Thursday 19 August 2010 | Army Obituaries feed


Graham Pilcher

Graham Pilcher, who has died aged 92, was a leading light in Dundee's textile industry, latterly with Sidlaw Industries Ltd, and was awarded the Military Cross in the Netherlands in 1944 while serving with the Black Watch.

Graham Pilcher

In 1935 Pilcher completed a Territorial Army subaltern's course at Sandhurst and was commissioned into the 4th/5th Battalion The Black Watch, eventually becoming the battalion signals officer. He was mobilised with the 4th Battalion in September 1939 and accompanied them to France the following January as part of the 51st Highland Division.

The battalion became part of Ark Force and escaped from Cherbourg on June 15 1940. Pilcher, who had been wounded, returned to England the same day in a hospital ship. He then spent two years with the battalion in Gibraltar and early in 1944 was in command of a camp in Hampshire where troops were training for the D-Day invasion.

Pilcher landed on D + 20 to join the 5th Battalion. He served as a company commander and two months later was wounded again, but rejoined his men almost immediately. For the whole of the next year, the battalion was engaged in fierce fighting.

On October 25 1944, the battalion crossed the River Dommel near the village of Esch, south of Hertogenbosch, to expand the bridgehead. Pilcher's company came under heavy mortar and Spandau fire at close range and was pinned down in flat, open country.

Any movement out of the cover of the ditches drew fire, and men were being picked off by snipers. Pilcher realised that the situation was critical and ran across the open ground to his forward units.

Despite coming under intense fire, he organised and led a determined assault on the enemy who were dug in on the main road 200 yards away. Two enemy machine-gun posts were wiped out and several enemy killed and captured.

The sniping continued and Pilcher crossed and recrossed the bullet-swept ground consolidating his defensive positions. He was awarded an immediate MC and was decorated by Field Marshal Montgomery.

During the worst moments, he took comfort in reciting Kipling's If and singing to himself the music hall ditty Mairzy Doats ("Mares eat oats and does eat oats").

Two weeks before V-E Day, having taken part in the push through France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany, he was severely wounded south of Bremen. The surgeon who operated on him in the field claimed that he had never given anyone as much blood in his whole professional life.

Pilcher returned to Britain but his injuries were so severe that he was unfit for any further military service and resigned his commission. He had served with the Black Watch for 10 years.

Graham Hope Pilcher was born in Dundee on June 15 1916 and educated at Craigflower School, Dunfermline, and Clifton College, Bristol, before joining Jute Industries Ltd in Dundee in 1935. He was the fourth generation of his family on his mother's side to work in the industry and his father, W Hope Pilcher, was a director of the company.

In 1945, whilst staying with his grandmother in St Ives to recuperate from his wounds, he met Rosamunde Scott, who had been serving with the Wrens in Trincomalee in Ceylon. They were married in December of the following year in Rosamunde's home church, St Uny's in Lelant.

They returned to Dundee where Pilcher resumed his work at Jute Industries Ltd and, over the next 34 years, became an increasingly important figure in the textile industry in Dundee. He managed the Camperdown, Bow Bridge, Maxwelltown, Caldrum and Manhattan jute mills before giving up production duties in 1954 to concentrate on cloth sales.

He was then closely involved in the company's exporting and merchant activities, holding the chairmanships of various companies including Jute Industries of New York, Thomas Taylor & Co, GC Taylor & Son (Sidlaw) and John Frew (Belfast).

Jute Industries was renamed Sidlaw Industries in the early 1970s when Pilcher became chairman of the hardware division and chairman of the British Jute Trade Federal Council before retiring in 1979. He also served as honorary secretary for the diocese of Brechin.

Pilcher was always a keen sportsman, having been on the rugby, cricket and running teams at school. He was a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. He enjoyed remarkable fitness right to the last, playing a set of tennis with his grandchildren to mark his 80th birthday and a round of golf on his 90th.

Pilcher remained a Black Watch man all his life, becoming chairman of the 51st Highland Division Veterans Association. In 2001 he was part of a group of veterans who were invited by the Dutch government to visit the places they had helped liberate.

In 2006 he unveiled a bronze statue of a piper at Bruar in Perthshire to commemorate the actions and sacrifice of that famous formation and, at the same time, oversaw the final laying-up of colours of the 51st.

Graham Pilcher, who died on March 27, is survived by his wife, the novelist Rosamunde Pilcher, and by two sons and two daughters.

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