Distinguished SAS commander and president of the Burma Star Association

Born: July 20,1927;

Died: January 12, 2019

COLONEL the Second Viscount Slim, who has died aged 91, came of famous military stock. His father, Viscount William Slim, commanded the 14th Army in the Burma campaign during the Second World War and was a legendary military figure.

It is much to Slim’s credit that he carved out a fine military career of his own and is acknowledged as a determined and chivalrous man in his own right. As a soldier he commanded the 22 Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) after seeing service in Burma during the last days of the war in the Far East and then in the Korean War. Subsequently, with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the SAS, he saw service in perilous postings in Malaya, Borneo, Kenya, Cyprus, Aden and Oman.

He was stationed in Scotland as a serving officer and had strong connections going back many years – both military and through family in the village of Chirnside in the Borders. His son, Hugo, confirmed this love of Scotland and told The Herald, “Dad was deeply proud of his Argyll connections and he and my mother dined with them all at Stirling Castle last year. He will be buried with his Argyll dirk and claymore on top of his coffin. His uncle was killed with the Argylls in the First World War and he always carried this memory with him.”

John Douglas Slim was born in Pakistan and was the only son of the then Captain William “Bill” Slim and his wife, Aileen (née Robertson), the daughter of a Church of Scotland minister. He enjoyed his early years in India and attended the Rashtriya Indian Military College at Dehradun, where he became fluent in Urdu.

In 1944 he was commissioned into the British Indian Army 6th Gurkha Rifles and was posted to Burma to command a platoon during the political upheavals which led to the country gaining independence in 1948. During his service in the jungle he contracted dysentery and spent some months in hospital.

He moved to Scotland and for four years he served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders – the regiment of his Scottish uncles. In 1950 his regiment was despatched to Korea where the 1st Argylls were involved in some savage fighting especially at Sariwon. At that battle Slim found that his commanding officer was caught up in the fighting and Slim gave the order to pull the battalion back to a safer strategic position to provide cover against the retreating Koreans.

On returning to Scotland, he commanded the Queen’s Guard at Balmoral and met Elisabeth “Buffy” Spinney, whom he married in 1958. She was the daughter of the founder of a retail chain in the Middle East and a cordon bleu chef. She was a lady of independent mind and spirit and gave great support to Slim throughout his career in such demanding postings as Aden and Cyprus in the 1960s. For good measure she kept a pistol in her handbag.

But Slim missed the challenges and excitements of the Far East. He joined the 22nd SAS and was principally concerned with modernising the regiment. He introduced, for example, improved methods of transporting troops – better use of helicopters and parachuting troops into combat areas and river patrolling.

After instructing at Staff College, Camberley, Slim was appointed brigade major at HQ Highland Infantry Brigade (1962-1964). He commanded a squadron following Indonesia's opposition to the creation of Malaysia which required much tact between the various local factions.

He was appointed commander of 22 SAS in 1967 and during this command he again ensured the SAS was made a modern and well-equipped fighting force. Training methods were upgraded and he pioneered secret schemes to combat terrorism.

He served at HQ UK Land Forces from 1970 to 1972 and that year was appointed OBE and retired with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was later made an honorary colonel.

In 1970 he had succeeded to the title and spoke in the House of Lords with great commitment on defence matters and was a member of the defence committee for some years. In 1999 he was one of the hereditary peers elected to remain in the House.

In his retirement he worked for a firm of head-hunters and was on the board of several companies. He was president of the Burma Star Association and he and his wife attended meetings of veterans exchanging memories and renewing friendships. Slim was much respected for his joyous informality on such occasions and had the knack of remembering faces, names and events.

He was president of the SAS Regimental Association from 2000 to 2011 and a patron until his death.

His wife predeceased him and he is survived by their daughter and two sons, the elder of whom, Mark Slim, inherits the title.