christopher Joseph Fraser, soldier, landowner: born 9 July 1911; styled 1911-33 Master of Lovat; succeeded 1933 as 17th Lord Lovat and 24th Chief of Clan Fraser of Lovat; DSO 1942; MC 1942; DL 1942; JP 1944; married 1938 Rosamond Delves Broughton (two sons, two daughters, and two sons deceased); died Beauly, Inverness-shire 16 March 1995.