9 – Tommy Macpherson
We have heard the tale of Jack Churchill, the bagpipe and Claymore-toting maniac who fought in the Highland Regiment, but he was not the only Scottish-themed crazy in the British Army. Forgetting for a moment that Jack Churchill wasn’t actually Scottish, the honor of the maddest Scot in the Second World War might well go to Tommy Macpherson, otherwise known as the Kilted Killer. Macpherson, a native of Edinburgh and a former Scottish rugby international, was one of the most decorated soldiers of the war, picking up, among other honors, the Military Cross, the Croix de Guerre three times and the Legion d’honneur.
Macpherson was a borderline aristocrat, having been educated at one of Scotland’s most expensive schools and gained a commission as an officer into the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, and was sent to North Africa as a reconnaissance man. His team found themselves cut loose while attempting to prepare a landing site for an attack on Erwin Rommel’s headquarters and were captured by the Germans – though not after walking over a hundred miles in just their shorts, without food, water or a map. He attempted to escape after escape for two years, eventually managing to free himself: whereupon he reported straight back for duty and was sent on a top-secret mission to help the French Resistance.
Tommy Macpherson was parachuted into southern France in June 1944, all the while wearing his full battle dress and kilt. He later wrote, “Just as I arrived I heard an excited young Frenchman saying to his boss, ‘Chef, chef, there’s a French officer and he’s brought his wife!” Their mistaking me for a woman wearing a skirt was an easy error to make. As a British officer parachuted into a resistance situation…your only authority was your own personality, which I had tried to reinforce with my kilt and a degree of flamboyance”.
He was a remarkably effective resistance fighter: he destroyed infrastructure and was a constant thorn in the side of the Germans, brazenly driving around in a car emblazoned with a Union Jack and a French Resistance flag. He killed countless enemy combatants, earning himself a personal bounty on his head as well as a nickname: “the Kilted Killer”.
Macpherson continued his assault for months until the Axis forces in the Auvergne were surrounded by Allies and surrendered. It is reported that he drove through machine-gun fire in his Highland battle dress to give the surrender notice to the Germans, totally unarmed and – unbeknownst to his adversaries – with no authority to do so. He simply told them that a barrage was on its way and the Germans believed him, giving up en masse.
After the war, Tommy stayed in the army and found himself promoted through various Scottish regiments of the British Army, eventually retiring as a Colonel of the Gordon Highlanders. He retired in 1968, was knighted by the Queen in 1992 and died in 2014, having published his memoirs, entitled Behind Enemy Lines.