The Gordons

James Ritchie MC

James Walter Ritchie was born in Rangoon on 12th Jan 1920. His father was Sir Adam Ritchie, chairman of the Rangoon Chamber of Commerce. James was taken to Scotland before he was one year old, with his sister, and was looked after by a nurse and housekeeper at St Boswells Roxburghshire. When he was 5 he was taken to Brown's Hotel to meet his parents for the first time since he was a baby. The photo he had of his father showed him wearing a solar topee so when Daddy appeared wearing a different sort of hat he refused to accept that he was his father.

He was educated at Ampleforth and then went to Clare College, Cambridge but war broke out after a year there and he joined the 5th/7th Gordon Highlanders as a 2nd Lieutenant. Because of his talent for languages and fluency in German he was placed in Intelligence in the Western Desert. At the battle of El Alamein in Nov 1942 he won the MC. Although wounded by a shot the leg in an attack on the Mirbat Kamli crossroads he continued to take orders to and from the front. During the night he organised the evacuation of wounded men. He then reported to brigade HQ and arranged for more evacuations, refusing to have his wound treated until the job was done. The citation recorded that "his cheerfulness was of the utmost value at a critical period when the battalion had been crippled by heavy losses causing a breakdown in communication."

He won his second Military Cross in Sicily, which was fortunate because a few days earlier he was in trouble following an incident at a conference when a pistol fell out of his pocket and discharged a bullet into his CO's backside. At the fighting at Sferro, at the foot of Mount Etna he used his initiative to save the battalion. When he spotted an ammunition lorry heading away from the battle he seized it and drove it through heavy artillery and small arms fire to the forward troops who were on the point of falling back through lack of bullets.

He fought with the battalion in Italy and then took part in the D-Day landings and the fighting that followed. He was short sighted but possessed an uncanny knack of finding his way in the dark, which was a highly prized asset for his men.

When he was demobilised he worked for the Inchcape Group in Africa, rising to the post of MD for East Africa. His language skills helped him in learning Swahili so that he could mix with the local community. He was devoid of snobbery and pomposity and always had a good sense of fun. He escaped death when he caught cerebral malaria and survived. From 1975 to 1985 he was joint MD of Inchcape, responsible for SE Asia, Europe and Latin America. He married June Forbes in 1951 and they had 2 sons and 2 daughters.

When he retired he divided his time between Kenya and Wiltshire. He busied himself with hunting, racehorse owning, golf and sailing. He fished regularly in Scotland and was very involved in conservation work. He died in January 1999, aged 78.

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by Stephen Luscombe