Director Royal Artillery and bursar of Loretto School

Born: October 24, 1923;

Died: November 13, 2019

MAJOR-GENERAL Robert Lyon, who has died aged 96, had a distinguished military career seeing service in the Italian campaign in the Second World War.

He was captured and wounded in 1943 and spent some years as a prisoner of war in degrading conditions as the Germans suspected he was a spy.

On retiring from the army in 1978 he was appointed bursar of Loretto School, Musselburgh, whose archivist William Durran told The Herald, “Bob was a much-respected bursar at Loretto and is remembered with much affection. He arrived here on a freezing cold winter day and the school pipes had all burst. Somehow, Bob had everything ready for the school’s return a week later.”

Robert Lyon was born in Ayr, the only child of David Lyon and his wife Bridget. He attended Ayr Academy and joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was commissioned in 1943 and posted to the 1st London Scottish.

The Division was involved along with the American 3rd Division in a strong amphibious landing south of Rome. The object was to hold certain strategic positions for the Allies and make the Germans withdraw northwards, thus preserving Rome from conflict and bombing.

The well-drilled German soldiers fought back against the Allies on the beaches and encircled them within the terrain they had hoped to capture. The London Scottish received no artillery support — which Lyon remembered with much regret all his life – and in the harsh fighting Lyon was wounded in the leg and taken prisoner with others in his platoon.

Lyon posed a problem which totally baffled his interrogators. When he was transferred from the Argylls to the London Scottish, Lyon kept, out of sentimentality or loyalty, the Argyll’s cap badge in his pocket. The German Intelligence officers found the Argyll’s badge and were most suspicious: they presumed he was a spy.

Lyon experienced intensive questioning but refused to answer any questions except those he had to answer as a POW. He was warned that he would be shot immediately if he did not confess. Lyon bravely held out but was eventually incarcerated in a prisoner-of-war cage in which he spent many tortuous months in a miserable captivity.

Lyon was hauled out of an escape tunnel alive from a POW camp near Munich. He ended the war at Oflag 79 at Brunswick.

Thereafter Lyon gained a regular commission with the 4th Battalion Black Watch serving in Palestine patrolling the areas which were occupied by the newly formed Jewish terrorists campaigning against the British presence. There followed staff postings in Greece with the British mission, the Royal Artillery where he served as a troop commander then as an instructor at Mons Officer Cadet School at Aldershot.

In 1958 he served in Cyprus combatting the EOKA terrorists and for two years he commanded a battery of the Regiment Royal Horse Artillery along with the 16th Independent Parachute Brigade in Kuwait.

Back in the UK, Lyon assumed the challenging post of head Army Staff Duties at the Ministry of Defence and after commanding the 4th Regiment Royal Artillery in North Borneo – during which he was mentioned in despatches – he was promoted from lieutenant-colonel to brigadier and returned to the MOD as director of operational requirements. He retired from the army in 1978 with the rank of major-general.

Lyon served as bursar at Loretto from 1979-91 where his military experiences proved invaluable in coping with various challenging situations. The worst, perhaps, came in 1983 when the kitchens burnt down. Lyon immediately organised cooked meals from local firms and saved the day by bringing in a large temporary kitchen in a portacabin which had to be lifted by crane over the school walls.

Of his time at Loretto the school magazine has recorded, “Bob immersed himself in the school and is fondly remembered for his sessions with the sixth form, and as a supreme motivator, excellent administrator and financial wizard. He had time to listen and advise, all with a great sense of fun.”

Lyon, who was made a CB in 1975, was a director of the Edinburgh Tattoo (1984-1999), a Commissioner of Queen Victoria School, Dunblane and chair of the Royal Artillery Council of Scotland.

He was a keen (and competitive) golfer and a member of Muirfield and Braemar where he retired. He was also a director of the Braemar Civic Amenities Trust.

Another sport he much loved was ice hockey. Lyon was a Centre Ice in the 1940s and represented Scotland at ice hockey against the war time Polish troops serving in Scotland.

In 1951 he married Constance Gordon who died in 1982 and married Rosemary Allchin in 1992 who died in August this year. He is survived by a son and daughter of his first marriage.