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Archie Prentice

Rugby player;

Born: June 30, 1917; Died: September 5, 2012.

Archie Prentice, who has died aged 95, was a rugby player for Glasgow University and London Scottish in the 1930s and an officer with Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the Second World War.

James Archibald Prentice, who was known as Chile to his army friends (Archie to everyone else), was born in Concepcion in Chile where his father was a manager for Duncan Fox and Partners, an international trading company. The young Archie felt he had an idyllic childhood, growing up with his five sisters in a well-staffed home, but at the age of 11 he was sent back to Scotland to be educated, first at Dalhousie School near Edinburgh, then at Glenalmond in Perthshire.

He proved to be a storming front-row forward, playing in the Glenalmond first XV and then for Glasgow University and London Scottish. It was said that only the advent of war prevented him from getting his Scottish cap.

On August 31, 1939, he was an engineering apprentice working for Bill Linn of Cowan and Linn when news broke of the invasion of Poland. As a Territorial Army lieutenant he took command of a platoon in B Company 1st Battalion the Glasgow Highlanders and proceeded to defend the Clyde Boom from their vantage point on Ardhallow Fort, Dunoon. He then saw service in France as commander of the 157 Brigade Anti-Tank Company which was sent to France following the Dunkirk evacuation as an attempt to reinforce the French army. He narrowly escaped capture by the advancing German army, taking his company out through Cherbourg.

At the beginning of 1943 he was in Stromness, taking part in the Orkney and Shetland Defence Force boxing tournament, when orders arrived to report to the War Office in London. Finding himself with a group of 30 officers all undergoing interview and selection at the same London hotel, he soon ascertained they all had connections with Spain or South America and could speak Spanish (or in a few cases Portuguese). The purpose, though secret and sensitive at the time, was to form a unit of the SOE which could provide support to anti-fascist partisans in Spain in the event of that country joining the Axis.

On passing the selection he was recruited into the SOE where he worked initially with Major Donald Hamilton-Hill in north Africa where they investigated using Spanish refugees from Franco to form a fighting unit which could serve alongside the Allies. Thwarted as much by the reluctance of the republicans to abandon their neutrality as by high politics, he went on to run an SOE station in Brindisi providing logistic support for operations in the Balkans. This brought him into contact with Fitzroy McLean, as well as Evelyn Waugh and Randolph Churchill, with whom he crossed swords regarding Winston Churchill's desire to transport his personal jeep on a plane planned for lighter goods. In spite of Mr Prentice's protests, the jeep was loaded on to the transport, which subsequently crashed in Yugoslavia. The crash found its echo in Waugh's Officers and Gentlemen, and it may be no coincidence that one of the least sympathetic characters in the book is given the surname Prentice.

At the end of the war he found himself in what must have been one of the most comfortable jobs in the British army, running an R&R unit in a requisitioned villa on the bank of Lake Como.

Following the war he went back to civil engineering, as a partner with Glasgow consultancy Leitch and Sharpe and with Marples Ridgeway with whom he worked on the Allt-na-Lairige dam, the Kingston Bridge and numerous motorways. He is fondly remembered by his old colleagues for his straightforwardness and attention to detail.

He never returned to Chile, aware it could not match the paradise of his childhood memories, but enjoyed living in various places where work took him, from Hampshire to the Highlands, with his wife Anne, and their two children.

After retirement he settled first in Marchmont, Edinburgh, and then in Orchard Brae. He continued to entertain family and friends with stories from his eventful history throughout his own life. His memory was as great as his modesty, as he quietly bore witness to the energy of the British in South America in the last century, and the extraordinary experience of his generation through the Second World War.

He leaves behind two children, James and Catherine, and five grandchildren.

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