Soldier, military historian – and bagpipe player

WRAC officer, horsewoman and historian.

Born: May 21, 1946;

Died: April 10, 2019

Lieutenant Colonel Diana Henderson, who has died aged 72, had a career that ranged from the military to the law. For good measure she also acted as a development director of public schools and stately homes – notably Hopetoun House. She was a military historian and her book on the traditions and customs of the Highland regiments from 1820-1920 (The Highland Soldier) was widely praised.

Henderson often gave talks and lectures on the regiments and began by taking her bagpipes from their case and delivering a few inspiring Scottish marches - at an Edinburgh University lecture she was roundly cheered. She also used to play Reveille on them to wake up the Army camps – for which hundreds remember her!

Diana Mary Henderson was born in Guildford, Surrey of Scottish descent. Her father died when she was a baby and her mother, Edna, who served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, married Alexander Smith, an engineer from London. Henderson attended Hawick High School where she was keen a keen athlete. At Strathclyde University she was one of the first female law students and joined the Officers’ Training Corps. She graduated in 1970 and joined law firms in Arbroath and Inverness.

While practising Henderson was commissioned in 1970 as a TA officer in the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) and was to spend 30 very happy years as an officer seeing service in Europe and the Middle East.

During her studies for her PhD at Edinburgh University on the history of the Scottish regiments she researched the ancestral meanings of their badges, buttons and the proud traditions that have set the Scottish regiments apart and made them special. Henderson argued cogently – in her lectures and in her book – that despite changes over the years national loyalty allied to the distinctive uniforms and pipe bands the Scottish regiments have retained their individuality and identity. They have also proudly contributed to the unique character of the Highland soldiers.

Throughout her career she did face problems of being a woman in a Man’s World. In an interview she said, “I reached the point of being a major and was told outright: ‘Don’t even bother thinking of going up another rank, Diana — it will not happen.’” Henderson remained resolute: she was always a purposeful character and friends at Edinburgh University remember how she, “knew how to sort out anyone who did not respect her as a female officer.” Those who served under her talk of her patience, strong leadership abilities and great sense pride in the army.

In 1995 she joined the Movement Control Regiment and commanded 400 men and women. She was a stickler for discipline and never asked others to do that which she had not done herself. Henderson often mentioned when addressing her troops: “Duty, not rights; trust and loyalty; no excuses; no fuss.”

When she retired from the TA she was appointed chairman of the trustees of Hopetoun House outside Edinburgh. The Earl of Hopetoun told The Herald how valuable she was as the House was undergoing considerable changes. “Diana was a hard-working chairman as we undertook many alterations here – both internally and in broadening our facilities. The staff all appreciated her attention to detail and much respected her energy and enthusiasm. Her clarity of thought and gracious personality made a major impact.”

Henderson’s interest and broad knowledge of Scottish military history made her an ideal person to co-establish (with the late General Sir Michael Gow) the Scots War Trust which was set up in 1995 to co-ordinate and record veterans’ memories. It was not confined to Scotland but included memories from service abroad, at Bletchley, the Women’s Land Army and the Royal Navy. Henderson was an active trustee and attended or gave the lectures attended by veterans to document their recollections. The Trust’s administration was assumed by the Scottish National War Memorial in 2015.

The Highland Soldier was published in 1986 and has remained popular as Henderson concentrated on the history of individual regiments. She did not go into great detail on battles and generals but captured the social conditions that the Highland soldier experienced, for example in The Crimea. One critic wrote, “An outstanding book which is a great read full of factual information which makes clear the author's command of the subject.”

At a Cambridge College dinner she met Peter Jones (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Edinburgh University) who was director at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities at Edinburgh University (1986-2000) and amongst many other public appointments in Scotland was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

They married in 2011 and retired to Norfolk. Jones was a widower and he and his two daughters survive their step mother.

Alasdair Steven