A New Tune for War Hero Sir Tommy MacPherson

Composer, teacher and Gold Medallist Niall Matheson has written a new piobaireachd for a war hero from his home Highland village of Newtonmore in Badenoch. Colonel Sir Thomas ‘Tommy’ Macpherson died in 2014 aged 94. At the time of his passing he was believed to be the most decorated surviving veteran of the Second World War. He won three Military Crosses and France’s Légion d’Honneur among many other awards.

Said Niall: ‘Like myself Sir Tommy was a Queen’s Own Highlander and he was also from my native Badenoch. Reading about his amazing military career I felt there just had to be a pipe written in his name.

‘I hope my efforts have done the incredible man justice and will ensure that was he achieved will never be forgotten. He was a genuine war hero of that there can not be the slightest doubt.’

Niall has now generously made his new piece available to readers of Piping Press and you can download your copy here.

And here is a recording of Niall playing the ground:

In 2014 the Herald newspaper reported: ‘Sir Tommy Macpherson’s swashbuckling derring-do exploits during WW2, often wearing his regimental kilt, took place in France, Italy, Palestine, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon and Syria with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, 11th (Scottish) Commando or the Special Operations Executive (SOE) for whom he was parachuted in to back the French resistance. He was captured and imprisoned as a POW for two years in Italy, Germany, Austria and Poland.

If that were not enough, he had played rugby for Scotland against the All Blacks before the war and beat a young Roger Bannister over the mile years before Bannister broke the four-minute barrier. He also once beat the great Czechoslovakian distance runner Emile Zatopek.

After the war, he had an outstanding career in Scotland as a TA commander and businessman for the rest of his working life. He told the story of that life in his 2010 autobiography ‘Behind Enemy Lines’, with the help of his writer friend Richard Bath, who described him during his military career as having ‘an almost ­pathological disregard for his own safety’. He was appointed CBE (Military) in 1968, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London in 1977 and High Sheriff of Greater London in 1983. He was knighted by the Queen in 1992 as Sir Thomas Macpherson of Biallid.

Ronald Thomas Stewart Macpherson was born in Edinburgh on October 4, 1920, although his family were Highlanders from Newtonmore/Badenoch, where the future Sir Tommy would return to spend his life and where he died at home peacefully. He was the youngest of seven children of Sir Thomas Stewart Macpherson, a judge in the British Raj in India, and Helen Cameron, daughter of a minister.

One of his older brothers, the politician Niall, would rise to the peerage as Baron Drumalbyn and died in 1987. Another elder brother, GPS Macpherson, became a legendary Scottish rugby player in the inter-war years. Tommy went to Cargilfield in Edinburgh, Scotland’s oldest prep school, Edinburgh Academy and Fettes College, overcoming a crippling childhood illness, the bone disease osteomyelitis.

Sir Tommy in his fighting days

When war broke out, he was just short of his 19th birthday and was commissioned into the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders (TA), serving first at Wick to protect the northern coastline.

Once Churchill had decided to set up a commando force ‘to set Europe ablaze’, young Macpherson volunteered and trained on the Isle of Arran on how to kill in hand-to-hand combat. Among his tutors was the legendary Simon Fraser, Lord ‘Shimi’ Lovat. He saw his first action in June 1941 during the Litani campaign in Lebanon against hostile Vichy French forces, helping take a key bridge and winning his first MC.

In October that year, he was involved in a commando reconnaissance mission with a view to attacking Field Marshal Rommel’s HQ in Cyrenaica (now part of Libya) as part of Operation Flipper. Transported by submarine, he and three fellow commandos landed on the beach in folding canoes. When the submarine failed to return, the four commandos were forced to walk across the desert behind enemy lines towards Tobruk without maps, food or water.

Captured by an Italian patrol, he was transferred to a POW camp in Italy, and later to Poland, making several attempts to escape, and he finally did so, aided by members of the Polish resistance. He and his comrades stowed away on a Swedish freighter, hiding among coal dust in the hold to avoid Nazi guards with sniffer dogs.

Composer Niall Matheson has already written a tune for the 51st Highland Division

He received a further MC for the beach recce and a third for his escape from Poland. After being incarcerated for a time in Sweden, he was released to the British embassy in Stockholm and flown home to the Highlands on board an RAF Liberator.

By June 1944, he was back in action, parachuted into France – wearing his regimental kilt -to aid the maquis. He led them in numerous commando attacks on Nazi convoys, roads, railways and even a division of Panzer tanks.

After the war, he returned to Trinity College, Oxford, where he graduated in philosophy, politics and economics and represented Oxford at rugby, hockey and athletics, becoming a blue in the latter.

After the war, he had a successful business career while still serving in the TA until 1968. He worked for the timber company William Mallinson and Sons for 30 years, rising to managing director in 1967.

He was also a director of numerous companies including Brooke Bond Group and Scottish Mutual Assurance, serving as chairman of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce in the 1980s and becoming a member of the Royal Company of Archers. In retirement, he was president of the British Legion for Badenoch, vice-president of the Newtonmore shinty club and chieftain of the Newtonmore Highland Games.

5 thoughts on “A New Tune for War Hero Sir Tommy MacPherson

  1. It is my mother’s covid delayed 90th birthday party this weekend and my very talented godson, Alasdair Cuthbert, will be piping this wonderful lament to my father for us there.
    Thank you Niall!

    1. Have a fantastic weekend in Badenoch and hopefully we’ll all get together at the Highland Games next yearBelated Happy Birthday to your Mum. Niall p.s Hope you enjoy your Dad’s Piobaireachd.

  2. Hi Brett
    Yes a Young Tommy played the pipes and are now being use by young pipers in Newtonmore to learn, who ever is lucky enough to have them goes once a year to play to Lady Jean and family ✅ it might be the night before Newtonmore Highland Games then of to Kingussie for a local shinty match between Newtonmore & Kingussie for the Sir Tommy Macpherson Trophy

    1. Yes Brett he did and his pipes have been left to young pipers in Newtonmore to learn and who ever is lucky enough to have them goes to the Family home once a year and plays for Lady Jean and family Think it’s the night before Newtonmore Highland Games then down to Kingussie for a local Darby Shinty Match between Newtonmore & Kingussie for the Sir Tommy Macpherson Trophy ✅✅

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