Major Desmond Buchanan MC


Desmond Buchanan was born on 10 Nov 1920, in Jamaica where his father was serving in the West India Regiment. He was educated at Haileybury where he excelled at sport. He joined the Grenadier Guards in 1939 and was posted to Windsor. His CO gave him the nick-name of Kelpie after a seahorse character in the Daily Mirror cartoon Belinda Blue-Eyes drawn by Steve Dowling. Buchanan's luxuriant hair reminded the CO of Kelpie's flowing mane and the name was published in Part One Orders. 'Kelpie' Buchanan, perhaps keen to get away from his mischievous commanding officer, soon left the Guards, in 1940, to join no.8 Commando at Loch Ailot, under Lord Lovat. After some exercises in the Middle East with the newly formed SAS, he became a member of the SBS and took part in a daring commando raid at Catania that was to lead to more than a year of great hardship for Buchanan and his fellow team members.

On 11 Aug 1942 the submarine Una landed the 6 men off the coast of Sicily where they were to canoe their way to a beach near Catania. Their mission was to sabotage the Junkers bombers at the nearby airfield to relieve the Malta convoys. The Germans and Italians were on the alert but they managed to reach the workshop and place explosives next to crates containing aircraft engines. Unfortunately, they were unable to destroy the aircraft which were heavily guarded. When the alarm went off they were hunted and forced to flee back to the 3 canoes. One of the team was captured or killed and they found that one boat had been damaged so the 5 men had to set out to sea on 2 two-seaters. Buchanan was one of the lucky ones to have a place in a canoe but the other boat sank, and the team commander, not wishing to be a burden on his comrades swam off in a brave attempt at self sacrifice. But Buchanan persuaded him to return and take his place in the canoe, which saved the commander's life. Eventually they were all rescued by a fishing boat after 5 hours in the water. However, the fishermen were Italian and the men were now prisoners of war.

They were sent to a prison camp at Fontanellato and Buchanan set to work on an escape tunnel. But the war against Italy ended in September 1943 and the prisoners walked out before the Germans could take over the camp. Buchanan and a fellow Grenadier officer trekked through the Apennines to head south, a tough journey on which they were sheltered and fed by a series of helpful locals. One hiding place was taken over by the Germans and they had to hide in the loft for 3 weeks, fed secretly by the elderly woman and her daughter. Finally the British army arrived in the area and they were repatriated. Desmond Buchanan re-joined his regiment and served in Palestine in 1944 and then transferred to Glubb Pasha's Arab Legion in 1945.

In retirement he went into the antiques business and served as a special constable in Chelsea. He was also a prison visitor, at Winchester. He married twice; to Maureen Guinness, Marchoness of Dufferin and Ava, in 1948, and then to Susan Macpherson in 1973, with whom he had a son. He died in January 2001, aged 80. This account of his life is taken from the obituary in the Daily Telegraph 10 Jan 2001. The story of the Catania raid is told in Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby (1971)


Regimental details | Soldiers




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by Stephen Luscombe