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Andrew Biggar

War hero and farmer;

Born: March 6, 1915; Died: November 16, 2012.

ANDREW Biggar, who has died aged 97, won the Military Cross for his bravery during the retreat from the Maginot Line but was captured and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Germans.

Liberated in 1945, he returned to his native Scotland and became a successful farmer. For the rest of his life he championed modern agricultural science, urging his fellow farmers to work closely with research faculties to improve the industry to which he was devoted.

As a young signals officer in the 51st Highland Division, he was dispatched to France in early 1940. He was among the troops assigned to the Saar Force, attached to the French Third Army, and their task was to strengthen a vital sector of the seemingly impregnable Maginot Line.

However, the Allied forces were outflanked as the German army bypassed the Maginot Line and advanced through Belgium. The British were forced to withdraw towards the coast. It was Mr Biggar's job to ensure communications were maintained in the chaos of retreat, constantly climbing telegraph poles to repair lines which had been damaged by the fierce dive-bombing and heavy tank attacks from the Germans. He worked in horrendous conditions, facing tank barricades, enemy fire and minefields.

On June 9, a few days after the evacuation at Dunkirk, and with his divisional headquarters cut off and in urgent need to communicate by radio with the War Office in London, Mr Biggar was ordered to locate a cross-Channel sub-marine cable which was thought to come ashore near Dieppe. It turned out to be an exercise which was as pointless as it was dangerous. Information about the cable was scant. No-one even knew what it looked like and hours of manual excavation along the beaches failed to find it.

The troops, forced to pull back towards Le Havre, were ordered to get rid of everything they couldn't carry and, by June 11, they were surrounded at the town of St Valery. With no clear orders on what action they should take, Mr Biggar volunteered to try to find divisional headquarters and seek instructions.

He commandeered a bike and made his way through the badly- battered town until he found the HQ in a tiny house. But once there he discovered the officers were too occupied to speak to him. He went straight to the division commander who, he discovered, was unhappy about following an order, from the French officer in charge, to surrender. His mind was changed when a fresh German salvo of shells narrowly missed their building. Immediately the commander gave the order. "Tell somebody to hoist that bloody white flag," he declared.

For his actions, Mr Biggar was awarded the MC. After surrendering at St Valery, he and his comrades faced a gruelling 200-mile march to the Rhine where they were then herded onto trains and taken to a PoW camp at Laufen on the German border with Austria. They were later moved to Oflag camps in Tittmoning and Eichstatt. By April 1945, with Allied troops fast approaching, he was among a contingent of PoWs marched to another camp at Moosburg. It was a perilous journey. Attacked by Allied aircraft, 50 PoWs were killed or injured. They were finally liberated a month later.

Walter Andrew Biggar was born in Castle Douglas . He was educated at Sedbergh School in Cumbria and then went to Edinburgh University to study agriculture, graduating with a BSc. He started his working life at the Rowatt Institute in Aberdeen but his career was interrupted by the war. After military service he resumed his work at Rowatt and, in late 1945, married Patricia who predeceased him.

In 1955 he took a step away from agricultural research to become a farmer at Magdalenehall, St Boswells, near Aberdeen.

However, he never lost sight of the benefits which science and technology brought to the industry. He was a strong believer in the value of the rapid transfer of scientific discoveries to the farming community.

Over the years he served on the board of a number of animal welfare institutions, including the Animal Diseases Research Association and the Moredun Animal Health Trust. Indeed, he was one of the guiding lights behind the transformation in the 1990s of Moredun into the world-famous Pentlands Science Park in Midlothian. He was appointed a CBE in 1980.

Mr Biggar, who died at home, is survived by his daughter Suzie, son Mike, five grandchildren and a granddaughter.

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