Obituary: Sir Andrew Gilchrist

Robert Cecil
Friday 12 March 1993 00:02
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Andrew Graham Gilchrist, diplomat and writer, born Lesmahagow 19 April 1910, CMG 1956, Ambassador to Indonesia 1963-66, KCMG 1964, Ambassador to Ireland 1966- 70, Chairman Highlands and Islands Development Board 1970-76, married 1946 Freda Slack (died 1987; two sons, one daughter), died 6 March 1993.

ANDREW GILCHRIST was one of the Foreign Office's most valued troubleshooters.

Raised in Lanark and educated at Edinburgh Academy, he was the best kind of pawky Scot, shrewd, humorous and assertive when he needed to be. As he aged, his short, sandy beard became more grizzled but still wagged freely in the arguments he so much relished.

After Oxford graduation, he joined the Siamese Consular Service as a student interpreter in 1933 and qualified as Vice-Consul two years later. As regional restrictions on free movement in the service were abandoned, he acquired European experience, but returned to Bangkok as Second Secretary in 1938. When the Japanese entered the war in 1941, he was interned, but later released in an exchange of diplomats. In 1944 he was attached to Force 136, operating behind the Japanese lines. He rose to the rank of Major and was proud of the sword surrendered to him by a Japanese officer, when the capitulation came.

Promoted in 1951, Gilchrist spent three years as Consul-General in Stuttgart before returning to South-east Asia, where in 1955 he was acting Commissioner-General at Singapore. In the following year he was appointed Minister to Iceland, where the 'cod war' - in which the Royal Navy escorted British fishing vessels within Iceland's new 12-mile fishing limit - led to local outbreaks of anti-British hostility. Gilchrist calmed the nerves of his staff and astonished demonstrators by performing on the bagpipes. He was to adopt the same stratagem in 1963 in Djakarta, where he was serving as Ambassador during the so-called 'confrontation' between Malaysia and Indonesia. On that occasion his intrepid performance did not deter the hostile crowd from setting fire to the Embassy.

In the meantime Gilchrist had seen service (1960-63) as Consul- General in Chicago. The hostility of the Anglophobe Chicago Tribune, if less violent, was notorious. It had been calculated in London, however, that a Scot would suffer less opprobrium than Englishmen usually did, and so it proved. Gilchrist added to his popularity by promoting curling among sporting Chicagoers. His last post, as Ambassador to Ireland in 1966-70, also presaged possible violence; shortly after his arrival the IRA destroyed the Nelson Monument in Dublin, but the burning of the embassy was deferred until after Gilchrist's retirement in 1970.

Gilchrist had no intention of putting his feet up; he was made Chairman of the Highland and Islands Development Board (1970- 76) and gained a reputation as the crofters' friend. Retreating to his home in Lanarkshire, aptly named Arthur's Crag, he began a new career as a writer. His first books, Bangkok Top Secret (1970) and Cod Wars and How to Lose Them (1978), were autobiographical. Others, like South of Three Pagodas (1987) and Death of an Admiral (1988), were autobiography touched with the novelist's brush. His last book, Malaya 1941 (1992) was straight history, devoted to the surrender of Singapore. Indeed 1941 remained the pivotal year of a long life of movement and endeavour.

(Photograph omitted)

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