Born: February 16, 1919; Died: April 24, 2012.
Duncan Ferguson, who has died aged 93, was one of that remarkable generation of spirited young men who survived years of captivity as prisoners of war to go on to lead lives brimful of achievement.
A 20-year-old bank worker and Territorial Army volunteer when war broke out, he spent almost half his military service in the hands of the enemy.
Yet, after returning home weighing barely 8st, he not only picked up his old life again but did so with an energy and enthusiasm that took him to the top of his career, saw him become a Mod medal winner, the author of more than half a dozen novels and the recipient of an MBE for services to charity. All the more remarkable given the loss of his mother and the lack of a constant fatherly influence.
Born in Calcutta, where his father was working, his mother died when he was 10 days old. It was just three months after the armistice that ended the First World War and he was brought home on a troopship by a friend of his father.
Raised in Newport on Tay by two maiden aunts, he left Dundee High School and started an apprenticeship at the Bank of Scotland in Carnoustie in 1936.
Three years later he had completed his banking exams and joined the Territorial Army enlisting in 526 Company, Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), 51st Highland Division.
Within months Britain had declared war on Germany and he was posted to an Officer Cadet Training Unit in Kent. Commissioned in April 1940, he sailed to France with 903 Company, Royal Army Service Corps and was based in a village north of Rouen from where they ferried supplies to the front line.
After the fall of France, he returned to Plymouth and took charge of troops, including 66 drivers and a huge fleet of vehicles, before being sent to the Libyan desert where he was captured at Tobruk on Midsummer's day 1942.
He later wrote: "The only redeeming feature of that afternoon was when units of the Indian Division arrived in the POW area headed by the Cameron Highlanders who, with the permission of the German authorities, marched in to the pipes and drums playing Pibroch of Donal' Dhu and The March of the Cameron Men. I am sure our cheers could have been heard in Achnacarry!"
He spent some of his early incarceration in concentration camp No 5 near Piacenza before being moved to Chieti near the Adriatic coast. It was there he heard Mussolini had been deposed but the initial jubilation did not last. The prisoners' senior British officer ordered them to remain in camp, wrongly anticipating the arrival of allied forces. When the Germans turned up they captured them all. Instead of being Italian POWs they were now German POWs and taken to Oflag V111F at Mahrisch-Trubau in Czechoslovakia and Oflag 79, near Braunschweig in Germany.
The camp, known in English as Brunswick, housed more than 2500 allied officers and, as was their duty, a number of escape tunnel projects were under way. There was also much leg-pulling of the guards and he recalled one incident, during a Gestapo roll call, when each prisoner was to hold up the card showing his photograph and particulars. Unknown to the Germans, the prisoners had all switched cards during the preliminaries. The subsequent muddle took their captors an age to sort out.
Years later, in his reminiscences, he recounted one particular conversation when they were told: "You British officers think we German officers know b***** nothing. You are wrong. We know bu**** all!"
To stave off the inevitable boredom during his captivity Mr Ferguson took up writing and Gaelic. Having got a basic grounding in Gaelic from a North Uist padre in the Camerons, he and a fellow POW started up a Gaelic class and attracted a number of students.
Later he would make good use of his language and literary skills – winning a silver learners' medal at the Mod, becoming involved with Edinburgh Gaelic Choir and, in retirement, writing numerous novels, two of which were published.
But the most remarkable legacy of the Brunswick POW camp is an initiative that still endures today. The Brunswick Club, founded in the final months of the war by all the camp's inmates, was the vision of a POW, Major Percy Flood, who wanted to show the world that the enforced imprisonment had not been wasted.
As a result, the prisoners agreed to endow a Boys' Club with all of them, including Mr Ferguson, pledging cash through IOUs to be honoured when they got home. A total of £13,000 was promised and subsequently paid on repatriation. The club opened in London in 1949 and is still operating today.
Two months after the idea took root, the camp was liberated by the Americans and he recorded the momentous event in a letter home that day in April 1945: "At about twenty past nine this morning, three American jeeps drove into the camp with the result that I can sit down and write as myself and not as a prisoner of war. As you may well imagine, it has been a day of considerable emotional strain but the release from the pent up tension of the past week has been perhaps the biggest factor of all. We all of us can scarcely credit it yet."
He closed the letter saying: "We all hope to be journeying westwards in less time than it takes to tell – and then at last the dust of this benighted continent will be shaken from my heels."
Demobbed in 1946, Mr Ferguson returned to the bank, in Dundee, and was appointed to the inspectors' department where he met his future wife Dorothy. He continued to rise through the ranks, becoming superintendent of branches and then joint general manager at headquarters in St Vincent Street, Glasgow, responsible for every branch in the west of Scotland from the Outer Hebrides to Dumfries and Galloway.
A member of the Council of the Institute of Bankers in Scotland and the board of the revived British Linen Bank, he retired in 1979 and became a part-time member of the Highlands and Islands Development Board and director of a number of companies. He was also a dedicated fundraiser for Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland and headed the Scottish Fisheries Museum's development fund, which raised £850,000 and for which he received the OBE.
Widely travelled, he returned to Germany many times. On one trip, in 1990, he traced the site of Oflag 79, only identifiable by the bomb craters – evidence, almost half a century later, of the daily raids he and his fellow prisoners endured as the allies pounded German targets to bring the war to a close.
He is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughter Kitty, son Colin, grandchildren Kirsty and Aileen and great grandson Calum.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.