Obituary: Lord Tweedsmuir

Johnnie Buchan, second Baron Tweedsmuir, might have stepped full- grown out of his father's imagination. Handsome, brave and kind, cunning with his hands, a brilliant fisherman and naturalist, a gallant soldier and fine writer of English, an explorer, colonial administrator and man of business, he should by rights have remained in one of John Buchan's romances. Indeed, he is commemorated in The Island of Sheep (1936) as the boy who saves a dangerous situation because he knows that pink-footed geese, when disturbed, move towards, rather than away from, the intruder; and his father's posthumous masterpiece Sick Heart River (1940) crackles with Johnnie's descriptions of overwintering at Cape Dorset.

His adventurous life took him from St Kilda to the battlefields of Sicily, from Equatoria to the High Arctic. His later career was spent in business and public service, but one sensed that even in City boardrooms his spirit still roamed the badlands. In old age, when his thick brown hair, beaked nose and mahogany complexion made him resemble nothing so much as a cigar- store Indian come miraculously to life, Tweedsmuir could entrance a circle of children with his tales. One heard, over the eager heads, his clipped, staccato speech: "It's a Bowie knife. Don't need it often. When you need it. Need it damn bad."

John Norman Stuart Buchan was born in London in 1911, the son of John Buchan and Susan Grosvenor. His forebears on one side were Borders sheep farmers and Peebles lawyers with a dangerous weakness for poetry; on the other side, the intellectual English nobility. He was, as his father had been, a delicate boy. Unlike his father, he was at first a poor scholar. At Eton, he devoted himself to falconry and was very nearly sacked. At his father's old college at Oxford, Brasenose, where he went up in 1930, he kept a badger and a barrel of oysters in his rooms and was eventually laurelled with a Fourth Class degree in History.

Much to his surprise, he passed into the Colonial Administrative Service, and served for two years as assistant district commissioner in the Uganda Protectorate, where he contracted a severe amoebic dysentery.

Invalided out to Canada, where John Buchan had been appointed Governor- General in 1936, he had to introduce himself to his mother at Halifax: having rowed 11st 8lb at Henley, he now weighed 8 stone. He joined the Hudson's Bay Company, drove a dog team 3,000 miles, and spent the winter of 1938-39 at the trading post at Cape Dorset in Baffinland. The drastic latitudinal displacement evidently cured him of his African sickness. When the ice began to break in spring, his partner turned to him and said: "I'm glad you didn't try to speak to me during the winter, Buchan. If you had, I would have shot you."

Back in Ottawa, his father cross-examined him, and wrote down his account with the utmost fidelity:

The cold was more intense than anything he had ever imagined. Under its stress trees cracked with a sound like machine-guns. The big morning fire made only a narrow circle of heat. If for a second he turned his face from it the air stung his eyelids as if with an infinity of harsh particles. To draw breath rasped the throat. The sky was milk-pale, the sun a mere ghostly disc, and it seemed to Leithen as if everything - sun, trees, mountains - were red-rimmed. There was no shadow anywhere, no depth or softness. The world was hard, glassy, metallic; all of it except the fantasmal, cotton-wool skies.

(Attending church with Tweedsmuir was a revelation: he said the prayers, rapidly, in Inuit.)

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Johnnie Buchan enlisted in the Governor-General's Foot Guards, and was with the first Canadian troops to land in England in December 1939. His father died in Montreal the following February, and Buchan succeeded to the title created for his father and simultaneously received his army company: these duties, falling on him on the same day, seem to have submerged his restlessness.

As second-in-command of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, and then as commander, he saw action in Sicily, where he led his regiment up the Rock of Assoro, a bastion which had not been scaled in war for eight centuries: for this feat of arms, he received an OBE (mil). (He was also twice mentioned in despatches.) The next day, he was wounded, and invalided out to North Africa. From then on, he served with the general staff in Italy, responsible for liaison between the British and Canadian contingents. He was later honorary colonel of the regiment, and in 1964 awarded the CD.

With peace, Johnnie Tweedsmuir immediately took up his seat in the House of Lords and served for four years on the opposition front bench. In 1948, he married Priscilla, Lady Grant, the widow of Sir Arthur Grant Bt, and MP for South Aberdeen till she too was elevated to the Lords in 1970. Together they steered, Priscilla through the Commons and Johnnie through the Lords, the most unsordid piece of private legislation ever to pass those Houses: the Protection of Birds Act of 1954, the model for all subsequent conservation law and embodiment of Tweedsmuir's profound sense of human responsibility to the natural world.

The couple lived at Balmedie in Aberdeenshire, a stretch of coastline Tweedsmuir celebrated in a book of memoirs, One Man's Happiness (1968). Yet it is from an earlier volume, Always a Countryman (1953), that I quote to show the beautiful simplicity of the second Lord Tweedsmuir's style. It is a description of his father fishing:

The rod appeared to do his work for him. The perfect curve of his back cast seemed to follow forward with

the fly drawing out the long, straight

line ahead, independent of his agency. It is the hallmark of all experts that the instrument appears to do its own work.

Priscilla died, after a heroic battle with cancer, in 1978. Two years later, Tweedsmuir married Jean, another Lady Grant (a coincidence that has been the cause of boundless confusion to heralds). They moved to Oxfordshire, where Tweedsmuir had lived as a child, and they spent 15 happy years in the beautiful Carolean Kingston House at Kingston Bagpuize.

In his public existence, Johnnie Tweedsmuir was Rector of Aberdeen University, where he led scientific expeditions to Libya and St Ninian's island, and was for 21 years president of the British Schools Exploring Society. He also served on the boards of BOAC, Dalgety and Sun Alliance, among other companies, and was chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority.

Two years ago, his health began to fail. It was Johnnie Tweedsmuir's great happiness that right at the end of his life, and under his wife's devoted care, he was able to return to his beloved Scotland, to a cottage in North Berwick, if only for seven weeks. His last gesture, in bidding farewell to his brother, was to raise his hands in triumph over his head.

John Norman Stuart Buchan, explorer, writer, public servant: born London 25 November 1911; succeeded 1940 as second Baron Tweedsmuir; OBE (mil) 1945, CBE 1964; Rector of Aberdeen University 1948-51; Chairman, Joint East and Central African Board 1950-52; President, Institute of Rural Life at Home and Overseas 1951-85; President, Federation of Commonwealth and British Empire Chambers of Commerce 1955-57; CD 1964; President, Institute of Export 1964-67; President, British Schools Exploring Society 1964-85; Chairman, Advertising Standards Authority 1971-74; Chairman, Council on Tribunals 1973-80; married 1948 Priscilla, Lady Grant (nee Thomson, created 1970 Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, died 1978; one daughter), 1980 Jean, Lady Grant (nee Tollemache); died North Berwick 20 June 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project