War hero and businessman

War hero and businessman

Born: October 4, 1920; Died: November 6, 2014.

COLONEL Sir Thomas "Tommy" Macpherson, who has died aged 94, was believed to be the most decorated surviving veteran of the Second World War, with three Military Crosses (MC) and numerous other bravery awards including France's Légion d'Honneur, the Italian resistance medal, the Star of Bethlehem and an honorary knighthood from the Pope.

His swashbuckling derring-do exploits during the war, often wearing his regimental kilt, took place in France, Italy, Palestine, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon and Syria with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, 11th (Scottish) Commando or the Special Operations Executive (SOE) for whom he was parachuted in to back the French resistance as part of the famous Jedburgh intelligence missions. He was captured and imprisoned as a POW for two years in Italy, Germany, Austria and Poland.

If that were not enough, he had played rugby for Scotland against the All Blacks before the war and beat a young Roger Bannister over the mile years before Bannister broke the four-minute barrier. He also once beat the great Czechoslovakian distance runner Emile Zatopek.

After the war, he had an outstanding career in Scotland as a TA commander and businessman for the rest of his working life. He told the story of that life in his 2010 autobiography Behind Enemy Lines, with the help of his writer friend Richard Bath, who described him during his military career as having "an almost ­pathological disregard for his own safety." He was appointed CBE (Military) in 1968, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in 1977 and High Sheriff of Greater London in 1983. He was knighted by the Queen in 1992 as Sir Thomas Macpherson of Biallid.

Ronald Thomas Stewart Macpherson was born in Edinburgh on October 4, 1920, although his family were Highlanders from Newtonmore/Badenoch, where the future Sir Tommy would return to spend his life and where he died at home peacefully. He was the youngest of seven children of Sir Thomas Stewart Macpherson, a judge in the British Raj in India, and Helen Cameron, daughter of a minister.

One of his older brothers, the politician Niall, would rise to the peerage as Baron Drumalbyn and died in 1987. Another elder brother, GPS "Phil" Macpherson, became a legendary Scottish rugby player in the inter-war years. "Tommy," as he was always known, went to Cargilfield in Edinburgh, Scotland's oldest prep school, Edinburgh Academy and Fettes College, overcoming a crippling childhood illness, the bone disease osteomyelitis.

After the war, he returned to Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated in philosophy, politics and economics and represented Oxford at rugby, hockey and athletics, becoming a blue in the latter.

When war broke out, he was just short of his 19th birthday and was commissioned into the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders (TA), serving first at Wick to protect the northern coastline.

Once Churchill had decided to set up a commando force "to set Europe ablaze," young Macpherson volunteered and trained on the Isle of Arran on how to kill in hand-to-hand combat. Among his tutors was the legendary Simon Fraser, Lord "Shimi" Lovat. He saw his first action in June 1941 during the Litani campaign in Lebanon against hostile Vichy French forces, helping take a key bridge and winning his first MC.

In October that year, he was involved in a commando reconnaissance mission with a view to attacking Nazi Field Marshal Rommel's HQ in Cyrenaica (now part of Libya) as part of Operation Flipper. Transported by submarine, he and three fellow commandos landed on the beach in folding canoes. When the submarine failed to return, the four commandos were forced to walk across the desert behind enemy lines towards Tobruk without maps, food or water.

Captured by an Italian patrol, he was transferred to as POW camp in Italy, and later to Poland, making several attempts to escape, and finally did so, aided by members of the Polish resistance. He and his comrades stowed away on a Swedish freighter, hiding among coal dust in the hold to avoid Nazi guards with sniffer dogs.

He received a further MC for the beach recce and a third for his escape from Poland. After being incarcerated for a time in Sweden, he was released to the British embassy in Stockholm and flown home to the Highlands on board an RAF Liberator.

By June 1944, he was back in action, parachuted into France with a French officer as one of the "Jeds" (Jedburgh mission) to aid the French maquis. When they made contact, the resistance at first thought he was the wife of the French officer. He was wearing his regimental kilt. He led the maquis in numerous commando attacks on Nazi convoys, roads, railways and even a division of Panzer tanks.

After the war, he had a successful business career while still serving in the TA until 1968. He worked for the timber company William Mallinson and Sons for 30 years, rising to managing director in 1967.

He was also a director of numerous companies including Brooke Bond Group and Scottish Mutual Assurance, serving as chairman of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce in the 1980s and becoming a member of the Royal Company of Archers. In retirement, he was president of the British Legion for Badenoch, vice-president of the Newtonmore shinty club and chieftain of the Newtonmore Highland Games.

Sir Thomas is survived by his wife Lady Jean (née Jean Henrietta Butler-Wilson) and their children Angus, Duncan and Ishbel.