Rector and war veteran

Born: June 3, 1920;

Died: November 15, 2016

ARCHIE Armour, who has died aged 96, had a distinguished teaching career preceded by an even more eventful war involving several close shaves – and not just with the enemy.

Trained in intelligence, he was captured in Sicily but escaped then survived being parachuted into Arnhem during the Allies’ disastrous Operation Market Garden. But it was while under the command of United States troops that he had a particularly audacious exploit.

Mr Armour, by then a sergeant, had been selected to serve under the legendary general George S Patton in North Africa but his first personal encounter with the uncompromising leader, known for his aggressive demeanour and blood and guts speeches, did not go well.

As they approached each other walking across the camp, the young soldier, who was bare-headed, followed British Army protocol giving the general a sharp “eyes right”. A few yards on he heard Patton thunder “Hey sergeant!”. Oblivious to any misdemeanor, he turned back to the general who demanded: “You don’t salute a senior officer?”

Sgt Armour coolly replied: “My king demands I salute when I’m wearing headgear. He demands sharp eyes right or left when I’m not wearing headgear. I presume you don’t rank above my king, sir.”

Patton dismissed the bold sergeant but next day summoned him to appear before him first thing. Fearing he would be court-martialled, he marched over only to be told by the great general that he had checked the King’s regulations and the soldier was quite correct: “I should not have demanded a full salute.” From then on, whenever they passed Patton always greeted him with a friendly “Hi there, sergeant.”

Just why the intrepid soldier had been earmarked to supplement Patton’s forces is unrecorded but it was clear from his schooldays that the Paisley-born paratrooper was a highly intelligent and fit young man. The only child of engineer John Armour and his wife Janet, he was educated at Camphill Secondary School where he became head boy and an enthusiastic harrier before going to read English at Glasgow University.

With war on the horizon, he joined the Territorial Army and, aged 19, was mobilised a few days before the official declaration of hostilities with Germany, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He spent a year there before moving into intelligence, completing low and high grade cipher courses which he found much more interesting. A spell followed in the Royal Corp of Signals before he volunteered for the Parachute Regiment.

His acquaintance with General Patton took place in North Africa. The general had helped to formulate Operation Torch, the plan to invade French North Africa, in 1942. The following year Patton assisted with planning Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. It was while serving there with the US Army that Sgt Armour and a number of fellow soldiers were taken prisoner. However they soon escaped their captors, who proved less than vigilant.

Having survived Sicily, he returned to Britain where, in May 1944 at Manchester’s Ringway military aerodrome, he married his sweetheart Margaret Hebditch from Johnstone. Five months later he was part of the Airborne Division parachuted into Arnhem, Holland, the biggest airborne assault the world has ever seen. The aim was seize several strategic bridges around the city but fierce enemy opposition ended the mission in failure – Arnhem was a bridge too far.

The British Airborne Division lost 75 per cent of its strength in the battle but again Sgt Armour survived and returned home to his family which now included a little daughter, Christine. After the war in Europe ended he was sent by sea to the Far East but, with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally ending the war with Japan, his ship was ordered home. He was demobbed in Batavia, now Jakarta, in the then Dutch East Indies.

Now able to return to his studies, he graduated from Glasgow University and completed a teaching qualification at the city’s Jordanhill Training College before taking up his first post – back at Camphill where he taught English and history.

He and Margaret went on to have a son John and the ambitious Mr Armour began climbing the career ladder. He became principal English teacher at Glasgow’s Abercorn Secondary School and then was appointed deputy head at Renfrew High School. His first headship was at Mount Secondary School in Greenock and since he had reached the peak of his career he did not apply for the rector’s post at Camphill when it became vacant. However, the education department noticed the omission and prompted him to submit an application. Success followed and the appointment, which he held until retiring in 1985, was his greatest pleasure.

Education was his entire working life and his contribution reached far beyond that which he made to the individual schools where he taught. He used his influence through the teaching union the Educational Institute of Scotland to improve education across the country. Elected EIS president for the year 1976-77, he represented teachers’ views in discussions with employers and the Government and presided over the union’s AGM in June 1977.

Known as an outstanding public speaker, his huge love of Robert Burns also led to many engagements at Burns Clubs locally and south of the border plus invitations to speak in Russia and Canada, neither of which he was able to accept. He was still in demand in 2015 when, at the age of 94, he received a standing ovation at St Andrews Burns Club for his Immortal Memory.

Mr Armour, who divided his time between St Andrews and Elderslie, where he had lived since the 1950s, was a member for many years of both St Andrews’ New Golf Club and Elderslie Kirk West, where he served as an elder, clerk to the board and session clerk. An excellent pianist in his youth, he had also been organist there and at North Church, Paisley.

Predeceased by his wife Margaret and granddaughter Margaret Anne, he is survived by his daughter and son, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.