Solider, Diplomat & Adventurer

Sir Fitzroy Maclean, 1st Baronet, KT, CBE

Born into a world undergoing rapid change, Maclean's life offers a unique perspective on the 20th century. This article delves into his extraordinary journey as a World War II soldier, his contributions to post-war political spheres, and his later years of retirement, during which he authored numerous compelling biographies and assorted works of fiction.

A Noble Scotsman

Maclean was born in Cairo on 11 March, 1911. His father, Major Charles Wilberforce Maclean QOCH (1875–1953), hailed from the esteemed Scottish landed gentry and was stationed in Egypt with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. Fitzroy's mother, Frances Elaine Gladys Royle (12 June 1882 – 1954), brought her own distinguished parentage, being the sole daughter of George Royle, a Royal Navy officer, and Fannie Jane Longueville Snow.

His lineage traced back to the Macleans of Ardgour, a branch of the esteemed Clan Maclean, whose ancestral stronghold is the iconic Duart Castle perched on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides. Fitzroy was brought up in Italy, and his education took root at renowned institutions like Eton and King's College, Cambridge, where he immersed himself in the Classics and History. Later, his quest for knowledge took him to Germany, where he further honed his education before joining the Diplomatic Service in 1933.

Inside the Soviet Union

In 1934, Maclean began as a diplomat at the British Embassy in Paris. Initially drawn to the city's lively social scene, he gradually found the routine too unchallenging for his tastes. Seeking a more stimulating role, he opted for a post to Moscow in 1937. Spending two and a half years in the Soviet Union, Maclean's experiences during this time would later serve as the foundation for his well-known autobiographical work, "Eastern Approaches."

His stay in Moscow coincided with the tumultuous period of the Stalinist purges, granting him a close-up view of the unfolding political landscape. Amidst these events, he observed the fates of significant figures such as Bukharin and other Russian revolutionaries.

While stationed in the capital, Maclean's travels extended to remote areas of the USSR, often using trains to access regions off-limits to foreigners. In doing so, he managed to elude the watchful eyes of the NKVD, facilitating clandestine meetings and gaining insights into otherwise restricted aspects of the country. His astute reporting on the political climate within Russia earned recognition from prominent British officials, making him a notable chronicler of the time.

From Diplomat to Soldier

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Maclean's journey took an unexpected turn. Despite his desire to don military attire, his position as 2nd Secretary in the Foreign Office prevented him from joining the armed forces. Fuelled by his resolve, he made a pivotal decision – bidding farewell to his diplomatic career and setting his sights on a new path: politics.

Following his resignation, Maclean headed to the nearest recruiting office, and enlisted as a Private in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. It didn't take long for him to rise through the ranks; a swift promotion to lance corporal was followed by a commission in 1941. Remarkably, he also took on another role – as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Lancaster.

The arid expanse of North Africa in 1942 saw Maclean's emergence as a notable figure, where he crossed paths with fellow Scottish compatriot, David Stirling. The inception of the Special Air Service (SAS) provided him a platform to display his mettle, collaborating with Ralph A. Bagnold to devise innovative techniques for manoeuvring vehicles over the challenging Libyan sands. Maclean's style of warfare, a reflection of the legendary T. E. Lawrence, showcased his tactical brilliance.

In the same year, Maclean transitioned to the Middle East and became an integral part of the Persia and Iraq Command. In a daring feat of espionage, he found himself entrusted with a platoon of Seaforth Highlanders and a mission: the abduction of General Fazlollah Zahedi, commander overseeing Persian forces in the Isfahan region. Triumphantly, Maclean orchestrated the kidnapping, and smuggled the general away to internment in Palestine via plane. This dramatic event bore far-reaching consequences, compelling Hitler's regime to withdraw support from its Persia-based network.

Maclean's Yugoslavian

During the year 1943, Winston Churchill entrusted Fitzroy Maclean to lead a liaison mission known as Macmis in Yugoslavia. Tasked with being the British representative to Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito, his position held immense strategic importance. Maclean forged a friendship with the enigmatic Dictator, and their camaraderie led to his insightful reports back to Churchill, advocating for British support of Tito's anti-fascist endeavours.

In the late summer of 1944, Maclean and Tito carried out Operation Ratweek. This audacious initiative involved a synchronised Allied bombing campaign in conjunction with local Partisan troops. The goal was to halt the retreat of German forces and curtail their reinforcement in central and western Europe, ultimately extending the duration of the war.

Throughout this period, Maclean developed a fondness for Yugoslavia and its resilient populace. His affection was so profound that he was later granted permission to purchase a house on the picturesque Dalmatian island of Korčula in Croatia.

Acknowledgement of Maclean's exceptional contributions arrived through various honours. He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1944 and received the esteemed Russian Order of Kutuzov from the Soviet Union. Post-war, his valour was recognised with the Croix de Guerre from France and the Order of the Partisan Star from Yugoslavia. His ascent through the ranks was equally notable, reaching Brigadier status and later being elevated to the local rank of Major General on 16 June, 1947.

A Parliamentary Path

Fitzroy Maclean extended his pursuits beyond the battlefield, venturing into the world of politics.. In the 1941 by-election, he secured the position of Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Lancaster, marking the inception of his political career. His resonance with the constituency was evident as he went on to be re-elected in subsequent years, including 1945, 1950, 1951, and 1955. From 1954 to 1957, Maclean also briefly held a junior ministerial post at the War Office.

The 1959 general election prompted Maclean to shift constituencies to Bute and North Ayrshire, where he emerged as a Unionist representative. Over the years, his electoral successes continued, with re-elections in 1964, and as a Conservative in 1966 and 1970. His tenure culminated during the February 1974 general election. The latter two years saw him appointed as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Western European Union.

In the realm of cultural diplomacy, Maclean took on two prominent positions in the GB-USSR Association, from 1959 to 1970 as Executive Chair and later as President from 1977 to 1987. The Association, supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), played a significant role in fostering exchanges and diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union.

Honours and Literary

Throughout his life, Sir Fitzroy Maclean’s accomplishments continued to accumulate. In 1957, he was granted the baronetcy of Maclean of Strachur and Glensluain. His connection with heritage deepened in 1981 when he became the 15th Hereditary Keeper and Captain of Dunconnel Castle. The pinnacle of his accolades was reached in 1994, as he was knighted in the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle.

Retirement ushered a new phase for Maclean, yet his creative spirit never waned. His literary pursuits encompassed a vast array of subjects, spanning from Scottish history and biographies of notable figures such as Tito and Burgess, to an enthralling Russian trilogy. Maclean also contributed his insights to other literary works, including writing the foreword for the 1984 biography of Joseph Wolff, fittingly known as the "Eccentric Missionary."

On June 15, 1996, at the age of 85, Fitzroy Maclean passed away in Hertford, Hertfordshire, England. Undoubtedly, his wartime achievements, political stance, and literary contributions reflect the resolute spirit of his era. Today, he remains an enduring source of inspiration for current and future generations who follow his path.

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