Sir John Swinton

Soldier and eminent figure in the Borders

Born: April 21, 1925;

Died: October 4, 2018

MAJOR General Sir John Swinton of Kimmerghame, who has died aged 93, had a distinguished career in the Scots Guards and then was a well-respected figure in the Borders, serving as a hard-working and popular Lord Lieutenant for Berwickshire from 1989 until 2000. During the Second World War Sir John was severely wounded twice in his left leg and was on a hospital ship returning to the UK on VE Day. Despite the leg wound he saw further active service in Malaya from 1948 to 1951 and was ADC to Field Marshall Sir William Slim, Governor General of Australia.

In the Borders he is remembered with much warmth and affection. He was involved in many national and local societies, especially military ones. He also oversaw the detailed planning of many high-profile royal events in the area – notably the 1994 visit by The Queen and Prince Philip.

John Swinton was born into a family that can trace its lineage back to the Norman Conquest. His father, Brigadier Alan Swinton, MC, had a distinguished military career serving in the First World War. He was brought up at the family home of Kimmerghame a fine baronial castle near Duns in Berwickshire. After attending Harrow, he joined the Scots Guards while still a teenager in 1943. He was commissioned in 1944 and lost his lower leg by a mortar splinter near Bremen in April 1945 during the Allied advance through Germany.

His wooden leg did not put an end to his career in the army (nor did it stop his enthusiasm for Scottish Country Dancing) and he was posted in 1948 to Malaya for three years of arduous service to suppress the native insurgency launched by communist terrorists. He was deployed to the 2nd battalion of the Scots Guards and was second-in-command responsible for administrative support of the troops patrolling the jungle areas. In the last few months he served as an operational staff officer at brigade headquarters, for which he was mentioned in dispatches in 1951.

Sir John was then posted to serve as ADC to Sir William Slim and was much involved in The Queen’s visit to Australia in 1954 - the first by a reigning monarch. On his return to Britain he served on the Staff College, commanded 2nd Battalion Scots Guards from 1966 to 1968, the 4th Guards Armoured Brigade between 1972 and 1973 followed by the Scottish Lowlands, Edinburgh and Glasgow Garrisons centred at Edinburgh Castle from 1975 to 1976.

He was then appointed General Officer Commanding London District and was much involved with the meticulous organisation of the state funeral of Lord Mountbatten in 1979. As General Officer Commanding he was in the procession behind the Royal Family in Westminster Abbey. He was also in charge of London’s emergency services during the firemen’s strike and played important roles in The Trooping of the Colour ceremony.

On leaving the army in 1979 he was appointed KCVO by the Queen and devoted his energies to many army and community societies in Scotland, including acting as chairman of the Royal British Legion, Scotland; he was also a trustee of the Scottish National War Memorial, Scots at War Trust and the Committee of War Pensions. He supported many local charities such as the Berwick Military Tattoo, St Abbs Head Nature Reserve and the Berwickshire Civic Society.

His devotion to the Scots Guards never left him. He visited various regiments and was widely recognised as one of the most popular former commanders. One officer has commented, “John’s vibrance was infectious. He was always upbeat.”

In 1984 Gerald Maitland-Carew, who had inherited the nearby Thirlestane Castle asked Sir John to oversee its restoration. After seven years he handed it back - fully restored and its future secure.

Sir John was a member of the Queens Bodyguard for Scotland (The Royal Company of Archers) having being captain from 2003 to 2007. He was a keen angler and a good shot but most of all he enjoyed being at Kimmerghame with his family.

In 1954, while in Australia, he met and married Judith Killen. She died in 2012. He is survived by their three sons and a daughter, the versatile and Oscar winning actress Tilda. She had a strong and happy relationship with her father and lives part of the year near Nairn. Her father spoke of his daughter’s achievements with much pride, "Tilda is very proud of being Scottish, she is a fervent Scot. She would have undoubtedly been a soldier. She is a soldier in her outlook.”