RAF chaplain famed for his Burns Night addresses

Born: September 5, 1925;

Died: May 9, 2018

DONALD Wallace, who has died age 92, served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, was later ordained, and had a long and distinguished career in the Royal Air Force. He reached the top of the chaplaincy branch and was appointed an honorary chaplain to the Queen.

A man of boundless enthusiasm for life and irrepressible humour, he touched the hearts of many during his long, full life. Born in humble circumstances in a two-room tenement in Edinburgh’s Waverley Park, he was eldest of three boys.

At 17 after the outbreak of war, he joined the navy, refusing officer training due to the extra time this would take before he could see active service. Instead he became an ASDIC operator, listening for U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic while serving on HMS Hotspur, HMS Essington and HMS Leander.

He was awarded the Arctic Star for his service in the Arctic convoys and, some 70 years later in 2016, he was honoured by Russia with an Ushakov Medal for his part in transporting crucial supplies to the Arctic ports in harsh, sub-zero temperatures. In 2017 he was presented with the Légion d’honneur by France, awarded to survivors of the D-Day campaign.

After the war, accompanied by his faithful German Shepherd “Mr Beau”, he studied theology at St Andrew’s University, was ordained and joined the Royal Air Force as a chaplain.

An early posting took him to Kenya where his wide-flung parish also covered Uganda and Tanganyika, necessitating a great deal of travelling. As a young man, fearful of his mother’s reaction to snapshots of bare-breasted villagers, he dutifully inked in bikini tops throughout his photo album. During this time he was a member of the host retinue for the then Princess Elizabeth’s visit to Kenya during which time she received news of her father’s death and her ascension to the throne.

The Mau Mau uprising turned an otherwise enjoyably adventurous posting into a much more challenging responsibility, Wallace tending to the spiritual and emotional needs of a dispersed congregation under the constant shadow of violence.

It was in Aden, on the gang plank of the troopship that was to take him home to the UK, that he met Betty Clapp. While on leave in Spain the following year, a second chance meeting led to their engagement and a happy, life-long marriage.

In 1960, Wallace was posted to Cyprus for a four year tour at Akrotiri. Always one to fill each second of every day, “The Padre” as he was known, not only built a large and thriving congregation but also founded a sub-aqua club and created a beach for RAF families on the otherwise rocky coastline by dynamiting a cove and trucking tons of sand across the peninsula. His diving skills led to him leading several search and rescue missions and also an expedition to look for a rare Mediterranean seal for the Natural History Museum.

After a further four year posting to RAF College Cranwell in Lincolnshire, Wallace was promoted, somewhat earlier than normal, to the rank of Group Captain as a command chaplain, based initially at Northwood then RAF Rheindahlen in Germany and finally RAF Brampton. In this role he no longer had a church of his own but oversaw the Presbyterian chaplains in RAF bases around the globe. His parish thus extended from Hong Kong and Madagascar to stations above the Arctic Circle. He was well known on the long flights to these places for passing the time by sewing tapestries — known affectionately as “Donald’s darning”.

In 1977 he was appointed honorary chaplain to the Queen and subsequently wore the associated red cassock when preaching or on official duty.

His love of scuba diving and his years boxing during childhood, the navy and university led to him becoming president of the RAF’s Sub Aqua Association and chairman of the Combined Services Boxing Association.

Retiring from the RAF in 1980 at the mandatory age of 55, he became a director and chaplain of the Royal Caledonian School and life managing governor of the charity, the Royal Scottish Corporation. He also began a long association with Parmiter’s School in Hertfordshire, serving as honorary chaplain, chairman of the board of governors and chairman of the Thomas Parmiter Foundation. In 2004 he was surprised and honoured to have the school’s new cricket pavilion named after him.

Wallace was also appointed a freeman of the city of London and an honorary Fellow of the Institute of Bankers of Scotland. He also much enjoyed being chaplain to British Caledonian Airways and blessed planes as they came into service. Being chaplain to White Horse Whisky led to pleasures of a different kind!

An excellent orator and renowned wit, he was in much demand as a speaker, his speciality being the Address to the Haggis on Burns Night. He performed this role annually for the Scottish Banker’s dinner for many years and was famed for slicing the tops off the flaming candles of a strategically placed candelabra in the penultimate verse of his recital.

Locally he was a well known figure giving time to St Andrew’s church, the Watford Conservatives, the Watford and West Herts Scottish Society and in particular to all the families in the small close in which he had lived for 50 years.

He died aged 92 from complications resulting from a motorcycle accident. Irrepressible to the end, his love of life and a pun was unmatched. He is survived by Betty, his “Best Girl” and wife of 62 years, and his son and daughter, Duncan and Fiona.