Sir Fitzroy Hew Maclean of Dunconnel, 15th Hereditary Keeper and Captain of Dunconnel, diplomat, politician, soldier, and author, was born on the 11th of March, 1911.
Fitzroy Maclean was an intrepid Scotsman, who became a legendary figure in his own lifetime, notably for his outrageously daring military adventures in World War II. In his quieter moments, he found time to become a popular author, producer, writer and presenter of television travel documentaries, whose autobiography, ‘Eastern Approaches’, was a best seller in 1949. Maclean was the epitome of physical courage, bravura and charm, and probably, the last of a breed. He was a real life adventure hero in the tradition of a Biggles or Richard Hannay, or a Rider Haggard character. Apparently, however, Maclean's own hero was Bonnie Prince Charlie, but that suggestion does the former an injustice. Contrast Maclean's motto
of “It is better to live a day as a tiger than a year as a donkey,” with Charlie's, which might've been, “It is better to live out your days as a drunk on the continent than dance with the devil.”
Maclean was a diplomat in Stalin's Soviet Union in the 1930's, a Conservative Member of Parliament until 1974, and Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for War in the 1950's. Malcean owes his legendary status, primarily, to the extraordinary eighteen months he spent as Winston Churchill's special envoy to the Yugoslav leader, Josip Tito, between 1943 and '45. However, as if that wasn't enough, his daring exploits behind enemy lines with David Stirling and the newly formed Special Air Service, served cement his reputation as a war hero. Having mentioned Churchill, it's worth noting that Maclean was the man who dared tell Winston Churchill that his speech at Fulton in Missouri, in 1946, where Churchill first coined the phrase 'Iron Curtain' and ushered in the Cold War, was unwise “to the point of being ridiculous.”
Fitzroy Hew MacLean was born in Cairo on the 11th of March, 1911. Young Fitz grew up to be educated at Eton and graduated with first-class honors, in 1932, from King's College, Cambridge, where he read Part One of the Classical Tripos. Sounds like Maclean was destined to be an academic, but what was then happening in Europe in the early 1930s resulted in his entering the fledgling Diplomatic Service. Maclean excelled at the stiff examinations and emerged as “one to note,” before being dispatched to the Paris of the Front Populaire.
After around three years in France, Maclean passed up a posting to Washington and opted, strangely enough, for Russia. That was the time of the so-called Purge Trials, when in February, 1938, Maclean observed the trial of Nikolai Bukharin, which later formed a memorable chapter in his autobiography. During the time he spent in the Soviet Union, Maclean made several “unauthorised” journeys across Russia, visiting exotic places such as Samarkand, Bokhara, Tashkent and Tiflis. Despite Maclean's denials, some believe he was a secret agent, leading his Russian counterparts a merry dance on those travels. Whatever the truth of that, Maclean was certainly able to provide advance warning of the likelihood of a pact between the Nazis and the Soviets, which means he was, at least, involved in some low level espionage in those days.
In 1939, before the onset of the Second World War, Maclean was transferred to the Russian desk at the Foreign Office in London. He wasn't too keen on that desk job and so, when war broke out, he determined to enlist. However, there was a problem in that his Foreign Office position counted as a reserved occupation. It took Maclean two years to spot a loophole in the regulations and get elected as the Conservative MP for Lancaster, which enabled him to resign his otherwise protected diplomatic role. Free to join up, Fitztry Maclean promptly became Pte. Maclean of the Cameron Highlanders; a curious thing for an old Etonian, diplomat and MP to have done.
In any case, it didn't take Maclean long to earn a commission, so Lieut. Maclean was seconded to an elite commando unit, based in Cairo, and targeted on destroying the Baku oil wells on the Caspian. The operation never materialised and that enabled Maclean to join David Stirling's Special Air Service. He was then involved in many daring exploits behind enemy lines, including an attempt at mining the harbour in Behghazi, when Maclean, in fluent Italian, brazenly conned his way past sentries. On another occasion, Maclean single-handedly arrested General Zahidi, the pro-Nazi Governor-General of Isfahan, at pistol point. You couldn't make it up.
Oddly enough, Maclean's closest shave during the war wasn't due to the enemy. It was due to Stirling's reckless driving, which once resulted in a crash that left the Scot unconscious for four days. Afterwards, Maclean claimed that Stirling, not the Germans, was “the most dangerous thing in World War Two!” He was no Stirling Moss, that's for sure. A mere two years after making Lieutenant, Maclean was promoted to Brigadier and his rapid rise was instrumental in his being chosen by Churchill to lead a mission to Tito and his partisans in Yugoslavia, who had been fighting the Germans since 1941. Typical of Churchill, his orders to Maclean were to find out, “who was killing the most Germans,” Tito or the rival guerrilla faction, the Chetniks.
Maclean parachuted into Yugoslavia in September, 1943, with his motley crew of a team, including Randolph Churchill and Evelyn Waugh. Crucially, Maclean built up a personal rapport with Tito, which ensured that the partisans received weapons and materials from the Allies. Of course, Maclean discovered that Tito's people were “killing the most Germans.” It emerged later that the wartime British Prime Minister's opinion of Maclean was that he was “a man of daring character” and just the right sort of “Ambassador” to work with those “hardy and hunted guerrillas.” Maclean and his companions spent nearly two years sharing the fluctuating fortunes of Tito and his men, an operation that culminated in the Battle of Belgrade in October, 1944, which saw the German military strength destroyed by the combined efforts of Tito's partisans and Stalin's Red Army.
Maclean once said of his own experiences, “To some people, my life might seem one long adventure holiday... blowing up forts in the desert, clandestinely parachuting into guerrilla wars, penetrating forbidden cities deep behind closed frontiers...” It might not have been a holiday, but it sure was an adventure. Funnily enough, in later life, Maclean catered for holidaymakers at his own hotel, 'The Creggans', on the shore of Loch Fyne.
Sir Fitzroy Hew Maclean of Dunconnel died of a heart attack on Saturday the 15th of June, 1996, at the home of friends in Hertfordshire, whilst on a visit to England.