Andrew Gilchrist

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Sir Andrew Graham Gilchrist, KCMG (1910–1993) was a Special Operations Executive operative and later a UK ambassador.

Early career in Foreign Office and SOE[edit]

Gilchrist was born on 19 April 1910 in the village of Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, Scotland.[1] He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy,[1] before reading History at Exeter College, Oxford from where he graduated in 1931. After Oxford he entered the diplomatic service and had his first overseas posting in Siam, now Thailand.[1]

During the war he spent time in a Japanese PoW camp, before being released in a prisoner exchange.[1] He then joined SOE (Special Operations Executive) and was active in intelligence in India and Siam between 1944 and 1945.[1] In his retirement he wrote a scholarly account of Britain's disastrous war in the east. Winston Churchill himself was singled out for criticism, for failing to protect British assets and placing too much reliance on the support of the US Pacific fleet.

After the war, in 1946 he married Freda Grace Slack and they raised three children; Janet (1947), Christopher (1948) and Jeremy (1951). He continued his career with postings to Iceland and Germany.[1] In 1956 he was appointed British Ambassador to Reykjavik, Iceland. His time there included the First Cod War between the two countries.[1] Anecdotes suggest that while the countries were threatening battle, he went fishing with an Icelandic minister.[citation needed] He later wrote a book about his time in Reykjavik entitled 'Cod Wars and How to Lose Them'.[1]

Ambassador to Indonesia and then Ireland[edit]

His next posting was to Chicago as Consul General,[1] and then as Ambassador to Djakarta, Indonesia (1962–1966). His time there saw an attack on the British Embassy in Jakarta on 16 September 1963, and the torching of his official car.[2] During the crisis, the Military Attache to the Embassy; Lt Colonel Bill Becke and Major Rory Walker paraded in front of the rioters, the latter playing the bagpipes, which only aggravated the mob, which was protesting against Britain's support for Malaysia during the Indonesia-Malaysia Confrontation. According to the Australian historian J.A.C. Mackie, Gilchrist taunted a delegation of the demonstrators, who had come to present their resolutions to the Ambassador. His actions fueled hostility towards Britain among the Indonesian demonstrators. The mob returned on 18 September and broke through the fence, setting the embassy alight, during the attack Gilchrist, Walker and Becke stood their ground and defended the strong room. In the end, the British diplomats were evacuated by the Indonesian authorities.[3]

Britain was at the time strongly in favour of finding almost any means to help Indonesian opponents of Sukarno's communist-backed regime, helpful local propaganda certainly being one of them. Gilchrist reported to London that he had always believed that "more than a little shooting" would be necessary to bring about a change of regime. This turned out to be true as the US-backed regime led by Suharto took power by force of arms in 1965 and the Indonesian Army launched a nationwide purge of Communist elements and sympathizers; wiping out the Indonesian Communist Party.[4] Gilchrist received a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1956, and was knighted via Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1964.

Sir Andrew Gilchrist was sent, for his final posting before retirement, to Dublin as ambassador.[1] A quiet time there was made impossible by the resurgence of "the troubles" and British troops being sent on to the streets of Northern Ireland in 1969. He claimed to have made a bet with the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the troops would be there for 25 years. Sadly this proved to be true, though Gilchrist himself died just before this anniversary in 1993.

Retirement and later life[edit]

After retiring from the Foreign Office in 1970, Gilchrist became the Chairman of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, a UK government quango which funded small start-up enterprises in what was a relatively poor region of the country.[1]

In his retirement Gilchrist spent time curling, fishing and writing - in addition to his serious books on his time in Iceland, SOE's work in Siam and the fall of Malaya, he wrote a number of novels, including "Did Van Gogh Paint His Bed?" and some poetry. He was also a prodigious writer of letters to newspapers - principally the Times, the Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. After his wife Freda died in 1987, he had a letter published in a British newspaper once a week on average until his death in 1993.

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James Henderson
UK Ambassador to Iceland
Succeeded by
Andrew Stewart
Preceded by
Sir Leslie Fry
UK Ambassador to Indonesia
Succeeded by
Terence O'Brien
Preceded by
Geofroy Tory
UK Ambassador to Ireland
Succeeded by
John Peck


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Cecil, Robert (12 March 1993). "Obituary: Sir Andrew Gilchrist". The Independent (London). Retrieved 24 July 2012. 
  2. ^ Robert Cecil (5 March 1993). "Obituary: Andrew Gilchrist". The Times. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  3. ^ Mackie, J.A.C. (1974). Konfrontasi: The Indonesia-Malaysia Dispute. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. pp. 185–88. ISBN 0-19-6382475. 
  4. ^ Poulgrain, Greg (2014). The Genesis of Konfrontasi: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia, 1945=1965. Petaling Jaya: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre. pp. xvi. ISBN 978-967-0630-15-1.