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Susan Fortune on 15th March 2007

MRS SUSAN FORTUNE talking to G & M Makins 15/2/2001


This photo of Eisenhower - which is said to be in Berlin but is actually Hanover- shows my husband, Colonel Bruce Fortune. He has just lowered the sword as he has passed the Colours. My husband is also shown in the photo in the Eisenhour Rooms at Culzean, I recognise him tho' his face is hidden by his sword in that one.
My husband was wounded aged 23 in the war, in '43, in N Africa, and was nearly a year recuperating. Then he went back as ADC to Field Marshal Wavell.
Q: Did you serve in the War yourself?
Yes, in 1940 I was in the Wrens. I was first stationed in Aberdeen, and then I went to Arbroath. Then I went down to Greenwich and there I became a Third Officer and I remained a Third Officer till the day I got married!


My father-in-law was given the opportunity to return to Britain from captivity, because he had a stroke, while he was playing squash, and they wanted to repatriate him. And he said, no, I brought the men out, I'll come back with them. This was long after they were captured, probably late 1944. He came home in 45.
[Quote from a biography of Romm<el, edited by B H Liddell Hart, with the assistance of Lucie-Marie Rommel, Manfred Romrnel, & General Fritz Bayerlein, showing the regard in which General Fortune was held by Rommel). Rommel is so firmly associated with the war in Africa that there may be a tendency to overlook the leading role his armoured formations played in the overrunning of France. He it was also who overwhelmed and captured a large part of the 51st Highland Division at St Valery. It is interesting to note that Rommel often spoke to his family of the late General Fortune with sympathy as the leader of a good division who had bad luck. And that General Fortune apparently thought highly of Rommel and sent a message of sympathy, when repatriated, to Rommel's wife.' It was in St Valery that the 51st Division under General Fortune ended its heroic struggle, in June 1940, after 12 days of continuous fighting, and with no prospect of evacuation. The church in St Valery has a commemorative window, and on the anniversary, in '90, we went out to see it. It had been installed earlier that year.

The General's batman was Private MacAllister, and he managed to keep his batman right throughout captivity. When he was sent to Poznan - that was some sort of punishment, not for him personally but because something had happened - the batman went with him. He was finally released with the General (Quote) 'Major General victor Fortune, who refused repatriation, even for his daughter's wedding, was released yesterday, with his batman, Private MacAllister (also taken prisoner at St Valery). He and his wife worked for my parents-in-law after the war, cooking and gardening.


The Germans had huge respect for him. He did a tremendous amount for the prisoners of war, writing and making sure they had everything they should have, and so on. He was knighted because of his work for them. The prisoners had all sorts of activites and sports. They had their own paper. They also had a book in which they did cartoons which were very interesting. Some of these [cuttings] are interesting - they show the human side as opposed to the military side. This letter (see file), written by the General, is arranging for MacAllister's son to go to the Dunblane School - that's an army school.

Here are things from the prisoner of war camp - here's an actual letter, I got someone to transcribe it. September 5 '43, & he says 'we are all very well & in good heart (that's in the prisoner of war camp).

A MEMORY OF MEETING THE GENERAL IN THE PRISON CAMP (Extract from a book by Stuart Chant Semple, pub '85)

' ••• pushing me gently one of my guards indicated that I had to cross the bridge. There on the other side waiting for me was a surprising sight. A white haired distinguished looking man in khaki service dress, breeches & puttees and the shoulder badge of a Major General in the British Army. As I leant towards him he held out his hand and said 'I can't really welcome you here but it's good to see you. My name's Fortune', & looking at my red pips said 'I see you are in the 60th (Green Jackets). 1 stopped & coming to attention in front of him said 'Sir, thank you, but I'm not in the 60th, I'm a Gordon Highlander.' 'Never mind', he said, 'come in and meet everyone'. I've never forgotten that scene and the mixed emotions I had on meeting General Fortune, the then senior British officer of all British prisoners in Europe at that time, some 200,000 officers and men. The General had served with great distinction when commanding the 51st Highland Division andw went into captivity with the troops after fighting a valiant rearguard at St Valery.'


There was one of the prisoners of war, he's dead now - well there were several I believe - who was picked out to have coded letters, I mean, certain things that they wrote had meaning. So the parents of this particular prisoner, directly a letter arrived from the prison camp, had to send it to the War Office.


After the war, the General was paralysed slightly, following the stroke, but he did improve. He came back in 1945, and he had some little strokes. I remember one night, 1 was terrified, and next day he recovered and said 'I bet I terrified you last night!' & he did! He died in January 149.
A most extraordinary thing happened. Bruce and I went skiing, after the war, 1950 perhaps. We took some photographs, and handed them in to the local shop to be developed. Bruce said, 'I'll go down to the village & collect them', and he was ages. Anyway I started walking towards the village and met him coming back with a great grin on his face. This chap who developed the photographs asked if he (Bruce Fortune) was a relative of General Fortune, and he said yes, the General was his father. This chap was one of the Germans in the prisoner of war camp, and he remembered he had film of it. And we went down that night or the next night and saw this film of them all skating, swimming, and having fun. And why I didn't in those days think of saying 'could we have a copy of the film'! But wasn't it an extraordinary coincidence? People often wrote to my husband when they were writing something to ask him if he had anything, any papers, but he (General Fortune) never wrote anything about it himself. So it was all word of mouth, but we heard quite a lot about it. But to him it [the capitulation at St Valery] wasn't a moment of glory, I think it was probably one of the hardest things he ever had to do.
My husband left the army in'71. David (David Victor), our eldest, was in on short service. And afterwards he was flying for the Territorials. He was in the Black Watch, then he flew helicopters, attached to the Greys - but still in the Black Watch. And he took part in the big exercise a few years ago. he landed here for a cup of coffee. He landed in the garden several times, actually. They landed on the lawn there (at the front), the grass had just been mown. They (the crews of the 2 helicopers) were absolutely charming.


Grandfather bought this place (Bengairn House) in 1904 or 1905, but then he did extensions. This is the old outside wall, then he built this on, & he built the tower, & he built on at the back. The dining room - that was a room - the front hall, as far as the staircase, that was another room, and all the back there was the old farm house which must have been entrancing as it had a spiral staircase from downstairs. Part of it now is in what we call the back stairs, & it was an 18th C farmhouse. Grandfather served in India, in Calcutta. He was injured, and they all retired fairly early. They were from Fife as a family, but he wanted to retire here and he came back several times looking for a house here & eventually got this. His sister was married here, they were all fairly grown up when they came here.