The Official Home of the Clan McLea - the Highland Livingstones
The Late Chief of MacLea
On 29th February 2008 Alastair died peacefully in his sleep at his home on his beloved Isle of Lismore aged 93. He is survived by his widow, The Dowager Madam Livingstone of Bachuil, five children and six grandchildren. His elder son Niall inherits.
This picture was taken in 2004 by Julian Calder for the book "The Oldest: A Facinating List of Britain's Oldest Everything" , Julian Calder and Alastair Bruce and shows Alastair (the holder of the Oldest Title) standing on the shore at Port Ramsay, Isle of Lismore holding the Bachuil Mor. (Photo Courtesy of Julian Caldwell who owns the copyright.)
Alastair was born on the 1st September 1914 at Magomero, in Nyasaland. His father, William had taken on the management of the estate at the request of his kinswoman, Agnes, the legendary Dr David Livingstone's daughter. William transformed the fortunes of the estate and won prizes for his cotton. Alastair succeeded his father in 1915 when William was tragically killed along with Duncan MacCormick from Baligarve, Isle of Lismore in the Nyasaland Rising of 1915, when Alastair was only 5 months old. Duncan had joined William as his assistant.
His mother Kitty and his sister Nyasa survived the attack. Kitty then brought her family back to Scotland, opting to raise her infants in Port Appin as William’s younger brother Thom was living at Bachuil. Here Alastair went to the local village school before being sent on to board first at Ardvreck and then at Loretto. He then went on to take an MA and LlB from Edinburgh University, graduating in 1937. He was accepted into the Sudan Political Service and sent to study Arabic and criminal law at Clare College, Cambridge. In 1938 he went to the Sudan as Assistant District Commissioner at Berber on the Nile in Northern Province.
One of his first tasks was to recce a route from Berber on the Nile to Abu Hamid 100 miles to North. His party consisted of three camel attendants and two personal servants –who insisted that he dined each night in full black tie - alone in the middle of the Arabian dessert. He also had two convicts from the local Berber Goal. They all turned out to be good company. He was so pleased with their conduct and efforts that at the end of the journey he treated them all to a feast of roast sheep prepared in true Bedouin fashion..
In 1940 he was commissioned into the West Yorkshire Regiment whose Second Battalion was then part of the 9th Indian Infantry Brigade (of the famous Indian 5th Infantry Division - the 'Ball of Fire'), commanded by a relative Brigadier Bernard Fletcher. The Indian 5th Infantry Division had moved to the Sudan in 1940 and was joined by three British infantry battalions already there, including the West Yorks. The division was reorganised into three brigades each with one British and two Indian battalions (as was the prevailing custom).
The Division fought the East African Campaign in Eritrea and Ethiopia during 1940 and 1941 thence moving to Egypt, Cyprus and Iraq. In 1942 the division was heavily engaged in the Western Desert Campaign and in the fighting withdrawal to Alamein.
In 1941 Alastair took part in the third and final phase of the Battle of Keren in the Eritraen Campaign. This was a long drawn out and strongly contested attack against the Italians who were defending a natural fortress, Dologorodoc, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Keren . Alastair commanded the lead platoon of the lead company of the lead battalion in the assault. He was carrying out his orders to take his platoon forward to occupy a ridge when they came under heavy and sustained fire. Seeing the desperation of the situation Mike Osborn, his Company Commander, ordered him to withdraw and to find an alternative route with the immortal words “Molotoff, you bloody fool! Get your head down!” This advice undoubtedly saved his life. During this campaign, he had earned a succession of nicknames from Levstein, Litvanov and eventually Molatov – becoming affectionately known as Captain Molatov Sahib.
The compiler of the narrative for the Official History of this campaign has summed up the battle in these words:
On June 5th 1942 (now promoted to Captain as Brigade Intelligence Officer of the 9th Indian Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Fletcher) he took part in the battle intended to destroy the Germans and Italians in the Knightsbridge Cauldron, in the Western Desert. By dusk the first phase of the operation was over. Casualties had been comparatively light, success was complete. Four artillery regiments now moved up in readiness to support the 22nd Armoured Brigade and Fletcher's Ninth Brigade in the second act of the battle, which was to pass through and secure Sidi Muftah. Alastair described the artillery barrage as unbelievable. He had been up through the night setting out lamps in no-mans land to guide the troops in the dark. History records that this counter-attack against Rommel's forces in the Cauldron failed. Untrained troops, and misunderstandings between the infantry and supporting armour allowed the Germans to destroy a brigade of infantry, four artillery regiments and a good number of tanks. As a result of the heavy casualties suffered by the Brigade it was pulled out of the line for rest and retraining.
Lord Louis Mountbatten wrote in his memoirs paying tribute to the division whose record was "second to none", saying:
In 1943, at the request of the Palestine Government, and due to his knowledge of Arabic and Government administration, Alastair was seconded to them as Assistant District Commissioner in Nablus and Jenin, in charge of administration of Northern Galilee. The post necessitated inter alia maintaining good relations with the Lebanese and Syrian Governments, commanding the police and various magisterial duties. Historically he was there during the time of the blowing up of the King David Hotel.
After the war he joined the Iraq Petroleum Company as a liaison officer and political advisor. He liked the Arabs and was liked by them. In the end he spent the greater part of his career in the Middle East from 1938 to 1966.
In 1952, whilst on leave in London, he met former Free F.A.N.Y. (an independent unit that came under the overall auspices of the S.O.E.) radio operator Valerie Collins courting and marrying within a month. There followed 55 years of a happy married life with Valerie resulting in five children Niall, Deirdre, Catriona, Morag and Sandy and in due course six grandchildren as well.
In 1966 he was transferred to Head Office of IPC in London until he retired in 1973 to his beloved Isle of Lismore and the family home of Bachuil.
Once on Lismore he set about restoring Bachuil as the family home. A consummate host, he was ever up for a party. Valerie and Alastair, adopted the old Arab tradition of “Beity – Beituk” – that is - “Your house is My house” and was particularly welcoming to visiting clansmen. Now, with time on his hands, Alastair became active in community affairs as Chairman of the Community Council for several years. For ten years he was Registrar or Births, Deaths and Marriages for Lismore and he was an Elder for 50 years and of this historic Church for more than 30 years.
As a Jacobite, he was chairman of the 1745 Association for ten years and was one of the Editors of the Muster Roll of the 1745 published in 1984 (now re-published as No Quarter Given) by Aberdeen University Press. Throughout his life, he was a long-standing member of the Argyllshire Gathering, the Convention of the Baronage of Scotland and was on the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.
In 1997 at the age of 82 when slating, Alastair achieved his most significant claim to fame by falling two stories from the roof of Bachuil. He survived with no more than a broken leg and dented pride, becoming the founder member and life President of the Lismore Flying Club – a somewhat arcane, but wholly august club with worldwide membership.Last updated 22 May, 2008