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Max Wallace

Businessman and artist

Businessman and artist

Born: January 18, 1918 Died: May 19, 2014

Max Wallace, who has died aged 96, was a businessman and commercial artist whose clients included Rolls-Royce and ICI. During the Second World War, he used his artistic skills in camouflage work, building fake fortifications or disguising Allied defensive positions.

He was born in Glasgow into a family of three boys and a girl and lived on the second storey of a block of tenements in Saracen Street, Possilpark. The family went to Rockvilla United Free Church on a Sunday where their father sang in the choir.

He left school at 14 but had already discovered his artistic talent and had a belief in himself. He got a bursary to do evening classes at Glasgow School of Art, while during the day he pushed a barrow filled with posters, displays and mountings to potential clients, as well as film posters he drew for local picture houses. With free tickets for the cinemas he was very popular with the girls, but there was only one girl for him - a young welsh lass named Anne Williams whom he met on her 18th birthday in Roath Park, Cardiff, when he had just returned from his first stint serving in France in 1940.

He had signed up days after the outbreak of war with his friends Stan Clinton and Bobby Ross. Issued with a 1914 army uniform, they travelled to Southampton to board the Monas Queen bound for Le Havre. By the time he met Anne in Cardiff he had become a corporal.

His next foreign sortie a few months later took him by boat north to the Arctic Circle, across to north-east Canada, down the Eastern Seaboard, back across the Atlantic to Sierra Leone, down west Africa and round the Cape of Good Hope, arriving nine weeks later in Port Said in Egypt on New Year's Day 1941.

He travelled on to Tobruk which for six months was besieged and he served 18 months as one of Wavell's Desert Rats. Back at HQ in Egypt he signed up for a camouflage training course and became a commissioned officer in the Seaforth Highlanders. His task was to establish a camouflage factory using 1,000 local labourers in Tripoli. His creative juices were given free rein as he was either building fake fortifications or hiding defensive positions.

He spent time in Cyprus before heading to the Greek Island of Castel Rosso to create a strategic base for operations. The elaborate illusions he put in place would prepare him later for his return to civvy street and becoming a commercial artist.

Posted then to Beirut, he was producing huge dummy railheads to divert attention from the Allied offensive further north at Alamein. He trained Ghurka and French Colonial troops in camouflage before returning to the UK.

He then had to earn a living, so with a shared office in Spiers Wharf, he set up Maxwell Studios Displays. Finding bigger premises at 221 West George Lane, his reputation for skill, punctuality and the best work saw his client base build. From showcasing companies like Rolls-Royce and ICI at the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston and the Modern Homes Exhibition at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, he soon found his work took him throughout the UK and across to Europe, to America and to the former Soviet Union.

After their wedding on September 10, 1948, he and Anne found rooms in Milngavie when Lesley was born, then Hugh. In 1958, the family moved across the city to Queens Drive, and their home also became the base for entertaining clients. For over 20 years the family stayed there, with Mr Wallace becoming clerk to the Congregational Board of Queens Park High Church before being ordained as an elder.

There was also, of course, the bowling green: Mount Florida outdoor, and the conveniently placed West of Scotland Indoor Club less than a mile away in Mount Florida. Mr Wallace was convener of the social committee and in 1984 was part of the organising committee for the World Bowls Competition in Aberdeen.

Then in 1979 he was awakened with the news that his workshop was on fire. The business had moved to Lumsden Street nearer to the Kelvin Hall and business had been booming, but now everything was up in flames. The phone did not stop ringing as competitors, bankers and clients all offering their support in practical and positive ways. Mr Wallace was heard to say: "Well at least we've got youth on our side." He was 59.

The new home for Maxwell Studios was the former Crosshill Victoria Church with which his own congregation had recently united. And so from the ashes, a new chapter was written.

But he was always looking for the next thing. He and Anne had spied a little cottage on a secluded road in Dumfriesshire owned by an old friend Willie Walker who was looking to sell. It was called Whitegate. And so as the 1980s began, his attention shifted to the south-west of Scotland. He became senior invigilator at Wallace Hall Academy, joined the local bowling club at Moniaive becoming its president, was president of the Probus Club, council member and press officer of the Dumfries and Galloway Fine Arts Society, and immersed himself in church life, taking up his eldership again.

He had no need to travel abroad or look for excitement elsewhere. Whitegate was his shangri la, and the visits of family from all over Scotland, the UK, Belgium, France and America meant the world came to him. Working for hours a day in the garden, he would capture the scenes on his sketchpad and reproduce them in watercolour or pencil or charcoal, displaying his paintings in local exhibitions.

He loved music and attended concerts in Dumfries or Thornhill or back up to Glasgow. He was a great reader and learned of a lady, Elizabeth Crichton, who had a dream that her estate would become the base for a university. But that was 150 years ago. She had long gone. The dream had died and no one was prepared to take up the challenge. But up stepped Max Wallace. He had youth on his side - he was in his 70s - and chairing the Local University of Southern Scotland Action Group, he spoke to the council, to presbytery, to university principals and believed that Elizabeth Crichton's vision could become a reality. Unfortunately, prior to a key meeting to push this forward, Mr Wallace suffered a stroke which hospitalised him and forced him to step down from the work. But he had laid down the foundation, and Dumfries now prides itself as a university town. But many believe it would all have happened a lot earlier if Mr Wallace had been able to drive on his dream.

So what does an 80-year-old do with his life? There's a garden to attend to, people to entertain, an opportunity to appear on Channel 4's Watercolour Challenge with Hannah Gordon. With the programme set at Ellisland where Robert Burns lived for a time, Mr Wallace not only painted but spoke of his love for Burns.

In 2008 there was a special dinner to mark not only his 90th birthday, but also his diamond wedding anniversary - and he spoke there with his usual clarity, wit and insight, resplendent in the smart suit, shirt and tie that were so typical of him.

Loyal friends and family continued to visit and encourage him. He saw his grandchildren grow up, and he held his great granddaughter Ellie. He had a remarkable 96 years, and is survived by his two children, four grandchildren and great granddaughter.

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