Obituary: Lord Borthwick

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The Independent Online
Among the businessmen and parliamentary regulars of the Monday Edinburgh-to-London British Airways shuttle there develops a certain camaraderie. In the mid-1980s there was added to our number an octogenarian but agile figure wearing a Gunners' tie, a wax- moustached Colonel Blimp, albeit always with an unlikely rucksack over his shoulder. This was the sheep farmer John Henry Stuart Borthwick of that Ilk, 23rd Lord Borthwick, Baron of Heriotmuir, 17th Laird of Crookston, Hereditary Royal Falconer of Scotland, and for three years, 1970-72, the highly regarded president of the West Lothian and Midlothian area of the National Farmers' Union, on his way to and fro to serve his country - and the Conservative Party - in the House of Lords.

He had been born in Borthwick Castle - a member of a secondary line of the family - where the Borthwick title could be traced back to 1410; here Mary, Queen of Scotland and her husband the Earl of Bothwell had sought sanctuary from the Scottish nobles. Borthwick was born in what purported to be the room of Mary Queen of Scots and was christened Stuart after the Royal House.

In 1963, when I was a newly elected MP and he was a prominent member of the local NFU, I told him cheerily that I had gone to campaign against his friend Sir Alec Douglas-Home in the Perth and Kinross by- election. Half jokingly but, I sensed, wholly in earnest, he said: "Tell that fella Wilson that Alec may be the 14th Earl of Home, but I am really entitled to be the 23rd Lord Borthwick!" It was to be another quarter of a century before, in 1986, he finally established his claim, thanks to the genealogist Hugh Peskett (once described as "the Sherlock Holmes of the family tree"), who discovered key documents in a cardboard box beneath the billiard table at Crookston House, on the Borthwick estate. In 1986 the Lord Lyon, Scotland's regulator of titles and honours, ruled that John Borthwick had proved his right as "heir male of the body of William, first Lord Borthwick, to the armorial rights and peerage title".

The title was now live again for the first time since 1910, completing a link with Borthwicks who escorted St Margaret of Hungary to Edinburgh for her marriage to Malcolm Canmore in 1069 and to the ownership of Borthwick Castle. I had the impression that deep down Borthwick felt the Earl Home, let alone the House of Windsor, was somewhat nouveau compared to his lineage.

He made his maiden speech in the House of Lords on 5 November 1987 during the Farmland and Rural Development Bill, offering a very constructive view of wool farmers, in the light of his experience as a long- serving member of the Scottish Livestock Export Group and the Wool Marketing Board (1966-87), about which he continued to make sensible contributions into his late eighties.

Borthwick was a modest man about his distinguished war record, in which he saw action from Normandy to the Rhine crossing with the Royal Artillery. For 40 years he was active on behalf of the Normandy Veterans' Association, of which he was the patron for Scotland.

After hostilities ended he was Lieutenant-Colonel GS01 with the control commission and was in charge of the district of Nordrhein Westphalen. "History has it," he said,

that bumbling British brigadiers, like John Barraclough, who was the commander of the military government of Nordrhein province, and crazy colonels like myself, were silly blithering idiots who sacked the Burgermeister of Cologne for insubordination and incompetence. And that, had we not done so, Konrad Adenauer would not have gone into Federal politics and become Chancellor of Germany.

I was one of those who helped John Barraclough draft the famous letter of 6 October 1945 to Herr Oberburgermeister Dr H.C.K. Adenauer, Allianz Buildings, Cologne.

The 12 points in the letter were:

1. I am not satisfied with the progress which has been made in Cologne in connection with the repair of buildings and the clearance of the streets and the general task of preparing for the coming winter.

2. About two months ago I personally warned you of your responsibilities in connection with this work. You have not ful-

filled those responsibilities to my satis-

faction. I am fully aware of the difficulties with which you have had to contend. I know that many of your colleagues have been removed for political reasons. I know the difficulties in connection with the labour situation in Cologne. I am fully alive to the position with regard to communication, shortage of coal, shortage of transport et cetera et cetera.

3. I am however convinced that, with proper supervision and energy on your part, more could have been done to deal with these problems than has, in fact, been done.

4. In my opinion you have failed in your duty to the people of Cologne.

5. You are therefore dismissed today from your appointment as Oberburgermeister of Cologne.

6. You will leave Cologne as soon as possible, and in any case not later than 14 October.

7. You will immediately hand over the duties of Oberburgermeister of Cologne to the Burgermeister of Cologne, Herr Suth.

8. Herr Suth will carry out the duties of Oberburgermeister of Cologne as a temporary measure pending the appointment of an Oberburgermeister.

9. After you have handed over to Herr Suth you will take no further part in the administration or public life of Cologne or any other part of the Nordrhein province.

10. You will not indulge either directly or indirectly in any political activity whatever.

11. If you fail in any respect to observe the instructions contained in this letter, you will be brought to trial by the military court.

12. You will acknowledge receipt of the letter hereon.

Signed Barraclough, Brigadier Commanding the Military Government of Nordrhein Province.

Adenauer said in his memoirs:

I was asked to sign the original of this letter to confirm receipt. Asked whether I had any remarks to make, I said "No" and left the room.

The decisive passage of this letter of dismissal was point 10, "You will not indulge either directly or indirectly in any political activity whatever." Many years later when Adenauer was Federal Chancellor he met John Barraclough at a state banquet.

Barraclough asked me, "What did you really think when you got your letter of dismissal?" I replied, "I have a file 'Dismissal by the Nazis' at home. I will now start a file 'Dismissal by the Liberators'."

Adenauer's memoirs tend to bear out what Borthwick told me with charming self- deprecation, adding that he did not pretend, nor did his friend John Barraclough, to be very bright. "But, that is only one side of the story. The truth is that the sly, cunning fox was so damned difficult that he pushed us into writing that letter. You see, Adenauer had a scheme all along. He positively wanted us to sack him so he could say, 'I'm no stooge of the conquerors of Germany - the British have dismissed me as your Burgermeister for standing up for the folk of Cologne. I am the man to lead the Christian Democrats.' "

Borthwick was convinced that Adenauer knew exactly what he was doing all along. Borthwick was a shrewd old boy and convinced me that in this matter he was probably right. And few letters can have had such a consequential effect on European history in the 20th century.

John Henry Stuart Borthwick, farmer and soldier: born Borthwick, Midlothian 13 September 1905; succeeded 1937 as 23rd Lord Borthwick (claim to Lordship admitted by Lord Lyon 1986); married 1938 Margaret Cormack (died 1976; two sons); died Borthwick 30 December 1996.