Buchan was ‘a Great Scot’
At the meeting of Lockerbie and District Rotary Club held at the Dryfesdale Hotel recently, president Ving Thomson introduced past president Alex Smith as the speaker whose subject was “A Great Scot”.
Alex spoke of the 1st Baron Tweedsmuir, John Buchan, GCMG, GCVO, CH. PC., a Scottish novelist, historian, diplomat, Lieutenant Colonel in the intelligence services and Unionist politician who also served as Governor General of Canada.
He was born in Perth in 1875, the son of minister, was brought up in Kirkcaldy, Fife, and spent many summer holidays in the company of his sister Anna with his maternal grandparents in Broughton.
The childhood he and Anna shared was documented in her memoir, written under the pseudonym O. Douglas. After attending Hutchesons’ Grammar School, Buchan was awarded a scholarship to the University of Glasgow, aged 17, where he studied classics, wrote poetry and became a published author.
He moved on in 1895 to study classics at Brasenose College, Oxford. In 1897, after graduating, Buchan became a diplomat serving as secretary to the Governor of Cape Colony, South Africa.
It was during this time he met Edmund Ironside, a senior officer in the British Army, who in later years became a Field Marshall and it was said was the basis for Richard Hannay in his novel The Thirty-Nine Steps.
In 1905 he read law in London, subsequently qualifying as a barrister, as well as becoming editor of the Spectator.
In 1907 he married Susan Grosvenor, daughter of a cousin of the Duke of Westminster. Together, Buchan and his wife had four children.
In 1910, he wrote Prester John, the first of his adventure novels, set in South Africa. Shortly after this he suffered from duodenal ulcers, a condition that later afflicted one of his fictional characters. At the same time, Buchan ventured into the political arena and was adopted as Unionist candidate for the Borders seat of Peebles and Selkirk.
In 1914 with the outbreak of war Buchan went on to write War Propaganda and worked as a correspondent for the Times. He continued to write fiction and in 1915 published his most famous work, The Thirty-Nine Steps, a spy-thriller set just prior to World War I.
With the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted in the British Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps where he wrote speeches for Sir Douglas Haig. He also produced magazines detailing the history of the war and moved to live in Oxfordshire.
After the war, Buchan turned his attention to writing on historical subjects, along with his usual thrillers and novels. He became president of the Scottish Historical Society and a trustee of the National Library of Scotland and he also maintained ties with various universities.
In a 1927 by-election, Buchan was elected as the Unionist Party Member of Parliament for the Combined Scottish Universities. Buchan was further appointed as the King George V’s Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
In 1935 his literary work was adapted for the cinema with the completion of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, starring Robert Donat as Richard Hannay, though with the story much altered. This came in the same year that Buchan was elevated to the peerage when he was entitled by King George V as 1st Baron Tweedsmuir.
In 1935 he was appointed Governor General of Canada by King George V. He occupied the post until his death in 1940.
Buchan proved to be enthusiastic about literacy, as well as the evolution of Canadian culture, travelling to all parts of the country.
Tweedsmuir Provincial Park in British Columbia was created to commemorate his visit to the Rainbow Range. His memory has also been remembered in Scotland by the creation of the John Buchan Way Walk along a 13-mile route between Peebles and Broughton.
In concluding Alex discussed the differences in the three films made of The 39 Steps in 1935, 1959 and 1978, the latter being filmed partly at Castlemilk and other places in Dumfries and Galloway.
President Ving called upon past president Ian Scott to give the vote of thanks. Ian complimented Alex for a well researched, informative, factual and interesting talk on a subject who crammed so much into his lifetime, following which members showed their appreciation in the usual manner.